THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

03 September 2018

Recording of the week: adrift on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940) was a British physician, medical missionary and humanitarian, who worked on the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, Canada for over forty years.

In 1908, on his way to operate on a child, he travelled from St Anthony on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula on a sledge drawn by dogs, and found himself stranded overnight on an ice floe drifting in the Arctic Ocean. He survived this potentially fatal mishap and was rescued the next day.

Grenfell_DrSir Wilfred Grenfell, his sledge dogs and the bronze tablet at St Anthony Hospital he had made to commemorate the dogs that saved his life. (Images from the 1910 edition of Adrift on an Ice-Pan. Shelfmark: 10460.cc.20.)

Grenfell wrote a short book narrating his near-death experience entitled Adrift on an Ice-Pan (1909) which is now in the public domain. It’s an interesting read illustrated with photographs of him and his sledge dogs, which he calls ‘his team’. Regretfully he had to sacrifice three of his beloved dogs to avoid freezing to death that night.

This audio recording of Grenfell himself narrating the incident is a short version of his book. It was issued by the HMV label in May 1911.

Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean (BL shelfmark 1CL0029069)

Grenfell755rePostage stamp dedicated to Sir Wilfred Grenfell issued on the year of his death. (British Library Universal Postal Union Collection. Photo: Paul Skinner, Lead Curator, Philatelic Collections).

Through his career Wilfred Grenfell campaigned and raised funds for the building of hospitals, orphanages, schools and the improvement of living conditions for Labrador and Newfoundland fishermen and their families. He wrote several books of his travels in the area to promote it to the general public.

His legacy has inspired authors like English travel writer Bruce Chatwin and US novelist Saul Bellow. There was even an Adrift on an Ice Pan comic version published by True Comics in 1941, which you can also read online.

Further reading: Grenfell, Sir Wilfred Thomason by Ronald Rompkey. Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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