Croatian mariners in the ARCTIC
EXPEDITION in 1872-1874
Darko Zubrinic, Zagreb (2000)
Many Arctic expeditions
in the 19th century ended with shipwrecks. Probably the best known is
Franklin's expedition (1845) which had tragic human losses: as many as
120 people died. Twenty expeditions were organized in order to find and
save them, but in vain.
state, which at that time included
also Croatian coast, planned expedition to NE of Novaya Zemlya, and to
find the so called North East Passage.
This led to the discovery of Franz
Josef Land in 1873, a collection
of about 85 islands
in the Arctic Ocean, now a Russian National Park
called Zemlya Franca Iosifa.
The ship named Tegetthoff
was built up in the German port
Bremen using a special new technology, in order to endure extremely
low temperatures and dangerous ice pressure (32 m long, 7 m wide, 220
The crew was
composed of 24 persons, members of Austrian-Hungarian
marine in the Adriatic sea. It is interesting that the Croats
were predominant in the crew. It was composed 9 Austrians, 1 Hungarian,
1 Moravian Czech, 1
Italian (?), and
as many as 12 Croats from various parts of Croatian coast
(Rijeka, Cres, Bakar, Volosko, Lovran, Plomin, Mali Losinj, Brac,
The names of these Croatian mariners are:
Lusina (from the island of
Marolla (from Rijeka),
Vecerina (from Draga near
Falesic (from Bakar),
Stiglic (from Bakar),
Sucic (from Volosko),
Lettis (from Volosko),
Palmic (from Volosko),
Latkovic (from Plomin),
Katarinic (from Mali Losinj),
Lukinovic (from Pucisca on the
island of Brac),
Zaninovic (from Sv. Nedilja on
the island of
In his diary Julius Payer
includes Ante Scarpa
from Trieste into
Slavonic (Croatian) group, see [Kunicic],
40, and according to
Kunicic the Croatian crew had 13 members (see p. 2), not 12. Also every
Sunday the Croats read parts of Evangel in Croatian (scavet),
which belongs to glagolitic
tradition, see [Kunicic] p.
38. On Christmas they sang a well known song "U se vrime
godista", and remember their customs.
The crew had a small library with about 400 books, half of them
scientific. And a part of books was in Croatian.
For the complete list of
names and other details
related to this expedition, see
There were some objections addressed to Karl
Weyprecht, captain of the ship,
why he chose so many Croats,
instead of Tyrol Austrians. He answered that he counts on endurance,
discipline and experience of
Croatian mariners, and the fact that they do not drink.
Very important for
success of this carefully planned and dangerous expedition was the
presence of eight dogs.
The expedition led to the discovery of Franz Josef's Land in the Arctic.
Memorail tablet in honour of Vicko Palmić and Weyprecht-Payer
the town of Lovran, Istrian peninsula, Croatia.
Vicko Palmic, Lovran, photo from an exhibition in Lovran 2012.
In 1872, when the
expedition sailed off from the port of Bremen, weather condition and
temperature were particularly severe.
A result of ice movement was that the sailboat became wedged in the
mass of ice for two years!
At that time it was not possible
to communicate with the rest of the world as it is today. During these
two years the crew, although in
extremely difficult situation, performed numerous scientific
investigations. The preserved log-book testimonies about very serious
and well organized everyday life and work. As the ice moved slowly
northward, the mountains emerged,
that they named Franz Josef's Land.
It had been decided to leave the location of the ship, and carry three
auxiliary saving ships on sledges, tugged with
dogs and people. In dramatic 800 kilometers that they covered mostly on
foot under very difficult conditions, they discovered numerous new
interesting places. So today we have places like the Cape of Fiume (=
the town of Rijeka, on Croatian
littoral), and the Cape of Klagenfurt (a town in Austria).
Jakob (Jacobus) Sucic, Volosko
Many thanks to dr. Sanja Rukavina of the University of Rijeka, for sending
us this photo from Volosko, where Jakov Sučić was born.
One of participants of
this adventure was Eling Carlson from
Norway, connoisseur of northern seas. Unfortunately, one member
died due to sickness: Oton Kriz from Moravia (today in Czechia).
After about two years of stay in the Arctic the ship Thegetthoff
was left by the whole crew in the ocean of
ice, and 23 people set off back to Europe in three small
saving ships. For almost three months people and dogs had to
tug boats on sledges, and then during next nine days they had
to row until they finally met two russian fishing boats near
A part of the the North Pole Team
As stated in [Kunicic],
p. 122, there is no king
in the world that would be accepted with such hospitality and joy
as those totally exhausted people were accepted by Russian mariners.
It is very probable that Croatian mariners
were able to communicate with Russians, since Croatian and
Russian languages are
relatively close. Among all members of the expedition
only Petar Lusina (from the island of Cres) knew Russian.
Besides his native Croatian, he also spoke English, French and
Members of the expedition learned many news that have happened in
Europe during two and a half years of their expedition.
The two boats took them to Vardoe in Norway, for which Russian mariners
have sacrificed four days of their fishing, plus four
Memorial plaque in Opatija in honour of Frane Letiš, member
the team, was born in this town.
Upon successful arrival
to Europe, with help of Russian and Norwegian navy,
members of expedition reached Hamburg. In Vienna a glorious
welcome was organised, and all
of them obtained honorary citizenship in Austrian-Hungarian state. A
was organized in the Croatian town of Volosko near Rijeka. The overall
were such that the expedition ended with +17.61 forints, which we know
very detailed and pedantic
Among numerous financial supporters of this
daring exploit was Dora Pejacevic, distinguished
It is interesting that
experiences of this expedition were important in the preparation of
Amundsen's expedition to Arctic about 30 years later.
Croatian descent of half
of the crew was not even mentioned in the existing literature available
in German, English, and Italian.
In Croatia itself, the expedition was described by Eugen Kumicic.
It also worth mentioning
that in 1882, as a part of the First International Geophysical Year,
another very ambitious
and successful expedition had been organized to the region of Greenland
(in the part which is north of Island). Also in this case, in the crew
12 half of them were Croats. Their names are
Samanic, Josip Baretincic, Anton Mikacic, Anton Lukinovic, Jakov
For the remaining names of the crew and other details see
Das Tagebuch des
Maschinisten Otto Krisch Österreichisch-Ungarische
Nordpolexpedition von 1872 bis 1874 Hrsg.: Egon Reichhardt (Leykam
Verlag 1973) [Payer & Weyprecht]
Österreich-Ungarische Nordpol Expedition In den Jahren
1869-1874 Julius Payer (A.Hölder,Wien 1876 )
ÖSTERREICHISCHE NATIONALBIBLIOTHEK: 100 Jahre
Franz-Josefs-Land. Zur Erinnerung an die Entdeckungsreise der
Österreichisch-Ungarischen Nordpol-Expedition 1872-1874 unter
Julius von Payer und Carl Weyprecht. Katalog der Ausstellung 1973. Mit
24 Taf. Wien, o.V., 1973. Okart., g.e. XII, 128 pp.
Kunicic, Hrvati na Ledenom moru,
putovanje po sjeveru s hrvatskim mornarima, po izvjescu Julija Payera
(pretisak iz 1893.g.), Dom & Svijet, Zagreb, 1994. (Petar
Kunicic was a teacher on the island of Vis)
It was Mr Miljenko Smokvina from Rijeka who
noticed from the names of members of the
crew that many of them are Croatian. After painstaking study that he
undertook in 1990s, he discovered many new interesting details about
these brave Croatian mariners.
I express my deepest gratitude to Mr
Miljenko Smokvina for his kind help during the preparation of this web
and also to Matica hrvatska for having organized very interesting
lectures about history and culture of the city of Rijeka,
presented by members of Matica hrvatska Rijeka in April 2000 in Zagreb.