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Melville, George Wallace, 1841-1912



  • Existence: 1841 - 1912


George Wallace Melville was born on January 10, 1841, in New York City. After graduating from Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute, he entered the U.S. Navy in 1861, and became an officer of the Engineer Corps. In 1873, he volunteered for duty as chief engineer of the "Tigress" which was on a mission to Baffin Bay in to rescue the 19 survivors of the Polaris Expedition. In the summer of 1879, he volunteered for an Arctic expedition under Lieutenant Commander George W. DeLong on board the USS "Jeannette." Their mission was to find a quick way to the North Pole via the Bering Strait. However, the "Jeannette" became icebound in September and, after two years of effort to save her, was crushed by ice floes in the Laptev Sea and sank on June 12 1881 — leaving the crew stranded on the ice floes in mid-ocean in three small boats and with scanty provisions. Melville was the only boat commander to bring his crew to safety in the Lena delta in Siberia. Later, he set out in search of DeLong and his men, traveling over a thousand miles in the Arctic winter only to find them dead. However, he was able to recover and bring back all the records of the expedition. Melville was promoted to the rank of Chief Engineer during his time on the "Jeannette" and again went to the Arctic on the "Thetis" in 1884 for the Greely Relief Expedition. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland promoted Melville to Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. During more than a decade and a half in that post, he was responsible for the Navy's propulsion systems. In 1899, he was promoted to Read Admiral and appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy. He left active duty in 1903, and died on March 17, 1912.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

George Melville conduct and letter book

Identifier: Mss-188
Stefansson Mss-188
Date(s): 1881 to 1882

George Wallace Melville (1841-1912), Rear Admiral of the Navy. Consist of a "Conduct book" journal (30 Oct. 1881-12 July 1882), and letter book (12 June 1881-12 July 1882) relating to his service as engineer on the "Jeannette" rescue expedition.

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