Nova Zembla (Russian: Novaya Zemlya
, or new land
) is the name
of an island in the Russian arctic (Barentsz Sea
). The history of the
island is closely tied to the 1596 expedition by Jacob van Heemskerck
and Willem Barentsz
. Being trapped by winter ice
, the expedition was
forced to shelter
at Nova Zembla. Living in a hut made of driftwood
the crew members would be the first Europeans to survive a winter in the
arctic, although two members including Barentsz would not survive the
Van Heemskerck and Barentsz tried to sail to Asia across the North
Pole. During this period, Holland was at war with Spain, and
therefore the Southern Route was swarmed with hostile Portuguese and
Spanish ships. Also, rounding of Cape of Good Hope had always been
an extremely dangerous undertaking due to the treacherous storms and
Thus, an alternative route to the East Indies had to be found. The
famous cartographer Petrus Plancius was convinced that there would
be an open route through the ice of the North Pole, if the expedition
stayed clear of the Siberian coastline. Supposedly, this route
would also be much faster than the Southern Route.
Two previous attempts (1594, 1595) to travel the Northern Route had
failed due to encounters with massive fields of ice. Rather than giving
up, captain van Heemskerck and expedition leader Barentsz decided to
leave early in the year. The third expedition set sail on May 15, 1596.
Along the way, they discovered Spitsbergen. Barentsz and the second
vessel's captain Rijp got into arguments and decided to each go their
own way. Rijp went north, encountered even more ice, and returned home.
Barentsz and Heemskerck went east, but eventually got stuck at the north
point of Nova Zembla.
Barentsz, van Heemskerck and the other fifteen crew members had no
choice but to remain at Nova Zembla for the winter. Fortunately, the
Siberian rivers had supplied enough driftwood to build a shelter that the
men called "Het Behouden Huys" ("The Saved
House"), finished on 12 October 1596.
The forced winter stay on Nova Zembla proved to be extremely
difficult. One of the crewmen, Gerrit de Veer kept an accurate
of their hardships1,2. The men had to fight off polar bears, deal with the
cold, malnutrition and scurvy. At one point, the entire crew was
nearly killed due to carbon monoxide poisoning; someone had blocked
the chimney to keep the heat inside. Two of the seventeen men,
including Willem Barentsz would ultimately die.
When the summer came, the situation on Nova Zembla became better, but
van Heemskerck urged his crew to hurry, cautioning them not to get stuck
on the island forever. However, the main ship was still ice-bound. Using
two small open boats, the island was abandoned on June 13,
1597. The men landed at some isolated place where they were greeted by a
local. Using sign language, this man informed them of the presence
another ship in the area. After eleven weeks, they indeed found this
ship. It was a Dutch vessel, under the command of captain Rijp, who
had returned for another expedition. Finally, the fifteen survivors of
Nova Zembla could return to their homes.
1: Gerrit de Veer, Waerachtighe beschryvinghe van drie
seylagien ... drie jaeren achter malcanderen deur de Hollandtsche ende
Zeelandtsche schepen., Amsterdam, C. Claesz, 1599
2: Gerrit de Veer, A true description of three voyages
by the North-East towards Cathay and China, undertaken by the Dutch in
the years 1594, 1595 and 1596, translated into English by William
Phillip, edited by Charles T. Beke, London, Hakluyt Society, 1853.
The diary by Gerrit de Veer was published in many languages
(including English, French and Italian) almost directly after the Nova
Zembla voyage. The text should be in the public domain for a couple of
centuries now, but unfortunately I was unable to find it as e-text.
Please /msg me if you do!