Joseph Wiggins – Archaeological Finds Deep In The Arctic
Russian archaeologists from the Royal Geographical Society have discovered the wreck of Joseph Wiggins’ ship, The Thames. In 1876, Wiggins sailed The Thames in search of a route through the Arctic to the Kara Sea. Explorers had long sought a route through the Northern Seas. The mission of The Thames was to open up the Kara Sea route to exploit opportunities for sea borne trade with Siberia.
The journey of Joseph Wiggins and The Thames is typical of that of many journeys of exploration at the time. Around the Arctic Circles, explorers from many nations attempted to find routes through the pack ice. Any navigable route that linked the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, would have huge consequences. It led to explorers such as Hudson, in Canada, searching for the North West Passage, and those such as the sailors on The Thames, to search for an alternative route to the North East.
The Thames was one of the more successful ships in these explorations. Captained by Joseph Wiggins this 120 tonne ship made it quite a long way into the Arctic Circle. Wiggins managed to navigate The Thames to the Yenisei River. The Yenisei is the largest river flowing into the Arctic Ocean. The ship then became the first ocean vessel ever to set sail into the Yenisei.
This was an astounding piece of exploration. Wiggins had previously managed to sail through the ice pack to the Kara Sea. However, to get to the Yenisei River demonstrated that it was feasible, against all conventional wisdom of the day, to travel long distances through ice and deep into the Arctic.
Wiggins’ plan to sail The Thames deep into Siberia hit a snag though. The ship ran aground and froze to the bottom of the river bed. Unable to shift the vessel, he sold what he could of the ship and returned to Britain overland. The ship then sank during the thaw of 1878.
The remains of the ship have been found hundreds of miles up the river. Wiggins and his men had managed to navigate all the way into the Arctic Circle, through the ice, then back around to the Yenisei and upstream. The site of the wreck lay just on the edge of the Arctic Circle, suggesting that it had survived at least three thousand kilometres of sailing through Arctic conditions.
Wiggins was unperturbed by the loss of The Thames. He returned to the Gulf of Orb, in the Arctic, and proceeded to transport Siberian Wheat to Britain: the first Siberian produce to arrive on these shores. He returned to the Yenisei with tracks for the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. His route remained open for some time. He had made passage, deep into the Arctic, quite manageable.
Wiggins was decorated by Russian Tsar Alexander III for his work in exploration and trade.