Today’s Rauenous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
In 1595, lords in four Dutch cities filled seven ships with linens, cloths, and tapestries and sent navigator Willem Barentsz on a journey to Asia. Haggling delayed the departure until midsummer. and once asea, the captains of the vessels overruled Barentsz and took a more southerly course than he wished. They did so partly because Barentsz’s northerly route seemed mad, and partly because, beyond reaching China, the Dutch seamen were fired by rumors of a remote island whose shores were studded with diamonds. Sure enough, the crew found the island and landed straightaway.
Sailors had been stuffing their pockets with the transparent gems for a number of minutes when, as an old English account had it, “a great leane white beare came sodainly stealing out” and wrapped his paw around one sailor’s neck. The polar bear, “falling upon the man, bit his head in sunder, and suckt out his blood.”
This encounter opened a centuries-long war between explorers and this “cruell, fierce, and rauenous beast.” Polar bears certainly deserved their reputations as mean SOBs. They picked off and devoured any stragglers wherever sailors landed, and they withstood staggering amounts of punishment. Sailors could bury an ax in a bear’s back or pump six bullets into its flank – and often, in its rampage, this just made the bear madder. Then again, polar bears had plenty of grievances , too. As one historian notes, “Early explorers seemed to regard it as their duty to kill polar bears,” and they piled up carcasses like buffalo hunters later would on the Great Plains. Some explorers deliberately maimed bears to keep as pets and paraded them around in rope nooses. One such bear, hauled aboard a small ship, snapped free from its restraints and, after slapping the sailors about, mutinied and took over the ship. In the bear’s fury, though, its noose got tangled in the rudder, and it exhausted itself trying to get free. The “brave” men retook the ship and butchered the bear.
During the encounter with Barentsz’s crew, the bear managed to murder a second sailor, and probably would have kept hunting had reinforcements not arrived from the main sip. A sharpshooter put a bullet clean between the bear’s eyes, but the bear shook it off and refused to stop snacking. Other men charged and attacked with swords, but their blades snapped on its head and hide. Finally someone clubbed the beat in the snout and stunned it, enabling another person to slit its throat ear to ear. By this time both sailors had expired, of course, and the rescue squad could do nothing but skin the bear and abandon the corpses.
Stay tuned for Episode Two: The Bear Strikes Back!
Morbid Art Du Jour!
They’ve uncovered the most fantastic mosaic in Turkey. I simply MUST have one installed in The Castle DeSpair forthwith!