Type and Characteristics: Barquentine-rigged steam cutter built by Alexander Stephen & Son, Dundee, Scotland as a whaler and sealer for W Grieve of Greenock, Scotland, hull reinforced for light ice, launched and completed 1874, 703 tons displacement, 198ft 4in long x 30ft beam x 17ft 11in draft, compound-expansion steam, 25-5/8in and 50in diameter x 30in stroke, 101 nominal hp.

Commissioned in Revenue Cutter Service 2 March 1885, armed with 3-6pdr rapid-fire guns (1885), 51 crew.

Log Period and Areas of Service: 1885-1929, Alaskan waters, World War 1 service. Sold but later served in World War 2.

Summary of Service

1874 - Sealing ship operating off Newfoundland.

1884 - Purchased by US Navy for Greely Arctic rescue mission. The 1881-83 Expedition commanded by First Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, US Army was one of two setting up observation stations in the Arctic. Greely's was left stranded in the Arctic over the winter of 1883-84. US Navy organized a fleet consisting of USS Bear, USS Thetis and the loaned HMS Alert, who together rescued the few survivors of the expedition.

1885 - Transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service of Treasury Department for service in Alaskan Waters and the Arctic Ocean with the Alaskan Patrol. First commander was Captain A A Fengar, soon replaced by Captain "Hell Roaring" Mike Healy for the next nine years.

Served in Alaskan waters for over 40 years - carrying mail, Government agents and supplies, transporting Federal prisoners from Alaska, serving as Federal court, carrying out investigations, enforcing the law, surveying Alaskan waters, and providing medical and surgical services to native Alaskans, prospectors, missionaries and whalers etc - duties that are still carried out to the present day by Bering Sea Patrols.

USRC Bear, still commanded by Captain Healy, carried reindeer from Siberia to Alaska to provide food, clothing and transportation for native Alaskans (see image below).

1897 - Bear made the first Arctic voyage during the winter season to rescue some 275 men from eight whaling vessels trapped in the ice off Point Barrow. Bear got as far as Cape Nome before the ice stopped her, still 1,600 miles from the whalers. An overland expedition then set out, and collecting 450 of "Healys" reindeer on the way, reached the trapped men three and a half months later in March 1898.

August 1898 - Caught in ice, Point Barrow.

1917/1918 - Served in the US Navy, carrying out routine patrols in Alaskan waters.

1918-29 - Continued patrols in Alaskan waters.

3 May 1929 - Decommissioned by US Coast Guard and turned over to City of Oakland, CA as a museum ship.

Early 1930's - Purchased by Admiral Richard Byrd, USN, the arctic explorer for $1,050 for his Second Antarctic Expedition. Sailed to Boston in 1932 for overhaul and refit with a volunteer crew, headed for the Antarctic in late 1933 and reached there January 1934. Took part in the 1939-41 US Antarctic Expedition and back in Boston by May 1941.

Taken back into naval service in World War 2, served on Greenland patrol.

June 1944 - Stricken from Navy, sold in 1948 to Canadian company for conversion back to sealer. The work was not completed, and she was eventually sold to Mr Alfred M Johnston of Pennsylvania for a museum ship and restaurant.

Fate: 19 March 1963 - Under tow by tug Irving Birch for Philadelphia, foundered 90 miles south of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, 260 miles east of Boston.

Links: DANFS, USCG Historian's site

Bear 08

Nine Officers and 4 Warrant Officers*

Bear 07

Gun drill with muzzle-loader

Bear 09

Some of the Enlisted Crew

Above three images - All Summer 1895, from scrapbook of John M. Justice

* Standing, from left to right - Dr. Bodkin, Engineer Coffin, Lieutenants Daniels, White, Emery, two unidentified warrant officers, believed standing in front of them Carpenter Cain, Master At Arms Baundy; Sitting - Chief Engineer Schwartz, Captain Healy, Engineer Dorry, Lieutenant Buhner.

Bear 06

Hoisting deer aboard in Siberia, 28 August 1891

Bear 18

Oil on canvas by Hunter Wood (date not known)

Bear 14

Officers of the USRC Bear, possibly in 1897-1898, Dr. Call back row 1st right; L. Jarvis, front row 3rd left (courtesy, University of Alaska Archives)

Bear 15

"As the stricken whaling crews await aboard their vessels, the desperately needed supplies are hauled over the frozen earth by members of the Revenue Cutter Bear." March, 1898

Bear 01

USRC Bear, caught in ice, Point Barrow, August 1898

Bear 02

USRC Bear in ice, date not known, but possibly 1898

Bear 16

Bear leading SS Corwin (ex-USRC - below) into Nome Roadstead, 1915

Bear 10

Coaling crew at Unalaska, July 1918

Bear 13

Again in the ice, date and location not known

Bear 21

In Emma Harbor, Siberia, July 1921. Providing transportation for C&GS officer J T Watkins to carry out magnetic field work (NOAA)

Bear 11

USS Bear in World War 2

Bear 12

Bear sinking in 1963 - towline parted and foremast collapsed, with her tug standing by

A general note on the sources.


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