Capt. Henry W. Howgate (1834 – June 1, 1901) was Chief Disbursing Officer in the United States Army Signal Corps and responsible for major Arctic explorations. He caused a scandal after embezzling over $133,000, slipping away from authorities while awaiting trial, running off with his mistress, and spending 13 years evading capture, in which time he evaded the Secret Service and Pinkertons Detective Agency, worked as a reporter, and ran a New York City antiquarian book shop.
Howgate was the son of a British shopkeeper. At age 21, Howgate immigrated to the United States and worked as a reporter.
In 1866, he married Cordelia Day (b. June 8, 1837), daughter of Uriel Day and Olive (Sperry) Day of Macomb County, Michigan. Howgate and Cordelia had one daughter, born in 1866.
Howgate met Nellie Burrell of Saline County, Nebraska, early in his military career. She got a job working as a hostess in the United States Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C. through the influence of Senator Algernon Paddock. She remained Howgate's mistress for most of his life.
In 1862, Howgate became a Second Lieutenant with the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and, in 1863, he became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Signal Corps. In 1866 he had left the Army, returned to Michigan and married. Then in 1867, he joined the 20th Infantry before re-joining the Signal Corps where he served as property and disbursing officer before becoming responsible for planning all polar expeditions. Under his auspices, he was responsible for polar expeditions at a time when several countries were also supporting polar exploration and scientific studies. Fascinated with the Arctic, Howgate developed an extensive library of Arctic literature.
The Howgate Preliminary Polar Expedition had two phases.The 1877 phase was tasked with establishing relationships with local Inuit, known at the time as Eskimo or Esquimaux, promoting scientific experiments, and whaling as a source of revenue. Its vessel, the 1851 Wells, Maine built schooner Florence, was a fair sea-boat, but too small for the mission at 56 ton fore and aft. The Florence was captained by George Emory Tyson (1829—1906), Master, who had been Assistant Master/Navigator of the Polaris under Capt. Charles Francis Hall. The Florence crew of 13 included Ludwig Kumlien (naturalist, of the Smithsonian Institution and son of Thure Kumlien), Orray Taft Sherman (meteorologist/photographer of Yale University), and a group of New London mariners.
The 1878 phase, to be captained by Howgate, was to join forces with the first crew, and establish polar colonization.
The Florence left New London, Connecticut on August 2, 1877 and first anchored at Niantilic Harbour, western Cumberland Sound, on September 12. It reached the winter harbor of Annanactook, Cumberland Sound, (66°28′N 68°45′W) on October 6. While at Annanactook, Mr. Kumlien and Mr. Sherman engaged in notable scientific work, assisted by local Inuit.
The Florence was unable to leave Annanactook until early July, and when it did embark, on July 5, 1878, it was pressed ten miles east by ice floe before making Kickatiue Island. The expedition arrived in Godhavn Harbor on July 31. There, Tyson learned that the government expedition steamer they were expecting to join forces with had been deferred. With phase one complete and phase two abandoned, the Florence sailed home August 22, reaching Boston harbor on October 30, 1878.
The 1880 Howgate Arctic Expedition was tasked with scientific and geographical exploration of Greenland in preparation for an 1881 International Polar Year expeditionary force and Arctic colonization. However, the Army and Navy decided, in June 1880, to withdraw support of the Howgate Arctic Expedition as the expeditionary vessel, the steamship Gulnare, was unseaworthy. Howgate, not to be deterred, found private funding.
The Gulnare departed in July, captained by Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane. The crew included Sgt. David Legge Brainard,George W. Rice (photographer), Dr. Octave Pavy (surgeon/naturalist) and Mr. Henry ("Harry") Independence Clay (1849—1884).
On August 3, in a heavy gale, the Gulnare was damaged, but worse yet, it lost a deck boat and the entire deck load. The steamer reached Disko on August 8 and steamer repairs lasted through August 21. Dr. Pavy did not join the crew for the home voyage, instead staying in Greenland to continue scientific studies.
"The steamer Gulnare returned to this port (St. John's, Newfoundland), last night, having failed to accomplish the object of her mission. On the 5th of August, only a few days after leaving, she encountered a severe gale, during which she lost her deck cargo and davits, and sustained some damage to her hull. No field ice was met with, but a large number of icebergs were seen, and the weather throughout proved very unfavorable. The Gulnare reached Disco and landed the Doctor and the Secretary, but was unable to proceed farther North." (The St. John's Evening Telegram, September 25, 1880)
Lt. Doane placed expedition failure upon the Gulnare and reported:
"The cruise of the Gulnare is the first acknowledged failure in Arctic annals. We did but little, but left a great many things undone requiring some moral courage to refrain from doing. We did not change the names of all the localities visited, as is customary, nor give them new latitudes to the bewilderment of the general reader. We do not dispute anyone's attained distance not declare it impossible that he should have been where he was. We did not hunt up nameless islands and promontories to tag them with the surnames... We did not even erect cenotaphs... We received no flags, converted no natives, killed no one... The object of this report is to expose a few of the specious pleas, fallacious reasonings, and ill-grounded conjectures which are called scientific, and to place the subject of circumpolar exploration on a basis of facts and reasonable probabilities. One cannot explore the earth's surface from an observatory, nor by mathematics, nor by the power of logic. It must be done physically.
Howgate was active in soliciting international support, including with the French Société de Géographie, for the "Howgate Plan", his vision of an Arctic colony.
Karl Weyprecht, an officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy who co-led, with Julius von Payer, the 1872–1874 Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition that discovered Franz Josef Land made a presentation at the 48th Meeting of German Scientists and Physicians in 1875, where he, too, made recommendations for establishment of fixed Arctic observation stations. Spencer Fullerton Baird, in his 1877 Annual Record of Science and Industry, says that Weyprecht, and others, made recommendations for manned polar stations at that year's International Congress of Meteorologists, adding:
"As these proposed international Polar stations are for purely scientific observations, and as their plan so perfectly harmonizes with the Howgate plan of an Arctic colony, it is to be hoped that our own government will establish, at least, two such scientific stations ...."
While the Howgate Expedition of 1880 was ultimately an immediate and complete failure, Howgate was able to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars to plan a new expedition to coincide with the First International Polar Year (IPY). Named the "Lady Franklin Bay Expedition" (LFBE), its purpose was to establish and sustain, with adequate supplies, an Arctic colony near the northeastern tip of Ellesmere Island. It was based on assumptions that Lady Franklin Bay could be reached every summer by ship, and that ships hindered Arctic adaptation. The colony was to be dropped off and left on its own in 1881 near the coal seam found previously by George Nares, relief supplies were to arrive in 1882, and the expeditionary team was to be picked up in 1883.
Though it was clear that some shared Howgate's enthusiasm for manned Arctic Circle stations, others didn't. Capt. Sir. Frederick Evans, hydrographer with the British Admiralty, made negative comments about the IPY LFBE proposal:
"This ... appears to be a renewal of the Howgate Expedition of 1880 ... which was unsuccessful. There is now engrafted on the Howgate Expedition the taking part in a scheme (not yet matured) for various nations to found stations in the Arctic Circle... the time available, the money voted, the means proposed, all appear to be equally inadequate for the contemplated purpose."
Fearing his embezzlement of government funds would soon be discovered, Howgate resigned his military commission December 7, 1880. In 1881, the Signal Corps was in turmoil over allegations of fraud, scandals, and embezzlement. An investigation began into Howgate's handling of fraudulent U.S. Government vouchers, totaling up to $237,000. Some alleged that Signal Service employees assisted Howgate with the embezzlement which amounted to between $370,000 and $380,000. August 15, Howgate was arrested at the Avery House (notable for bath treatments) in Mount Clemens, Michigan. The U.S. Government began actions August 24 to recover $133,000 from Howgate.
Expedition plans for the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition continued despite Howgate's sudden departure and the subsequent investigation.Indictment
Howgate was indicted for embezzlement in 1882, but slipped away from authorities April 13, 1882 while on a court-supervised visit to his home where his daughter sang to the marshal for an hour whilst he was supposed to be changing his underwear but in fact was fleeing across the Potomac River. In absentia, a judgment against Howgate was made May 24, 1883, in the amount of $101,000, plus interest.
Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln authorized Secret Service operatives to stake out Howgate's possible hiding place in New Orleans, but, spotting them, Howgate and mistress departed quickly for Nebraska City, Nebraska. There, Howgate visited former Signal Corps officer, now attorney, Albert S. Cole, for assistance to file a claim that the government actually owed Howgate money. Howgate moved on to Escanaba, Michigan where he assumed the alias "H.W. Harrison" and worked as a reporter. Afraid that the Secret Service couldn't capture Howgate, Lincoln hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who tried but failed to bribe Cole for information on Howgate's whereabouts.
Howgate was captured September 28, 1894 in New York City, and spent the night at the Ludlow Street Jail. He was using the alias "Henry Williams", and had been leading the life of an old book/print dealer at 80 Fourth Avenue, New York City since 1888. Howgate was living with Burrell (alias "Mrs. Williams") at 195 West Tenth Street in New York City. During this period he also claimed to have worked as a talesman in part III of the court of general sessions and to have been a juror before Judge Fitzgreald. Howgate was brought before Judge Charles Linnaeus Benedict who signed the arrest warrant. The New York Times reported Howgate was accused of embezzling $370,000 from the U.S. Government. Found guilty of numerous crimes, Howgate served time in the Albany Penitentiary.
Upon release in December 1900, Howgate moved to his daughter Ida's home in Washington, D.C. where he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1901."U.S. Signal Office circulars, 1870–1873". United States. Army. Signal Corps. Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce and Agriculture. 1870. OCLC 46980832.
Polar colonization the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877. Washington?. 1877. ISBN 0-665-07029-2.
"Congress and the North Pole: an abstract of Arctic legislation in the Congress of the United States". Kansas City, Mo.: Kansas City Review of Science and Industry. 1879. OCLC 32624028.
(1879). Polar colonization. Memorial to Congress and action of scientific and commercial associations. Washington, D.C.: Beresford, Printer.
Tyson, G. E., & Howgate, H. W. (1879). The cruise of the Florence, or, Extracts from the journal of the preliminary Arctic expedition of 1877–'78. Washington: J.J. Chapman. ISBN 1446011909. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
"Notes on Florida prepared with special reference to the Howgate grant, on Lake George". New York: B.H. Tyrrel, printer. 1881. OCLC 31164549.