POLAR EXPEDITIONS

Bellinghausen, yet another Russian explorer—Discovery of the islands of Traversay, Peter I., and Alexander I.—The whaler, Weddell—The Southern Orkneys—New Shetland—The people of Tierra del Fuego—John Biscoe and the districts of Enderby and Graham—Charles Wilkes and the Antarctic Continent—Captain Balleny—Dumont d'Urville's expedition in the Astrolabe and the Zelée—Coupvent Desbois and the Peak of Teneriffe—The Straits of Magellan—A new post-office shut in by ice—Louis Philippe's Land—Across Oceania—Adélie and Clarie Lands—New Guinea and Torres Strait—Return to France—James Clark Rosset—Victoria.

We have already had occasion to speak of the Antarctic regions, and the explorations made there in the seventeenth, and at the end of the eighteenth century, by various navigators, nearly all Frenchmen, amongst whom we must specially note La Roche, discoverer of New Georgia, in 1675, Bouvet, Kerguelen, Marion, and Crozet. The name of Antarctic is given to all the islands scattered about the ocean which are called after navigators, as well as those of Prince Edward, the Sandwich group, New Georgia, &c.

It was in these latitudes that William Smith, commander of the brig William, trading between Monte Video and Valparaiso, discovered, in 1818, the Southern Shetland Islands, arid and barren districts covered with snow, on which, however, collected vast herds of seals, animals of which the skins are used as furs, and which had not before been met with in the Southern Seas. The news of this discovery led to a rush of whaling-vessels to the new hunting-grounds, and between 1821 and 1822 the number of seals captured in this archipelago is estimated at 32,000, whilst the quantity of sea-elephant oil obtained during the same time may be put down at 940 tons. As males and females were indiscriminately slaughtered, however, the new fields were soon exhausted. The survey of the twelve principal islands, and of the innumerable and all but barren rocks, making up this archipelago, occupied but a short time.

Hunting sea-elephants
Hunting sea-elephants.

Two years later Botwell discovered the Southern Orkneys, and then Palmer and other whalemen sighted, or thought they sighted, districts to which they gave the names of Palmer and Trinity.

More important discoveries were, however, to be made in these hyberborean regions, and the hypothesis of Dalrymple, Buffon, and other scholars of the eighteenth century, as to the existence of a southern continent, forming, so to speak, a counterpoise to the North Pole, was to be unexpectedly confirmed by the work of these intrepid explorers.

The navy of Russia had now for some years been rapidly gaining in importance, and had played no insignificant part in scientific research. We have related the interesting voyages of most Russian circumnavigators; but we have still to speak of Bellinghausen's voyage round the world, which occupies a prominent place in the history of the exploration of the Antarctic seas.

The Vostok, Captain Bellinghausen, and the Mirni, commanded by Lieutenant Lazarew, left Cronstadt on the 3rd July, 1819, en route for the Antarctic Ocean. On the 15th December Southern Georgia was sighted, and seven days later an island was discovered in the south-east, to which the name of Traversay was given, and the position of which was fixed at 52° 15' S. lat., and 27° 21' W. long., reckoning from the Paris meridian.

Continuing their easterly course in S. lat. 60° for 400 miles as far as W. long. 187°, the explorers then bore south to S. lat. 70°, where their further progress was arrested by a barrier of ice.

Bellinghausen, nothing daunted, tried to cut his way eastwards into the heart of the Polar Circle, but at 44° E. long, he was compelled to return northwards. After a voyage of forty miles a large country hove in sight, which a whaler was to discover twelve years later when the ice had broken up.

Back again in S. lat. 62°, Bellinghausen once more steered eastwards without encountering any obstacles, and on the 5th March, 1820, he made for Port Jackson to repair his vessels.

The whole summer was given up by the Russian navigator to a cruise about Oceania, when he discovered no less than seventeen new islands, and on the 31st October he left Port Jackson on a new expedition. The first places sighted on this trip were the Macquarie Islands; then cutting across the 60th parallel, S. lat. in E. long. 160°, the explorers bore east between S. lat. 64° and 68° as far as W. long. 95°. On the 9th January, Bellinghausen reached 70° S. lat., and the next day discovered, in S. lat. 69° 30', W. long. 92° 20', an island, to which he gave the name of Peter I., the most southerly land hitherto visited. Then fifteen degrees further east, and in all but the same latitude, he sighted some more land which he called Alexander I.'s Land. Scarcely 200 miles distant from Graham's Land, it appeared likely to be connected with it, for the sea between the two districts was constantly discoloured, and many other facts pointed to the same conclusion.