POLAR EXPEDITIONS

From Alexander I.'s Land the two vessels, bearing due north, and passing Graham's Land, made for New Georgia, arriving there in February. Thence they returned to Cronstadt, the port of which they entered in July 1821, exactly two years after they left it, having lost only three men out of a crew of 200.

We would gladly have given further details of this interesting expedition, but we have not been able to obtain a sight of the original account published in Russian at St. Petersburg, and we have had to be content with the résumé brought out in one of the journals of the Geographical Society in 1839.

Map of the Antarctic Regions
Engraved by E. Morieu.

At the same period a master in the Royal Navy, James Weddell by name, was appointed by an Edinburgh firm to the command of an expedition, to obtain seal-skins in the southern seas, where two years were to be spent. This expedition consisted of the brig Jane, 160 tons, Captain Weddell, and the cutter Beaufort, sixty-five tons, Matthew Brisbane commander.

The two vessels left England on the 17th September, 1822, touched at Bonavista, one of the Cape Verd Islands, and cast anchor in the following December in the port of St. Helena, on the eastern coast of Patagonia, where some valuable observations were taken on the position of that town.

Weddell put to sea again on the 27th December, and steering in a south-easterly direction, came in sight, on the 12th January, of an archipelago to which he gave the name of the Southern Orkneys. These islands are situated in S. lat. 60° 45', and W. long. 45°.

According to the navigator, this little group presents an even more forbidding appearance than New Shetland. On every side rise the sharp points of rocks, bare of vegetation, round which surge the restless waves, and against which dash enormous floating icebergs, with a noise like thunder. Vessels are in perpetual danger in these latitudes, and the eleven days passed under sail by Weddell in surveying minutely the islands, islets, and rocks of this archipelago, were a time of ceaseless exertion for the crew, who were throughout in constant danger of their lives.

Specimens of the principal strata of these islands were collected, and on the return home put into the hands of Professor Jameson, of Edinburgh, who identified them as belonging to primary and volcanic rocks.

Weddell now made for the south, crossed the Antarctic Circle in W. long. 30°, and soon came in sight of numerous ice islands. Beyond S. lat. 70°, these floes decreased in number, and finally disappeared; the weather moderated, innumerable flocks of birds hovered above the ships, whilst large schools of whales played in its wake. This strange and unexpected change in the temperature surprised every one, especially as it became more marked as the South Pole was more nearly approached. Everything pointed to the existence of a continent not far off. Nothing was, however, discovered.

On the 20th February the vessels were in S. lat. 74° 15' and W. long. 34° 16' 45".

"I would willingly," says Weddell, "have explored the south-west quarter, but taking into consideration the lateness of the season, and that we had to pass homeward through 1000 miles of sea strewed with ice islands, with long nights, and probably attended with fogs, I could not determine otherwise than to take advantage of this favourable wind for returning."

Having seen no sign of land in this direction, and a strong southerly wind blowing at the time, Weddell retraced his course as far as S. lat. 58°, and steered in an easterly direction to within 100 miles of the Sandwich Islands. On the 7th February he once more doubled the southern cape, sailed by a sheet of ice fifty miles wide, and on the 20th February reached S. lat. 74° 15'. From the top of the masts nothing was to be seen but an open sea with a few floating ice-islands.

Unexpected results had ensued from these trips in a southerly direction. Weddell had penetrated 240 miles nearer the Pole than any of his predecessors, including Cook. He gave the name of George IV. to that part of the Antarctic Ocean which he had explored. Strange and significant was the fact that the ice had decreased in quantity as the South Pole was approached, whilst fogs and storms were incessant, and the atmosphere was always heavily charged with moisture, and the temperature of surprising mildness.

Another valuable observation made, was that the vibrations of the compass were as slow in these southern latitudes as Parry had noted them to be in the Arctic regions.

Weddell's two vessels, separated in a storm, met again in New Georgia after a perilous voyage of 1200 miles amongst the ice. New Georgia, discovered by La Roche in 1675, and visited in 1756 by the Lion, was really little known until after Captain Cook's exploration of it, but his account of the number of seals and walruses frequenting it had led to being much favoured by whalers, chiefly English and American, who took the skins of their victims to China and sold them at a guinea or thirty shillings each.