In 1828 Henry Foster, commanding the Chanticleer, received instructions to make observations on the pendulum, with a view to determining the figure of the earth. This expedition extended over three years, and was then—i.e. in 1831—brought to an end by his violent death by drowning in the river Chagres. We allude to this trip because it resulted, on the 5th January, 1829, in the identification and exploration of the Southern Shetlands. The commander himself succeeded in landing, though with great difficulty, on one of these islands, where he collected some specimens of the syenite of which the soil is composed, and a small quantity of red snow, in every respect similar to that found by explorers in the Arctic regions.
Of far greater interest, however, was the survey made in 1830 by the whaler John Biscoe. The brig Tula, 140 tons, and the cutter Lively, left London under his orders on the 14th July, 1830. These two vessels, the property of Messrs. Enderby, were fitted up for whale-fishing, and were in every respect well qualified for the long and arduous task before them, which, according to Biscoe's instructions, was to combine discovery in the Antarctic seas with whaling.
After touching at the Falklands, the ships started on the 27th November on a vain search for the Aurora Islands, after which they made for the Sandwich group, doubling its most southerly cape on the 1st January, 1831.
In 59° S. lat. masses of ice were encountered, compelling the explorers to give up the south-western route, in which direction they had noted signs of the existence of land. It was therefore necessary to bear east, skirting along the ice as far as W. long. 9° 34'. It was only on the 16th January that Biscoe was able to cross the 60th parallel of S. lat. In 1775 Cook had here come to a space of open sea 250 miles in extent, yet now an insurmountable barrier of ice checked Biscoe's advance.
Continuing his south-westerly course as far as 68° 51' and 10° E. long., the explorer was struck by the discoloration of the water, the presence of several eaglets and cape-pigeons, and the fact that the wind now blew from the south-south-west, all sure tokens of a large continent being near. Ice, however, again barred his progress southwards, and he had to go on in an easterly direction approaching nearer and nearer to the Antarctic Circle.
"At length, on the 27th February," says Desborough Cooley, "in S. lat. 65° 57' and E. long. 47° 20' land was distinctly seen." This land was of considerable extent, mountainous and covered with snow. Biscoe named it Enderby, and made the most strenuous efforts to reach it, but it was so completely surrounded with ice that he could not succeed. Whilst these attempts were being made a gale of wind separated the two vessels and drove them in a south-easterly direction, the land remaining in sight, and stretching away from east to west for an extent of more than 200 miles. Bad weather, and the deplorable state of the health of the crew, compelled Biscoe to make for Van Diemen's Land, where he was not rejoined by the Lively until some months later.
The explorers had several opportunities of observing the aurora australis, to quote from Biscoe's narrative, or rather the account of his trip drawn up from his log-book, and published in the journal of the Royal Geographical Society. "Extraordinarily vivid coruscations of aurora australis (were seen), at times rolling," says Captain Biscoe, "as it were, over our heads in the form of beautiful columns, then as suddenly changing like the fringe of a curtain, and again shooting across the hemisphere like a serpent; frequently appearing not many yards above our heads, and decidedly within our atmosphere."
Leaving Van Diemen's Land on the 11th January, 1832, Biscoe and his two vessels resumed their voyage in a south-easterly direction. The constant presence of floating sea-weed, and the number of birds of a kind which never venture far from land, with the gathering of low and heavy clouds made Biscoe think he was on the eve of some discovery, but storms prevented the completion of his explorations. At last, on the 12th February, in S. lat. 64° 10' albatrosses, penguins, and whales were seen in large quantities; and on the 15th land was seen in the south a long distance off. The next day this land was ascertained to be a large island, to which the name of Adelaide was given, in honour of the Queen of England. On this island were a number of mountains of conical form with the base very large.
In the ensuing days it was ascertained that this was no solitary island, but one of a chain of islets forming so to speak the outworks of a lofty continent. This continent, stretching away for 250 miles in an E.N.E. and W.S.W. direction, was called Graham, whilst the name of Biscoe was given to the islets in honour of their discoverer. There was no trace either of plants or animals in this country.
To make quite sure of the nature of his discovery, Biscoe landed on the 21st February, on Graham's Land, and determined the position of a lofty mountain, to which he gave the name of William, in S. lat. 64° 45' and W. long. 66° 11', reckoning from the Paris meridian.