POLAR EXPEDITIONS

To quote from the journal of the Royal Geographical Society,—"The place was in a deep bay, in which the water was so still that could any seals have been found the vessels could have been easily loaded, as they might have been laid alongside the rocks for the purpose. The depth of the water was also considerable, no bottom being found with twenty fathoms of line almost close to the beach; and the sun was so warm that the snow was melted off all the rocks along the water-line, which made it more extraordinary that they should be so utterly deserted."

From Graham's Land, Biscoe made for the Southern Shetlands, with which it seemed possible the former might be connected, and after touching at the Falkland Islands, where he lost sight of the Lively, he returned to England.

As a reward for all he had done, and as an encouragement for the future, Biscoe received medals both from the English and French Geographical Societies.

Very animated were the discussions which now took place as to the existence of a southern continent, and the possibility of penetrating beyond the barrier of ice shutting in the adjacent islands. Three powers simultaneously resolved to send out an expedition. France entrusted the command of hers to Dumont d'Urville; England chose James Ross; and the United States, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes.

The last named found himself at the head of a small fleet, consisting of the Porpoise, two sloops, the Vincennes and the Peacock; two schooners, the Sea-Gull and theFlying-Fish; and a transport ship, the Relief, which was sent on in advance to Rio with a reserve of provisions, whilst the others touched at Madeira, and the Cape Verd Islands.

From the 24th November, 1838, to the 6th January, 1839, the squadron remained in the bay of Rio de Janeiro, whence it sailed to the Rio Negro, not arriving at Port Orange, Tierra del Fuego, until the 19th February, 1839.

There the expedition divided, the Peacock and Flying-Fish making for the point were Cook crossed S. lat. 60°, and the Relief, with the naturalists on board, penetrating into the Straits of Magellan, by one of the passages south-east of Tierra del Fuego; whilst the Vincennes remained at Port Orange; and the Sea-Gull andPorpoise started on the 24th February for the Southern Seas. Wilkes surveyed Palmer's Land for a distance of thirty miles to the point where it turns in a S.S.E. direction, which he called Cape Hope; he then visited the Shetlands and verified the position of several of the islands in that group.

After passing thirty-six days in these inhospitable regions the two vessels steered northwards. A voyage marked by few incidents worthy of record brought Wilkes to Callao, but he had lost sight of the Sea-Gull. The commander now visited the Paumatou group, Otaheite, the Society and Navigator's Islands, and cast anchor off Sydney on the 28th November.

On the 29th December, 1839, the expedition once more put to sea, and steered for the south, with a view to reaching the most southerly latitude between E. long 160° and 145° (reckoning from Greenwich), bearing east by west. The vessels were at liberty to follow out separate courses, a rendezvous being fixed in case of their losing sight of each other. Up to January 22nd numerous signs of land were seen, and some officers even thought they had actually caught sight of it, but it turned out, when the various accounts were compared at the trial Wilkes had to undergo on his return, that it was merely through the accidental deviation before the 22nd January of theVincennes, in a northerly direction, that the English explorers ascertained the existence of land. Not until he reached Sydney did Wilkes, hearing that D'Urville had discovered land on the 19th January, pretend to have seen it on the same day.

Dumont d'Urville
Dumont d'Urville.

These facts are established in a very conclusive article published by the hydrographer Daussy in the Bulletin de la Société de Géographie. Further on we shall see that d'Urville actually landed on the new continent, so that the honour of being the first to discover it is undoubtedly his.