POLAR EXPEDITIONS

In spite of the eagerness of the young officers to go and enjoy themselves on shore they had to submit to a quarantine of four days, on account of rumours of cases of plague having occurred in the lazaretto of Marseilles. Without pausing to relate the details of Messrs. Du Bouzet, Coupvent, and Dumoulin's ascent of the Peak, we will merely quote a few enthusiastic remarks of Coupvent Desbois:—

"Arrived," says that officer, "at the foot of the peak, we spent the last hour of the ascent in crossing cinders and broken stones, arriving at last at the longed-for goal, the loftiest point of this huge volcano. The smoking crater presented the appearance of a hollow sulphurous semi-circle about 1200 feet wide and 300 feet deep, covered with the débris of pumice and other stones. The thermometer, which had marked five degrees at ten a.m., got broken through being placed on the ground where there was an escape of sulphuric vapour. There are upon the sides and in the crater numerous fumerolles which send forth the native sulphur, which forms the base of the peak. The rush of the vapour is so rapid as to sound like shots from a cannon.

"The heat of the ground is so great in some parts that it is impossible to stand on it for a minute at a time. Look around you and see if these three mountains piled one upon the other do not resemble a staircase built up by giants, on which to climb to heaven. Gaze upon the vast streams of lava, all issuing from one point which form the crater, and which a few centuries back you could not have trodden upon with impunity. See the Canaries in the distance, look down, ye pigmies, on the sea, with its breakers dashing against the shores of the island, of which you for the moment form the summit!... See for once, as God sees, and be rewarded for your exertions, ye travellers, whose enthusiasm for the grand scenes of nature has brought you some 12,182 feet above the level of the ocean."

We must add that the explorers testified to the brilliancy of the stars, as seen from the summit of the peak, the clearness of all sounds, and also to the giddiness and headache known as mountain sickness. Whilst part of the staff were engaged in this scientific excursion, several other officers visited the town, where they noticed nothing special except a narrow walk called the Alameda, and the church of the Franciscans. The neighbourhood, however, is interesting enough on account of the curious aqueducts for supplying the town with water, and the Mercede forest which, in D'Urville's opinion, might more justly be called a coppice, for it contains nothing but shrubs and ferns. The population seemed happy, but extremely lazy; economical, but horribly dirty; and the less said about their morals the better.

On the 12th October the two vessels put to sea again, intending to reach the Polar regions as soon as possible. Motives of humanity, however, determined D'Urville to change his plans and touch at Rio, the state of an apprentice with disease of the lungs becoming so rapidly worse that a stay in the Arctic regions would probably have been fatal.

The vessels cast anchor in the roadstead, not the Bay of Rio, on the 13th November, but they only remained there one day, that is to say, just long enough to land young Dupare, and to lay in a stock of provisions. The southerly route was then resumed.

For a long time D'Urville had wished to explore the Strait of Magellan, not with a view to further hydrographical surveys, for the careful explorations of Captain King, begun in 1826, had been finished in 1834 by Fitzroy, leaving little to be done in that direction, but to gather the rich and still unappropriated harvest of facts relating to natural history. How intensely interesting it was, too, to note how real had been the dangers encountered by early navigators, such as the sudden veering of the wind, &c. What a good thing it would be to obtain further and more detailed information about the famous Patagonians, the subject of so many fables and controversies. Yet another motive led D'Urville to anchor off Port Famine, rather than off Staten Island. His perusal of the accounts of the work of explorers who had penetrated into the Southern Seas convinced him that the end of January and the whole of February were the best times for visiting these regions, for then only are the effects of the annual thaw over, and with them the risk of over-fatigue to the crews.

Anchorage off Port Famine
Anchorage off Port Famine.

This resolution once taken, D'Urville communicated it to Captain Jacquinot, and set sail for the strait. On the 12th December Cape Virgin was sighted, and Dumoulin, seconded by the young officers, began a grand series of hydrographical surveys. In the intricate navigation of the strait, D'Urville, we are told, showed equal courage and calmness, skill and presence of mind, completely winning over to his side many of the sailors, who, when they had seen him going along at Toulon when suffering with the gout, had exclaimed, "Oh, that old fellow won't take us far!" Now, when his constant vigilance had brought the vessels safely out of the strait, the cry was, "The —— man is mad! He's made us scrape against rocks, reefs, and land, as if he had never taken a voyage before! And we used to think him as useless as a rotten keel!"

We must now say a few words on the stay at Port Famine.