Amundsen's Historical Review - Part Five
The Swedish Antarctic expedition under Dr. Otto Nordenskjöld left Gothenburg on October 16, 1901, in the Antarctic, commanded by Captain C. A. Larsen, already mentioned. The scientific staff was composed of nine specialists.
After calling at the Falkland Islands and Staten Island, a course was made for the South Shetlands, which came in sight on January 10, 1902.
After exploring the coast of Louis Philippe Land, the ship visited Weddell Sea in the hope of getting southward along King Oscar II. Land, but the ice conditions were difficult, and it was impossible to reach the coast.
Nordenskjöld and five men were then landed on Snow Hill Island, with materials for an observatory and winter quarters and the necessary provisions. The ship continued her course northward to the open sea.
The first winter on Snow Hill Island was unusually stormy and cold, but during the spring several interesting sledge journeys were made. When summer arrived the Antarctic did not appear, and the land party were obliged to prepare for a second winter. In the following spring, October, 1903, Nordenskjöld made a sledge journey to explore the neighbourhood of Mount Haddington, and a closer examination showed that the mountain lay on an island. In attempting to work round this island, he one day stumbled upon three figures, doubtfully human, which might at first sight have been taken for some of our African brethren straying thus far to the south.
It took Nordenskjöld a long time to recognize in these beings Dr. Gunnar Andersson, Lieutenant Duse, and their companion during the winter, a Norwegian sailor named Grunden.
The way it came about was this. The Antarctic had made repeated attempts to reach the winter station, but the state of the ice was bad, and they had to give up the idea of getting through. Andersson, Duse and Grunden were then landed in the vicinity, to bring news to the winter quarters as soon as the ice permitted them to arrive there. They had been obliged to build themselves a stone hut, in which they had passed the winter.
This experience is one of the most interesting one can read of in the history of the Polar regions. Badly equipped as they were, they had to have recourse, like Robinson Crusoe, to their inventive faculties. The most extraordinary contrivances were devised in the course of the winter, and when spring came the three men stepped out of their hole, well and hearty, ready to tackle their work.
This was such a remarkable feat that everyone who has some knowledge of Polar conditions must yield them his admiration. But there is more to tell.
On November 8, when both parties were united at Snow Hill, they were unexpectedly joined by Captain Irizar, of the Argentine gunboat Uruguay, and one of his officers. Some anxiety had been felt owing to the absence of news of the Antarctic, and the Argentine Government had sent the Uruguay to the South to search for the expedition. But what in the world had become of Captain Larsen and the Antarctic? This was the question the others asked themselves.
The same night — it sounds almost incredible — there was a knock at the door of the hut, and in walked Captain Larsen with five of his men. They brought the sad intelligence that the good ship Antarctic was no more. The crew had saved themselves on the nearest island, while the vessel sank, severely damaged by ice.
They, too, had had to build themselves a stone hut and get through the winter as best they could. They certainly did not have an easy time, and I can imagine that the responsibility weighed heavily on him who had to bear it. One man died; the others came through it well.
Much of the excellent material collected by the expedition was lost by the sinking of the Antarctic, but a good deal was brought home.
Both from a scientific and from a popular point of view this expedition may be considered one of the most interesting the South Polar regions have to show.
We then come to the Scotsman, Dr. William S. Bruce, in the Scotia.
We have met with Bruce before: first in the Balæna in 1892, and afterwards with Mr. Andrew Coats in Spitzbergen. The latter voyage was a fortunate one for Bruce, as it provided him with the means of fitting out his expedition in the Scotia to Antarctic waters.
The vessel left the Clyde on November 2,1902, under the command of Captain Thomas Robertson, of Dundee. Bruce had secured the assistance of Mossman, Rudmose Brown and Dr. Pirie for the scientific work. In the following February the Antarctic Circle was crossed, and on the 22nd of that month the ship was brought to a standstill in lat. 70° 25’ S. The winter was spent at Laurie Island, one of the South Orkneys.
Returning to the south, the Scotia reached, in March, 1904, lat. 74° 1’ S., long. 22° W., where the sea rapidly shoaled to 159 fathoms. Further progress was impossible owing to ice. Hilly country was sighted beyond the barrier, and named “Coats Land,” after Bruce’s chief supporters.
In the foremost rank of the Antarctic explorers of our time stands the French savant and yachtsman, Dr. Jean Charcot. In the course of his two expeditions of 1903 — 1905 and 1908 — 1910 he succeeded in opening up a large extent of the unknown continent. We owe to him a closer acquaintance with Alexander I. Land, and the discovery of Loubet, Fallières and Charcot Lands is also his work.
His expeditions were splendidly equipped, and the scientific results were extraordinarily rich. The point that compels our special admiration in Charcot’s voyages is that he chose one of the most difficult fields of the Antarctic zone to work in. The ice conditions here are extremely unfavourable, and navigation in the highest degree risky. A coast full of submerged reefs and a sea strewn with icebergs was what the Frenchmen had to contend with. The exploration of such regions demands capable men and stout vessels.