Voyage of L’Astrolabe and La Zelee.


[The following is the plan and itinerary of the expedition to the Antartic Pole and round the world, under the orders of M. Dumont d’Urville, capitaine de vaisseau; approved by the King of France on the 28th of March, 1837.]

Two vessels are to be employed in this expedition, l’Astrolabe, commanded by M. Dumont d’Urville, and la Zelee, commanded by M. Jaquinot, capitaine de corvette.

They are to depart from Toulon in the beginning of September, after quitting the Strait of Gibraltar, and anchoring for a short time at the Cape de Verd Isles, they are to proceed to the South-polar seas, passing between Sandwich-land, and New Shetland, in order to explore those latitudes, which till now have been so little frequented by navigators, and where Weddel appears to have been able to reach only to the 74th degree. The expedition will then extend its researches towards the Antarctic pole, as far as the ice will permit. Returning afterwards towards the north, M. d’Urville will cross the Strait of Magellan, where, notwithstanding Captain King’s labours, an ample harvest of discoveries is still promised to those navigators who will explore it.

The Island of Chiloe, to the West of Patagonia, should be carefully visited for the benefit of hydrography, science and commerce; and the expedition should then proceed to Valparaiso for the necessary rest for the crews after the rough navigation of the icy seas, to repair all damages, and to prepare for a continuance of operations.

On leaving that port about the beginning of April 1838, the Astrolabe and the Zelee, will steer towards the 22nd degree of latitude, and will run along the chain of islands Ducie, Pitcairn, Gambier, Rapa, Bouronton, Mangia, Rarotonga, so as to arrive in the course of the month of May at Vavas, the best station in this part of Oceania, and the most important for the whalers. The two vessels will remain in this place for ten days, and M. d’Urville will employ the first days of June in completing by fresh observations at the Viti Islands, the great work undertaken in 1827, by the officers of the Astrolabe.[1]

The two vessels will afterwards visit Banks’ Island, to the north of the New Hebrides, which are little known; they will pass near Vanikoro without anchoring, but their boats should land, in order to visit the cenotaph raised to the memory of la Perouse during the proceeding expedition of the Astrolabe, and to collect fresh information respecting the natives.

If the state of the vessels will allow of it, M. d’Urville will, in the month of September pass through Torres Strait, and visit the new Dutch colony on the River Dourga, with the Arru and Ki Islands, and then anchor at Amboina; but if not, they will repair to that port towards the group of the Solomon Isles, where he will probably arrive about the middle of July. This group so interesting to science, presents another object which the expedition will not neglect; we allude to Indian Bay, where it seems probable that the French who escaped from the Vanikoro disaster, terminated their lives.

From thence M. d’Urville will proceed by Santa Cruz and Nitendi by the north of New Guinea, touching only at the spacious and beautiful bay of Humboldt, which was discovered by the Astrolabe in 1827, though she could not then anchor there. Ten days will be passed at Amboina, and it is from thence, that the Zelee is to be despatched for France, if circumstances should have enabled M. d’ Urville to keep her with him till then. Thus that corvette will return one year before the Astrolabe, and she will bring home the collections which have been made, and the general result of all that has been effected.

The Astrolabe then in rounding New Holland, in order to re-enter the Pacific Ocean, will employ November and December, as well as January, 1839, in touching at the new colony formed by the English at Swan River, in visiting Hobart Town, where she will remain a week, and in shaping her course to New Zealand.

The months of February and March, 1839, will be devoted to important works on those great islands, and especially to exploring with care those parts of Cook’s Strait, which may offer useful resources to our whalers.

The Chatham Islands, of which we have learned nothing since their discovery by Broughton, in 1791, will be visited in April.

Steering afterwards to the northward, M. d’Urville, will visit in May, June, and July, the Islands of Mouka, Mitchell, Peyster, Niouka, St. Augustin, Gilbert, Marshall, and several of the Carolines, which though recently examined by Captain Lutke, will be interesting to see, not only in a physical and ethnographic view, but to display there the French flag. In August, the Astrolabe will reach Mindanao, where no French ship has yet touched; she should remain there several days, and afterwards visit some places in the island of Borneo, such as Balembangen, Pontianak or Banyer Massin. The corvette will arrive at Batavia, about October, where she will remain but a very short time, and then proceed to Sumatra, where she will at least shew herself in one of the ports. M. d’Urville will return by the Cape of Good Hope, and will reach France about March or April, 1840, after an absence of thirty or thirty-two months.

We need not dwell on the high interest which must be excited by an expedition so extensively planned, and so well combined as to lead to immense results. But we may remark, that the examination of the Austral Polar Sea stands at the very outset of this great scheme, which is fraught with so many other interesting objects; none of his Majesty’s vessels have hitherto penetrated far into those regions; and yet it is of great importance that the real difficulties of the navigation of those seas should be duly stated; that the lands which may perhaps be found there should be described; that the state of the ice, and the system of its movements should be studied, in order to estimate the success which may attend the whale fishing in those latitudes; and finally, that many questions of natural philosophy and hydrography should be now solved which were left undetermined in former voyages. For such a mission, two vessels well fitted out, and commanded by officers accustomed to surmount the difficulties of voyages of discovery, give every security to our hopes of success. The best wishes of the friends either of science or of national glory, will attend M. d’Urville and his companions. French commerce will see in this new expedition, combined with the missions intrusted to the Venus and to the Artemise frigates, a new proof of the care that government has of its interests; and the proprietors of the whaling vessels will conceive increased hopes of success, from the investigations of M. d’Urville.

The French flag again exhibited to the inhabitants of Oceania, as well as to those distant regions which are visited by our shipping, will shew that the royal navy everywhere watches over the interests of our merchants, and all will feel the confidence which such protection must inspire. This new expedition will likewise furnish M. d’Urville with an opportunity of completing those interesting hydrographic and scientific enquiries which he so skilfully commenced in his former voyages, and the account of which is now in the hands of the philosophers and navigators of all countries.

A singular emulation now exists between the three great maritime powers. While our expedition is preparing at Toulon to depart in September for the South Pole and Oceania, a squadron of one frigate and three schooners is getting ready at Philadelphia to pursue nearly the same course. The government, the members of congress, and all well informed Americans, share the enthusiasm of its commander, who after a long enumeration of the researches and discoveries made in the far north by the English, thus concludes his statement; “Let us then leave the North Pole to the English, but the South Pole for us Americans.” In London, the principal members of the learned societies, and especially the geographic society, during the short stay which M. d’Urville made in the English capital, expressed a strong desire, that in order to rival the French and the Americans, another expedition should be sent to the confines of the world; and no one there is now satisfied with the single vessel which is to leave Portsmouth in June, for the purpose of exploring the Strait of Torres, between New Guinea and New Holland. And a paper which having been translated and read by M. d’Urville, was received by the geographical society of Paris with the greatest pleasure, and which we shall forthwith publish, shews the importance of voyages of discovery towards the South Pole, as well for the benefit of commerce as of science.

It is Captain Cook, that we are in fact to thank for the annual million of otter skins, and for the three millions of sea elephants which we bring home. The imprudent destruction of those animals has indeed exterminated them from their usual abodes, but there is no doubt that in penetrating farther to the southward, we shall obtain equally advantageous supplies.

The King received M. Dumont d’Urville on Friday, May 29th. At this audience, which lasted more than half an hour, he repeated his expectation that the expedition of the Astrolabe and the Zelee would realize his ardent hopes, that to France and to his reign would belong the glory of approaching nearest to the South Pole.

A reward[2] has been promised to the crews if this expedition reaches the 75th degree, and a proportionate increase for every further degree. “If indeed it should reach the Pole” said the King, “Oh! then they shall have every thing they can ask.”

[1] See the Annales Maritimes for the years 1826, 1827, and 1828, in which are all the details of M. d’Urville’s first voyage round the world.

[2] To each petty officer 150 francs, to each seaman 100, and to each boy 50, if they reach 50° S. And for every additional degree of South latitude 30, 20, and 10 francs to each individual of those three classes.