A Voyage of Antarctic Discovery

On the voyage of 1837, Dumont d’Urville was asked by King Louis-Philippe to explore the South Pole. The main focus of the voyage was to reach Antarctica "towards the Pole as far as the polar ice will permit" (Rosenman, 1992, p. 110). He sailed into the South Atlantic, to the Straits of Magellan, then further south to the Antarctic, reaching 63° latitude south until the ice, fog and snow prevented them from going any further. Valuable data was obtained on these unknown regions, but at the cost of an outbreak of scurvy. Of the 183 men on board the two ships, 22 did not make it back alive.

Dumont d'Urville then sailed to Chile to refresh supplies and allow the men the chance to recover. From Chile he sailed across the Pacific, visiting the Marquesas, Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Solomons, the Carolines and New Guinea. The expedition then did a circuit around Indonesia and South East Asia before sailing down the west coast of Australia to Hobart, Tasmania.

Once summer returned, Dumont d'Urville decided to make another push for the Antarctic.  On 19 January 1840, land was sighted and Dumont d'Urville named it Terre Adélie, after his wife.   Samples of rock were taken to prove that it was a continent, and the French flag was flown. Discovering and claiming Terre Adélie in Antarctica for the French was strategically and politically Dumont d'Urville’s most significant achievement.

"This navigation was indeed not without danger, for the sea swirled so much around them that it would not fail to drive a ship to her destruction, if she were sheltered for a moment from the wind by these high cliffs of ice… their sheer walls were far higher than our masts, they overhung our ships whose size seemed absurdly reduced in proportion with these enormous masses" (Dunmore, 1969, v.2, p. 377).

The University of Canterbury Library has an extensive collection of publications relating to Antarctic voyages of exploration by Weddell, Wilkes, Ross, Scott and many others. The library is also fortunate to house the Antarctic Collection, which was transferred from the International Antarctic Centre to the University Library in 1998.

  • Voyages of Pacific Discovery
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