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Return of the Belgica After 15 Months In The Unknown.

She Finds New Lands and Active Volcanoes Far Southeast of South America -- The First Vessel to Winter in Antarctica -- Dr. Cook of Brooklyn Sends The News.

The Standard-Union of Brooklyn printed the following special cablegram yesterday afternoon from Dr. Frederick A. Cook of Brooklyn, surgeon of the Antarctic expedition on the Belgian steamship Belgica:

"Montevideo. Uruguay (sic), April 4. --The Belgica arrived here this morning. All well. Our Antarctic voyage has been a complete success.

"Much new land in Weddell Sea and open water to the far South discovered. Active volcanoes were also seen. I come home direct by early steamer. The Belgica will not return for another winter. (sic) as originally planned. We lost men by accident, but none by disease.


Brief as this despatch is, it tells enough to show that the little Belgian expedition has indeed achieved a brilliant success. It has discovered the first new land found in Antarctic waters for fifty-eight years. It has penetrated further south than any other South Polar expedition, except that of Ross in 1841, Borchgrevink in 1894-95 and the same explorer in 1898. the details given in Dr. Cook's despatch are very meagre, but these facts are established:

The new discoveries of land have been made southeast of the termination of South america and at least 1,500 miles from Cape Horn. The new lands may be still more distant from South America, but as Dr. Cook does not give the highest southern latitude attained in the large expanse which he calls the Weddell Sea, and which Weddell himself named George IV. Sea, we do not yet know the extent of her voyage. The discoveries are probably south of 74° 15' south latitude the most southern point attained by Weddell in 1823, though they may be to the east or west of his route. The reason favoring the probability that they are south of Weddell's furthest is that if they were to the east or west of his route they would very likely have been seen by Morrell in 1823 or by Ross in 1843. It seems unlikely, however, that the Belgica reached a point very much nearer the pole than that attained by Weddell, or Dr. Cook would have mentioned it as one of the most important successes of the expedition.

The only man who ever before penetrated that part of the Antarctic area was Capt. Weddell, a British whaler, who, with a brig of 160 tons and a cutter of 65 tons, ventured far into the Antarctic Ocean. Though he had only small sailing vessels, he pushed far south through a sea incumbered (sic) with floating masses of ice and icebergs. "On the 20th February, 1823," he wrote. "our latitude was 74° 15' S. and longitude was 34° 16'. The wind was blowing from the south and prevented, what I most desired, our making progress in that direction. Three ice islands [icebergs] were in sight and on one we perceived a great number of penguins. I would willingly have explored the southwest quarter, but taking into consideration the lateness of the season and that we had to sail homeward through 1,000 miles of ocean strewed (sic) with ice islands [icebergs]. I could not determine otherwise than to take advantage of this favorable wind for returning."

Admiral Sir Erasmus Ommanney, commenting on these words of the hardy whaler, said in 1890: "The above is an instance of the remarkable changes which occur in the position of ice fields and drift ice in the South Polar regions. Had a steam vessel been in that favorable position the extent of research would have been much more considerable."

Weddell's furthest point is the most southern ever reached in the water stretching south of the Atlantic, unless his record has now been surpassed by the Belgica, which is highly probable. It will be observed that the Belgica found a vast expanse of open water just as Weddell did, seventy-five years earlier. He entered a perfectly open sea. No land was in sight, but he saw three icebergs. Whales were in abundance, and birds, chiefly penguins, were in enormous numbers. In the same year, about 700 miles to the northwest, Morrell also discovered a nearly ice-free sea. Cook, Weddell and Ross were the only explorers who ever got south of the seventieth parallel until Borchgrevink steamed into the waters of Victoria Land about the close of 1894. It is only just to the earlier discoverers to say that they would have meade far more extensive discoveries if they had had larger vessels and steam power. As it was, they made extensive discoveries in small sailing vessels. The Sabrina was a cutter of fifty-four tons. The Eliza Scott, commanded by Balleny, was a craft of 154 tons. John Boscoe's Tula measured only 148 tons, and so on till we come to the sailing ships of Cook, Ross, Wilkes, Bellingshausen (sic) and Dumont d'Urville, which although of larger dimensions, cannot be compared with modern steam whalers, such as are now employed in the Arctic whale fisheries. They were not fitted as modern vessels are for ice navigation and for threading their way speedily through the open channels between floating icebergs.

It appears from Dr. Cook's despatch that active volcanoes were also discovered by the Belgica. The only other Antarctic volcano in eruption that had hitherto been seen was Erebus (12,000 feet), on Victoria Land. It is not known whether the volcano near it, Terror (11,000 feet), is in an active condition.

The Belgica, under command of Lieut. Gerlache, set sail from Antwerp for Antarctica on Aug. 16, 1897. She was a Norwegian vessel which Gerlache fitted out for polar work. He was assisted to a large extent by the Belgian Government. The scientific staff included Lieut. Danco, who was to be in charge of the pendulum and magnetic observations; Dr. Racovitza, naturalist, and Dr. Aretowski, geologist. Dr. F.A. Cook joined the party at Rio de Janeiro, leaving Brooklyn on Sept. 20, 1897. He was to be surgeon and ethnologist and his experience in the Arctic regions was expected to be of much service to the expedition. Gerlache did not expect to winter in the Antarctic regions, but after spending the southern summer of 1897-98 in explorations, his plan was to go to Australia for the winter and renew his researches the following season. The Belgica, however, was not heard from again until yesterday, fifteen months after she started from Tierra del Fuego for the little-known Graham Land to the south, and she is therefore the first vessel that has spent a winter in South Polar waters.

Dr. Cook is a modest gentleman, successful in the practice of medicine and enthusiastic in his assiduous pursuit of the adventuresome work of polar exploration. He is a native of Callicoon, Sullivan county, N.Y., and a graduate of the University of the City of New York. He was the surgeon of Civil Engineer Peary's first expedition to Northwest Greenland, and before the party landed he set the broken leg of the leader, who completely recovered from his serious accident.

He was very helpful in collecting ethnological data relating to the Antarctic Highlanders, and was in charge of Peary's headquarters when that explorer and Mr. Astrup were absent on their brilliant sledge journey of 1,300 miles over the inland ice to the northeast coast of Greenland and return. Later he made two more brief trips to Greenland and then resumed the practice of his profession in Brooklyn. He may be expected home in six or eight weeks. and (sic) the sad news awaits him that the young lady whom he was to wed, Miss Anna E. Forbes, died a year ago. Her funeral occurred on Easter Sunday last year.

The Belgica has spent two summers and a winter in the Antarctic unknown. She will bring home the first records of South Polar phenomena during the winter months. She has found lands in a region that was white on the maps and has considerably lessened the area of unsailed Antarctic waters. It is evident that few polar expeditions have been richer in experience, interest and results. The Belgica has shown again that it is not always the most costly and ambitious of exploratory enterprises that reap the best fruits of polar research.

Reproduced with permission: L.L. Dyche, Explorations (Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2. University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries, Lawrence, KS.


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Original Source:
  New York Sun, New York, NY, April 5, 1899.  
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  Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D.
University of Kansas.
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