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First Explorers To Winter There - Large Expeditions Now Preparing.

There will be cause for solicitude as to the fate of the Antarctic exploring expedition commanded by Lieut. Gerlache of the Belgian Navy if no news is heard of it within the next two months. Lieut. Gerlache bought and fitted out a Norwegian vessel, which he named the Belgica. He was assisted to a large extent by the Belgian government, and at the last moment the Belgian Chamber voted the sum of $12,000, which he needed to complete his equipment. His party, which included Dr. F. A. Cook of Brooklyn, who joined him in South America, sailed from Antwerp on Aug. 16, 1897. His scientific assistants were Lieut. Danco, who was in charge of the pendulum and magnetic observations; Dr. Racovitz, naturalist, and Dr. Aretowski, geologist. His plan of work was arranged to cover two years time, but he did not propose to winter in the Antarctic regions. It was his purpose to reach the threshold of the Antarctic area at the beginning of the South Polar summer of 1897-1898, then steam a little east of south to Graham Land which is crossed by the South Pacific circle, and if possible determine the extent of that land mass; thence he intended to push as far south as he could through the wholly unknown region between Graham Land and the South Pole, get out of the ice by the end of the summer season and spend the winter in Australia. Upon the approach of the Antarctic summer season of 1898-99 he proposed again to enter the ice sea and this time from the Australian side.

No later tidings have come from the Belgica than those contained in a letter received at THE SUN office from Dr. Cook, dated at Ushuala, home of the the most southern settlements of Tierra del Fuego, on Dec. 27, 1897. He said that on the following day the party was to sail for Graham Land, and then, after proceeding south as far as possible, it would steam to the northeast to avoid the pack ice and finally make its way to Melbourne by way of the sub-Antarctic islands of Prince Eduard and Kerguelen.

The Belgica did not arrive at Melbourne in April last, as Lieut. Gerlache had planned. She must have passed the winter of 1898 in the Antarctic ice, unless serious accident befell her. It is likely that she was caught in the ice and was unable to get out, and, at any rate, if she was still afloat she was the first vessel that ever wintered in the Antarctic regions. If the party has not been disabled it has been engaged during the past few months in its second summer's work. The winter season is now fast closing down upon the antarctic area, and it is hoped the party will soon reach some point of communication with the rest of the world.

Meantime another expedition, as reported in THE SUN on Friday last, has had the good fortune to reach Victoria Land, the most southern land mass yet discovered. Its vessel, the Southern Cross, after leaving the exploring party on this fringe of the Antarctic world, has safely reached New Zealand. All phases of its programme, arranged before the party left England, appear thus far to have been successfully carried out. This expedition was organized by Sir George Newnes, and equipped throughout at his own expense, for the purpose of exploring Victoria Land, which was discovered by Sir James Ross in 1841, was never reached again till the whaler Antarctic sighted it on Jan. 16, 1895, and is thought by many to be a part of the supposed great Antarctic continent. Sir George purchased the steamer Pollux at Arendal, Norway, fitted her out in that country, appointed a Norwegian Captain and officers, changed the vessel's name to the Southern Cross and placed the expedition in charge of the young Norwegian, Mr. C.E. Borchgrevink. This gentleman was with the Antarctic on her cruise and landed with a party from that vessel on Cape Adare (sic), the only men who, as far as we know, ever set foot on this great southern land, where the nearest approach thus far to the South Pole has been made. Dr. Jeaffreson visited the Yamal peninsula on the northwestern border of Siberia and procured from the Samoyed natives seventy Siberian dogs for the proposed sledge expedition to the south over the ice cap of Victoria Land. The Southern Cross sailed from London on Aug. 22 last. Mr. Borchgrevink said that he intended to proceed to Cape Adare, the nearest point of Victoria Land, make his winter headquarters there, and send his vessel back. The steamer landed the leader, ten men, dogs and other equipment, and they are now entering upon the winter season. When the Antarctic spring dawns he will attempt to make a sledge journey overland as far south as possible, and the plan is for his vessel to call for the party in the autumn and carry it home. His winter camp is probably pitched at the spot he selected in 1895, on a long, flat, pebbly beach, bordering a bay, gently sloping from the steep rocks of Cape Adare, whose basaltic sides rise above it to a height of 3,779 feet in 71° 23' south latitude and 169° 56' east longitude. From the cape, he said, "we saw the coast of Victoria Land to the west and south as far as the eye could reach, rising from dark, bare rocks into peaks of perpetual ice and snow, 12,000 feet above the sea level, with Mount Sabine standing out above the rest. "

But the Gerlache and Borchgrevink expeditions are small and inadequate in comparison with the German and British enterprises that are now preparing. In his recent address the President of the Royal Geographical Society said that "the exploration of the Antarctic regions has now become the most important geographical work of our time." The Sixth International Geographical Congress declared in 1895, with reference to this work, that "this is the greatest piece of geographical exploration yet to be undertaken," and it made recommendations with a view to setting the work forward on a large scale before the end of the century. The primary reason for the present activity is the fact that the unknown part of the Antarctic is to-day twice as large as the whole of Europe, while the completely unknown part of the Arctic regions is now no larger than European Russia. the next few years, however, will tell a different story. The Germans will certainly despatch (sic) an expedition next year, the cost of which, it is estimated, will be about $200,000. After long exertions by Dr. Neumayer, the great authority on terrestrial magnetism, and others, the funds required have been secured. The German Government will help with funds and in other ways, and will lend officers from the navy to navigate the ship. A steam vessel specially designed and equipped for Antarctic service will be built at Bremerhaven, and Dr. Erich van Drygalski, the distinguished Greenland explorer, whose recent remarkable book on glaciers is regarded as the highest scientific utterance on this subject, will be at the head of the scientific corps.

The Germans are looking to the British for co-operation in carrying out a large scheme of exploration, too vast for one expedition to undertake alone, which shall result in additions to knowledge in almost every branch of science. The Royal Geographical Society is making every effort to raise the funds necessary to place as large an expedition in the Antarctic as that of the Germans, and divide the field and the work with the German explorers. Last year a joint committee for the promotion of Antarctic exploration was formed in England, consisting of officers and fellows of the Royal Geographical and Royal societies. Lord Salisbury's Government, regarding these as ticklish times, declined at present to supply a vessel for the British expedition or to bear any part of the expense. The Royal Society Committee decided recently to give substantial support to the project if possible, but how far it can assist in financing the enterprise is not yet known. The Royal Geographical Society has headed the subscription list with $25,000. It remains to be seen whether the British have sufficient funds to participate with the Germans on even terms in the coming work and its results, but it seems quite certain that we shall not be much longer in the dark concerning the vast Antarctic expanse whose ice-capped edge was skirted by Ross fifty-eight years ago.

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:
  N.Y. Sun , New York, NY. Mar. 21, 1899.  
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  Jennifer Holvoet, University of Kansas  
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