Happy discovery of a southern continent

On the 10th of October we approached the principal harbour of South
Georgia, which I had no intention to enter unless there was an
appearance of an unusual abundance of seal on the coast. When near
the harbour we discovered two ships lying there with their topmasts
struck. This was evidence that there was no chance for us in that
quarter. I now told my officers and people that I thought it useless
to contend with those already in possession of the island for the
few seal it could afford, and thought it most advisable to proceed in
search of Sandwich land; where, no doubt, we could speedily obtain a
full cargo of skins, if we could find it, of which I expressed great
confidence. I strengthened their hopes by assuring them that there
was no doubt in my mind of the existence of extensive bodies of land
within the antarctic circle, which quarter had scarcely been looked
into by Christian navigators, and that my opinion was founded upon the
fact that Cook, and other navigators, had seen large bodies of ice in
latitude 70° to 71° south. This fact, I said, indicated the existence
of land, because ice could not form in a deep salt sea uninterrupted
by land, and agitated by the violent winds and currents of the polar
region. I urged that we had but to persevere in our researches in high
southern latitudes, to make sure of finding land, which would yield
us ample fortunes, for all southern islands, when first discovered,
were found to abound in seal. Mr. Slim, the third mate, expressed
some apprehension, that great danger might be encountered in high
southern latitudes; that if we found land, the ice might close upon
us and prevent our return to our country, as it once served a colony
in Greenland. I was not much pleased with this. I have no patience
with an officer who suggests doubts and difficulties when I have a
grand project in view. I marked him, but at the same time pretended to
listen to his observations, as objections of great weight, and then
proceeded to remove them from the minds of the officers and people,
by advancing the following reasons for my belief that the supposition
of extreme cold at the pole was altogether gratuitous.
1st. We know that the rays of the sun, uninfluenced by the atmosphere,
would rest upon the pole for six successive months.
2d. That a dense medium refracts, or bends the rays of the sun.
3d. That the amount of that refraction depends upon the extent of
the dense medium through which it has to pass.
4th. That at the pole, the rays of the sun coming to it in a very
oblique direction, must necessarily pass through our atmosphere a
greater distance than on any other part of this globe, and consequently
must there be refracted in a greater degree than elsewhere. Hence I
inferred, that in consequence of this refraction, and of its increase
in proportion to the obliquity of the direction of the rays, the
sun when in the plane of the equator, must appear to an observer
at the poles to be some degrees above the horizon, and that the sun
must recede to the north of the equator at least five or six degrees
of declination, before it would become invisible at the south pole:
therefore, as it takes fifteen days to increase the sun’s declination
five degrees, it must be visible at the poles one month longer, on
account of the refraction, than it would be without it. This conclusion
is corroborated by the testimony of Barentz, a Dutchman, who wintered
in Nova Zembla. He found the sun to rise, in latitude 76°, fifteen
days sooner than was expected by astronomical calculations. This will
give the polar region seven months constant sunshine; think of that,
my shipmates, said I, seven months constant day, with a continual
stream of light and heat pouring upon the same spot, without any
interval of night to cool the earth and air. I think if we can but
find our way to the polar region, we shall be in much more danger of
being roasted alive, than of being frozen to death. But, my lads, what
Yankee sailor would hesitate to expose himself to be roasted or frozen
alive to accomplish that which the British tars have endeavoured in
vain to do? Three hearty cheers put an end to the debate. We bore up
for Sandwich land, not that I had any belief in the existence of any
such land, for I had always been of opinion, that the English placed
this supposed land on their charts as an English discovery, stretching
it along from the polar seas to latitude 57° south, that they might,
whenever any land should be discovered in that unexplored quarter,
have a pretence for laying claim to it as a British discovery.
We had a fine gale from the S. W., and made rapid progress to the
S. E. under canvass. Although the most perfect satisfaction with the
course I had determined on appeared to prevail throughout the ship’s
company, Mr. Slim came to me in my cabin, when relieved from his watch
on deck, and told me, that, however satisfactory my account of the
matter might have been to the other officers and the crew, it was
not satisfactory to his mind; and he should be glad to be informed
how I accounted for the vast bodies of ice which had invariably
stopped the progress of navigators in high latitudes, if my notions
of great heat at the poles were correct? “Take a chair, Mr. Slim,
and we will talk about it. In the first place, we have no account of
any navigator having sailed to a higher southern latitude than 71°,
and 82° appears, from the most authentic accounts, to be the highest
northern latitude that has been visited. Navigators to these high
latitudes have always found ice between the parallels of 70° and 80°,
which space that profound philosopher, John Cleve Symmes, denominates
the ‘icy hoop.’ It is true he has not taken the trouble to explain to
the world, in a satisfactory manner, why and wherefore this narrow
strip of ice should exist in that region; which omission, I judge,
must have arisen from the circumstance of its being obvious to his
capacious mind, that such a ‘hoop’ must necessarily exist, ‘according
to the laws of matter and motion.’ The causes of it appearing to him
perfectly simple, he could not suppose it necessary to state them to
‘the most enlightened people on the face of the globe.’ Now, sir, I
will explain the matter to you. At the pole, that is, ninety degrees
from the equator, there is seven months summer, without any interval
of night, as I stated on deck; and when the sun has twenty-three and
a half degrees of south declination, its rays must strike the pole,
allowing but three degrees for the effect of refraction, on an angle
of 26-1/2° with the plane of the horizon, and must appear nearly
as high as in Scotland in the months of March and September. It is
true it does not continue at this extreme declination for any great
length of time. On the other hand, it does not recede so far as
to withdraw its rays from the pole for a single hour during seven
months of the year. This we know; and you can imagine, from the
effect of a March sun, which in your country, Mr. Slim, loosens the
icy fetters of winter, although withdrawn one half of the time, what
must be its effect when exerting its influence for months without any
interruption? Now in latitude 70°, with the exception of a few days,
there is an interval of night the year round. In the winter months
the climate cannot differ much from that of the pole. The cold is
then no doubt severe, and forms ice in both those positions. In the
early part of summer, that is, September, October, and November,
there is at the pole a steady blaze of heat and light, which must
melt the ice accumulated in winter, by causing a constant thaw. This
sunshine continues at the pole till the 1st of April, and prevents the
forming of ice until that time. But at 70°, there is, through most of
these months, a short period of night, sufficient for the atmosphere
to cool. This will be more obvious, if we consider the powerful
influence of the ice, during this absence of the sun’s rays, and
remember the great change of temperature which occurs in our climate
immediately after sunset at the close of a sunny day in February or
March. This interval of night in latitude 70°, counteracts most of
the effects of the sun’s heat in the day time. Nearly as much ice
forms in the night as is thawed during the day. This accounts for the
‘icy hoop.’ There is not summer enough to dissipate the ice of winter;
while at the pole there is summer enough to dissolve a globe of ice.”
“But, sir,” rejoined Mr. Slim, “if this ‘icy hoop’ exists, how do
you expect to pass it? or, if it is impassable, what use is there
in encountering the risk of navigating unknown and dangerous seas,
in a high and boisterous latitude?”
“I mean, sir, to ascertain whether it be passable or not. I think
it probable that the influence of the summer heat may so far weaken
it as to admit of broad openings being formed by the pressure of
wind or currents, and if I can find an opening of but a mile wide,
I shall dash through it, at all hazards.”
“And a pretty condition we shall be in, Capt. Seaborn, if the
ice closes the passage after we have dashed through it!” replied
Mr. Slim. “We shipped with you, sir, for a sealing voyage; not for
a voyage of discovery.”
“You will please to remember, Mr. Slim, that I am expressly authorized
by the articles, to cruize and seek for seals wheresoever I may judge
expedient and proper, and that any opposition to my authority will
involve the forfeiture of your share–recollect that, Mr. Slim.”
“I do recollect that, sir; but at the same time I know, Capt. Seaborn,
that you have no right to hazard all our lives, by running into
dangers, greater than were ever encountered by human beings, to gratify
your mad passion for discovery, instead of pursuing the interest of
all concerned, by endeavouring to find seals in the usual manner. How
will you justify yourself to the world, to our families, or to your
own conscience, if we should, after effecting a passage through this
‘icy hoop’ you speak of, find it closed against our return, and be
thus forever lost to our wives, our children, and society? We must
in such a case all perish, and our blood would be upon your head.” A
plague upon your lean carcass, thought I, how am I to answer so many
impertinent questions. I could not tell him of my belief of open
poles, affording a practicable passage to the internal world, and
of my confident expectations of finding comfortable winter quarters
inside; for he would take that as evidence of my being insane, and
by means of it persuade the crew to dispossess me of my command, and
confine me to my cabin for the remainder of the voyage. After knitting
my brows a short time, I replied, “Mr. Slim, you are a sufficiently
capable officer, and can get through with your duty well enough when
you choose to do it, but you don’t know every thing; your mind is too
dense to admit the rays of intelligence. I would have you to know,
Sir, that I command this ship, and am not to be thwarted or dictated
to by any man. I have noticed your rebellious spirit; now mark me,
Sir, so sure as I have any more of your opposition to my will, or
bear any more of your murmuring; the moment I detect you in uttering
one discouraging word in the hearing of any of my officers or men,–I
will confine you, and carry you home in irons, to take your trial for
conspiring to make a revolt in the ship, which is death by the law;
remember that, and go to your duty, Sir.”
Slim had some prudence, and was a great lover of pelf; he did not
relish the idea of forfeiting his share; he kept his tongue between his
teeth; but his lank, expressive features spoke horrible things. This
comes of taking more officers than there is duty for, thought I, as he
left the cabin; that fellow will give me trouble enough before I get
rid of him; there is nothing like constant hard work to keep men out of
mischief. But I had not much time for reflection, for Will Mackerel,
my fourth mate, whose birth adjoined my cabin, had overheard all that
passed in my interview with Slim, and as soon as he was out of the
way bolted into my cabin, without much ceremony. Will was a hearty,
frank, thorough bred sailor; doffing his hat to his commander was
the only point of etiquette he was acquainted with, and he thought
it degrading to perform that ceremony to any other person. Will
reverenced his commander when he found him to be a good sailor, a
skilful navigator, and a kind hearted man. He commenced with, “Captain
Seaborn, that fellow’s insolence is unsufferable; he has spoken more
mutiny to your face, in your own cabin, in ten minutes, than all the
rest of the ship’s company would dare to think of, in the forecastle,
the whole voyage. I would not give a rope yarn for a sailor who would
not go wherever the captain had courage to lead the way. I would not
put up with it; there is but one Slim in the ship, and we’ll heave
him overboard, if you say the word; at least, I’d clap the ruffles
[1] on him, and keep him out of harm’s way the rest of the voyage.”
Whether it was honest indignation that prompted Will’s advice, or
whether some little desire for Slim’s birth, to which he would be
promoted of course if Slim were cashiered, had its influence, I did
not stop to ascertain. I told Will, to be quiet, to say nothing of
what had passed between me and Mr. Slim, but to observe him closely,
and let toe know if he detected him in endeavours to corrupt the crew.

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We made rapid progress, and were soon in the latitude of Sandwich land,
as laid down in the charts, where we met with nothing but clear blue
ocean. I hauled up S. S. E., true course, and stood on as far as 68°
South, making the best use of my time by daylight, and drifting back
upon my track during the short interval of night. On the 2d Nov. in
lat. 68-1/2, we met with ice in detached fields; and had strong gales
from S. W. with raw, drizzly weather. I edged away to the eastward,
intending to keep near the ice, and hauled to the southward, when a
clear sea would permit. The first day, we kept the ‘blink of the ice’
[2] in sight, and found it to trend nearly East and West. Made no
southing this day. The second, we were enabled to haul up S. E. and by
E. and continued this course without nearing the ice. The following
day, hauled up S. E., set the engine in motion, and made rapid way;
we observed this day at noon, in 75° 22′ S. I was elated with the
prospect of reaching a much higher southern latitude than any former
navigator had been able to gain, and pushed on as fast as canvas and
steam could drive my vessel.
We had no interval of night in this high latitude, the sun’s
declination being 15° S. After running on this course 24 hours, we lost
sight of the ice entirely, and thinking it most prudent to keep close
under the lee of the ice to windward, that in case of a hard gale we
might have smooth water, I steered due South. We observed this day,
5th Nov. in 78° 10′, with cold, raw, disagreeable weather.
I had observed Slim moving about the ship, like an uneasy spirit
compelled to revisit this troubled world, often whispering to the men,
and frequently visiting the forecastle. When I came on deck after
dinner, the whole ship’s company came aft, with Slim at their head,
who in their behalf told me, that the crew had determined to go no
further with me into this region of ice. Will Mackerel, who was on the
quarter deck, spoke up with great passion, and asked Slim if he meant
to head a mutiny? adding, that if such was the case, he would let him
see that he was a man to stand by his commander. He then called upon
those who were of his mettle, to come over to the starboard side; which
some few did, while some took their stand amidships, that they might
go either way, as circumstances should dictate. The greater number,
however, remained with Slim. There was a sad uproar for a short time,
every one having something to say, and to enforce with an oath. Even
the man on the lookout at the mast head came down from his station
to take a part in the affair.
While this war of words was going on, Mr. Boneto, who was below,
hearing high words on deck, came up with his hanger and pistols;
and the steward brought me mine, but I ordered him to put them up
again, saying, if the men will not listen to reason, we will give up
the voyage. The truth was, I felt sensible that had I been possessed
of my pistols at the outset, I should certainly have shot Mr. Slim;
but at this time the irritation of the first impulse had subsided a
little. I had had time to cool. Mr. Albicore was standing by my side,
as mute as a fish, waiting for orders. The boatswain, Jack Whiffle
his mate, and a number of the best men, had joined Will Mackerel’s
party; while those who adhered to Slim were the poorest seamen,
and most timid men in the ship, though at the same time the most noisy.
How the matter would have terminated but for a lucky occurrence is
doubtful. The vessel was running on her course during this contest,
with no one on the look out: a splash in the water, close aboard
to windward, drew my attention that way; it was a seal. At the same
moment I observed the water to be discoloured, and instantly ordered
the engine to be stopped, and a cast of the lead to be made. Some
of the faithful hastened to execute this order under the direction
of Albicore and Will Mackerel: but Slim and his malcontents kept up
their vociferation, Slim telling them that it was only a manoeuvre
of mine to divert them from their purpose.
While this was going on, I swept the horizon with my spy glass,
and soon discovered in the S. W. directly to wind-ward, a low range
of broken land. The moment I fixed my glass upon it, every eye was
turned in that direction: some sprang into the rigging, some ran to
the mast head, and the joyful cry of land ho! land! dispelled the
mutinous disposition of the crew.
Sixty-five fathoms, soft ooze, was the report of soundings;
a delightful indication of an extensive body of land, with large
rivers depositing their sediment on the bottom of the deep. We soon
approached, and observed the coast to range about S. E. and N. W. as
far as the eye could reach from the mast head. I called the attention
of my officers to this circumstance, and observed to them that the
broad opening which we had found in the ‘icy hoop’ could now be easily
accounted for. We had noticed that the prevailing wind was from the
S. W. with strong gales, the influence of which was continually forcing
the ice to the eastward; but this body of land, ranging from the
S. E. to the N. W. stopped the ice to the westward of it, while that
to the eastward was driven away, leaving a clear passage to leeward
of the land. From the westerly winds prevailing all the year round,
this must always be the case, unless the ‘immutable laws of matter and
motion,’ and the relation between ’cause and effect’ should be changed.
Mr. Slim, who had been leaning over the rail with his back towards me
during my discourse, now turned upon me, with “well said, captain,
that is the best reasoning I have heard from you yet,–I understand
that.” The truth was, we were now well in with the land, and the
appearance of vast numbers of seal in the water and upon the shore,
gave a prospect of a splendid voyage, and excited Slim’s cupidity,
and his apprehension for the safety of his share, which he was aware
he had jeopardized by his conduct.
I was in excellent good humour, and told Slim I would overlook what
had passed; I could do no less, at a moment when a kind providence
was favouring my enterprise beyond my hopes, notwithstanding my
numerous transgressions, without evincing an ungrateful and malicious
spirit. The utmost joy prevailed throughout the ship’s company; even
Slim’s livid countenance was distorted with an unusual grin. Slim
was not without shrewdness, and occasionally he pretended to be
very religious; but he had a double allowance of native selfishness,
and worshipped with heartfelt devotion no other god but gold. With
his misconduct forgiven, and a prospect of gain which surpassed his
most sanguine expectations, he felt emotions as much like those of
happiness, as such a compound of evil passions could be supposed
to feel.
When near the land, I observed it to be in general very low; there
was scarcely any appearance of elevated spots, and no high hills or
mountains could be seen. From the rugged appearance of the coast,
I judged that there were deep indentations, affording numerous and
convenient harbours, but in this I was mistaken. What we had taken
for the coast, proved to be a succession of islands, with a broad
sound between them and the main land, which latter had a straight,
unbroken shore. Deep water, and a very rapid current or tide,
rendered it unsafe to anchor amongst the islands; we therefore
continued to coast along the main shore in search of a harbour for
several hours. The shore in this place was not elevated more than 30
to 40 feet above the level of the sea. It was skirted with tussoc,
which, from the very gradual rise of the land, hid all the interior
from our view, except a few moderate elevations far distant.
At 6 P. M. the appearance of a wide bay induced me to send off the boat
to examine for anchorage. At 10 they returned, with the information
that the bay afforded good shelter with soft ground, but was rather
objectionable as a harbour, in so high a latitude, on account of its
being full four miles wide, and very deep. I determined to run in and
anchor, until a more secure port could be found; and having despatched
two boats ahead to report the soundings by signal, stood into the bay,
and at 12 o’clock P. M. anchored in 10 fathoms, soft mud, the two capes
of the bay in one S. S. E. about one league, the western shore one
mile distant. Although it was midnight according to our reckoning, we
had a bright sunshine, the sun appearing ten degrees above the horizon.
This land having been first seen by myself, my officers and men united
in calling it after my name, and expressed their wish that I would
permit it to be so denominated; it was accordingly recorded in the
ship’s log book by the name of Seaborn’s Land.
I had much need of rest, having been almost constantly on deck for
five days; and after ordering the deck watch to get the boats out,
and prepare every thing for an excursion, I retired to my cabin,
and was soon fast asleep.