Why Did James Weddell Sail So Far South?

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On February 20, 1823, the British sailor James Weddell (1787-1834) and his crew reached 74,15 degrees south, the furthest south any men had ever been in the history of the world until then. In doing so, they had sailed deep into an unknown sea. At that moment, Weddell decided to turn back, despite having an open ocean before him. To this day, this feat is still the reason why James Weddell is remembered; because the sea he discovered is nowadays called the Weddell Sea. The question then is: why did James Weddell sail so far south? Was he motivated by a need for exploration or was he searching for a profit in the Antarctic Seas? How did he got there, and why did he turn back? This paper will investigate these questions, to unravel
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On the 16 January 1775, famous British explorer James Cook and his crew re-discovered South Georgia on his second voyage. There he marvelled at the abundance of fur, elephant seals and penguins, about which he wrote “whose flesh eat nearly as well as bullocks liver”, clearly fed up with the food from the ship rations. After circumnavigating the island, Cook concluded that South Georgia was in fact and island and not part of a continent. Sailing southeast in search of the continent, James Cook and his crew discovered the South Sandwich Island 15 days later, on 31 January. He spent a week mapping the islands in very dense, cold fog, after which he concluded that the islands were not part of a continent either. Disappointed and facing increasingly bad weather conditions, James Cook gave up his search for the continent, and sailed home. Although he firmly believed that “there is a tract of land near the pole, which is the source of most of the ice which is spread over this vast Southern Ocean:”, he did not want to risk his ship in finding it: because he was also confident that it would never be of any interest to men, saying that “I make bold to declare that the world will derive no benefit from it.” (Bryan, 2011). That first statement would eventually be found true in 1820 by Bellingshausen, but the second statement would prove to be spectacular wrong in the following…show more content…
There, they had already found in 1774 that elephant seal was an excellent replacement of whale oil. Harvesting them on the Falklands however, was not profitable, as there were too few. On South Georgia, however, there were plenty, so whalers started to supplement their whale catches with the occasional mass slaughter of elephant seals. Further deteriorating the situation for the seals was again James Cook, who on his third voyage learned that the Chinese had an immense demand for furs of seals and sea otters. In 1783, the general public learned this, and the price for seal fur skyrocketed to 100 dollars per fur. This created the infamous ‘seal rush’: the mass slaughter of elephant and fur seals on the sub Antarctic islands for pelts and oil, which nearly wiped out both species at the beginning of the 19th century. This population depletion, coupled with the war of 1812, in which the British destroyed the entire American sealing fleet, slowed the rush eventually. Nonetheless, sealing, now dominated by the British, would continue until the 1830s (Bryan,
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