Southern Cross Expedition

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The Southern Cross research vessel on the Derwent River before departure for Antarctica (1898)

The Southern Cross Expedition (official name British Antarctic Expedition 1898–1900 ) was the first research trip of the so-called Golden Age of Antarctic research under British leadership. It was led by the Norwegian Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink . It was the first expedition in which participants wintered on the Antarctic mainland. Other pioneering achievements were the first stepping on the Great Ice Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf ) and the use of dogs and sleds as a means of transport in Antarctica. The Southern Cross Expedition is widely regarded as a pioneer of the much better known British Antarctic expeditions under the direction of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton .

The research trip was mainly financed from the private fortune of the British publisher George Newnes (1851-1910). After leaving England in August 1898 on the steam-powered sailing ship Southern Cross , which gave the expedition its name, the ten-man landing crew around Borchgrevink set up their winter quarters in 1899 at Cape Adare on the northeastern tip of Victoria Land . From there, an extensive scientific observation program was carried out, although the difficult terrain in the study area prevented long exploratory marches into the Antarctic inland. In January 1900 the crew left Cape Adare to follow the route of James Clark Ross sixty years earlier to get to the Great Ice Barrier. After landing on the ice shelf, Borchgrevink, together with William Colbeck (1871–1930) and Per Savio (1877–1905), went on a sled excursion on February 16, 1900, during which the three men set a new southern record at 78 ° 50 'S.

The reception of the expedition members on their return to England by the Royal Geographical Society was extremely cautious in view of the preparations made by the learned society for the upcoming Discovery Expedition under the direction of Robert Falcon Scott. In addition, Borchgrevink's leadership qualities were questioned and the supposedly little knowledge gained from the expedition was criticized. Despite his pioneering contributions to the development of survival strategies and transportation options in the Antarctic , Borchgrevink never achieved the prestige and admiration as an expedition leader that his successors Scott and Shackleton received. Only his compatriot and South Pole conqueror Roald Amundsen recognized that the Southern Cross Expedition made decisive contributions in overcoming obstacles in Antarctic travel and paved the way for all subsequent expeditions.


The head of the Southern Cross Expedition Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink

Born in Oslo in 1864 to a Norwegian father and an English mother, Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink emigrated to Australia in 1888 , where he first worked as a surveyor and geologist before becoming a school teacher in New South Wales . From 1894 he took part in the Antarctic Expedition (1894-1895) led by Henryk Bull , which aimed to open up new whaling grounds off the coast of Antarctica. During this expedition, Borchgrevink was believed to be the first person to set foot on the Antarctic mainland at Cape Adare on January 24, 1895 . During this trip he came to the conclusion that the region around the Cape was ideally suited for a future expedition with the aim of exploring the interior of the Antarctic continent.

In the firm belief that he could lead such a research trip himself, Borchgrevink sought financial support in Australia and England over the next three years. Despite encouraging statements from the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), at whose Sixth International Antarctic Congress he presented his plans in August 1895, he was initially unsuccessful. In reality, the RGS withheld its own plans for a large-scale Antarctic expedition, later the Discovery Expedition . Its patron and President of the RGS, Sir Clements Markham , saw Borchgrevink as merely a foreign competitor and intruder. Finally, Borchgrevink was able to persuade the publisher George Newnes to take over the entire cost of his project of £ 40,000 (around £ 4,465,000 [£ 1 = € 1.118] today). Newnes' support for Borchgrevink excited Markham and the RGS, as the amount of money would have been enough to "set up the National Expedition [meaning the Discovery Expedition]." Newnes attached two conditions to funding the expedition: That Research vessel was to sail under the British flag and the whole undertaking was to be referred to as the British Antarctic Expedition . Borchgrevink readily agreed, although only two members of the entire expedition team were from England. These circumstances aroused Markham's anger and disregard for Borchgrevink's expedition. This was particularly felt by the RGS librarian Hugh Robert Mill (1861–1950), whom Markham punished for attending the expedition's farewell party. There Mill had toasted their success and, in his dinner speech, described it as a “shame for human enterprise” that so little research had been done in the Antarctic case, and combined this with the hope that “the generosity of Sir George Newnes and the courage of Mr. Borchgrevink will remove this shame. "

Goals of the expedition

Borchgrevink's interests in carrying out the expedition were primarily scientific and geographical, but also economic. So he thought, if only temporarily, of founding a company to mine the large guano deposits that he had already encountered on the Antarctic expedition. In numerous letters to scientific societies, he highlighted the extensive scientific program of his expedition, including his intention to pinpoint the exact location of the Antarctic magnetic pole . Although his academic staff were quite inexperienced, they covered a wide range of different disciplines. Among them were geographers , magnetologists , biologists , zoologists, and taxidermists . Borchgrevink hoped to make spectacular geographical discoveries in addition to scientific achievements. He even considered a possible march to the geographic South Pole . Unaware of the exact conditions that the expedition members were to encounter in their winter quarters on Cape Adare, he was not aware that the nature of the terrain there made penetration into the interior of the Antarctic continent impossible from the outset.

Expedition ship

The Southern Cross before departure in London

With the capital provided, Borchgrevink bought Pollux, a whaler built in 1886 by the Norwegian shipbuilder Colin Archer in Arendal . Archer had also designed and built the famous Norwegian expedition ship Fram , with which Fridtjof Nansen had set a new northern record (86 ° 13.6 'N) on his Arctic expedition from 1893 to 1896 . The Pollux , which Borchgrevink immediately renamed Southern Cross , was a three-masted barque of 570 tons displacement with square sails on the fore and main mast and gaff sails on the mizzen mast . The steam engine was repaired according to Borchgrevink's specifications in Fredrikstad, Norway . Although Clements Markham publicly expressed significant doubts about the seaworthiness of the ship (probably to discredit Borchgrevink), the Southern Cross was equipped with everything necessary for a voyage in Antarctic waters. In this way, the two-bladed drive screw could be hoisted on board in order to avoid damage when the ice pressure was high. After the expedition was over, the Southern Cross shared the fate of many other expedition ships, such as the Nimrod or the Aurora . She was sold to the Newfoundland Seal Society and sank in a storm off the coast of Newfoundland on March 31, 1914 . The entire 174-strong team was killed.

Expedition team

William Colbeck in front of the observation hut at Cape Adare

The ten-man landing crew that was to winter at Cape Adare consisted of Borchgrevink, five scientists, a doctor , a cook and two dog handlers . Among them were seven Norwegians, two English and one Australian.

Among the scientists was the Australian physicist and astronomer Louis Bernacchi . This should actually already take part in the Belgica expedition (1897-1899) under Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery . However, this did not happen because the expedition ship did not call at Melbourne as planned on its way to Antarctica , so that Bernacchi waited in vain to be picked up. Instead, after a trip to London , he applied directly to Borchgrevink to take part in his expedition. Bernacchi's 1901 travelogue, To the South Polar Regions, contained critical comments on Borchgrevink's leadership skills, but left no doubt about the expedition's scientific successes. After completing the Southern Cross Expedition, Bernacchi returned to Antarctica as a physicist on the Discovery Expedition in 1901 . Another crew member who later took part in the Discovery Expedition (as captain of the second rescue ship Morning ) was the Englishman William Colbeck (1871-1930). Colbeck was a skilled seaman and served as a lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR).

The lead zoologist of the expedition was the Norwegian Nicolai Hanson from the University of Oslo . He was assisted by Hugh Blackwell Evans (1874–1975), the son of a vicar from Bristol , who had spent three years on a ranch in Canada and had already taken part in a ship trip to seal the Kerguelen . Herluf Kløvstad (1868–1900), who worked as a doctor, previously worked in a mental hospital in Bergen . Anton Fougner (1870–1932) was recruited as a research assistant and “ girl for everything ”. Borchgrevink engaged Kolbein Ellifsen (1874–1928) as a cook and carpenter . The youngest participants in the expedition were the two Norwegian Sami Ole Must (1878-1934) and Per Savio (1877-1905), who acted as dog handlers.

The ship's crew under the command of Captain Bernard Jensen (1853–?) Consisted of 19 Norwegian seamen and the Swedish steward Lars Andersen (1850–?). Jensen had around 20 years of experience navigating polar waters. As early as 1894–1895 he had participated in the Antarctic expedition together with Borchgrevink and Henryk Bull.

Expedition trip

Drive to Cape Adare

The winter quarters at Cape Adare

The Southern Cross left London on August 22, 1898 in the presence of the then Duke of York and later King George V , who presented the expedition members with a Union Jack as a farewell . In addition to the crew, equipment and supplies, there were also 90 Greenland dogs and Siberian huskies on board , which were to be the first sled dogs to be used in the Antarctic. After a stopover in Hobart on Tasmania, the expedition ship set sail on December 19, heading Cape Adare. The Arctic Circle was crossed on January 23, 1899. The ship was in the meantime trapped in the pack ice, so that Cape Adare was only sighted on February 16 and reached the following day. Bernacchi recorded his impression of the first sight of the Antarctic mainland in his diary: “A landscape, so terrible in its barreness, which can only be experienced at the extreme end of the globe; truly a land of unsurpassed desolation. "

James Clark Ross discovered the cape during his trip to Antarctica (1839–1843). Below the cape there is a headland on which Borchgrevink and Henryk Bull landed in 1895. This headland is the site of the largest breeding colony of Adelie penguins on the entire Antarctic continent. On the first landing, Borchgrevink found that "this place offers enough space for permanent accommodation, tents and provisions." In addition, the penguins are a welcome change on the menu and their fat is an additional source of fuel for the winter.

The unloading of the ship began on February 17th. First the sled dogs were brought ashore. The dog handlers Must and Savio, entrusted with their care, were the first people to stay overnight on the Antarctic mainland. During the following 12 days, the other goods were transported ashore and two prefabricated huts, the first buildings in Antarctica, were built. One served as accommodation for the landing crew, while supplies and equipment were deposited in the second. Some expedition members made a shelter for geomagnetic surveying work and dog houses to accommodate the huskies from the slats of the transport crates. The winter quarters offered just enough space for ten men. Bernacchi described the hut as "15 by 15 feet, anchored with ropes in the rocky shore." Inside, two adjoining rooms were separated from a main room. One was used as a darkroom , the second was used for taxidermy. The main room was lit by double-glazed side windows and another window in the sloping roof. The bunks were set up along the walls of the hut. The middle of the main room provided space for the stove and the dining table.

On March 2, the establishment of the base camp, which was baptized after the maiden name of the mother Borchgrevinks Camp Ridley , was completed with the hoisting of the Union Jack . On the same day the Southern Cross left Cape Adare to winter in Australia. In the few weeks leading up to the onset of winter, the first test sledge rides on the sea ​​ice near Robertson Bay were undertaken to measure the coastline, catch various birds and fish for biological collection, and add seals and penguins for food and fuel supplies Butcher.


Colbeck, Bernacchi and Evans skinning a seal

From the middle of May 1899 the weather deteriorated considerably. Storms and falling temperatures kept the expedition members trapped in their narrow winter quarters more and more often. This was reflected in morale. Boredom and increased irritability spread among the men. During this time of tension, Borchgrevink's qualities as leader of the expedition were more demanding than ever. However, Bernacchi writes that Borchgrevink was "in many ways ... not a good guide" . The well-known historian and polar researcher Ranulph Fiennes reports that in such a “state of democratic anarchy”, poor hygiene, disorder and lack of drive are the order of the day.

Borchgrevink was not a proven scientist and his lack of knowledge in handling measuring devices and the associated inability to carry out the simplest investigations made his reputation wan among the other expedition participants. Nevertheless, a scientific work program was carried out and when the weather allowed, the men got exercise outside the hut. A special change was the improvised sauna by Savio in the snowdrifts at the hut . Social evenings with lectures, singing sessions or a slide show provided entertainment. A near-disaster occurred when a burning candle in one of the bunks set the hut on fire and caused considerable damage. Another time three men narrowly escaped fatal smoke poisoning due to improper use of the coal stove while they slept.

The supply of the team with basic food was very good. There was also no shortage of coffee, tea, butter, canned fish, various types of cheese, soups, tripe , plum pudding , potatoes and vegetables. However, there were complaints from the men about some supplies. Colbeck complained that "all of the canned fruit that was actually planned for the landing crew [...] either remained on board the Southern Cross or had already been consumed by the ship's crew." There was also a shortage of tobacco . Although around half a ton of tobacco had been bought, the landing crew had only a small amount of chewing tobacco available.

In the course of the winter Nicolai Hanson probably fell ill with moist beriberi , aggravated by an intestinal infection. He died there on October 14, 1899, becoming the first person to be buried in Antarctica. His grave was blasted into the rock above Cape Adare with dynamite . Bernacchi has the following entry for this event: “There, in the midst of deep silence and peace, nothing disturbs eternal sleep except the screeching of sea birds.” Hanson left behind his wife and a newborn baby who was born shortly after he set off on the expedition was.

With the beginning of the Antarctic spring, the team prepared for the demanding trips with the dog sled into the interior of the Antarctic continent. However, the way there was cut off by insurmountable mountain ranges in the vicinity of the winter camp. Marches along the coastline became a dangerous undertaking due to unsafe ice conditions. These accompanying circumstances narrowed the radius of movement for exploration tours considerably, so that these were ultimately limited to the area around Robertson Bay west of Cape Adare. A small island was discovered, which has since been called the Duke of York Island . A few years later this discovery was questioned by participants of the Discovery expedition with the mocking hint that this island did not exist at all. In later years, the existence of the island was unequivocally confirmed and 71 ° 38 '  S , 170 ° 4'  O localized.

Exploring the Ross Sea region

Cape Crozier at the east end of Ross Island

The Southern Cross returned from Australia to Cape Adare on January 28, 1900 to resume the landing crew. Following the later descriptions of a reconnaissance team of the Discovery Expedition, the withdrawal from Camp Ridley on February 2, 1900 was apparently disordered and in a great hurry. In Edward Wilson's diary of January 9, 1902, there is the entry: "... the garbage was lying around everywhere, mountains of supply boxes, dead birds, seals, dogs, harnesses [...] and heaven knows what else."

Instead of returning directly to Australia, Borchgrevink had the expedition ship take a southerly course into the Ross Sea . The first intermediate port was Possession Island ( 72 ° 0 ′  S , 171 ° 10 ′  E ), where the tin can was found that Borchgrevink had deposited there when it first landed in 1895. Then the ship drove along the coast of Viktorialand . Other islands were discovered, one of which Borchgrevink named after Sir Clements Markham ( Markham Island ; 74 ° 36 ′  S , 164 ° 55 ′  E ) , regardless of his hostile attitude towards himself . Now that the Southern Cross took an easterly course, she drove along the coast of Ross Island to Cape Crozier at the foot of the Mount Terror volcano . Borchgrevink and Captain Jensen only narrowly escaped death when they were both hit by a tidal wave that was caused by the calving of large masses of ice from the edge of the adjacent Ross Ice Shelf .

Following James Clark Ross's route sixty years earlier, the expedition ship pushed further east along the ice barrier to find the bay in which Ross was on February 2, 1843 with the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror at 78 ° 10 'S had reached the highest southern latitude. A position determination showed that the ice shelf edge had receded around 48 km to the south since then, which has already exceeded the old southern record. Nevertheless, Borchgrevink also wanted to explore the surface of the ice shelf. Together with Colbeck and Savio he went on a sleigh excursion on which the three men advanced on February 16, 1900 to a south latitude of 78 ° 50 'S. Roald Amundsen noted about this pioneering act : "By entering the ice barrier, Borchgrevink paved the way to the south and removed the greatest obstacles for future expeditions." Ten years later, Amundsen built Camp Framheim not far from this position , which was used as a base camp for served his successful attack on the geographic South Pole. On the way north, the Southern Cross made a stopover on Franklin Island not far from the coast of Victoria Land. Geomagnetic investigations there revealed that the Antarctic magnetic pole is inland from Victoria Land, but further to the northwest than previously assumed. Then the expedition ship set off on its home course. The Arctic Circle was crossed on February 28, 1900, and on April 1, a telegram was sent to the New Zealand port of Bluff about the safe return of the expedition members.


Sir Clements Markham , President of the Royal Geographical Society and opponent of Borchgrevink

The Southern Cross returned to England in June 1900, where the expedition participants were given a cool reception. Members of the Royal Geographical Society were still annoyed by Borchgrevink's successful effort to get George Newnes to fund his expedition. Furthermore, almost all the attention in the scientific community was directed to the upcoming Discovery Expedition under Robert Falcon Scott . Borchgrevink defiantly declared his expedition a great success. He wrote: "Antarctica could become another [sic!] Klondyke in view of the occurrence of fish, seals and mineral ores." He had proven that wintering in Antarctica is possible and also made a number of geographical discoveries. These discoveries include the islands of Robertson Bay and the Ross Sea, as well as the first landings on Ross Island, Franklin Island, Coulman Island and the Ross Ice Shelf. The exploration of the coast of Victoria Land resulted in "important geographical discoveries [...] of the Southern Cross Fjord and the excellent camp site at the foot of Mount Melbourne ." According to Borchgrevink, the greatest achievement of the expedition was the measurement of the east-west extent of the Ross Ice Shelf and the journey to the "southernmost point [on the earth] that a person has ever reached."

Borchgrevink published the experiences and discoveries of his 1901 expedition in the book First on the Antarctic Continent . The English-language edition, many passages revised by Newnes' editors , has been criticized for its lurid style and cocky tone. Borchgrevink was accused of being "known neither for his restraint nor for his tact." His lecture tour through England and Scotland received little attention.

Hugh Robert Mill noted that the scientific findings of the expedition were not as far-reaching as hoped, also because much of Nicolai Hanson's work inexplicably disappeared. Mill described the trip as an “interesting scientific jaunt.” Meteorological and geomagnetic investigations in Viktorialand were carried out over a full year and the location of the Antarctic magnetic south pole was localized (although not explored). Samples of the fauna , flora and geology of the Antarctic mainland were also collected. Borchgrevink claimed for himself the discovery of new insect species and those of the shallow water fauna, which demonstrated the biological convergence in the development of lower species in the Arctic and Antarctic.

Geographical societies both in England and beyond have found it difficult to recognize Borchgrevink's achievements. The Royal Geographical Society appointed him a Fellow despite all reservations . Further awards finally followed from Norway, Denmark and the United States . Clements Markham stuck to his negative attitude towards Borchgrevink, calling him sly and unprincipled. Roald Amundsen was the only notable personality who found words of praise for him. Scott's biographer David Crane suggests that Borchgrevink would have been judged differently if he had been an officer in the Royal Navy, "but a Norwegian sailor and headmaster was simply not taken seriously." Borchgrevink received late recognition from the Royal Geographical Society not until 1930, when she presented him with the gold medal of patronage with the words that "the pioneering deeds of the Southern Cross Expedition were wronged at that time" and that the difficulties that had to be overcome in these achievements were underestimated.

Literature cited

Web links

Commons : Southern Cross Expedition  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Australian Dictionary of Biography Online
  2. a b c d Norway's Forgotten Explorer - Carsten Borchgrevink ( Memento of the original from April 7, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ To Antarctic Time Line: 1519-1959,
  4. ^ A b c d The Southern Cross Expedition , University of Canterbury
  5. ^ A b c Preston: A First Rate Tragedy , 1997, pp. 14-16.
  6. Calculation using template: inflation and template: exchange rate .
  7. ^ Jones: The Last Great Quest , 2003, p. 9.
  8. a b c d e f g h i Carsten Borchgrevink 1864-1934 ,
  9. ^ A b Jones: The Last Great Quest , 2003, pp. 59-60.
  10. a b c d Crane: Scott of the Antarctic , 2005, p. 74.
  11. Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, pp. 25-26.
  12. a b Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic Continent , 1901, p. 6.
  13. ^ Markham: The lands of silence , 1921, p. 433.
  14. Borchgrevink: Nærmest sydpolen aaret 1900 , 1903, pp. 23-25.
  15. a b Bernacchi: To the South polar regions , 1901, p. 332.
  16. ^ The 1914 Sealing Disaster , Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage.
  17. Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, pp. 15-16.
  18. ^ Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 15.
  19. a b c Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 17.
  20. a b Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 16.
  21. Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, pp. 13-14.
  22. ^ Bernacchi: To the South Polar regions , 1901, p. 1.
  23. ^ Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 43.
  24. ^ Bernacchi: To the South Polar regions , 1901, pp. 27-28.
  25. ^ Mill: The siege of the South pole , 1905, pp. 396-397.
  26. Louis Bernacchi, diary entry in February 1899 ( Memento of the original from February 8, 2006 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  27. ^ Bernacchi: To the South Polar regions , 1901, p. 90.
  28. ^ The first buildings on the continent , University of Canterbury.
  29. ^ Fiennes: Captain Scott , 2003, p. 43.
  30. ^ Life at Camp Ridley , University of Canterbury.
  31. HR Guly: 'Polar anemia': cardiac failure during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration (PDF; 131 kB). In: Polar Record 48, 2012, pp. 157-164. doi : 10.1017 / S0032247411000222
  32. ^ Bernacchi: To the South Polar regions , 1901, p. 190.
  33. ^ Huxley: Scott of the Antarctic , 1977, p. 60.
  34. ^ Bertrand and Alberts: Geographic Names of Antarctica . 1956, p. 112 .
  35. United States Geographic Survey
  36. ^ Wilson: Diary of the Discovery Expedition , 1973, pp. 93-95.
  37. ^ Bertrand and Alberts: Geographic Names of Antarctica . 1956, p. 246 .
  38. ^ Bernacchi: To the South Polar regions , 1901, p. 236.
  39. ^ Bertrand and Alberts: Geographic Names of Antarctica . 1956, p. 204 .
  40. ^ Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 279.
  41. Amundsen: The South Pole. Vol. I, pp. 25-26.
  42. ^ A b Results of the Expedition , University of Canterbury.
  43. a b Borchgrevink: First on the Antarctic continent , 1901, p. 22.