Coquille (shell) was re-named in
1825, L'Astrolabe was the name of a previous ship that had disappeared in
1788. She had just returned to France from a three year scientific and
geographic voyage to South America and the islands of the South Pacific.
A further voyage followed to
Australia and the Western Pacific where amongst other aims, she tried to
find some trace of an earlier trip made by the original L'Astrolabe after
which she was named. Traces were found and some artefacts returned to
In 1836 Emperor Louis Philippe of France
wanted France to play a part in the exploration of the Southern Seas. As
he saw it an imbalance had arisen, though it was 60 years since the
British ship Endeavour under Captain Cook had entered the ice and
though British and American whalers and sealers, had been in Southern
waters for over 50 years, France had yet to play any active role. Dumont
d'Urville in Astrolabe would lead and would be accompanied by another ship
La Zéléé captained by Charles Hector Jacquinot. Seven scientists accompanied
the crews on the voyage.
Captain Jules Sébastien-César Dumont
d'Urville was fifty years old and crippled by gout, as he went aboard the Astrolabe
he overheard one of his men wondering if he would actually survive the
voyage. He was promised a reward by the king for each degree passed beyond
67° south and "whatever you choose to ask for" if he reached
the South Pole.
The ships left Toulon on September the 7th 1837,
the aim to locate the southern magnetic pole.
On January the 22nd 1838 the ships came
across Antarctic ice in the Antarctic peninsula region, d'Urville
"...a marvellous spectacle. More
severe and grandiose than can be expressed, even as it lifted the
imagination, it filled the heart with a feeling of involuntary terror;
nowhere else is one so sharply convinced of one's impotence. The image of
a new world unfolds before us, but it is an inert, lugubrious, and silent
world in which everything threatens the destruction of one's
They were unable to make much progress as
their ships were sail only, they sighted the previously named Palmer
Peninsula and then sailed for Chile. Scurvy affected the crew and two men
died while 22 others deserted the ships or were too ill to carry on.
They sailed across the pacific in more
temperate and tropical climes before heading south again to Tasmania
arriving in November 1839. They set sail for Antarctica once again on the
first of January 1840 and on the 19th sighted a part of the continent
where the first ever landing on continental Antarctica was made. The area
was described by d'Urville as " a formidable layer of ice... over a
base of rock" it was named Terra Adélie after d'Urville's wife.
Seeing a new kind of penguin, he named that too after his wife.
They determined the approximate position of
the southern magnetic pole before heading back to Tasmania and New Zealand
arriving back in Toulon France on November the 7th 1840.
At a cost of 22 crew dead and 27 deserted,
they had brought back more natural history specimens than had ever been
obtained in a single voyage before. Dumont d'Urville's account of Astrolabe's third voyage took up 23 volumes and 5 atlases.
Historical photographs on this page by
permission of National Library of Australia