22. Weddell, James (1787-1834)  

A Voyage towards the South Pole, Performed in the Years 1822-24.  London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825.


The Jane and Beaufoy among the “Ice Islands” on the way to the Weddell Sea, from James Weddell, A voyage towards the South Pole, 1825.


A Weddell seal, from James Weddell, A Voyage towards the South Pole, 1825.

In many ways, Weddell was the southern counter-part to Scoresby, although he was a sealer rather than a whaler (see item 1).  Like Scoresby, he managed to juggle the demands of a rather grisly profession with a desire to make scientific observations of the new regions to which his seal-searching brought him.  He made three voyages to the Antarctic between 1821 and 1824, in his brig, the Jane (with its tender the Beaufoy), exploring  South Georgia, the South Shetland and the South Orkney Islands (both recently discovered), and the ice around Antarctica.  On his third voyage, he sailed down into what is now the Weddell Sea, achieving a southern latitude of 74° 15’ on February  20, 1823, a record that would not be surpassed for almost eighteen years.

Shortly before his descent into the Weddell Sea, Weddell had spotted some sea-leopards on the shore of an island in the South Orkneys, and he captured several of them.  He discovered that his animals were different from the ordinary sea-leopard in having spots, and so he called it a spotted sea-leopard.  Upon return he deposited one specimen in the Edinburgh Museum, where it was declared to be a new species.  It is now called the Weddell seal.

Weddell did his own drawings.  He was not as gifted an artist as some of the later explorers, but the images have a certain naïve charm.  This plate showing the Jane and Beaufoy passing through the “Ice Islands” on their way to the Weddell Sea, was redrawn by A. Masson from a sketch by Weddell.  The seal is Weddell’s work alone.

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