26. Ross, James Clark Sir (1800-1862).        

A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the

Southern and Antarctic Regions, during the Years 1839-43.  London: John Murray, 1847


The Erebus and Terror against the Ross Ice Shelf in the Ross Sea (detail), from James Clark Ross, A Voyage of Discovery, 1847.


Christmas Cove in the Kerguelen Islands, from James Clark Ross, A Voyage of Discovery, 1847.  Captain Cook had spent Christmas day here in 1776, at the start of his third voyage.

The British were beaten out of the starting gate by both the French and the Americans, but they recovered quickly, and by 1839 they had their own expedition ready to seek the south magnetic pole.  The ships were the Erebus and Terror, and the commander, fittingly, was James Clark Ross, who had discovered the north magnetic pole in 1831. 

The Terror had been badly battered during Back’s abortive voyage of 1836-7 (see item 19), but she had been repaired and strengthened and coupled with another “bomb” vessel, HMS Erebus

The Ross expedition stopped first at the Kerguelen Islands in the south Indian Ocean, which Captain Cook had visited in 1776, and then went to Tasmania, where John Franklin was then Lt.-Governor.  With provisions replenished, Ross headed straight south in the fall of 1840.  The sturdy ships managed to penetrate a very dense ice pack, and in January 1841, Ross sighted land, which he called Victoria Land, a part of Antarctica that lies along what is now the Ross Sea.  He was surprised to see a volcano on an island in active eruption.  He named the active volcano Mt. Erebus, and a quiescent one nearby Mt. Terror.

But the greatest surprise of all was the discovery of a stupendous ice sheet, nearly 200 feet high and extending for hundreds of miles.  This was the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest floating ice sheet in the world.  The double-folding plate, with the two ships dwarfed by a towering wall of ice, captures this geographic wonder quite well.  Perhaps the seal basking in the foreground is a Ross seal, a species that Ross first identified in 1841.

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