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The Silent Landscape
Chapter Eight. The Grim Latitudes
Simonstown, South Africa 34o12'S, 18o 26'E to The Great Ice Barrier, Antarctica 66o40'S, 78o 22'E

Crozet Islands to Kerguelen's Land

As at Prince Edward Island the unpredictable sub-Antarctic weather frustrated their plans to land. That night a gale blew up, and afterward the same heavy yellow fog came rolling in from the ocean. “We gave up all idea of landing on these abominable Crozets,” wrote Campbell, “and made sail for Kerguelen land, running before a strong westerly wind and a heavy swell the whole way”.

They arrived at Kerguelen on the morning of January 7, 1874, and could immediately see why Cook had renamed it “Desolation Island” during his visit 98 years before. “Kerguelen land is a gloomy looking land” wrote Campbell, “...with its high, black, fringing cliffs, patches of snow on the higher reaches of the dark colored mountains, and a gray sea, fretted with white horses surrounding it.”

(Challenger anchored in Royal Sound, Kerguelen Island)

By the beginning of February they had finished their survey of Kerguelen. It took three weeks to map the island, which was 100 miles long by 50 wide. Yet despite their best efforts, they had not managed to penetrate more than 10 miles toward the center of the island. Joe Matkin wrote...

"...The interior of it has never been visited by man, and perhaps never would, for the ground is frightfully irregular and boggy, so impassable all progress is debarred inland…the walking was something frightful, the island is one vast swamp. At every other step you sink up to your knees in the boggy ground. What looked like grass from the ship turned out to be moss, and it was the mossy ground which was the most treacherous. Not a tree or shrub was to be seen anywhere, no animals in any sort, neither insects on the earth though we looked carefully, except wild ducks and carrion hawks, we saw no birds, so that we may call it truly a land of desolation..."

(The expedition artist and secretary J. J. Wild sketching on Kerguelen)

When the time came to depart nobody was unhappy. The sheer grinding desolation of the place was getting everybody down. Kerguelen presented all over the same dreary and desolate appearance, hills and more hills of volcanic pumice, all covered in snow and with a heavy fog that hung continually over the island so that the interior was always obscured.

...The whalers had been in the area around Kerguelen for three years and in all that time the only inhabited place that they landed on was Tristan da Cunha. Only once a year, when they rendezvoused with a support vessel that brought provisions and relieved them of their cargo of oil and skins, did they see a fresh face. It was an existence that none aboard Challenger envied even compared to what they contemplated on the next leg of their own journey, the 300-mile leg due south to the McDonald and Heard Islands and beyond that to the Great Ice Barrier of the Antarctic.

(Cape Challenger, Kerguelen Island, with Mount Ross in the distance)

Now click here to enter Chapter 9. The Lost World...

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Richard Corfield 2003 in association with pedalo.co.uk