The Ashburton Guardian. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1880. A Mysterious Region.
' TOWN EDITION.
The somewhat novel subject of “ Antarctic Exploration ” is discussed by Mr. W. C. Purnell in the October number of the Melbourne Revieii', Eut for the colonial impatience of any matter unconnected with money-mak-ing, it would be strange that the Australian Colonies should have neglected so promising a field of maritime enterprise as the Antarctic regions afford. It seems almost incredible that in these modern days, when a railway runs to the top of Mount Vesuvius and the desert where the Israelites wandered for forty years is traversed by the electric telegraph, while the Pyramid of Cheops is swarming with tourists at so much a head, that a portion of the globe, about three times tjie area of Europe in extent, is as unknown ,to us as the moon. Nay, it is actually less known. The telescope has disclosed the main features of the lunar surface, and Jules Verne, or come other recounter of travellers’ stories, has made us intimately acquainted with the inhabitants ol the earth’s salelite. On the othsr hand, no human being has set bis foot on the “ Antarctic Continent.” in point of fact, nobody can say whethei an Antarctic Continent. exists or not. Sundry geographers draw an outline on their maps of what they are pleased to call the Antarctic Continent, but the Continent has been evolved from the depths of their inner consciousness. Nobody has ever seen it. Detached pieccc of land lie here and there about the Antarctic Circle ■; while Ross, sailing due south of New Zealand, discovered
an extensive territory; which he called Victoria Land, with a blazing volcano —Mount Erebus~i 2,000 feet high illumining these icy solitudes with its dead fires. He did not contrive, however, to land on this territory, although he did succeed in getting a footing on the shores of an island or two lying off the coast, where he found immense deposits of guano, gigantic penguins, weighing 6o or 70 pounds a piece, having bred there in myriads unmolested for countless ages. But save these few detached pieces of land, the halt-a-dozen navigators who have explored, or rather attempted to explore, the Antarctic regions, have met with nought but ice accumulated in vast masses surpassing in magnitude even those of the North Polar regions. From the days of Cook to those of Ross, who was the last of the Antarctic explorers, nature lias mocked the vain efforts of man to penetrate these her most secret and wonderful recesses.
If the apathy of the colonists can be accounted for by the reason mentioned, a similar explanation is not available for the negligence of the Mother Country. England hrs always led the way in geographical enterprise, and more especially in the exploration of the Polar regions. Expedition after expedition has been fitted out, either at the public or private expense for purposes of Arctic research, but since Ross’ last voyage, which took place in 1543, no attempt has been made either by the Government or by private individuals to increase our knowledge of the Antarctic regions, for we can hardly reckon the mere reconnaissance of the Southern ice by the Challenger as a serious effort in this direction. For some reason or another this arena of discovery has been overlooked, not only by England, but by other nations which interest themselves in geographical researches. Now, however, the stagnant waters are being stirred, and Sweden is fitting out an Antarctic expedition. As friendsto geographical science, wepnust needs rejoice at the tidings, but as British colonists, we feel humiliated to think that a poking little country like Sweden, with a somewhat larger population indeed, but of not half the commercial or political importance of New Zealand, should despatch her ships past our very ports, to explore a part of the world which we ought to have explored long ago. For let it be borne in mind that Victoria Land, which is the main portal to the Antarcticregions, is only six days’ steam from New Zealand, due south of which it lies, and that New Zealand is the natural base of operations for all such adventures.
If the Australasian colonies were to despatch a joint expedition to explore the Antarctic seas, as is advocated by Mr. Purnell, it would not cost much to each. ;£ 10,000 a-piece would probably cover the expense. Cut bono ? those will say who deem the “ almighty dollar ” the be-all and end-all of existence. To them we reply that there are multitudinous whales and seals to be caught, and guano to be collected by hundreds and thousands of tons. Then, too, let us depasture our imaginations for a moment upon the splendid prospect which is here presented for our impoverished land speculators ! What townships might be laid out ! What suburban lots sold on deferred payments ! What fortunes are “ sticking out ” for enterprising auctioneers ! Let us, however, not wander too far into the realms of fancy. Seriously, we might expect commercial results of much value to accrue from a thorough knowledge of the Antarctic regions ; but an Antarctic expedition would, in the main, be a scientific one, and as such, we ought to regard it. Moreover, it is wise to encourage feats of maritime adventure ; our young men ought to be taught that there are greater things to do in the world than cracking stockwhips and loafing about public-house bars. The “ Viking’s blood ” is pretty well diluted by this time, but it has not altogether lost its vigor, and while the colonies, if they choose, could easily find the money, they could, with equal ease, find the men for an expedition to that weird and truly mysterious region which lies within the South Pole circle.
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