James Weddell

From Academic Kids

James Weddell (August 24, 1787 - September 9, 1834) was an English navigator, sealer, and explorer of the antarctic.

Contents

Early life

He entered the merchant service very early in his life and was apparently bound to the master of a Newcastle collier (a coal transport vessel) for some years. About 1805 he shipped on board a merchantman trading to the West Indies, making several voyages there.

In 1820 he volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and subsequently served on several ships. He was aboard the Hope when in 1813 in the English Channel she captured the True Blooded Yankee, an American privateer. With the end of the Napoleonic War he was laid off on half pay in February 1816, and for a while resumed merchant voyages to the West Indies.

Voyages to the antarctic

In 1819 Weddell was introduced to James Strachan, a shipbuilder of Leith, who together with James Mitchell, a London insurance broker, owned the 160-ton brig Jane, an American-built ship taken during the war of 1812 and re-fitted for sealing. News of the discovery of the South Shetland Islands had just broken, and Weddell suggested that fortunes might be made in the new sealing grounds. His first voyage as the captain of the Jane took him to the Falkland Islands and further south. He returned with the holds full, and the voyage was so profitable, that Strachan and Mitchell had a second ship, the Beaufroy, built.

The next voyage from 1821 and 1822 took both ships to the South Shetland Islands. However, there were some 45 sealers operating in the area and seal were already becoming rare (a mere two years after the discovery of the islands!), and so he scouted for new hunting grounds. Micheal McCleod, the captain of the Beaufroy, sighted the South Orkney Islands on November 22, 1821, an independent discovery from that of Powell just a few days earlier. There, they hunted for seals, and arrived back in England in July.

On the third voyage from 1822 to 1824, Weddell again commanded the Jane, while the captain of the Beaufroy was one Matthew Brisbane. Together they sailed to the South Orkneys again. Sealing proved disappointing, though, and after searching for land between the South Shetlands and the South Orkneys (and not finding any), they turned south in the hope to better sealing ground there. The season was unusually mild and tranquil, and on February 17, 1823 the two ships had reached latitude 74°34' S and longitude 30°12' W: the southernmost position any ship had ever reached before, a record that would hold for more than 80 years. A few icebergs were sighted but there was still no sight of land, leading Weddell to theorize that the sea continued as far as the South Pole. Another two days' sailing would have brought him to Coat's Land but Weddell decided to turn back. The region would not be visited again until 1911, when Wilhelm Filchner discovered the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf.

Weddell returned north and sheltered at South Georgia, where he and his crews searched for the elusive seal. They wintered at the Falklands and sailed again for the South Shetlands in November 1823. At the beginning of 1824, the two ships separated. Weddell returned in March 1824 to the Falklands and headed back to England, where he arrived in July.

His record for a southerly voyage, three degrees beyond that of James Cook, caused some raised eyebrows. Weddell was persuaded by Strachan and Mitchell to incorporate everything in a book. The first edition appeared in 1825, followed by second enlarged edition in 1827, incorporating some informations from the Beaufroy which had returned to England in 1826.

Later life

Weddell offered his services to the Admiralty with a proposal for a return voyage to the high southern latitudes, but was turned down. Instead, he returned to trading along the warmer Atlantic coasts. In 1829 he was still master of the Jane, but on a passage from Buenos Aires to Gibraltar the Jane leaked so badly that she had to be given up at the Azores. Weddell and his cargo were transferred to another ship for the passage to England, but this ran aground on the island of Pico, and Weddell only barely survived.

The loss of the Jane meant financial ruin for Weddell, who was forced to take paid employment as a ship's master. In September 1830 he left England as master of the Eliza, bound for the Swan River Colony in western Australia. From there he proceeded to Tasmania. He sailed back to England in 1832.

Weddell died in 1834 at the age of forty-seven in relative poverty and obscurity in London.

External link

This article is heavily based on the public-domain biography of James Weddell (http://www.win.tue.nl/~engels/discovery/weddell.html) by Ray Howgego.de:James Weddell nl:James Weddell pt:James Weddell

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