Chronologie des îles Crozet
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Page précédente Niveau supérieur Page suivante L'expédition de l’Erebus (1840)

April 25.

A comparatively fine day : we continued to pass many large patches of sea-weed, and although arrived near the position on our charts of Crozet's group of islands, we could see nothing of them, and I should have lost much time in the search, had I not, fortunately, before leaving the Cape of Good Hope, obtained a more accurate account of their situation from a merchant of Cape Town, at whose request I undertook to convey some provisions to Possession, or to East Island, for a party of seamen employed there in the capture of the sea elephant (Morunga Elephantina).

April 26.

Land was seen at daylight this morning, bearing E. by S. at the distance of ten miles. It proved to be Penguin, or Inaccessible Island, and well deserves either of the names it bears, for it was literally covered with penguins on all the ledges of its rugged shores, nor could we any where see a point on which it would be possible to land. Like all other volcanic islands, its summits terminate in curiously shaped pinnacles, and not the smallest appearance of vegetation was perceptible. The great quantities of sea-weed and numerous waterfowl we met with would have given us timely notice of our approach to land.

"Pig Island" of the sealers was soon afterwards seen to the northward. It is the westernmost island of the group, and presented a much more agreeable aspect, but the weather being unfavourable, and its eastern, or lee side, having many dangerous reefs and detached rocks off it, we did not venture nearer than two or three leagues ; but after passing close to Inaccessible Island, we shaped a course for the southern extreme of Possession Island, which we had been informed extended as far as the 47th degree of latitude.

During the night the wind increased to a strong breeze from the westward, with thick weather, and we were obliged to carry a heavy press of sail to clear the land under our lee, which we had scarcely accomplished when a south-westerly gale came on.

April 27.

Although still very foggy at times, we were enabled to bear away at 10 A. M., and having passed over the assigned position of Possession Island, we saw the land at 5 P. M. through the haze, five or six miles distant, but daylight was now almost gone ; we nevertheless stood towards it, until darkness closed the scene, when the ship was hauled off for the night.

April 28.

The morning was more clear, when, as the day broke, between six and seven o'clock, we perceived the lofty mountains of East Island four or five leagues directly to windward of us, so much had we been carried to the eastward during the night. The whole day was spent in beating up against the current and strong westerly breeze, and at sunset we were still several miles from the shore.

April 29.

I could not but regret this serious loss of time, but having appointed Possession Island our first rendezvous, until the end of this month, in case of parting from the Terror, I wished to communicate with one or other of the sealing parties, to ascertain whether they had seen her off the islands. I was still more anxious to land the provisions which I had on board for the winter stock of those people who might have been in much want of them. We therefore continued beating to windward all night, and at daylight, the fog having cleared away, we had a good view of this perfect mountain mass of volcanic land ; its shores bold and precipitous with many projecting rocks, which seem to have been formed by the unceasing action of the waves cutting away the softer parts, and with the exception of a single beach of some extent, on the north-east part of the island, affording no place where either a habitation could be built, or a boat land.

This beach appearing to us the only favourable spot for the sealing party, we fired several guns as we stood close in to the shore, and by these means attracted their notice, for we soon afterwards observed with our glasses a large fire on the east side of the bay, which the people had made to point out to us their location. We were still too far to leeward for them to venture off to us, and after beating to windward until 2 P. M., when just as we could have fetched into the bay, the wind suddenly increased to a strong gale, and the violent gusts that rushed along the almost perpendicular coast line, raising the spoondrift in clouds over us, reduced us to a close-reefed main-topsail and storm staysails, under which, when within half a mile of the shore, we wore and stood off again, seeing the utter hopelessness of communicating with the party until the return of more moderate weather.

April 30.

We were greatly disappointed at being thus defeated ; but these frequent repulses only made us more determined to do our utmost to effect the objects we had in view : and although we were driven by the gale and current far away to leeward, yet, towards evening, when it abated, we began to maintain our ground, and, by carrying a heavy press of sail throughout the night, we found ourselves the next morning several miles to windward of East Island, and had Possession Island distinctly in sight on our weather bow. Knowing the greater facility of communicating with this land by reason of the shelter its extent affords from the strong westerly gales that blow almost continually except at this period of the year, and as the larger establishment of sealers was on this island, I preferred beating up to it as the weather was fine and we were making good way, rather than run down to the leeward party at the risk of being again unable to land at their station.

Soon after noon it fell quite calm ; and, after firing a few guns, we observed a white flag hoisted on a pole by the party in America Bay : we were, at this time, about five miles from the shore and directly between Possession and East Islands ; the weather was still too unsettled for a boat to come off to us. While lying becalmed in this passage we obtained soundings in eighty-five fathoms, on a bank of sand, shells, and corallines. At dusk, on a breeze springing up from the north-west, we stood off to sea for the night.

May 1.

It blew hard from the north-westward with so dense a haze that it was only during a partial clearing, and when within four miles of Dark Head we had a glimpse of the high perforated rock that stands out more than a mile from the coast to the westward, and is an unerring mark, by which the Cape may always be distinguished : — as we bore away close along the shore we got into smooth water, but, passing " Windy Bay," the squalls that came down the valley compelled us to lower our topsails and keep them down until we had passed the opening.

The remarkable " Red Crag," near which the flag had been displayed yesterday, came in sight and guided us to America Bay, where we saw the party on the beach launching their boat. Mr. Hickley, their leader, came on board, and he, as well as his boat's crew, looked more like Esquimaux than civilized beings, but filthier far in their dress and persons than any I had ever before seen. Their clothes were literally soaked in oil and smelt most offensively ; they wore boots of penguins' skins with the feathers turned inwards. They told us that the weather had been so tempestuous that until yesterday they had not been able to launch a boat for five weeks ; they had therefore been very unsuccessful at the Sea Elephant fishery, and were disappointed to find that they were not to be removed to " Pig Island " for the winter ; which they describe as being so overrun with these animals, that, to use their own words, " you can hardly land for them." The breed was left there fey Captain Distance, in 1834, and in less than six years have increased in an almost incredible manner, although great numbers are every year killed by the sealers, not only for present subsistence, but salted down for supplies on their voyages to and from the Cape. Some goats had been landed from an American ship some years ago on Possession Island, and were also thriving on the long coarse grass with which it abounds, but still maintained their domestic state, under the protection of the sealers. The party consisted in all of eleven men, one of whom had been on the island for three years : they seemed to have no wish to return to the Cape of Good Hope and were quite contented, having plenty of food. The tongue, nippers, and part of the carcase of the Sea Elephant are eaten by them, and they get a great abundance of a species of rock-fish (probably a Cottus or Notothenia), about the size of a small haddock, with a very large head, which they preserve by drying upon the rocks. The eggs of sea-birds in the breeding season may be collected by boat loads, and are said to be excellent food, particularly that of the albatross, which averages above a pound in weight, and the young birds, when first taken from the nest, are described by them as being quite delicious : it is possible, however, they may have acquired the Esquimaux taste as well as their habits. They described the soil as being good, but they have never planted potatoes or other vegetable, although they have no doubt of their thriving here as the temperature is never very low. Wild ducks are so numerous in a lake on the top of the Red Crag that dogs, trained for the purpose, get them any number whenever they are wanted.

They had no plan of the island, and their information on this subject was vague and unsatisfactory ; they stated it to be twenty miles long and ten broad ; having three bays on its east side, in which ships may anchor, but the western coast is quite unapproachable by ships of any size, on account of the heavy swell that constantly rolls in upon its shores : a boat belonging to this party and all the crew were lately lost there, whilst in search of sea elephants.

In America Bay, Lively Bay, and Ship Bay, vessels at anchor are well protected from the prevailing winds, but must leave the two latter immediately on the springing up of an easterly breeze, as America Bay is the only one where there is room for a ship to beat out. These winds are said to be of rare occurrence, so much so that the French frigate Heroine, which was sent in 1834 to survey this group of islands, remained the whole period of her stay, above five weeks, moored in Ship Bay ; since then, however, two English whalers were wrecked in the same bay, by trying to ride out an easterly gale.

Mr. Hickley told us that there was every indication of an easterly wind, which is more frequent just at this time of the year, and the height of the barometer seemed to confirm his opinion, or I should have anchored for a few hours to have examined the bay ; but convinced from the nature of its formation that it could be of no use as a magnetic station, and, being anxious to rejoin the Terror as soon as possible at our next rendezvous, we bore away with the intention of laying down as much of the coast line of the island as we could before dark.

Like the rest of the group it is evidently of igneous origin ; near the tops of some of the hills we could perceive short basaltic columns, and two or three appearances of extinct craters: the coast is high and precipitous at the north end and singularly stratified ; along its eastern shore it is more broken into small bays, and we observed several cataracts issuing from the more extensive green patches upon the hill-sides, and dashing over the black cliffs into the sea beneath.

The remarkable " Dark Head," at the northern extreme of the island, is in lat. 46° 19' S., long. 51° 53' E. ; the southern point is in lat. 46° 28' S., and long. 51° 56' E. ; the variation of the compass 35° 13' W. The centre of East Island is in lat, 46° 27' S., and long. 52° 14' E.

These results, though sufficient for all the purposes of navigation, were not obtained with exactness, owing to the unfavourable state of the weather for observations.

Leaving the south end of Possession Island at 4 P. M. we steered close along the southern coast of East Island. Though not more than three or four miles in diameter its loftiest pinnacles attain a height of at least four thousand feet, and the precipices of its shores in some places rise several hundred feet perpendicularly from the sea. Nearly every cape has its detached rock extending off it, from half a mile to two miles: one of these near 1840. Bull Bay lies still further off, and being considerably inclined, in one point of view, resembles a ship under a press of sail ; hence its appellation, " Ship Rock." Another, near the south-eastern extreme, is called " Church Rock," from another fancied similarity ; but the most remarkable of them all is the perforated rock to the westward of the North Cape of Possession Island, through which we were told a small vessel might sail.

Captain Sir James Clark ROSS

Extrait de A voyage of discovery and research in the southern and antarctic regions.

Expéditions scientifiques aux îles Crozet
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