La mission du Wolverine (1876)

Le Wolverine

Après le naufrage du Strathmore en juillet 1875, l’amirauté britannique envoie le Wolverine (ou Wolverene) en mission de reconnaissance aux îles Crozet à la recherche d’éventuels naufragés. Le navire quitte l'Afrique du Sud en novembre 1876 et atteint l’archipel à la fin du mois. Les îlôts des Apôtres, l’île aux Cochons et l’île des Pingouins sont observés du bord avant un débarquement en Baie du Navire, sur l’île de la Possession. Une hutte, deux chaloupes et les débris d’expéditions de phoquiers y sont observés. En reprenant la route de l’Australie, les côtes de l’île de l’Est sont observées et un iceberg de grande taille est croisé.

A son retour, le capitaine Lindesay Brine transmet à sa hiérarchie le rapport suivant, où il conseille aux navires de ne pas descendre au sud du 44ème parallèle.


Her Majesty's ship Wolverine, at sea, Latitude 37°9' S., longitude 150°57' E., 4th January 1877

Sir, - I have the honour to sumbit to you, for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, the following report af an examination of the Crozet Islands, made in accordance with the directions of their lordships, to ascertain if there was any appearance of castaways or vessels which may have been wrecked there.

2. We left Simon's Bay on the 18th of November ; proceeded to the south until we fell in with the prevailing westerly winds, in latitude 38° south, longitude 18° east. We then steered straight for the Crozets, until we reached latitude 43°26' south, longitude 36°10' east, the islands then being distant 622 miles. We now entered a dense fog, which continued, with rare intervals of open sky, until the morning of the 30th, at which time we had nearly run our estimated distance.

3. We were on the point of heaving-to, to wait for the weather to clear, when a sudden lift of mist disclosed for a few minutes the west end of the Twelve Apostles, about 3 miles off on the bow.

4. This point of the island is remarkable for its lofty group of pinnacle rocks, closely resembling the Needles. These, although attached by their base to the island, appeared when first seen like sharp jagged peaks arising separately from the sea, and it was the low morning light penetrating between the open spaces that caused them to stand out so clearly ; the island itself was not visible. A high rolling sea broke heavily on the weather shore.

5. At about 9 of the forenoon the fog again lifted, and I steamed in for the land to examine the Twelve Apostles - the island on which the Strathmore was wrecked - firing guns to attract attention.

6. It was evident that no close observation could be made unless a change took place in the weather, but most fortunately the fog cleared away, and was succeeded by two singularly fine and calm days, and we were then able to examine the shores, bays, and hill-slopes, within a distance from which any people or signs of wreck could have been distincly seen.

7. A small cairn, raised by the survivors from the Strathmore, still exists at a point on the ridge about 300 feet above the sea. A grassy plateau, where they were encamped, was covered with white albatrosses sitting on their nests, and the rocks were crowded with penguins. Sea birds of various kinds were numerous attracted by a good stream of fresh water which flows from the hill over the cliff into the sea.

8. After completing the examination of the Twelve Apostles, I steamed across to Hog Island and examined its leeward coast. Here, as at the Twelve Apostles, the valleys and hill-sides were dotted with white albatrosses. The top of this island was covered with snow, and, although it was now the summer of those latitudes, large quantities of snow are still lying in the clefts of the rocks near the shore. The windward or west side of Hog Island, is precipitous and much exposed, and I did not see any places where wrecked people could settle ; but upon its lee or eastward slope there were several fairly sheltered positions, where the landing would not be difficult. the lower sides of the hills are covered with coarse grass. There are numerous birds and rabbits, and several fresh water streams.

9. I now proceeded to Penguin Island, the southern extremity of the Crozet group. This is a bare precipitous rock, about four and a half miles in circumference. I could not see any water here, and very few birds. This volcanic island appears to be destitute of any means of preserving life, and unfortunately it is, from its position, the most dangerous for vessels proceeding by a great circle route to Australia.

10. The search round the shores of the windward islands occupied one day, and the next day was employed in a similar manner examining the Eastern Islands.

11. The first visited was Possession Island, the largest and most important of the group. When off Navire Bay we observed on the beach a hut, several casks, and two boats, one of which seemed to be in fair condition. The sea being smooth and the wind light, I decided to anchor, and send in our boats to search the shore, as I thought its probable we should find some record left by people who might have gone there in the hope of meeting a sealing vessel.

12. Upon landing, our interest was immediately excited by the strange sensation of finding ourselves surrounded by animals which evidently had no the slightest fear of men or their guns. Hundred of seals, which were resting on the damp grass bordering on the stream, which at this point enters the sea, made no attempt to escape from us. The albatrosses also would not move from their nests on the ground. These magnificent birds - measuring, in several instances, eleven feet across the wings - only showed resistance when actually seized, and even then did not seem to have any sense of danger. The bay was alive with birds. We observed the white and sooty albatross, petrels of various kinds, black hens, Cape pigeons, numerous gulls, and a few wild duck ; and the rock were covered with seals and penguin.

13. The hut was about twelve feet long, and contained six sleeping bunks. It was rudely constructed with staves of casks. There was a stove inside on the right of the door, ingeniously made out of an old fish kettle ; the funnel was formed by a series of small iron hoops nailed together. There were a number of empty casks outside, together with other debris, belonging to a sealing establishment. There were two whaleboats hauled up on the beach. One of these was useless ; the other, with some slight repairs, could be made seaworthy. The names "J. A. Brink." was cut on the door of the hut. We found no document or any signs of the bay having been lately visited. The following record was placed in a tin box, and secured to the stove in the hut : - "Her Britannic Majesty's ship Wolverine, 17 guns, visited each island of the Crozet Group, to ascertain if there were any shipwrecked people on them, and finally called at this bay on the first of December, 1876, on her way to Perth, Western Australia."

14. We concluded our examination by steaming round and searching the steep and desolate shores of East Island, the last of the group.

15. Soon after leaving the land, and while the Crozets were still visible, we passed close to a large iceberg, whose height was estimated at 300 feet, and the circumference at the water-line at about 3 miles.


16. Judging from my experience, I would submit that merchant vessels should be cautioned against going down to a higher latitude than the 44th parallel. In the stormy latitudes south of this the westerly gales propel a ship through the water at a very great speed, and the seas are so high that it would be difficult to check the speed or haul to the wind to clear danger. The Crozets are in a known position, and can be avoided by careful navigation ; but this is not the case with icebergs - if one of these should happen to be floating in the line of course of a vessel going through the water at a rate of 12 or 13 knots during a fog by day, or on a dark night, it would not be seen until it was too near to be avoided, and destruction would be certain. Icebergs in these southern seas shouls be considered as representing rocks or shoals in unknown positions. Merchant ships rushing blindly through these dangers run most criminal risks ; theyplay a daring game of chance, at which the lives of the passengers and crews are hazarded. It is more than probable that the majority of the ships reported as missing in these seas are missing because wrecked by sudden and violent contact with drifting icebergs.

17. In the event of people being cast away on the Crozets, I would recommend that, if possible, they should establish a look-out place on the Twelve Apostles, as this island is the one which would most probably be sighted by ships, and an object placed, or a man standing on the ridge where the "Strathmore" cairn is erected would be seen at a great distance. The north-east points of the Twelve Apostles is by the chart placed in longitude 50°41 E. Our chronometer placed the point in 50°36 E. This is assuming the latitude to be correct, as no observations for latitude could be obtained. If our longitude is correct, the Twelve Apostles should, therefore, be placed five miles west of their present position on the chart.

18. Attached to this letter is a copy of the log for the two days that the Wolverine was examining the Crozet Group.

Lindesay Brine, Captain

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