Carstens Borchgrevink's Southern
Carstens Borchgrevink led a small but successful expedition to Antarctica from 1898 to 1900. It consisted of a ten-man team that overwintered on the Antarctic continent for the first time. They did not know that the Belgica (De Gerlache's Belgian Antarctic Expedition) had narrowly beaten them to a similar, but ship bound experience when the ship became trapped in the ice.
At that time there were still many questions. Much of Antarctica was still undiscovered and the idea that it was a continent (rather than an archipelago of islands bound by ice) had not been confirmed. Was Antarctic inhabited by native peoples like the northern high latitudes? Were there any large and dangerous mammals? All expeditions of the era took a comprehensive armoury. Was the climate too extreme for human survival? How did the known animals (seabirds including penguins, seals and other marine life) survive the winter? What was the exact location of the magnetic pole? What caused phenomena such as Auroras?
There were considerable scientific achievements including a complete set of magnetic, meteorological and auroral observations spanning a full year. Many new species of animal were discovered. Unfortunately the death of the zoologist Nicolai Hanson and subsequent loss by Borchgrevink of the notes that accompanied the collected specimens took the gloss off this part of the scientific program. The party proved that humans could survive the climate. Some short sledging journeys were made (not confined to the summer months) across the sea ice of Robertson Bay. The successful use of dog-hauled sledges was demonstrated. The topography of the hinterland behind Cape Adare precluded any possibility of geographic exploration to the (then unknown) polar plateau or to find the magnetic pole.
Borchgrevink and the RGS
There was much social abrasion resulting from life confined to two tiny huts in complete isolation through the long Antarctic night. It seems that Borchgrevink was not an especially sensitive leader of men and took to escaping the oppressive society of the hut by sledging to the Duke of York Island and camping there with the two Finnish dog handlers.
Borchgrevink was treated in a very shabby manner by the Royal Geographical Society before its departure and after its return. Sir Clements Markham resented Borchgrevink's success at fund raising in the belief that he was an upstart, and that the £40,000 he raised from Sir George Newnes should have been committed to Scott's Discovery expedition. Markham was struggling to get adequate funding for his long planned expedition even though the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society were both sponsors. Borchgrevink's expedition heard the news that Markham had finally organised adequate funding while the Southern Cross was in Hobart in December 1898.
Bernacchi's account of the Southern Cross expedition compliments the careful preparation, quality instruments and good provisions. The huts were double-glazed and insulated efficiently. They have long outlasted the huts constructed by Scott's northern party just nearby. Although Borchgrevink was an amateur scientist he managed to draw to him a scientific staff that were competent and enthusiastic. He completed the expedition as planned and without the usual budget blowout that typified many subsequent expeditions of the era. Borchgrevink's Antarctic work was only recognised by the Royal Geographical Society in 1930, long after Markham's death. He received the Patron's Medal just a few years before his own death in 1934. Hugh Mill had been the Society's librarian and lobbied successfully (with Bernacchi's support) for the recognition. Mill had previously enraged Markham by attending the farewell ceremonies for the Southern Cross and wishing success to the expedition.