To Boldy Go

Forget Willy Shatner. Imagine setting off in a ship in the 1770s somewhere ‘out there’, toward the Antarctic. It’s mind boggling for this 20th/21st century mind to fathom sitting in my new IKEA chair comfortably pecking away on my laptop. But that’s what Capt. James Cook did on his 1772-1775 voyage as recounted in Let Heroes Speak : Antarctic Explorers 1772-1992 by Michael H. Rosove. It’s a fantastic opening to this book I picked up a while ago and am finally started to dip into.

Here’s a wee sample, James Cook writing from the Resolution in 1775 describing Possession Bay:

The head of the Bay was terminated by perpendicular ice cliffs of considerable height. Pieces were continually breaking from them and floating out to sea; and a great fall happened while we were in the Bay, which made a noise like cannon. The inner parts of the country were not less savage and horrible. The wild rocks raised their lofty summits, till they were lost in the clouds, and the valleys lay covered with everlasting snow. Not a tree was to be seen nor a shrub even big enough to make a tooth-pick. The only vegetation we met with, was a coarse strong-bladed grass growing in tufts … and a plant like moss which sprung from the rocks. Seals, or sea bears, were pretty numerous … Here were several flocks of penguins, the largest I ever saw … and … albatrosses.”

Check out this engraving from another book from the National Library of Australia digital library; or this photo from a few years ago from National Geographic.

So what do you think? Did Cook do it justice?

Cook thought he would be the last person to venture this far south, but as Rosove observes, “what he had actually done was lay the groundwork for the future–that others just as zealous as he, and better equipped, would someday go farther.” Looking forward to going with them!


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