The Long-Forgotten Voyage
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JG Foxton was requested by the Victorian Royal Geographical Society of Australia to write a report on his 1833 Voyage, almost sixty years after its completion. Apparently no such record existed from the original voyage.


Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia

  Extract appearing in Vol. X. dated Melbourne 1893

  Notes Of A Long Forgotten Voyage in 1833

  By J. G. Foxton, Esq.


  Read at the 24th Ordinary General Meeting, 30th June, 1892


I found it would involve a protracted and difficult search at the Admiralty to ascertain if any record of our Antarctic voyage existed. At your request, therefore, although I dislike writing of myself and my exploits, I will endeavour to jot down, from memory, such incidents as I think will be of interest to members of our society.


In the early part of the year 1833, a Russian vessel, Captain Bellinghausen, arrived in Europe from the Antarctic, the Captain of which reported he had seen land covered with snow, in about 70 degrees south latitude and I think 10 or 20 degrees west longitude. In consequence of this, Messrs. Enderby Bros., an enterprising firm of merchants and shipowners, induced the Lords of the Admiralty to cooperate with them in fitting our two vessels for the purpose of ascertaining, if possible, whether such land did exist, and if so, if it could be approached.


Two vessels were therefore purchased – the “Hopewell” a splendid schooner of 240 tons (of which I was navigating officer) and the “Rose”, a fine cutter of 105 tons, as tender – both were thoroughly refitted and strengthened for work among ice. We were supplied with all kinds of meteorological instruments, and I had seven chronometers sent on board by different makers, to test their qualities in high southern latitudes.


The expedition was placed under the command of Lieutenant Binstead, R.N., the officers and crew numbering about 50, all told, and such was the feeling in favour of any daring enterprise, that I had more than 200 able seamen volunteers from which to select the crews. And I will say that a more stalwart, gallant, resolute set of fellows I never sailed with.


We left the East India docks in September 1833, and after a somewhat protracted passage, surveying a little along the coast of South America, we arrived at the Falkland Islands early in December. These islands were then in the possession of a Government of Montevideo, by whom they had been leased to a company, whose object was to lasso and kill the cattle (of which there was a large number roaming wild) for their hides and tallow. For this purpose, the company had sent a manager, Mr. McDougall, four other Europeans and twelve Gauchos, with twenty-four broken-in horses.


On our arrival, we found that in consequence of some dispute with the Gauchos, they had, a short time before, murdered all the Europeans, ad left them on the ground where they fell. Of course, our first duty was to bury them. The Gauchos fled to the hills immediately on our approach, taking with them all the horses.


By orders from the Admiralty, H.M.S. “Challenger” called at the Falklands on her voyage to Valparaiso, to take possession of the islands on behalf of the British Government, and to render us any assistance we might require before proceeding south.


In due course, Lieutenant Smyth, R.M., who had been appointed Governor, with boat’s crew and 20 marines, were landed, and the British flag hoisted with all due ceremony, under a royal salute from the “Challenger”.  Captain Seymour, who landed a 32 pounder carronade and mounted it in the porch of an old Spanish church, said to have been built about 1760, which provided excellent quarters for the Governor’s boats’ crew and the marines.


The “Beagle”, Captain Fitzroy, with Charles Darwin on board, was there at the same time, but at anchor in another bay. Perhaps the salute so frightened one of the Gauchos, that he came down from the hills and surrendered, bringing with him two of the horses, which proved to be a most fortunate circumstance, for he was able to lasso and kill as many bullocks as were required by the “Challenger” and ourselves. One day, out shooting with Captain Seymour and some other officers, by the aid of a clump of Tussock grass, I got within a few hundred yards of a fairly fat cow. I fired, she fell. Thinking her dead, I turned and walked away, but ain a few minutes she rose, ran at and charged me behind, knocked me down on my face, ran over me and fell dead a few yards ahead, blood from her mouth running down my back.


The day before the “Challenger” was to sail, a very painful incident occurred. Our cress had entrapped a great many rabbits alive, and we presented some of them to the gunroom officers of the “Challenger”. In order to gather some green food for them, Lieutenant Clive (son of Lord Clive and second Lieutenant of the “Challenger”) left the ship in a small dingy, with the gunroom steward and a boy, but were never seen afterwards. Captain Seymour remained a day to search for the, without success. After her departure, we continued the search, and found the boat capsized among the kelp, but no trace of the poor fellows’ bodies.


After the departure of the “Challenger”, Lieutenant Smyth organised a party to go to the hills to harass the enemy (Gauchos). The Governor and the Gaucho were mounted, the sailors, marines and rest of the party were on foot.  We burned two of their camps, but of course could not get near them. They were closely watching out movements, each Gaucho riding one horse and leading another. During our absence in the Antarctic, these men had to surrender, and were sent to Montevideo for punishment.


After exercising our crews well on shore at cricket etc., filling all our empty casks with penguin eggs, and our rigging with cured wild geese and rabbits, we sailed, towards the end of December for the latitude and longitude above-mentioned. About 60 degrees south, we fell in with many icebergs; by 65 degrees were beset with them in great numbers, some of them so large we called them ice islands. One I remember quite well, which must have been nearly 200 feet high; we measured by our patent logship, and 12 miles long.


We were soon closely surrounded without any opening into clear water, with a space not much larger than East India docks to work both vessels in. From this first enclosure, we escaped without injury, but in forcing our way southward we became similarly enclosed for a few days, and again escaped without loss.


As we approached 70 degrees south, we saw high land covered with snow, and in our endeavour to approach it, we became again blocked in, with very little space of clear water to work the vessels in for several days. At length, two small openings appeared, on one each side of a large iceberg. We made the signal, “endeavour to escape”. We in the schooner passed out on the north side of the berg; unfortunately, the tender took the south side, and when she hove in sight again had a signal of distress flying. I went on board immediately and found her in a sinking state. Both carpenters condemned her utterly. She had been crushed by two enormous icebergs closing upon her as she passed through All available hands were set to work bailing and pumping and saving provision, all in casks were thrown overboard; our endeavours being greatly frustrated by a dense fog of some hours duration. It took 15 hours to accomplish, during which time myself and the boat’s crew subsisted on grog and biscuit. The tender (The Rose) was then abandoned; and she very soon went down head foremost with the coals on board, which we did not attempt to save.


Then, with the schooner “Hopewell” only, with the crews of both vessels on board, a consultation was held and it was decided that we should make sail to the northward and return to the Falkland Islands to await orders. We arrived there, all well, the latter end of February, 1834. During the passage a small incident occurred. Early one morning I saw a sea lion lying asleep on an ice floe not much larger than our vessel and about the height above water of our deck. I manned a boat and went very quietly to the other side of the floe, stole up alongside of him and struck him a hard blow on the head. He rolled into the water and the boat’s crew soon despatched him, towed him alongside and obtained a few gallons of fine oil from his blubber.


The crews again spent their time refitting the ship. Games of all kinds, fishing, filling casks with penguin eggs, entrapping rabbits etc., until we received orders to return home, in reply to despatches sent by Lieutenant Binstead, via America, by an American vessel.


Shortly after leaving the Falklands an incident occurred which is worth recording. One evening, as we had not seen ice all day, I was asked if the same ice-watch or lookout should be kept that night. I said “Yes certainly”. At about 2a.m. I was officer of that watch. We were running nine or ten knots an hours, with the wind abeam; moonlight, but very hazy. The ice lookout cried out, “Iceberg right ahead”. Upon looking round, I saw at once that if the helm were put down we should go broadside on to it. I therefore instantly ordered the helm “hard up”, and in about a minute we ran past it, close enough to throw a biscuit on to it. The watch on deck stood mute, contemplating the narrow escape they had had from total destruction.

While we were down among the ice, it was intensely cold. Whenever we desired to shorten sail in tempestuous weather, we had to send hands aloft with heavy hammers, to smash the ice about the topsail sheets before they could be moved. The cook or cook’s mate however was always on duty with plenty of hot coffee ready for the watch on deck. We used, every four hours, day and night, to register the temperature of the air, and the sea at different depths, but what they were of course I quite forget.

During our survey of a small bay on the coast of Patagonia, a point of land of which we had previously taken the bearings suddenly disappeared in consequence of an earthquake, the shock of which we felt a little, although afloat. When midshipman, in 1825, I landed on that same point of land in search of water. It was then in a high state of cultivation, and covered with gardens in which pineapples grew in great abundance.