This fine sheet features two large-format sea charts of key aspects of Jules Sébastien César Dumont D’Urville’s epic first voyage to Oceania aboard the Astrolabe (1826-9): the upper chart depicts his track through the Caroline Islands, including Guam, Truk and the Pelews, in 1828; while the lower chart features his reconnaissance of the northern coast of New Guinea and adjacent Islands in 1827. The New Guinea map also features an inset in the lower left corner depicting the north coast of New Guinea as first explored by the Dutch mariner Willem Schouten in 1616. Both of the main charts mark the Astrolabe’s daily progress along its route. These regions were amongst the last in the equatorial zone to be understood by Europeans and Dumont D’Urville, who made three voyages to Oceania and Antarctica between 1822 and 1840, is widely considered to have been the last great maritime explorer.
The present chart appeared within the atlas of the 5 volume official record of the recording the voyage, Voyage de la corvette l’Astrolabe execute pendant les annees 1826-27-28-29, which contained 45 maps, published in Paris by J. Tastu in 1833.
Dumont D’Urville: The Last Great Maritime Explorer
Jules Sébastien César Dumont D’Urville (1790 – 1842) was a daring and intrepid mariner and one of the most consequential figures in the exploration of the Pacific, although he often does not receive the credit he deserves, owing in part to the his difficult personality, which made him unpopular in many circles.
Dumont d’Urville cut his teeth while surveying the Mediterranean for the French Navy in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. He became famous for his role in securing the Ancient Greek statue, the ‘Venus de Milo’ for the Louvre.
In the generations after James Cook’s voyages to the Pacific, there existed a pan-European fascination with the South Seas. Various nations competed for political dominance over the region and to lay claim to scientific discoveries. However, by the early 1820s, in spite of numerous voyages, much still remained to be discovered.
Dumont D’Urville was especially fascinated with the quest and made his first voyage o the South Seas from 1822 to 1825 as the second-in-command to Louis-Isadore Duperry, aboard La Coquille. They explored the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Chile, the Falklands, amongst many other locales. During this voyage, Dumont D’Urville distinguished himself as a cartographer and botanist. The voyage returned to France with a great collection of natural specimens that were the basis of much important scientific research.
Subsequently, Dumont D’Urville was placed in charge of his own voyage of exploration. La Coquille was renamed the Astrolabe and the expedition set out for the South Seas from Toulon in April 1826. The Astrolabe sailed along the South Coast of Australia and extensively mapped parts of New Zealand, before visiting Tonga and Fiji.
From July to September 1827, Dumont D’Urville mapped the North Coast of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, which were still mysterious places, before exploring the Caroline Islands the following spring. Upon the expedition’s return to Marseille in 1829, it was hailed a great success, having filled-in many blanks on the map, yielding fascinating natural specimens.
Dumont d’Urville’s account of the voyage was lavishly printed in five volumes, issued between 1832 to 1834, which included the present chart. Dumont D’Urville, who was known for his complex temperament, proceeded to get into sharp disagreements with many important figures in Paris. As a result he was banished for a few years to perform a useless “desk job” in Toulon.
However, Dumont D’Urville’s undisputed talents won out and his proposal to lead another exposition aboard the Astrolabe was accepted. While Dumont D’Urville envisaged another voyage to the tropics, Paris had another objectives in mind. Ever since the British mariner James Weddell had reached the latitude of 74°34’S off the coast of Antarctica in 1823, the southernmost point ever yet reached, a contest developed between Britain, the United States and France to exceed that mark. While Dumont D’Urville was less than thrilled, his mission was to lead the Astrolabe, and its companion vessel Zélée, to Antarctica, to find the South Magnetic Pole, and barring that, to gain ‘bragging rights’ for France by exceeding Weddell’s position.
The Astrolabe and Zélée left Toulon in September 1837 and the voyage had an inauspicious start, as part of the crew was arrested following a drunken altercation in Tenerife. However, they proceeded, via Rio de Janeiro, to explore the Strait of Magellan.
From there, the ships sailed towards Antarctica, however, in January 1838, they became dangerously ensnared in pack ice and were unable to approach anywhere near Weddell’s reported southernmost position (Dumont D’Urville came to doubt Weddell’s claims). The crew suffered terribly from disease and cold, and so the expedition repaired to Chile to recuperate.
From there, Dumont D’Urville directed his vessels through the Marquesas and Polynesia to land at Hobart, Tasmania in December 1839. There he met with John Franklin, the Governor of Tasmania and famed Arctic explorer.
Travelling only with the Astrolabe, Dumont D’Urville made another attempt upon Antarctica, and sailed from Hobart, past the Antarctic Circle. After skirting immense walls of ice, they landed on the Dumoulin Islands on January 22, 1840. Shortly thereafter, members of Dumont D’Urville’s crew announced that they had attained the site of the Magnetic South Pole.
The expedition retuned to France later that year and was lauded as a resounding triumph. Dumont d’Urville was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Geographical Society of Paris.
Sadly, in 1842 Dumont D’Urville and his family were killed in a terrible railway accident near Versailles. Nevertheless, Dumont D’Urville would maintain the distinction of being the last great maritime explorer, with his final voyage recorded for posterity in the Voyage au pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie sur les corvettes l’Astrolabe et la Zélée 1837-1840, (24 volumes, 1841-54).