In response to the upsurge of interest and exploration of polar
regions in the 1890's, Charcot decided to represent France in such endeavours.
His fortune was to be invested in a voyage to the Arctic in his own ship
to be built for the purpose - the Français. In 1903 news
arrived in Europe that the Swedish explorer Otto Nordenskjöld and his ship the
"Antarctic" were missing. Charcot decided to head south to Antarctica instead
and search for the missing explorer.
Thus was the French Antarctic Expedition born.
Charcot gained the support of the French President, émile Loubet and also
several institutions: Académie des Sciences, the Societe de Geographie and the Museum of Natural History.
The French newspaper Le Matin published the news of the expedition.
Between these sources the expedition was financed.
The voyage was widely held as a great success, both
scientifically and in the public perception, France had a new hero in the
Commandant Charcot. More than 600 miles of new coastlines and islands had been,
18 volumes of scientific reports would be published at government expense.
The expedition took its toll on his private life however and his wife,
the granddaughter of the
famous poet and novelist Victor Hugo whom he had married in 1896 had
decided to divorce him on grounds of desertion
while he was away. The marriage had been in trouble for some time as his
wife didn't share the same passion for scientific exploration.
Jeanne had also become divorced during this time and they lived
together for a while Charcot vowing never to marry again, though by
the time of his next trip to Antarctica on the Pourquoi-Pas?,
he had married again to Marguerite (Meg) who realised and accepted
that exploration was a part of the man she had married. Meg also
sailed on the ship and remained with her husband as far as she
could, to Punta Arenas at the southernmost tip of Patagonia, before
returning to France.
Such was the loyalty that Charcot engendered that
eight of the crew of the Français accompanied him on the Pourquoi-Pas?
Charcot wished to build upon the successes of the first expedition
and to extend it's findings and also those of the Belgica which had
sailed in the same waters. The voyage had its dramas though.
Charcot, Gourdon and Lieutenant Godfrey set out to reconnoitre
Cape Tuxen and the nearby islands in a small motorboat in good weather but without
any extra provisions or clothing. They thought they would be back aboard their
ship within three hours but it became three days until conditions
were good enough for the ship to be able to approach and effect a rescue.
Within 24 hours of this the Pourquoi Pas? hit a submerged
rock in a similar way to the Français had a few years beforehand. Charcot decided to continue
as before unaware how badly damaged the ship was. Later in the winter Charcot
ill during the winter and he diagnosed himself with a serious heart
condition, his legs became badly swollen and he struggled to breathe without
During the spring, the Pourquoi Pas? sailed to the whaling
station on Deception Island, she was now leaking more and more and
the Norwegians offered the services of a diver who inspected the
damaged hull. A large section of the keel had been torn away along
with other damage, Charcot was advised to sail for home straight
away as even ice-free navigation had its risks and even a modest
encounter with ice might sink the ship. In a move of
uncharacteristic recklessness, he chose to sail south once again to
uphold his nation's honour and personal reputation, he did not share
the information about the ship fully with his officers and crew. On
the 23rd of December 1909 he sailed south once again for the summer
She eventually underwent extensive repairs in Montevideo (Uruguay),
was scrubbed and painted in the Azores and was back in France on the 4th of
June, reaching Rouen on the 5th.
The results of the second French Antarctic Expedition had been impressive,
1250 miles of coastline and newly discovered territory had been surveyed. The
maps made from the expedition were still in use twenty-five years later. The
scientific data filled 28 volumes, including some of the 3000 photographs taken
during the expedition.
Charcot in the words of others:
(Charcot's expeditions) "Occupy a place in the front rank of the most important
Antarctic expeditions. No one has surpassed him and few have equalled him
as a leader and as a scientific observer"
Edwin Swift Balch.
"The gentleman of the Pole".
Robert Falcon Scott
Landmarks named after Jean-Baptiste (and Jean-Martin) Charcot
Feature Name: Charcot Bay
Feature Type: bay
Description: A bay about 10 mi wide between Cape Kater and
Cape Kjellman along the W coast of Graham Land. Discovered by the
SwedAE, 1901-04, under Nordenskjöld. He named it for Dr. Jean B.
Charcot, at that time a noted Arctic explorer preparing for his
first Antarctic expedition, on which he planned to look for
Nordenskjöld whose return was overdue.
Feature Name: Charcot Cove
Feature Type: bay
Description: A re-entrant in the coast of Victoria Land
between Bruce Point and Cape Hickey. Discovered by the BrNAE
(1901-04) which named this feature for Dr. Jean B. Charcot, noted
Arctic and Antarctic explorer.
Variant Name: Charcot Bay
Feature Name: Charcot Fan
Feature Type: bar
Description: Name of undersea fan approved 6/88 (ACUF 228).
Variant Name: Charcot Deep-Sea Fan
Feature Name: Charcot Island
Feature Type: island
Description: Island, 30 mi long and 25 mi wide, which is ice
covered except for prominent mountains overlooking the N coast, 55
mi W of Alexander Island. Discovered on Jan. 11, 1910, by the FrAE
under Dr. Jean B. Charcot, who, at the insistence of his crew and
the recommendation of Edwin S. Balch and others, named it Charcot
Land. He did so with the stated intention of honouring his father,
Dr. Jean Martin Charcot, a famous French physician. The insularity
of Charcot Land was proved by Sir Hubert Wilkins, who flew around it
on Dec. 29, 1929.
Variant Name: Charcot Land
Feature Name: Charcot, Port
Feature Type: harbor
Description: Bay 1.5 mi wide indenting the N shore of Booth
Island, in the Wilhelm Archipelago. Charted by the FrAE, 1903-05,
under Dr. Jean B. Charcot and named by him for his father, Dr. Jean
Martin Charcot, famous French neurologist. Charcot established the
expedition's winter base at Port Charcot in 1904
Feature Name: Charcot, Cape
Feature Type: cape
Description: Rocky point at the NE end of Melba Peninsula, 3
mi W of David Island. Discovered by the AAE under Mawson, 1911-14,
who named it for Dr. Jean B. Charcot, French Antarctic explorer.