JEAN-BAPTISTE AUGUSTE ÉTIENNE CHARCOT (1867-1936)
Autograph letter signed ('Jean') to his sister (Madame Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau), 'Ushuwaia, Terre de Feu, République Argentine', 12 January 1904, in French, 14 pages, 8vo (a few words underlined in red and blue crayon).
A long letter begun on Charcot's departure from Buenos Aires for his first expedition to Antarctica and finished at 'la ville la plus sud du monde'. Charcot describes the generous help given by Argentina, discussing appropriate ways for the French to show their gratitude, suggesting honours for three naval officers, and that his brother-in-law (a former prime minister of France) should write to the Geographical Society. Instructions are given for passing on the expedition's dispatches, and for contacts with the press, and for his sister to write to him every two weeks, sending monthly summaries to Ushuwaia and to Buenos Aires, for transmission by other expeditions or whalers. If by April 1905 there is no news of him, a Franco-Argentinian relief expedition should if possible be mounted under Larsen who, with the Norwegians Evensen and Pedersen, has navigated in the regions he is bound for, but on no account will he accept Gerlache, and he and Matha would prefer to die rather than to return rescued by him. He entrusts all his private affairs to his sister, referring to the future of his marriage, difficulties with Manaury, his agent, and financial matters including the backing from Le Matin. Presciently, he shows doubts about the suitability of the ship, 'Le moindre accident maintenant et tout est fichu, l'honneur avec et, hélas, il faut bien l'avouer la machine est beaucoup trop faible et insuffisante à tous les points de vue. Je n'ai pas une minute sans le cauchemar d'une avarie irréparable'.
Other subjects include his reactions to his companions, and an account of the animals on board which include the ship's mascot, 'Un petit cochon Toby Lafrque tacheté de noir et qui a deja fait la campagne à bord de l'Uruguay', and two young cats, and five dogs. The concluding paragraphs written on arrival at Ushuwaia show Charcot heartened by finding letters awaiting him there, and hoping still to save his marriage.
Charcot's dislike of the Belgian explorer, Adrien de Gerlache, was related partly to the latter's advice on the construction of the Français which exhausted Charcot's considerable inheritance (he writes of selling his Fragonard) and was finally equipped with a second-hand engine. The news early in 1903 of the disappearance of the Swedish explorer, Otto Nordenskjöld, and the Antarctica prompted him to abandon his original intention of exploring the waters off Greenland and the North and to go South to search for the Swedish expedition, and to explore the west coast of Graham Land, continuing to Adelaide and Alexander Islands. In November 1903 the Français reached Buenos Aires, where Nordenskjöld, now rescued, had left him five huskies. It sailed from Tierra del Fuego at the end of January 1904, but the second-hand engine persistently gave trouble. A party including Charcot reached Petermann Island by whaleboat and, working in appalling conditions, surveyed Graham Land in November enabling Charcot to return to France the following year with an accurate map.