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Science and the making of VictoriaRoyal Society of Victoria
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Royal Society of Victoria 1854-1959


Victorian Institute for the Advancement of Science

Philosophical Society of Victoria

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Royal Society of Victoria



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Royal Society of Victoria (continued)

Although some years had elapsed since the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, no strong move within the Society had been made for further exploration until 1886, when a committee was set up by the Royal Society, in association with the Geographical Society of Australia, to consider the question of 'Antarctic Exploration'. For a number of years, European countries had been very active in the field of Arctic research, particularly in the establishment of meteorological and astronomical observation stations, and attempts had been made with similar ideas for the Antarctic. The committee pointed out that, as it was nearly 50 years since the last expedition was despatched to Antarctica, it was time that another scientific expedition be organized and despatched.

The Society had had some contact with polar exploration as, in 1874, during the visit of the Challenger to Melbourne after it had crossed the Antarctic Circle and closely approached what is now known as Princess Elizabeth Land, Professor Wyville Thompson, the scientific leader of the expedition, was made an honorary life member of the Society, and a set of the Proceedings donated to the library of the expedition.

It is perhaps well to consider in some details the early work of this committee, as Antarctic exploration was to play a prominent part in the life of the Society in latter years. The committee consulted a number of interested bodies both in Australia and overseas and, in addition, enlisted the sympathy of appropriate governments. It was felt that, provided a suitable steam vessel was available, no great difficulties were likely to be encountered, while the harvest of scientific results that could be reaped by such an expedition would most probably be high, and substantial advantage of a commercial nature might well be secured.

The representatives of the Royal Society, which included, among others, the president. Professor Kernot, and the Government Astronomer, Mr Ellery, met with the members of the Geographical Society on eight separate occasions during 1886 and 1887 and, after exhaustive enquiries throughout the world, produced a series of 23 recommendations which were forwarded to the Honourable the Premier of Victoria for his consideration. From these recommendations, the following warrant special consideration:

  1. The Antarctic Committee begs respectfully to recommend to the Honourable the Premier the propriety of stimulating Antarctic research by the offer of bonuses.
  2. That a sum of £10,000 be placed upon the estimates to provide for the amount of the bonuses, and for the expenses of the equipment and the staff.
  3. That the Government invite tenders from shipowners willing to perform the duties involved.
  4. That tenderers must provide two fortified steam ships, each of not less than 175 tons register, 60 horse power, and A1 at Lloyds, or of equivalent class.
  5. That the master and chief mate of both ships shall have held similar positions in Arctic steamships.
  6. That the tenderer shall provide, free of charge, cabin accommodation in each ship for two gentlemen, who will sail as the scientific staff, also a separate cabin as an instrument room and office.
  7. The chartered ships will earn a special bonus upon their entering at the Customs House a cargo of 100 tons of oil, being the produce of fish caught south of 60šS.
  8. The services desired are—a flying survey of any coastlines lying within the Antarctic Circle, the discovery of new waterways towards the South Pole, and the discovery of commercial products.
  9. The Government should pay for only one observing camp established for each 120 miles of latitude or longitude etc.
  10. Both ships must be in Port Phillip Bay and ready to sail on the 15 October 1887.
  11. That in case of any difficulty arising in England between the Agent-General and the contractor, it shall be referred to the British Antarctic Committee for decision.

People in Bright Sparcs - Burke, Robert O'Hara; Ellery, Robert Lewis John; Kernot, William Charles; Wills, William John

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Pescott, R. T. M. 1961 'The Royal Society of Victoria from then, 1854 to now, 1959', Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, vol. 73, no. 7, pp. 1-40.

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