“Brig Jane and Cutter Beaufoy in the Latitude of 74°15’ South, Returning Northward, 20th, Feb., 1823,” A Voyage Towards the South Pole, Performed in the Years 1822-1824, 1827, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, G850.1822.W3 rare.

James Weddell

1787 CE - 1834 CE

England

Primary Goal:

To discover sealing grounds south of South America.

Achievement:

Reached the farthest south at that time and discovered the Weddell Sea.


James Weddell was born in London on August 24, 1787. Not long after his birth, his father died. With little money in the family, Weddell joined the Royal Navy at nine years old and was placed on his elder brother Charles’ ship, the Swan. After six months, he was discharged and in 1805 he was bound to a captain on a collier. Bonding was a way families could guarantee a trained profession for their sons if they had little money. The family paid the captain a sum to keep the boy, training him to be a sailor and eventually a captain. But many boys like Weddell found their captains to be harsh, working them as they would slaves, with little training. While in the West Indies, Weddell was charged with striking his captain and he was put onto the navy ship Rainbow, guilty of insubordination and mutiny.

In 1810, Weddell actually volunteered for service in the Royal Navy and began moving up the ranks. He was promoted to master in 1812 on the Hope. After the wars with France, Weddell was paid off in 1816, and joined merchant voyages to the West Indies.

Weddell continued to master the Jane, working as a merchantman. The Jane began to leak beyond repair and the ship was left to sink in the Azores. Since Weddell had put his own money into the ship, he was now broke. He took on paid employment as a ship’s captain, which was terribly degrading to a man who had once been his own master. In 1830, he sailed on the Eliza for Australia and Tasmania, and when he returned to England in 1832, he retired. Weddell died September 9, 1834 in poverty.

These true seals were discovered and named by James Weddell while sailing in what is now called the Weddell Sea. These seals are not migratory, not afraid of man, and can survive in fast moving ice flows. They eat fish, squid, and penguins. They can also hold their breath for 43 minutes. These seals were hunted for the dog food market, but now are protected by the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.