French Antarctic Expeditions


The French Antarctic Expedition is any of several French expeditions in Antarctica.

First Expedition

In 1772, Yves-Joseph de Kerguelen-Trémarec and the naturalist Jean Guillaume Bruguière sailed to the Antarctic region in search of the fabled Terra Australis. Kerguelen-Trémarec took possession of various Antarctic territories for France, including what would later be called the Kerguelen Islands.

In Kerguelen-Trémarec’s report to King Louis XV, he greatly overestimated the value of the Kerguelen Islands. The King sent him on a second expedition to Kerguelen in late 1773. When it became clear that these islands were desolate, useless, and not the Terra Australis, he was sent to prison.

Second Expedition

In 1837, during an 1837-1840 expedition across the deep southern hemisphere, Captain Jules Dumont d’Urville sailed his ship Astrolabe along a coastal area of Antarctica which he later named the Adélie Coast, in honor of his wife. During the Antarctic part of this expedition, Dumont d’Urville team performed the first experiments to determine the approximate position of the South magnetic pole, and landed on Débarquement Rock in the Geologie Archipelago, (


66°36′19″S 140°4′0″E / 66.60528°S 140.06667°E / -66.60528; 140.06667) just 4 km from the mainland, where he took mineral and animal samples. On his return to France in 1840 he was made rear admiral.

Third Expedition

Jean-Baptiste Charcot was appointed leader of a 1904-1907 French Antarctic Expedition, aboard the ship Français, exploring the west coast of Graham Land portion of the Antarctic Peninsula. The expedition reached Adelaide Island in 1905 and took pictures of the Palmer Archipelago and Loubet Coast.

They roughly surveyed, the SW coast of Anvers Island in 1904. They gave the name “Presqu’ile de Biscoe” to a small peninsula on the SE side of Biscoe Bay, adding to the honours for John Biscoe – who may have landed in the vicinity in 1832. While the name “Presqu’ile de Biscoe” has not endured, the resurvey by the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey in 1955 named Biscoe Point for the rocky point found in the approximate location of Charcot’s Presqu’ile.

Loubet Land was explored in January 1905 and named after Émile Loubet, then President of France.

Rabot Island was first charted by the expedition and named after Charles Rabot.

They mapped Watkins Island but did not name it. They also charted Arthur Harbor.

Mount Francais (


64°38′S 63°27′W / 64.633°S 63.450°W / -64.633; -63.450) in the Trojan Range was named after the expedition ship Français

Lavoisier Island was named ‘Ile Nansen’ after Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian Arctic explorer. The name was changed in 1960 to avoid confusion with nearby Nansen Island, so named in 1898 by a Belgian expedition.

Bonaparte Point (


64°47′S 64°05′W / 64.783°S 64.083°W / -64.783; -64.083) was charted and named for Prince Roland Bonaparte, then President of the Paris Geographical Society.

Logistics support for this expedition was provided by the Argentine Navy (Armada de la República Argentina), employing the legendary corvette ARA Uruguay.

Fourth Expedition

Within a year of returning from the Third Expedition, Charcot commanded a new expedition from 1908-1911. Sailing on the ship Pourquoi-Pas? IV (Why Not? IV), the expedition explored the Bellingshausen Sea, the Amundsen Sea, and discovered, charted and named several features.

Loubet Land was named for Émile Loubet, the President of France during Charcot’s earlier expedition.

Charcot Island was named for the Captain himself.

The expedition moored aboard ship in a cove on the southeast side of Petermann Island, which they named Port Circumcision because it was spotted 1 January 1909, the traditional day for the Feast of the Circumcision.

Renaud Island was first charted and named. Fallieres Coast was first explored in January 1909, and Charcot named for Clément Armand Fallières, then President of France.

Mikkelsen Bay was first seen from a distance in 1909, but it was not recognised as a bay. The Mikkelsen Islands were named after Otto Mikkelsen, a Norwegian diver who inspected the damaged hull of the Pourquoi-Pas at Deception Island.

Marguerite Bay was discovered in 1909 and Charcot named the bay after his wife. Jenny Island, in Marguerite Bay, was discovered and named by Charcot for the wife of Sub-Lieutenant Maurice Bongrain, second officer of the expedition.

The name “Pavie” was given in 1909 to an island, or possible cape, shown on the expedition’s maps at


68°27′S 66°40′W / 68.450°S 66.667°W / -68.450; -66.667. Viewed from a position some 15 to 17 miles southeast of Jenny Island, expedition surveyor Maurice Bongrain made sketches of this feature which were labeled both “Île Pavie” and “Cap Pavie”. The area later became known as Pavie Ridge.

Adelaide Island was first surveyed by the expedition. They also discovered Millerand Island, which was likely named for Alexandre Millerand, French statesman. Douglas Range was seen from a distance.

Rothschild Island was named after Baron Edouard Alphonse de Rothschild (1868-1949), head of the French branch of the Rothschild family and president of the Rothschild Brothers bank.

The northern portion of Wilkins Sound was first seen and roughly mapped in 1910 by the expedition.

See also