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Until the past decade, neither of the poles have exactly been tourist destinations. Instead, they were the preserve of explorers, many of whom became national heroes and whose adventures and triumphs continue to amaze us (witness the recent fascination with Shackleton). The treacherous seas and extensive equipment required to travel at either extreme of the world has restricted access primarily to scientific voyages underwritten by governments, but those same dangers and difficulties have made readers all the more curious and eager consumers of accounts from these cold latitudes.

Maps of the poles

These two maps show how little was known about Antarctica as late as 1825. Weddell managed to sail just over 200 miles farther south than Cook before fleeing the impending winter, and his record was not bettered until 1911. His book was revised and enlarged in 1827, following another voyage to Antarctica, and his legacy remains in the names of the Weddell Sea and the Weddell Seal.
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Gentleman's magazine

This essay, from one of the most established and widely-read magazines of its day, reveals the level of public interest in polar voyages. The author of this piece speaks with the pride of his age in claiming that the sciences 'were scarcely ever, perhaps, at any former period, prosecuted with more ardour or with more success. Geography and Navigation may especially be said to be favourite pursuits in the scientific learning of the age, and to have engaged a considerable share of the thoughts and energies of the public talent' (210).
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Smollett's collection ranged as widely as possible in all directions, and this account of Laplanders provides a nice comparison with the Webber image above.
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Charles Wilkes's expedition proved the existence of an Antarctic continent, though he shares the honour with Dumont d'Urville's crew on the Astrolabe. The United States government sponsored the expedition primarily to support the expansion of sealing and whaling interests, but allowed for the possibility that the voyage might 'extend the bounds of science'. During the winter months, the expedition also explored many of the known Pacific islands, improving the charts and collecting specimens of plants, animals and minerals. Few readers have ever read the full account, in five volumes, because Congress only authorised the printing of 100 copies.
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Conquest of the North Pole

Robert Peary and Matthew Henson's conquest of the North Pole for America was as much a political as a geographical achievement, as witnessed by the US President's introduction. Of course, Roosevelt may have been swayed by the fact that Peary's custom-built ship had been named in his honour. Nonetheless, Americans were proud to claim precedence at the Pole, and readers in the US (in a New York edition) and Europe (in this edition) were eager to obtain Peary's account of the top of the world.
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Detail. Smollett, Tobias George [compiler]A compendium of authentic and entertaining voyages, digested in a chronological series... v.5 de Beer Eb/1766/S v.1-7

Detail. Smollett, Tobias George [compiler] A compendium of authentic and entertaining voyages, digested in a chronological series... v.5
de Beer Eb/1766/S v.1-7
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