Cover image for The race to the white continent
The race to the white continent
Gurney, Alan.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Norton, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 320 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
G860 .G84 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
G860 .G84 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In the 1830s, the forbidding Antarctic region represented the ultimate mystery. The prospect of discovering a lucrative whaling ground made this uncharted and untapped region especially enticing. Three expeditions to the pole were launched simultaneously by the United States, France, and Britain, each vying to be the first to venture farther south than any vessel had ever sailed before. These expeditions paved the way for the explorers, traders, and whalers of what was to become known as the "Heroic Age" of Antarctic exploration. The Race to the White Continent is a captivating account of their adventures.

Author Notes

Alan Gurney is a writer and former yacht designer living on the Isle of Islay in Scotland

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gurney combines a true love of the subject with the ability to weave history into a rousing story. He begins with Cook's explorations skirting Antarctica, and meanders through almost two centuries of southern exploration. The work concentrates on the voyages of the British, American, and the French. The author proves himself a great storyteller by taking his time to delve into the personalities and strange events behind some of the most daring ocean explorations. These range from the quirky, such as America's inspiration to explore Antarctica, which originated with John Symmes, who in 1818 theorized that the earth was hollow and that entrances could be found to the inner world through large holes at either pole, to the more practical scientific and exploitative excursions of the British and French. This historical romance of the sea is enthralling enough to make the most steadfastly land-loving reader want to set sail through arduous conditions to uncharted lands. Highly recommended. Eric Robbins

Publisher's Weekly Review

Though much less well known than the famous Antarctic expeditions of Amundsen and Shackleton, the three pathbreaking national expeditionsDAmerican, French and BritishDthat explored the southern ice pack between 1837 and 1842 are equally memorable, albeit not cast in quite so heroic a mold. Gurney's (Below the Convergence) spellbinding chronicle of these three exploratory voyages, in which the sponsoring countries vied for supremacy in commerce, geopolitics and science, combines swashbuckling scholarship and marvelous historical adventure. The U.S. expedition, a maelstrom of clashing egos, lobbying and incompetence, was plagued by desertions of seamen who got drunk at every opportunity. The American squadron's four-year odyssey, with side trips ranging from Tahiti to Australia, included a surveying stopover in Fiji, where the ruthless U.S. admiral Charles Wilkes burned two villages to the ground, killing 100 Fijians, in retaliation for the natives' killing of two officers. James Ross, who led the British expedition, tried in vain to plant the Union JackDthe very same flag he had raised over the north magnetic poleDover the south magnetic pole. Scurvy and dysentery decimated the crew of the French expedition, led by aloof, brusque Dumont d'Urville, who suffered from severe gout. Little fanfare attended the return of the expeditions, even though they added immensely to the knowledge of Antarctica, building on Capt. James Cook's circumnavigation of the continent in 1775. Told with sparkling wit and a keen eye for telling detail, Gurney's superb narrative is a great drama of passionate men battling each other and the elements. Illustrated. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Many sailing voyages preceded the great expeditions to Antarctica at the beginning of the 20th century. Gurney (Below the Convergence: Voyages to Antartica, 1699-1839) recounts many of them in this popular account, beginning with the New England whalers early in the 19th century, followed by the explorations of d'Urville for France, Ross for Great Britain, and Wilkes for the United States. These stories largely concern politics, egos, and turf battles. The author obviously has command of the material, telling the reader perhaps more than is wanted. Explanations of technical terms are generally good, but the usual scholarly documentation is lacking. This will make a convenient introduction to the topic but cannot take the place of the primary accounts. For public libraries with adequate budgets.DEdward Gibson, Lincoln Univ. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Prologuep. 5
1 The Backgroundp. 7
2 Blubber Hunters and Tradersp. 12
3 The Sea Surveyors--Frenchp. 35
4 The Sea Surveyors--Britishp. 57
5 Terra Australisp. 72
6 Holes at the Polesp. 93
7 Infinite Confusionp. 106
8 Wilkes Takes Chargep. 118
9 Hurrah! for the Exploring Expeditionp. 129
10 South Pacific Preludep. 148
11 The Everlasting Expeditionp. 163
12 Haunted by Cookp. 183
13 The Magnetic Crusadep. 203
14 To the Pillars of the Gatewayp. 221
15 The Pilgrims of the Oceanp. 241
16 Perplexing Navigationp. 256
17 Antarctic Aftermathp. 270
Epiloguep. 281
Mapsp. 285
Bibliographyp. 297
Indexp. 305