Rosove entry for A LETTER FROM THE ANTARCTIC


85. DAVIS, J. E. [JOHN EDWARD DAVIS] (1815-77) A Letter from the Antarctic.

1st edition. 85.A1. London: William Clowes & Sons, 1901. Printed for Private Circulation. 21.4 cm. A2 on p. 3, A3 on p. 9, A4 on p. II, A5 on p. 17. pp. 38, I, (I); frontispiece ["Captain John Edward Davis, R.N."]. 4 sketches in text. Denucé 2549 (erroneous attribution to Scott's 1901-4 expedition), AB-USN 23-53.12 (with the Denucé error), Spence 352, Conrad p. 59. Very rare.
a. Dark blue cloth, spine plain, front cover lettered in gilt with blind outer double rectangular border, rear board similarly blind stamped, all edges gilt, yellow endpapers. — Copies: BL (inscribed "Master Cox with compliments from the author's son Percy L H Davis 1902"), SPRI (inscribed "Hugh R. Mill Esq with compliments from the writer's son. Percy L. H. Davis. London 1902."), 7 (inscribed "To May Davis from her brother PLHD").
b. Blue paper wrappers, printed with title on front cover. — Copies: 50.
Davis was second master of the Terror during Ross's expedition of 1839-43 and prepared survey charts and fine artistic images of the voyage. He was cocky and popular among the junior officers. Davis did not care for Ross, criticized his treatment of Joseph Hooker and the botany of the voyage, and, upon Ross's marriage to Anne Coulman a month after the expedition's return, wrote to Hooker stating, "I do not wish him any harm but I hope the future Lady R may prove a Dragon."1 (She was not.)

Many years after the expedition, Sir Clements Markham, who had known Davis for twenty years, said of him, "Old Davis, if not above 'the ordinary run' was a good artist, a good writer, a good surveyor and a right good fellow."2 After the Ross expedition, Davis served on the voyage of the Fox to Iceland and Greenland. Late in life, he lectured often on polar exploration. In 1869, he addressed the Melbourne Geographical Society, attempting unsuccessfully to rekindle interest in further scientific exploration of Antarctica.3

Davis's recollections of the collision of the ships and other events of the Ross expedition are dramatically profound among the few published. This account, in the form of a letter from Davis to his sister Emily (dated 11 April 1842, H.M.S. Terror, off Cape Horn), was published by Davis's family privately, twenty-four years posthumously.

1M. J. Ross, Ross in the Antarctic (Whitby, 1982), p. 212.
2Ibid., p. 34.
3Baughman, Before the Heroes Came (Lincoln and London, 1994), p. 13.


From Rosove, Michael H. Antarctica, 1772-1922; Freestanding Publicatons through 1999 (Santa Monica: Adélie Books, 2001).

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