A Ship Ahead of Its Time


A French doctor is sailing through uncharted waters at the bottom of the earth.

Jean Baptiste Charcot has been here before.  This time he is commanding an unassuming ship which doesn’t look like a historic vessel.

Francais was built to withstand the unimaginable nautical rigors that an exploration of the west Coast of Graham Land in the Antarctic would deliver.


In 1987, this stamp released by the French Southern Antarctic Territories paid tribute to the Charcot explorations.   I try to keep a stock on hand if you would like to add this stamp to your collection.

It is a beautifully engraved air mail issue and is somewhat difficult to find.

Jean-Baptiste Charcot led the Third French Antarctic Expedition of 1904-7.  The Oceanographic Museum of Monaco contributed funding for the adventure.

Charcot’s team made significant discoveries.  Adelaide Island, thought to be eight miles long, turned out to be seventy miles long.

There were also breakthrough displays of early 20th Century technology.

Four huts built on land at Port Circumcision were powered by electricity generated on the ship.  Thick steel hawsers were strung across 275 feet of open water to prevent icebergs from rolling into port.

But three motor vehicles onboard Francais never made it ashore.  Their tires couldn’t dig in to the crusty snow and ice.

Onions, watercress, and hyacinths grew below the wardroom skylight throughout the winter and into early spring.

More than a thousand miles of coastline were charted.  These maps continued to be used for 25 years.

Jean Baptiste Charcot Picture

Jean-Baptiste Charcot died a national hero.   He was lost at sea when his ship went down in a storm off the coast of Iceland in the late summer of 1936.

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