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This page last updated April 2012.

Please contact me for comment or if you can help with extra information.

NEW April 2012.
Some documentation and a photo from Arthur Brameld, who was radio operator on the Sound of Jura during her final trip to the Kerguelen Islands in 1926/27. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to view.

NEW May 2008.
A fantastic series of short articles giving a first hand account of the first Irvin & Johnson sealing expedition in 1920-21. Axel J. Svenson was aboard the SS 'Plough' for the trip to the Kerguelens from North Shields. Read the translations by his son Olle Svenson.

Port Couvreux - Kerguelen Islands

Visit Paul Carroll's excellent site on the Kerguelen Islands. This site also includes other Sub-Antarctic islands.

Port Couvreux

Remains of vats & boilers at Port Couvreux

Port Jeanne d'Arc

Port Jeanne d'Arc

Elephant seals in 1909 'Illustration' article by Henry Bossiere

Kerguelen Islands
Dependency of France

Images courtesy Google Earth

Irvin & Johnson SA & the Kerguelen Islands


In 1919, when the Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. was being sold to Lever Bros., Carl Ossian Johnson was in the process of purchasing the Norwegian Co. A/S Kerguelen, who had signed a deal with the Frenchman Bossiere in 1908, enabling them to utilise some of resources at Kerguelen. Bossiere's family had been granted a concession by the French Govt. in 1893 to 'exploit the Kerguelen Islands', valid for 50 years. However, due to lack of funds &/or expertise, several attempts to establish a base for themselves at Kerguelen, mainly for sheep farming, had failed. In 1907 the French Minister of Colonies wrote 'In fact , from 31 July 1893 to January 1907, not one of M. Bossiere's business projects has been realised, not a man, not a parcel has been unloaded at Kerguelen, which today is still unexplored and uninhabited'.

In 1908 the Bossiere's were forced to take some action, which resulted in the signing of contracts with two different French concerns, being the brothers Henry & Raymond Rallier du Baty and a Madame Faucon, both conceding rights for the hunting of elephant seals in return for royalties. They also signed an agreement with a Norwegian company, Storm, Bull & Co. who were lured by the prospect of a whaling venture. This agreement was also to provide royalties to the Bossiere's. Soon after the agreement was signed, Storm, Bull & Co. formed a new company, Aktieselskabet Kerguelen, and transferred their rights to it. This company wasted no time in establishing a whaling factory at Port Jeanne d'Arc. One of the Bossiere brothers, Henry, left to visit Kerguelen in late 1908, arriving in early 1909, and upon his return to France published the following article in the magazine 'Illustration'.

The whaling station at Port Jeanne d'Arc 1909
Click to read the 1909 article by Henry Bossiere

The profitability of whaling at Port Jeanne d'Arc was very short lived, apparently due to lack of whale stocks. Whaling lasted just three seasons, with elephant seals being hunted in 1912 to enable the oil quota to be reached. In 1913 the Bossiere's formed the 'Compagnie Generale des Iles Kerguelen, Saint Paul & Amsterdam', which landed 1150 sheep at Port Couvreux in August, this venture also being doomed due to the unsuitability of the climate. The onset of The Great War saw the end of any further activity involving Kerguelen until 1919 when Carl Ossian Johnson purchased the A/S Kerguelen from its Norwegian owners.

The Bossiere family were to receive commissions & percentages from Irvin & Johnson as had been the case with the Norwegian owners. Johnson planned to harvest the large population of Kerguelen Islands elephant seals for their blubber which contained a valuable edible oil similar to whale oil. Their proposed base was at Port Couvreux which had been the site of the experimental sheep farm.
(To be researched - Whaling was also probably undertaken in a limited scale from the base at Port Jeanne d'Arc)

Preparations for the First Sealing Expedition

Also in 1919, Johnson purchased two ships, the 'Kildalkey' & 'Kilfenora', from the British Govt. & sent them to Shields Engineering for modifications for use as factories and tankers. Both these ships had been commissioned by the Admiralty for use as Q ships and had been completed in 1918. Both had similar specifications but were built at different yards, being 175ft in length, a little over 600 gross tons with a speed of around 10 knots. Johnson also purchased two steam drifters, the 'Plough' & the 'Galaxy' for use in the venture. The 'Plough' was a steel steam drifter, built in Aberdeen in 1912. The 'Galaxy' was also a steel steam drifter, newly launched in 1919 as HMD Galaxy by Colby Bros. of Lowestoft. Both were around 85ft in length with a gross tonnage of around 80. The 'Sound of Jura' was already in Cape Town at his disposal. Her ownership had remained with Irvin & Johnson after the sale of Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. to Lever Bros.
These deals were carried out under Johnson's own initiative, with little consultation with the head office of Irvin & Johnson, Cape Town. This created much friction within the company, as few board members shared Johnson's optimism for the venture.

NEW - May 2008
A First Hand Account of the 1920-21 Expedition

Axel J. Svenson was aboard the steel steam fishing vessel 'Plough' on this trip. He travelled from his home in Sweden to North Shields, to join the 'Plough' for its voyage to the Kerguelens. His son Olle Svenson has translated a series of articles written by his father in 1948-50.

'Sound of Jura' in oil painting belonging to grandaughter of Captain Rochester

Kilfenora (I&J image)

A typical steel steam drifter of the era, similar to the 'Plough' & 'Galaxy'.

The Sound of Jura returns to the Sub Antarctic

The Last of the Windjammers - Vol II
Basil Lubbock (on the 'Sound of Jura')

'Her last owners were the Kerguelen Whaling & Sealing Co., and she was commanded by Captain Cruickshank, a son, by the way, of one of the owners of the Liverpool Crown Line. He tells me that she was not a flier but a wonderful vessel at rolling. She used to leave Cape Town in September with coal for for the Kerguelen sealers, and remained down South as a store for the oil until the steam freighter came down in February when she returned to the Cape'.

(It is most likely that the 'Sound of Jura' was part of the Kerguelen fleet on each sealing expedition from 1920 until 1926-27 when she was laid up, due to her suitability as a store for coal).

The initial expedition set off in September 1920, and comprised the 'Kildalkey', 'Kilfenora', 'Plough', 'Galaxy' & 'Sound of Jura'. Meanwhile Johnson was back in Europe completing formalities - with his newly formed 'Kerguelen Sealing & Whaling Co. Ltd.' being first mentioned in a document signed in January 1921, giving it rights for the Kerguelen venture (which was already underway). This document was signed by the three concerned parties, namely Bossiere, A/S Kerguelen & C.O. Johnson.
'The whaling station which had suffered after seven years of disuse, was quickly renovated as was the house at Port Couvreux. But the shepherd sent to Kerguelen in September 1920 to look after farming operations, could only find two live rams and left for France at the end of the year'.
Even though the first season was profitable, yielding 17,000 barrels of oil, no expedition was sent for the 1921-22 season - (probably due to legalities).

The flotilla for the 1922-23 season included the tankers 'Sultan van Langkat' & 'Golden Crown', these being replaced for the 1923-24 season with the 'Oural' & 'Hamlet'. On board the 'Oural' was Mr. Etienne Peau, on a scientific expedition representing the Museum Le Havre. It was from photographic and first hand evidence supplied by Mr. Peau, that the French public became aware of the massive scale of the slaughter of the elephant seals on their island, all for the benefit of a foreign company who payed a pittance for their rights.
'The International Congress for the Protection of Wildlife' had met in Paris in June 1924, and proposals were drawn up in Dec 1924 for the formation of a National Park -
'2,000 tons of oil corresponded to the loss of 30,000 - 40,000 elephant seals'. The French newspaper 'La De France' said 'Numerous skeletons of seals heap up on the beaches & give our island the disastrous aspect of devastation'.

Despite this growing opposition, the 1924-25 season was underway, with the inclusion of the tankers 'Radioleine' & 'Erivan'. The 'Erivan' was lost in December 1924 with the loss of over 10,000 barrels of oil, the crew took refuge on a nearby islet before being rescued by the 'Kilfenora'. The 1925-26 season saw the Bossiere chartered tanker 'Lozere' make her first trip to Kerguelen, returning for the 1926-27 season accompanied by the French trawler 'Arques'.

Sound of Jura makes her last voyage to the Kerguelen Islands

The 'Sound of Jura' made her last voyage to the Kerguelens for the 1926-27 season, accompanying the 'Radioleine', 'Kildalkey', 'Kilfenora', 'Plough', 'Galaxy' & 'Hamlet'. Arthur Brameld signed on for this last trip as a radio operator. The following documentation was sent to me by his grandson, Ronald Brameld.

Of the 25 Pounds per month paid to Arthur as a radio operator, 15 of this was drawn on by his wife back in Capetown.

This was also to be the last voyage of the Sound of Jura before being laid up, after a useful life of over 30 years - 15 years of these involving voyages to the Antarctic. She was laid up in Saldanha Bay S.A. after her return from Kerguelen in 1927 and used as a coal hulk. The Kerguelen Whaling & Sealing Co. continued operations until 1929 when the French authorities failed to renew the agreements. By this time however, the population of elephant seals had been decimated, and the 'Kildalkey' had already ventured further to Heard Island in January 1929. Sir Douglas Mawson wrote in November 1929 during a stop at Heard Island -
'Sea-elephant carcases abundant on the beaches, evidently stripped a few weeks previously'
Sources & acknowledgements
'Shipowners of the Dream' - Arnaud & Beurois
Internet Resource - HERE
Internet Resource - HERE
Draft copy - History of Irvin & Johnson
David Williamson - steam drifter enthusiast
David Mair - steam drifter enthusiast