Galathea 1 (1845-47)
On 14 May 1845, the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters received a letter from King Christian VIII, who was known for, among other things, his great interest in natural history. This was the beginning of the first Galatea expedition.
The letter included, among others, the following passage: "We have decided to send the Corvette Galathea to the East Indian Islands and particularly the Nicobar Islands, over which We hold Sovereignty, in order to perform scientific Survey of the natural Products of this Group of Islands and their use for Cultivation and Trade." In his instructions, the king furthermore requests the academy to appoint "persons learned in the study of Nature and aides to assist them".
The purpose of the expedition was, besides the exploration of the Nicobar Islands, to hand over the Danish colonies of Tranquebar and Frederiksnagore in India to the British East India Company, the expansion of the trade with China, and negotiation and conclusion of new trading contracts.
At that time, other seafaring nations had already sent out combined marine military and scientific expeditions, among which the voyage of the Beagle is probably the most widely known. It was on this voyage that Charles Darwin made the observations for his famous book on the origin of species.
Adventure and hard discipline
The Galathea expedition was organised with impressive rapidity. The corvette Galatea was not the largest ship in the navy: only 43 metres in length, and when it departed it was nearly bursting at the seams with its 231 men, 36 guns and provisions for one year. The accommodations must have been cramped…
Galatea’s voyage around the Earth was the greatest adventure of its day, an expedition which in its conception exceeded all known frameworks and established Denmark’s position as a leading seafaring nation and also partly as a colonial power.
The budget was large, nearly half a million rix-dollars, an amount corresponding to three per cent of the annual State revenues. Captain Steen Bille’s account of the two-year expedition makes fascinating reading, a colourful and detailed snapshot from days long gone.
The voyage was tough: 20 Danish sailors died in the course of the voyage, some discharged during the voyage, and Steen Bille’s discipline was harsh. He did not hesitate to punish crewmembers with the whip!