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Narcon Island

Geoff Read g.read at niwa.cri.nz
Tue Mar 10 21:04:51 EST 1998

Annelida folk,

A very recent polychaete publication refers with confidence to "Cape
Adare and Narcon Island in Victoria Land." This triggered a memory that
perhaps Narcon was fictitious. I'd like to review the facts and get some
input from those that have already considered the matter. Apologies if this
is already dealt with in print somewhere.

As some will know better than I, we have W. Baird to thank for Narcon
Island, the purported geographic locality of Serpula narconensis and
Eunice narconi, and Terebella flabellum (and maybe others), apparently
based on British Museum material surviving from Sir James Clark Ross's
Antarctic Expeditions of the 1840's .  I recalled Helmut Zibrowius
commenting on Narcon Island a couple of years ago. In message
http://www.bio.net/hypermail/ANNELIDA/9512/0030.html Helmut wrote: 

"Well, I think that I have good reasons to believe that Narcon Island is
just a poor transcription of Marion Island, a southern island that
effectively was visited by J. Ross' expedition."

Helmut, this is a belated follow-up to learn if  those good reasons perhaps
include viewing an original label?

Ross did 'visit' Marion Island, which is southern Indian Ocean and really
outside the subantarctic zone, but he was unable to land because strong
winds drove the ships off overnight. I do not know if that is necessarily a
negative to Helmut's very reasonable suggestion since Serpula narconensis,
apparently quite common in the deep south, appears to be mainly subtidal.
ALSO, in expedition member Joseph Hooker's account (a strangely botanical
narrative to be used as introduction to the two zoology volumes - but 
Hooker was a primarily a botanist) he mentions seeing, if not collecting,
"exceedingly abundant" Macrocystis pyrifera, the giant kelp, for the first
time there the previous day. That would have meant the ship had been in
quite shallow water where dredging, or at least picking up drifting
holdfasts, and their attached fauna, might have been convenient.

Certainly there is no Narcon Island in the gazeteer, "Antarctica: official
name decisions of the United States Board on Geographic Names", 3rd ed.
(1969 14-3), which covers from the South Pole up to 50S latitude. There is
nothing that is even close. Hartman, 1966, used an earlier edition of that
gazetteer to verify names, and surrounds Narcon Island with quotes, though
she does not add a  '(sic)' as she does for Bucket I., which was also a
problem place. I have not been able to check the gazeteers that exist
produced by other nations.

Also, and more significantly, in Ross's original 1846 map of the coast of
Victoria Land there are several islands named and none is the one we seek.
We do see the now familiar names of Mt Erebus, McMurdo Bay (Sound), Capes
Bird, Crozier, Hallett and Adare. Narcon is a good name for an island - the
island of stupor - although  we might imagine Baird had a temporary
narcosis or narcolepsy while preparing his paper. Ross more usually named
places prosaically after people rather than events or fancies. But  we
cannot rule out that some nondescript rock stack that was once fleetingly
called Narcon Island might really be out there. Not all isles are
individually named on that map.

Incidentally the bulk of the material from Ross's expedition seems to have
suffered the same fate as many another - loss through neglect and
ill-fortune. Little was published on the invertebrates. A great pity since
Ross himself evidently had a particularly strong predilection for marine
biological collecting and did some  in New Zealand too. At least part was
by dredging, for Baird 1865 (Baird Hartman#8) describes polynoids Hermadion
ferox and H. fuligineum collected from the Ross Sea  and 'dredged' in 300
fathoms - quite a depth for those days, and Hooker (in *Ross, 1982 -  a
great-grandson) mentions Ross in New Zealand as "spending hours up to his
knees in water, and elsewhere dredging".  The former being rather a
surprising activity for a dignified naval commander.

So can anyone, having persisted  to read the saga thus far, now point us to
Narcon Island, or add to the Marion Island idea?


*M. J. Ross 1982. "Ross in the Antarctic. The voyages of James Clark Ross
in Her Majesty's ships Erebus & Terror 1839-1843"  Caedmon of Whitby.

  Geoff Read <g.read at niwa.cri.nz>

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