Ross left England in early October 1839, in command of two ships. Ross flagship was the Erebus, and Commander Francis Crozier was in command of the Terror. The men spent the 1840 austral winter in Australia, where Ross read of dUrvilles and Wilkes discoveries. Their experiences convinced him to sail further east before bearing south. It was a key decision. On January 9, 1841, Ross pushed through the pack ice and into the Ross Sea. Two days later he sighted the most southerly land yet, a range of mountains he named the Admiralty Range. On January 12 he landed on Possession Island and claimed the land, which he called Victoria Land, for England.
The need for baleen kept the industry going, however. The invention of steam engines and explosive harpoons soon cleared northern waters of whales, so whalers once again made a tentative probe to the south. Their search for prey brought new geographical discoveries.
Only twenty years had passed between Smiths discovery of the South Shetlands and the end of Ballenys voyage. In that time the rough outlines of the new continent had been sketched, and nearly all commercially valuable seals had been extirpated. Sealing activity had nearly ceased, but even as the sealers left governments once again became interested in the great land to the south.
During the 1700s, the French became active in exploring for new land to the south, and a possible southern continent was on their minds. Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier was searching for the fabled Gonnevilles Land when he sighted land on January 1, 1739 at about 54S latitude. He called it Cape Circumcision, but it was actually an island (now called Bouvetmya, or Bouvet Island). It is the most isolated island on Earth. (Because his estimate of longitude was so far off, the island was not sighted again until 1808, though many explorers looked for it.)
The first recorded landing on the Antarctic continent took place on February 7, 1821. Men from the American sealer Cecilia, under Captain John Davis, landed at Hughes Bay (6401S) looking for seals. Though they were on shore for less than an hour, these men were the first humans to set foot on this new southern land. Davis correctly guessed that the land was a continent.
Weddells first destination was the little-explored South Orkney Islands. On January 15, 1823 he collected six skins of a new species of seal, the one that would later bear his name (Leptonychotes weddelli). Finding few fur seals, Weddell carefully charted the islands, then began to search in uncharted waters. He headed south for a while, then scoured the sea between the South Orkneys and the South Sandwich Islands. Finally deciding that if there was any new land it must be to the south, he once again set course that way. By February 17, 1823 Weddell was deep into the Weddell Sea. On February 20, at longitude 341645W, James Weddell fixed his position at 7415S, further south than anyone had ever gone before. It would be over 80 years before anyone could get that far south again in the Weddell Sea.
After Ross voyages there was, with a few notable exceptions, a fifty year hiatus in Antarctic exploration. The attentions of governments turned to the Arctic and the search for the Northwest Passage. However, commerce continued between Europe and the countries of the southern hemisphere. In one case, this resulted in a serendipitous discovery.
On March 2, at 6458S and 12108E, Balleny caught his one and only glimpse of the Antarctic continent, an area now called the Sabrina Coast. Perhaps the most important contribution to Antarctic exploration made by John Balleny was his observation that a possible passageway through the pack ice existed between 170E and 180E longitude. This would be the path followed by James Clark Ross, Carsten Borchgrevink, Robert Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen.
American merchant captain John Heard was sailing a great circle course in the southern ocean on his way from Boston to Melbourne when, on November 25, 1853, he sighted land. It was an island not found on any chart, and it was soon to be named Heard Island. (On January 4, 1854 the British Captain William McDonald discovered the group of islands lying to the west of Heard Island; the McDonald Islands.) It didnt take long for the hunters to follow up on Heards discovery. There was an abundance of elephant seals on the island and by 1855 whalers (turned sealer) had landed and begun harvesting the crop. By 1880 over four million gallons of elephant seal oil had been rendered and shipped from Heard Island.
In his own search for virgin sealing grounds, Palmer explored to the south of the Shetlands, sailing a few miles west of Bransfields track. On November 15, 1820 he observed the mountains of Trinity Land, the second known sighting of the Antarctic Peninsula. He also discovered McFarlane Strait and Yankee Harbor. Although it is possible that other sealers had seen the Peninsula before him, their logs are lost and there is no record other than Palmers.
For the first 200 years or so of European exploration, most voyages were concerned either with commerce or with the investigation of the newly discovered American continents. The first systematic search for a southern continent didnt come until nearly the beginning of the eighteenth century. In September of 1699, the scientist Edmond Halley left England aboard the Pink Paramour to establish the true longitude of ports in South America and Africa, measure magnetic variations, and search for the mysterious Terra Australis Incognita. By January, he had crossed the Antarctic Convergence and on February 1, 1700 at 5224S, Halley made the first recorded sighting of tabular icebergs, which he sketched into the ships logbook. However, the cold, stormy weather, and the danger of collision with an iceberg in the fog drove him north again.
A new phase in Antarctic exploration, and exploitation, began in 1819. A merchant captain named William Smith was sailing around Cape Horn on his way to Valparaiso, Chile when he detoured to the south to avoid unfavorable winds. On February 19, he sighted previously unknown land and the next day, after the weather had cleared a little, he fixed its position at 6217S and 6012W, further south even than Cooks South Sandwich Islands. Smith had discovered Livingston Island in the South Shetlands. More importantly, he had discovered more seals.
Bransfield continued his explorations until the middle of March, 1820, discovering Gibbs, OBrien, Elephant, Seal, and Clarence Islands, and sailing into the Weddell Sea–the first person in history to do so.
Near the end of February, 1775, Cook crossed his track of 1772, completing the first circumnavigation of Antarctica and proving once and for all that the southern continent, if one existed, was neither as large nor as habitable as once thought. He did believe there was a southern land mass, but that it was of little use to anyone.
James Cooks Antarctic circumnavigation stands as one of the greatest of all human voyages of exploration. His thorough investigation and reasoned dismissal of Antarcticas value was enough to dissuade governments from further expenditures. (In fact, except for one British and one Russian expedition, government funded exploration did enter a sixty year hiatus.) But Cook had not taken human greed into consideration. Ironically, it was Cooks own penchant for thoroughness that fueled the burst of activity that followed his voyage; he had noted in his log the large numbers of seals and whales he observed in the high latitudes. Before long, hunters were headed south.
One of the first of these sealer-scientists, however, was not an Enderby man. He was James Weddell, captain of the brig Jane. Weddell had taken part in the 1820-21 and 1821-22 sealing seasons in the South Shetlands and had made enough money to finance a third expedition. Like the Enderbys, Weddell was as interested in new discoveries as he was in filling his hold with fur seal skins. He was an avid explorer, naturalist, and geographer. He was also the first Antarctic conservationist, noting that with a little sensible management the South Shetland fur seal population could have provided a sustainable annual harvest of about 100,000 skins. Instead, greed had destroyed the breeding population.
Ninety-one sealing vessels were operating in the Shetlands during the 1820-21 season, and all remaining fur seals were systematically exterminated. On December 7, 1821 George Powell, a sealer and amateur naturalist, joined with Nathaniel Palmer to search for new sealing grounds to the east of the Shetlands. Soon they had discovered the South Orkney Islands, but since there were no fur seals to be found there, Palmer left it to Powell to make an exploratory landing.
Dallmanns experience was sufficiently discouraging to keep other whalers away for another twenty years. Then, in 1892, the Dundee Expedition headed south to search for the whales that Ross had reported seeing in the Weddell Sea. Again, no right whales were taken, but his four ships returned home with holds full of seal skins and oil. These whalers also discovered Dundee Island.
During the early part of the nineteenth century, whalers had ventured further south to look for additional stocks of the rapidly disappearing southern right whales. They found only fast swimming rorquals for which their rowboats were no match, so these men fell back on taking fur and elephant seals. By 1825, most of the seals had been wiped out. Beginning in 1850, petroleum oil began to compete with whale oil, and by 1872 the number of whaling ships had dropped from 400 to 72.
Inspired by Weddells deep foray into the Weddell Sea and by the tantalizing glimpses of land reported by the sealers, the French, British, and United States governments launched exploratory missions. All of them had two goals: discover new land and locate the south magnetic pole.
The seal hunters didnt waste any time. As soon as word of Smiths discovery got around the ports of Argentina and Chile, merchantmen were scrambling to take advantage of the new hunting grounds. The first ship to arrive in the South Shetlands was an chartered Argentine vessel. The crew took 14,000 skins in five weeks. On December 25, 1819, British sealers landed on Rugged Island, claimed it for Britain, and set about their business. The American sealer Hersilia (with Nathaniel Palmer as second mate) sighted Smith Island on January 18, 1820 and arrived at Rugged Island to join the British a few days later. The extermination of South Shetland seals had begun.
This landing, and the specimens collected, were to provide the fuel for the greatest upsurge in Ant
Another notable exception was the scientific voyage of the HMS Challenger. During her around-the-world oceanographic cruise, she became the first steamship to cross the Antarctic Circle (on February 16, 1874). In dredging the ocean bottom, her crew discovered continental rocks deposited by icebergs, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Antarctica was a continent.
In 1622, the Dutch pilot Dirck Gerritsz reported being driven south to 64S, where he supposedly discovered a land with snow-covered mountains, a land similar in appearance to Norway. The accuracy of his latitude calculation is suspect, but it is possible that he sighted the South Shetland Islands. In 1675, the British merchant Anthony de la Roch was blown far to the east and south of the Straits of Magellan, to a latitude of 55S, where he found shelter in an unnamed bay. During his stay at what was almost certainly South Georgia Island, he also sighted what he thought to be the southern continent to the south and east. In fact, what he saw was most probably the Clerke Rocks, which lie 48 kilometers southeast of South Georgia. Their location corresponds to where the shore of Terra Australis Incognita was placed on the Dutch East India Company map of the time, which de la Roche had studied.
The American expedition was commanded by Lt. Charles Wilkes. His United States Exploring Expedition comprised six ships and 433 men, making it the largest expedition ever dispatched to explore the southern ocean. The fleet sailed in August 1838 with several naturalists and scientists. Wilkes first foray to the south, in the Peninsula region, brought no new discoveries. On his second excursion, however, he charted several hundred miles of new coastline, starting with Cape Hudson in Terre Adlie on January 16, 1840 and ending with what is now called the Shackleton Ice Shelf on February 21. (There were several inaccuracies in Wilkes positions, however, such that James Clark Ross later sailed over some areas where Wilkes had drawn land on his charts.) As with dUrville, ice prevented Wilkes from reaching the magnetic pole, but much of the area he charted is now known as Wilkes Land.
His next two excursions south brought no further discoveries. On the second, in the 1841-42 austral summer, the Erebus and Terror were nearly destroyed by collisions with icebergs and each other. On his third excursion, in March of 1843, Ross managed to reach 7130S in the Weddell Sea before the ice pack forced him north.
In 1520, after he had sailed through the Strait that now bears his name, Magellan speculated that the land to his south, Tierra del Fuego, might mark the northern edge of a great continent. Fifty-eight years later, in 1578, Sir Francis Drake sailed his Golden Hind through Magellans Strait. He encountered severe weather on the Pacific side and was blown to the south of Tierra del Fuego, then east around Cape Horn. It became obvious that Magellans continent was merely a series of islands at the tip of South America. If there was indeed a southern continent, it had to be further south.
Whalers came south, too, to hunt the southern right whale and to take advantage of the abundance of seals and the high profits of sealing. While many whalers joined the slaughter of fur seals, others hunted the southern elephant seal. Millions of elephant seals were butchered and rendered into oil as a substitute for whale oil.
The idea went back to the ancient Greeks, who had a fondness for symmetry and balance. There must be a great continent to the south, they postulated, to balance the great land masses in the northern hemisphere. Two thousand years later, the great age of exploration brought Europeans far enough south to test the hypothesis.
Meanwhile, the British Royal Navy had sent Edward Bransfield to determine if the new land was part of a continent or a string of islands. Bransfield was also ordered to chart harbors, collect natural science specimens, and take weather and magnetic readings. On January 16, 1820, he sighted Livingston Island, and on January 22 made a landing on King George Island, claiming the land (yet again) for Britain. Sailing southwest, Bransfield discovered Deception Island, Tower Island, and the Bransfield Strait. On January 30, Bransfield (or a member of his crew) was the first to lay eyes on the mountains of the Antarctic Peninsula, a place he called Trinity Land.
In 1833, Peter Kemp, a sealer working for the rival firm of Bennett and Sons, was sent south to find seals, not make new discoveries. Nonetheless, on December 29 Kemp sighted a stretch of coast just east of Biscoes discovery. (He didnt name it, but the area is now called Kemp Land.) Pack ice prevented him from landing, so he set a course to Kergulen Island and there hunted elephant seals for their oil.
It has been only 100 years since humans first occupied the continent of Antarctica (1899), and a mere 180 years since seafarers first saw the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula (1819). Yet even before they laid eyes on it, most early explorers were convinced a large, southern continent existed. They called it Terra Australis Incognita–the Unknown Southern Land.
Bellingshausen continued his explorations for the next year, becoming the first explorer to circumnavigate Antarctica since James Cook. On January 21, 1821, Bellingshausen reached 6953S and discovered the most southerly known land (Peter I Island). He saw the continent again on January 28 at 6943S and named it the Alexander Coast (now called Alexander Island). In the South Shetlands he encountered and spoke with Nathaniel Palmer, who by now was master of his own sealing ship, the Hero.
In July, 1772, Cook sailed from England again, and this time, according to both the British Admiralty and his own inclination, the search for the southern continent was his primary mission. He also intended to confirm the existence of Bouvets Cape Circumcision and Kergulens recently discovered New South France.
Between 1784 and 1822, millions of seal skins were taken from South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, the Cape Horn region, the South Sandwich Islands, and the coast of Chile. As many as three million skins were taken from the Juan Fernandez Islands alone, driving the seal population there nearly to extinction. Sub-Antarctic islands, such as Kergulen, Crozet, Marion, Prince Edward, and Macquarie, were denuded as well, leaving the sealers hungry for new hunting grounds.
The next sixteen years saw several attempts by sealers to locate new sealing grounds. Many of these voyages were underwritten by the British whaling firm Enderby Brothers (formerly Enderby & Sons), whose owners were as eager to have their captains make new geographical discoveries as they were to have them turn a profit. As a result, new islands were discovered and thousands of miles of new coastline were charted. The outlines of the new continent began to take shape.
In 1830, the Enderby Brothers sent another captain, John Biscoe, south to look for seals and make new discoveries. Sailing in the small brig Tula and accompanied by the cutter Lively, Biscoe crossed the Antarctic Circle on January 22, 1831. On February 28, he sighted a headland he called Cape Ann (now Mount Biscoe) and the mountain tops of what he called Enderby Land. After wintering in Tasmania and nursing his crew back from scurvy, Biscoe headed south and east again. By the end of April, 1832, John Biscoe had become the third person to circumnavigate Antarctica. In the second year of the voyage he discovered Adelaide Island, the Pitts Islands, and the Biscoe Islands, and he had made the first landing on Anvers Island. He also made two other notable contributions to Antarctic geography and navigation: he informed the Hydrographer in London that the headlands he had seen were certainly those of a continent, and he advised all future voyagers that the prevailing winds in very high latitudes blow east to west.
The sealers had been busy. During the 1820-21 summer season there were between 55 and 60 sealing vessels working the South Shetlands (accounts vary), with upwards of 1000 men. New sealing grounds were sought out and the seals dispatched with great alacrity. The slaughter was phenomenal. Perhaps a quarter of a million seals were eliminated in the space of three months. The carnage wasnt entirely one-sided, though; six vessels and an unknown number of men were lost to the hazards of the environment.
In early December, 1772, Cook crossed the convergence and came upon his first iceberg. After searching in vain for Bouvets cape, Cook bore east and south. On January 17, 1773, at about 40E longitude, he made the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle in history. At 6715S, the ice pack forced them north again, a mere 80 miles from the Antarctic coastline. In February, the Resolution and Adventure passed south of the position reported by Kergulen, making it clear to Cook that whatever the Frenchman had found was not part of any southern continent.
The last of the great Enderby captains was John Balleny, who sailed from England in 1838 aboard the schooner Eliza Scott, accompanied by Thomas Freeman in the Sabrina. Like John Biscoe, Ballenys primary mission was to search for new land. On February 9, 1839, just south of the Antarctic Circle and sailing west as Biscoe had recommended, he sighted islands. It was two days before weather permitted a close approach and landing. Captain Freeman and a few men from the Sabrina rowed in and Freeman jumped out onto the beach long enough to grab a few stones. Brief as it was, this was the first landing below the Antarctic Circle. The islands are now called the Balleny Islands.
To their credit, these two sealers conducted science when time allowed. Powell took readings and samples, and Palmer on his final voyage had with him Dr. James Eights, the first real scientist to visit the Antarctic. During the voyage, Eights discovered pycnogonids and collected the first Antarctic fossils.
Smith returned in October of the same year to take soundings and explore his find. On October 16, he made a landing on Desolation Island, planted a flag, and claimed the new land for Britain.
Another significant first took place in 1821. One officer and ten men from the British sealer Lord Melville were forced to spend the winter on King George Island after their ship was driven offshore by a storm and didnt return. This was the first time men had endured the Antarctic winter. They were rescued the following summer.
In 1767, Alexander Dalrymple published An Account of the Discoveries made in the South Pacific Ocean Previous to 1764. In it, he made a strong case for a giant, unknown southern continent. According to Dalrymple, this continents northern shore lay in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere between 28S and 40S latitude. The English government listened. In 1768, Captain James Cook was sent to the South Pacific, first to observe the upcoming transit of Venus, and second, to proceed south in a search for this continent. He returned to England three years later with a wealth of new geographical, biological, and anthropological information–but no sign of a southern continent. Again, the shores had been pushed south from their presumed position.
During the same 1892-93 austral summer, a Norwegian whaling expedition under Captain Carl Anton Larsen was exploring the waters and shores of Graham Land. Again, only seal skins and seal oil were taken but the owner of the ship, whaling magnate Christen Christensen, sent it south again in 1893-1894 to investigate the Weddell and Bellingshausen Seas. Captain Larsen explored coasts on both sides of the Peninsula, discovering Foyn Land and King Oscar II Land. He also discovered petrified wood on Seymour Island. As in the previous season, he found no right whales but did bring home more seal skins and oil.
Cook spent a second austral winter in the tropics before continuing his eastward circumnavigation of Antarctica. On January 14, 1775, after passing through the Straits of Magellan, he sighted new land. By January 16, he had named Willis and Bird Islands and, 100 years after de la Roche, had re-discovered and named South Georgia Island. After exploring its northern shore for a few days, Cook headed south to investigate the other land that de la Roche had seen (and that Alexander Dalrymple had thought to be part of a continent), the Clerke Rocks. Finally, on January 26, the Resolution came upon the southern end of what are now known as the South Sandwich Islands. At close to 60xS latitude, they were at that time the southernmost land ever sighted.
After spending the austral winter exploring the Pacifics more temperate and tropical latitudes (and further disproving Dalrymples theory of a southern land between 28S and 40S), Cook headed south again in late November 1773. He crossed the Antarctic Circle for the second time in December, reaching 6731S. Once again, however, the pack ice forced him north. On January 26, 1774, Resolution crossed the Antarctic Circle for a third time, reaching 7110S at 10654W in the Amundsen Sea. This was further south than anyone had ever gone before.
During the course of the next three weeks, Bellingshausen crossed the Antarctic Circle twice more, each time sighting a barrier of continental ice. On January 27 he recorded his position as 6921S, 214W and on February 5 as 6907S, 15W. Both times he noted the existence of an enormous ice shelf to the south, stretching away to the east and west. Since he was only a few miles from the coast of Antarctica each time, the ice shelf was undoubtedly the one that rims the Princess Astrid Coast.
These and other opportunistic hunts in the latter part of the nineteenth century once again reduced the barely recovered Antarctic seal fur populations to near zero. Deciding to seek right whales in the Ross Sea, Norwegian businessman Henryk Bull and whaler Svend Foyn financed the 1893-94 whaling expedition of the ship Antarctic, commanded by Captain L. Kristensen. Carsten Borchgrevink, a Norwegian immigrant, joined the ship in Australia. After taking seals in the sub- Antarctic islands, the crew of the Antarctic made for the Ross Sea. On January 16, 1895 they sighted Cape Adare but the ice kept them offshore. They landed on Possession Island and Borchgrevink discovered lichen on the rocks, the first time vegetation had been seen in the deep Antarctic. On January 24 they were able to land at Cape Adare, the first landing on the continent since Davis, and the first ever on the continental mainland. Several biological and geological specimens were collected before the crew headed back to Australia.
It seems ironic that the severe weather that makes the southern ocean so dangerous, particularly in the south Atlantic, was a key factor in the discovery of Antarctica. Time and time again, sailors blown off course by a storm discovered new land. Often, this new land was further south than any previously known. While attempting to navigate around Cape Horn in 1619, the Spaniards Bartoleme and Gonzalo Garcia de Nodal were blown off course, only to discover the tiny islands they named Islas Diego Ramirez. This would be the most southerly recorded land for another 156 years.
Dumont dUrville had been sent south largely to extend French influence in the southern ocean, and Wilkes had been instructed to chart the dangerous southern seas. Their searches for the magnetic pole had been secondary. James Clark Ross, on the other hand, was specifically tasked with finding the elusive pole. He had already found the north magnetic pole (in 1831), so it seemed fitting that he should search for the southern one.
Yves-Joseph de Kergulen-Trmarec set sail with two ships in 1771, with specific instructions to find the southern continent. On February 12, 1772, in the south Indian Ocean, he sighted a fog-shrouded land at 4940S but could not make a landing because of high seas and foul weather. A boat from his sister ship did manage a brief landfall to claim the island (Kergulen Island) for France. His firm belief in the existence of a fabled, hospitable, southern continent blinded him to the desolate reality of his find, though. He sailed back to France with wild tales of a populated, temperate paradise he called New South France. His stories convinced the French government to invest in another expensive expedition. In 1773, Kergulen returned to his island with three ships but still did not personally set foot on the island that bears his name. Even worse, he was forced to accept the truth about his find and returned to France in disgrace.
At the same time that Bransfield was charting the South Shetlands, Captain Thaddeus von Bellingshausen was commanding Russias first government-sponsored Antarctic expedition (and the last one until those of the International Geophysical Year, 135 years later). On January 15, 1820, Bellingshausen crossed the Antarctic Circle (just west of the Greenwich Meridian). His crew was only the second group of men in history to do so. The next day, Bellingshausen was prevented from going further south by a massive, continental ice shelf. This was the Finibul Ice Shelf, and the occasion marked the first sighting of the continent of Antarctica by human eyes. Bellingshausen had beat Bransfield by two weeks.
The first reconnaissance mission arrived in the southern ocean in 1873. It was German, under the command of Captain E. Dallmann. His was the first steam whaler to work Antarctic waters, but it was still no match for the rorquals. Dallmann managed to take a few fur and elephant seals (their populations were by now recovering somewhat from the depredations of earlier in the century) but no whales. During his time around the Peninsula in 1873 and 1874, Dallmann discovered the Bismarck Strait and the Neumayer Channel.
The first to sail was Jules-Sbastien-Csar Dumont dUrville in the Astrolabe, with Charles Hector Jacquinot in the Zle as consort. During late February to early March 1838, dUrville charted parts of the Antarctic Peninsula. After spending the austral winter sailing across the Pacific from Chile to Australia, dUrville headed south to search for the magnetic pole. During this second southern excursion his ships got to within four miles of the continent. On January 21, 1839, several of his men landed on a small islet a few hundred meters offshore and claimed all the land they had seen for France. Dumont dUrville named it Terre Adlie (Adlie Land) for his wife.
By January 22, Ross had beat Weddells furthest south. Discoveries followed one after the other. On January 27 he landed on and claimed Franklin Island. The next day, he discovered and named Mounts Erebus and Terror on Ross Island. His ships southerly advance was stopped finally by the Ross Ice Shelf (which Ross called the Victoria Barrier). James Ross had sailed as far south as it is possible to do. He had also discovered that the south magnetic pole lay inland, inaccessible by sea.