d'Urville and the crew of ASTROLABE: 1840
is nearly impossible to exhibit a detailed chronology of exploration
in the Antarctic region simply due to the fact that there have been
over 300 expeditions to the Antarctic mainland, not to mention the
subantarctic islands. Only historical events of major importance
are listed here.
In September, Ferdinand Magellan sails from Spain in search of a
westerly route to the Indies. Sailing down the coast of South America
he discovered the narrow straight passing through to the Pacific
Ocean which today bears his name. To the south lies Tierra del Fuego
which the early geographers assumed to be the edge of the southern
In September, Francis Drake passes through the Straights of Megellan
only to find himself blown significantly
southward due to a tremendous storm in the Pacific. This event proved
that Tierra del Fuego was separated from any southern continent
and the passageway came to be known as the "Drake Passage".
In August, the Englishman John Davis, in the DESIRE,
discovered the Falkland Islands. This was a tragic expedition as
the crew were forced to eat some 14,000 penguins which they were
forced to kill for food. Stored as properly as possible, once they
reached the tropics the penguin meat spoiled and subsequently only
16 members of the original crew of 76 ever reached home shores.
In April, Antonio de la Roché is blown south of Cape Horn
and experiences the first sighting of South Georgia.
Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Bouvet
de Lozier discovers Bouvet. The island is not sighted again
until 1808. Due to significant ice packs, the first landing did
not take place until the American Morrell landed in 1822.
In February, Frenchman Yves Joseph de Kerguélen-Trémarec
discovers the Îles Kerguélen.
In January, Captain James
Cook and his crew become the first men to cross the Antarctic
In January, Captain Cook, on his third voyage, sails past South
Georgia and discovers the South Sandwich Islands two weeks later.
This year marks the start of the sealing industry on South Georgia.
The sealers are primarily American from New England as the Europeans
are involved in war.
In July, Australian Frederick Hasselborough discovers Macquarie
Island while searching for new sealing grounds.
In February, Englishman William Smith is blown to the south while
rounding Cape Horn and discovers the South Shetland Islands, claiming
them for Great Britain in October.
In January, the Royal Navy sends Edward Bransfield, with Smith as
pilot, to search the waters southeast of the newly claimed South
Shetlands. As a result, it is claimed that he is the first to see
the Antarctic Peninsula.
In November, American Nathaniel Palmer, on the HERO,
claims to see the Antarctic Peninsula. Palmer was a member of a
sealing fleet from New England. Only 19 years old, he was dispatched
from the sealing grounds in the South Shetlands by his commanding
officer to search for land to the south.
In January, Bellingshausen returns to the Antarctic waters and discovers
Peter I Island and the Alexander Islands. He completes a circumnavigation
of Antarctica being only the second explorer, after Cook, to do
In February, American sealer John Davis arguably becomes the first
person to land on the continent. From Connecticut, Davis had been
searching the South Shetlands for seals.
In December, Nathaniel Palmer discovers the South Orkney Islands
along with British sealer George Powell.
In February, Englishman James
Weddell sails to 74 degrees south. This is the farthest south
yet reached and the penetrated sea bears his name today. Except
for possibly Morrell, no one is able to penetrate this sea again
for eighty years.
In February, Englishman John Biscoe, an employee of the British
sealing business "Enderby Brothers", discovers Enderby Land, the
first sighting of Antarctica from the Indian Ocean zone.
In February, Englishman John Balleny, another Enderby Brothers employee,
sails from New Zealand and discovers the Balleny Islands.
In January, Lt. Charles Wilkes,
American leader of the United States Exploring Expedition, sights
an area now known as Wilkes Land.
In January, under Sir James
Clark Ross in EREBUS and TERROR,
search for the South Magnetic Pole has been ordered by the British
Royal Navy. He discovers Victoria Land and enters the sea which
is known famously now as the Ross Sea. He discovers Ross Island,
Mt. Erebus and the Ross Ice Shelf.
In November, Captain Carl Larsen of the JASON lands
near the Antarctic Peninsula on Seymour Island. Discovering a number
of fossils, this becomes the first evidence of a prior warmer climate.
In January, Henryk Bull lands in the Antarctic at Cape Adare. A
member of the party, Carsten Borchgrevink, finds lichen on an offshore
island becoming the first signs of plant life.
In March, Adrien de Gerlache
and crew in the BELGICA become trapped in the pack
ice off the Antarctic Pensinsula. They drift helplessly for a year
becoming the first to survive an Antarctic winter.
In February, Carsten Borchgrevink
and crew of the SOUTHERN CROSS land at Cape Adare.
They build huts and become the first to winter over on the continent.
In February, a Swedish geologist, Otto
Nordenskjöld, and five crew members are left on Snow Hill
Island where they spend two winters. It was during this expedition
that the first major sledge journey in Antarctica took place; some
400 miles. Unfortunately, their ship Antarctic was crushed in the
ice pack after leaving the crew on the island thereby creating two
separate groups of explorers. Miraculously, the second crew was
able to survive the winter and find their way back to Snow Hill
Island where the whole party was rescued in 1903 by an Argentinean
In February, German Erich
von Drygalski and the crew of the GAUSS discover
Wilhelm II Land. Stuck in the ice for a year, the party does extensive
scientific research filling 20 volumes of reports.
In November Robert F. Scott,
Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton strike out for the South Pole.
Leaving McMurdo Sound heading south across the Ross Ice Shelf, two
months later they find themselves at 82 degrees south suffering
from snow blindness and scurvy. Forced to return home, they nonetheless
cover 3100 miles.
In February, Jean-Baptiste
Charcot, in the Français, begins his survey of the western
side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The small expedition winters in
the ship in an inlet on Booth Island. Over two summers they discover
the Loubet Coast, Doumer Island and Port Lockroy. They chart the
Biscoe Islands and generally extend Gerlache's survey of the western
side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
In March, William S. Bruce
and members of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition aboard
the SCOTIA discover Coats Land. This is the first
sighting of land to the south of the Weddell Sea.
Carl Larsen builds the first whaling station at Grytviken on South
Georgia. Before ten years elapse, over 20 stations and factory ships
are operating in this region.
In October, explorers Ernest
Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams attempt
to reach the South Pole. Within 30 days they have surpassed Scotts
effort in 1903. Reaching within 97 nautical miles, the group is
severely ill and undernourished requiring them to abandon their
attempt on the pole.
In January, Edgeworth David, Douglas
Mawson and Alistair McKay reach the South Magnetic Pole.
In November, the first Japanese Antarctic Expedition sails south
led by Lt. Nobu Shirase
and lands at the Bay of Whales.
On December 14, Norwegian Roald
Amundsen and four team members reach the South Pole. Amundsen
discovered a new route which took only 57 days. Letters are left
for Scott, a Norwegian flag planted and then they return to the
Bay of Whales.
On January 18, Robert F.
Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates reach the
South Pole. Unfortunately, Amundsen had already been there and left
a flag marking the spot. Terribly discouraged after a tortuous journey,
all members perish on the return trip. Scott, Wilson and Bowers
die in their tent after using up all fuel and food. The three are
not discovered until November.
In January, Wilhelm Filchner
in the DEUTSCHLAND discovers the Luitpold Coast.
In April, Scott's Northern Party give up hope of the TERRA
NOVA arriving to pick them up before winter sets in.
The six men must dig a cave out of a snow bank where they live for
six months on penguin and seal meat.
In December, Douglas Mawson
must begin his lone trek across George V Land back to his base at
Commonwealth Bay. Mawson's two companions had died and despite the
tragedy, he makes it home. A new section of coast is discovered
and radio is used for the first time in Antarctica.
In October, Ernest Shackleton
has a plan to cross the continent but is forced to abandon this
idea as his ship, the ENDURANCE,
is crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea after drifting for nine
months. The 28 men must camp on the floating ice for five more months
before an opening in the ice allows them to take to the boats for
Elephant Island in the South Shetlands. Meanwhile, members of Shackleton's
Ross shore party lay depots for the ill-fated group, depots expected
to be used by Shackleton and his party on their trek across the
continent. Three members die but the rest were eventually rescued
In April, Shackleton and five of his men leave Elephant Island in
the lifeboat JAMES CAIRD. In 15 days they arrive at
South Georgia. Unfortunately, they made land on the wrong side of
the island and Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had to cross
the island through difficult terrain to reach the whaling station
On his fourth try, Shackleton reaches Elephant Island in the Chilean
ship YELCHO and rescues the 22 survivors from the
ENDURANCE. They survived by turning the remaining
life boats upside down and setting up living quarters beneath.
In January, at the age of 48, Ernest Shackleton dies of a heart
attack. On board the QUEST
at the time, Shackleton is buried at South Georgia.
In November, Hubert Wilkins
makes the first flight in the Antarctic region, flying from Deception
Island in the South Shetlands in a Lockheed Vega monoplane.
In October, The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research
Expedition establishes itself under Douglas Mawson over two summer
seasons discovering MacRobertson Land and charting much of the adjacent
On November 28, after a ten hour flight from their base at the Bay
of Whales, Richard E. Byrd
and three others become the first to fly over the South Pole.
On December 1, Norwegian expedition leader Lars Christensen lands
on and claims Bouvetøya Island.
In November, American Lincoln Ellsworth is the first to successfully
fly across the continent.
In January, OPERATION
HIGHJUMP is organized by the US Navy. A total of 4700
men, 13 ships and 23 aircraft are involved. A base is set up at
Little America. Extensive mapping of the coast and interior is accomplished.
Over 70,000 aerial photographs are taken.
In December, Finn Ronne, leader of a private American Expedition,
is based on Stonington Island. Flying over the southern shores,
he is the first to see the mountains of the western edge of the
Filchner Ice Shelf.
In February, a multinational expedition is set up in Dronning Maud
Land, by Sweden, Great Britain and Norway.
In July, the International Geophysical Year begins with Antarctica
the main effort of scientists from 67 countries over the next 18
months. Twelve new bases are constructed with the Amundsen-Scott
base at the South Pole (American) constructed for the OPERATION
In December, the twelve leading nations participating in the IGY
sign the "Antarctic Treaty" in Washington, DC. The treaty was framed
as an agreement so the continent "shall continue forever to be used
exclusively for peaceful purposes". The treaty came into effect
in 1961 and guarantees access and scientific research in all territory
south of 60° latitude.