Antarctica discovered

February 9, 2011

After Captain Cook’s failed attempt to find the great southern continent, people lost interest for a generation or two. He had left the question of whether the continent existed undecided, but even if it did exist, it was clear enough, it seemed, that it was perpetually locked in snow and ice and probably unreachable.

The spur to further exploration came about quite by accident. In 1819, over 40 years after Cook, a merchant sailor named William T. Smith was blown south while trying to round Cape Horn, and he discovered a hitherto unknown island. Returning to port and telling his story, he was disbelieved. The next summer, therefore, he deliberately sailed far south around the Cape, and this time discovered more islands, one of which he called Desolation Island on account of its being not a bit like Tahiti.

At long last, a glimpse of Antarctica. (Source: Flickr)

This time he was believed, and the Royal Navy sent a ship, under the command of one Edward Bransfield, to investigate. In the early months of 1820 he discovered a series of islands, including Elephant Island (which was to be so important to Shackleton’s Endurance expedition). Then he sailed into the Weddell Sea and discovered the Antarctic Peninsula. He did not know, of course, that it was a peninsula attached to a great continent, but it was, and he had found it.

William T. Smith had discovered something else during his forays to the south: seals, and lots of them. Word got out, and within a year or two the seas were full of sealing ships seeking fortunes. They were reckless in their slaughter, and had to seek new sealing grounds as they exhausted those already found. In this way the whole area was searched, and in February 1821 an American sealing ship, the Cecilia, landed at a place now called Hughes Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula. The boat’s crew were the first to set foot on Antarctica.

Source: Coach Bookings

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