Expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula,
On this virtual tour you may see:
South Georgia, Cape Horn,
Falklands & Tierra Del Fuego
Majestic mountains dipped in snow...
Whales, seals, Soaring Andes condors...
Ice-blue Glaciers that shimmer like jewels..
South Georgia History
London-born merchant Antoine de la Roche may have
been he first person to sight South Georgia. In
April 1675, as he was sailing from Lima to
England, his ship was blown south as he rounded
Cape Horn and caught a glimpse of ice-covered
mountains. He and his crew may have been the first
people to see any of the sub-Antarctic islands.
Some historians, particularly those supporting
Argentina's claim to ownership of South Georgia,
believe that de la Roche was wrong, and that he
had in fact sighted Beauchene Island, 800 miles
further west. This is unlikely, as Beauchene
Island does not possess high mountains or bays,
items specifically referred to in Roche's account.
They contend that a Spanish treasure ship, the
Leon first discovered the island. In 1756, whilst
eastward bound on a voyage commissioned by the
French company Sieur Duclos, of St Malo. Sailing
from Lima to Cadiz, she was blown far off course
after rounding Cape Horn.
The Leon first sighted the island early on the morning
of 29 June. The feast day of St Peter is the 1st of July
and, as his ship passed its southern tip, the Master gave
the name of the saint to the island. Some Spanish
and Argentine publications refer to the island as
'Isla de San Pedro' in preference to the English
The next arrival, and the first to set foot on the
island, was Captain James Cook, RN , in 1775. He
and his crew landed at three places around
Possession Bay and partly charted the coastline.
It was Cook who gave the name Cape Disappointment
to the southern tip of the main island when he
found that this was not continental Antarctica. In
honour of his king, he named it 'The Isle of
Georgia' . He could not have imagined that it
would become, two centuries later, the stage for
the most southerly battle in all naval and
His subsequent account described his first
cautious approach to the coast: 'the head of the bay ...
was terminated by a huge mass of snow and ice
of vast extent ... just like the side or face of an ice isle
... pieces were continually breaking from them
and floating out to sea.
A great fall happened while we were in the
bay: it made a noise like a cannon. Not a tree or
shrub to be seen, not even big enough to make a
toothpick. I landed in three different places,
displayed our Colours and took possession of the
Country in His Majesty's name under a discharge of
The Resolution carried a party of Royal Marines -
twelve other ranks of the Chatham division
commanded by Second Lieutenant
James Scott, RM. Scott was described as 'a man of
unbalanced mind, suspicious and quarrelsome'
He left the Corps soon afterwards, but one of his
party contributed a pleasing historical footnote
to the South Georgia story. The ceremonial
'discharge of small arms' mentioned by Cook was
the first recorded use of explosive on the island
and one of the participants was Corporal Alexander
Mills. In 1982, two hundred and seven years later,
another Royal Marine by the name of Mills took
part in a further display of firepower when he
defended the title claimed by Captain Cook.
James Cook was not the only officer of the Royal
Navy to play a major role in charting distant
waters during the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries. There were others, each contributing
his part to the whole. Some of those best
remembered were William Parry, Samuel Wallis, John
Ross, John Franklin, Peter Heywood, Robert
Fitzroy, Francis McClintock, and their doyen,
Francis Beaufort .
The detailed knowledge gathered
during their cruises, and later compiled at the
Admiralty's Hydrographic Office, not only ensured
safer navigation for maritime trade but also
assisted the scientific community in developing
its understanding of the globe upon which we live
and the forces which have shaped it.
In 1877, an Austrian visitor, Heinrich Klutschak,
made observations which he later published. He was
followed in 1882 by a group of German scientists
who, working in collaboration with the
International Polar Year project, lived for a year
at Royal Bay. They made extensive records of the
island's geology, biology, meteorology and
topography, and prepared detailed maps of part of
the hinterland around Royal Bay. This was the
first major attempt to define the island's natural
In 1887, the Governor at Port Stanley, Thomas
Kerr, received an enquiry from a retired naval
officer, Captain C. D. Inglis, RN, who wanted to
buy the island outright, or at least rent it for
ninety-nine years, so that he might produce wool
and mutton for export.
Kerr passed the request to
the Colonial Office with the comment that his
administration knew very little about the place
other than that it was 'covered in snow to great
depths, surrounded by icebergs and fringed with
glaciers,' but he saw no objection to renting the whole
island to Captain Inglis for a nominal rent if he
really did wish to graze his
sheep there. In the event, the gallant captain
lost interest in the project before London had had
time in which to reply.
Fifteen years later another scientific party
arrived. Sweden had mounted an expedition to
explore the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1902, some of
the Swedes made a winter visit to Cumberland East
Bay and there made a mapping and geological
survey. Commanding their ship was a Norwegian,
Captain Carl Anton Larsen, a man with experience
of whaling in Arctic waters. Larsen subsequently
lost his ship in the Weddell Sea and was rescued
by an Argentine warship, but his short time on
South Georgia had sown the seed of a plan to
introduce whaling to the Antarctic.
Sir Ernest Shackleton
One visit of note, though not scientific, was that
of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the
whaleboat "James Caird" In
1914. Shackleton had sailed on the "Endurance" for
the Antarctic and stayed at Grytviken for a month
before making the final leg of her journey to the
Weddell Sea on December 5th, 1914. There the
"Endurance" was trapped and destroyed in the pack
ice, and Shackleton and his men trekked and hauled
their whaleboat across the ice before eventually
reaching Elephant Island.
There Shackleton left
the majority of his crew and set sail 1,300 km
across the apalling conditions of the Southern
Ocean. This was probably the most epic small boat
journey of all time, matched only by that of
Captain Bligh and the crew of the "Bounty" .