Early Explorers in Antarctica

Although the Ancient Greeks had believed that there was
land to the far South, they had absolutely no proof of it. The very first proof
came in
January 1773. At that time, Captain
James Cook, a British explorer, crossed
the Antarctic Circle. His expedition did not see land, but they did see rocks in
some of the icebergs they passed. The presence of the rocks meant that there
must be land. He sailed his ship right around Antarctica but could not get close
enough to spot land. Massive sheets of ice prevented him from getting any

Following James Cook more and more explorers ventured into
the Antarctic Circle. Antarctica wasn’t going to be easy to discover, though.
It took almost another 50 years before anyone actually spotted land.
Fabian von
was probably the first person to see the continent of Antarctica.
He was a captain in the Russian navy. He spotted it in
; 47 years
after Cook said it was there. He also sailed around the continent. Because he
had larger, stronger ships than Cook, he was able to push further south. He
described the land as a field of ice covered with small hills.

Cook had said that he thought no benefit could be had from
Antarctica. The Russians thought the same. Bellinghausen returned to Russia and
never returned to Antarctica.

News of Bellinghausen’s sighting didn’t reach many
people at the time. Other people claimed to be the first to see it. These
included an American whaling captain and two British naval officers. Most
historians now agree that Bellinghausen was indeed the first person to see it.

On February 7,
, John
, became the first person to
land on Antarctica. He was Captain of an American whaling ship. Some Historians
claim the part he landed on is not part of the true continent, but a Peninsula,
or piece jutting out.

At about the same time as Bellinghausen was making his
discoveries a Scot, named
, was also discovering things about
Antarctica. He took two sealing expeditions South, and discovered a sea of ice.
He named it after the then King of England, George IV. Last century it was
renamed the Weddell Sea. There was a species of seal named after him, also. It
took 80 more years until anyone managed to get further south than he had. No one
else managed to sail through the Weddell Sea in all that time. Although he began
his expedition at the same time as Bellinghausen, he didn’t reach his
southerly point until three years after Bellinghausen first saw Antarctica.

Weddell’s crossing of the Weddell Sea, in 1823,
marks the end of the first stage of
Antarctic Exploration.


Related articles:

The Weather and Climate in Antarctica
Animals in Antarctica