ON THIS DATE IN 1895: FIRST UNDISPUTED LANDING ON THE ANTARCTIC CONTINENT
A party of six men from the ship Antarctic set foot on the Antarctic continent on 24 January, 1895, in the vicinity of Cape Adare. The party included Leonard Kristensen, Henrik Johan Bull, Carsten Borchgrevink and Alexander von Tunzelmann.
In his book, Siege of the South Pole Mill wrote of the expedition:
‘Next day the ship was back at Cape Adare, and here the first landing upon the Antarctic continent was made on a low beach at the base of the cliff. The penguins were even more numerous than at Possession island, and the same lichen was found growing on the rocks.’
The vessel was at Possession Island on 18 January and Borchgrevink discovered the above-mentioned lichen, the first evidence of plant life obtained within the Antarctic circle.
From Bull’s 1896 book, The Cruise of the ‘Antarctic’ to the South Polar Regions:
‘Cape Adare was made at midnight. The weather was now favourable for a landing, and at 1 a.m. a party, including the Captain [Leonard Kristensen], second mate, Mr. [Carsten] Borchgrevinck, and the writer [Henrik Johan Bull] , set off, landing on a pebbly beach of easy access, after an hour’s rowing through loose ice, negotiated without difficulty. In the calm weather little or no swell was observable against the shore…
‘The sensation of being the first men who had set foot on the real Antarctic mainland was both strange and pleasurable…
‘Our surroundings and our hosts were as strange as our feelings. The latter—myriads of penguins–fairly covered the flat promontory, many acres in extent, jutting out into the bay between Cape Adare and a more westerly headland; they further lined all accessible projections of the rocks to an altitude of 800 or 900 feet…
‘Our presence was not much appreciated, considering the millions of years which must have elapsed since the last visit by prehistoric man or monkey–before the glacial period…
‘To commemorate our landing, a pole was erected, carrying a box, on which was painted the Norwegian colours, the date, and the vessel’s name.
‘Before leaving we made a collection of penguins, stones, etc. Someone had the good sense to bring a sledge-hammer, with which pieces of the original rock were detached and carried on board.’
Following the return of Antarctic, Borchgrevinck delivered a speech to the Sixth International Geographic Congress and he described what he made of Cape Adare and the vicinity:
‘The peninsula on which we landed at Cape Adare must be some seventy acres in extent; on the top of the guano were lying the primitive nests of the penguins, composed of pebbles. Some hundreds of yards up these landslips I came upon two dead seals, which, from their appearance, must have lain there several years. I made a thorough investigation of the landing-place, because I believed this to be a place where a future scientific expedition might safely stop, even during the winter months. Several accessible spurs lead up from the place where we were to the top of the cape, and from there a gentle slope leads on to the great plateau of South Victoria Land. The presence of the penguin colony, their undisturbed old nests, the appearance of the dead seals, the vegetation on the rocks, and lastly, the flat table of the cape above, all indicate that here the unbound forces of the Antarctic Circle do not display the whole severity of their powers. Neither ice nor volcanoes seemed to have prevailed at the peninsula at Cape Adare and I strongly recommend a future scientific expedition to choose this spot as a centre of operations. At this place there is a safe situation for houses, tents and provisions.’
Unsurprisingly, he considered himself up to the task of such an expedition in the future!
‘I myself am willing to be the leader of a party, to be landed either on the pack or on the mainland near Coalman Island, with ski, Canadian snow-shoes, sledges and dogs.’
Borchgrevink, C. E. First on the Antarctic continent: Being an Account of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1898-1900. London, 1901.
Bull, H. J. The Cruise of the ‘Antarctic’ to the South Polar Regions. London, 1896.
Mill, H. R. The Siege of the South Pole. New York, 1905.