Launched: 13 October 2002. Last updated: 28 December 2006

Accessed at least many times since 28 December 2006.

The thumbnail sketches of Antarctic voyages and expeditions that appear below were prepared by Michael Rosove and appear in his monumental bibliography, Antarctica, 1772 - 1922; Freestanding Publications through 1999 which is extensively noted elsewhere on this site under 'Antarctic Book Notes.' It appears here with Michael's permission. © 2001 by Michael H. Rosove.

For a more extensive history of the period, see Michael's Let Heroes Speak: Antarctic Explorers, 1772-1922 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000; New York: Berkley Publishing, Penguin Putnam, 2002).


During the course of this, his second, voyage, Cook in the Resolution with Tobias Furneaux in the Adventure became the first to circumnavigate the globe at high southern latitude and cross the Antarctic Circle; Cook achieved a new farthest south record of 71° 10' S and proved that no previous land sightings constituted an Antarctic continent. He rediscovered, named, and made a first landing on South Georgia and discovered all but three northerly islands in the South Sandwich Islands.


On this second circumnavigation at high southern latitude, Bellingshausen charted the south coast of South Georgia, discovered the three remaining northerly islands in the South Sandwich Islands (named the Traversey group), probably sighted ice attached to the mainland continent (the Fimbul Ice Shelf) on 27 January 1820, and discovered Peter I Island and Alexander Island, the first land discoveries south of the Antarctic Circle.


William Smith aboard the Williams discovered the South Shetland Islands on 19 February 1819. The following year, on 30 January 1820, he and Edward Bransfield sighted the Antarctic Peninsula, part of the Antarctic continental mainland. In seemingly no time, about fifty American and British sealers were in the area hunting fur seals; the slaughter went on for several years until the animals were nearly exterminated. Some of the sealers produced valuable charts; a few non sealing voyages were purely scientific. Best-known individuals of the period, in addition to Smith and Bransfield, include the Americans James Sheffield, Nathaniel Palmer, Benjamin Pendleton, John Davis, and Benjamin Morrell, the Britishers George Powell, James Weddell and Matthew Brisbane, Richard Sherratt, Robert Fildes, Edward Hughes, and Henry Foster, and the Australian Richard Siddins.

The most celebrated voyage was that of British sealing captain James Weddell. Weddell visited the South Shetlands and South Orkneys in 1820-21; he was a superb leader and had an explorer's bent. He made another voyage in 1822-24 in the Jane in the company of Matthew Brisbane in the Beaufoy. Sealing was poor, so the two sailed south into what became known as the Weddell Sea in search of new land and sealing opportunities. In a year of exceptionally ice-free conditions, the sea south of the main pack was wide open: the men in their tiny ships made rapid progress and, without sighting land, established a new farthest south record of 74 ° 15' S, shattering Cook's record by 185 nautical miles.


John Biscoe, under the sealing and whaling firm of the Enderby Brothers, sailed in the Tula and Lively in this third circumnavigation of Antarctica. In the first season, Biscoe discovered the continental mainland east of the Weddell Sea, which was named Enderby Land. The men were plagued by inclement weather, poor ship-board conditions, and scurvy: many died. In the second season, Biscoe discovered Adelaide Island and nearby islands. In 1833-34, another Enderby captain, Peter Kemp, in the Magnet, discovered an easterly extension of Enderby Land, named Kemp Land. John Balleny and H. Freeman, in the Eliza Scott and tiny Sabrina, discovered the Balleny Islands, then, heading west against the prevailing winds, discovered continental land south of Australia. In a gale, the Sabrina and all its men were lost.


A large scale expedition, this French undertaking was contemporaneous with those of the Americans under Charles Wilkes and the British under James Clark Ross. All had the principal purpose of studying the earth's magnetism in the southern hemisphere and in the vicinity of the south magnetic pole. During the Antarctic summer season of 1837-38, Dumont d'Urville conducted surveys in region of the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula. In the 1840 summer season he described a portion of the Antarctic mainland coast south of Australia, effecting a landing on a mainland offshore islet. The remainder of the voyage concerned exploration in more temperate latitudes. Many of the men aboard both ships died during an epidemic of dysentery.


The expedition was a gigantic effort a decade in the making and four years in execution, involving six ships and hundreds of personnel. Exploration of the Antarctic was a major part of the program. Early in 1839, Wilkes investigated the vicinity of the Antarctic Peninsula: the results were of relatively little importance. The following season, Wilkes in the Vincennes, Lt. William Hudson in the Peacock, and Lt. Cadwalader Ringgold in the Porpoise conducted an extensive examination of the Antarctic coast to the south and west of Australia; these investigations were far more important, and Wilkes correctly surmised the existence of an Antarctic continent.


Ross's Antarctic voyage of 1839-43 was the most important since the circumnavigation of Cook and the discovery of South Shetland by William Smith. Among all Antarctic voyages and expeditions it remains preeminent. In the first season, the two ships Erebus and Terror became the first to penetrate the pack ice engirdling the Ross Sea. The Ross Sea, Transantarctic Mountains, Possession, Coulman, Franklin, Beaufort, and Ross Islands, and the Ross Ice Shelf were discovered, and landings were made on Possession and Franklin Islands. During the second season, Ross bettered his own farthest south of the previous season: 78° 9.5' S at the face of the Ross Ice Shelf. In the third season, in the vicinity of the Antarctic Peninsula, Paulet, Snow Hill, and Cockburn Islands, and the Danger Islands were discovered. The men made extensive and important magnetic, botanical, zoological, and other scientific observations. The expedition came close to destruction at the end of the second season when the ships, in foul weather during the middle of the night, collided and sustained severe damage to the rigging as they drifted toward colossal icebergs in their lee.


Moore, a British naval officer who had sailed with Ross, set out in the Pagoda to make magnetic observations south of 60° S between 0° and 100° E in previously unnavigated seas. He reached 67° 50' S and tentatively reported an appearance of land that constituted the northeasterly extension of Enderby Land.


Dallman sailed in the Grönland under the auspices of the German Polar Navigation Company to the region of the Antarctic Peninsula for whaling. Whaling was poor, but sealing was profitable. Dallman reached 64° 45' S, explored the Trinity Peninsula, and is credited with discovering the Bismarck Strait, the Wilhelm Archipelago, and the Neumayer Channel.


The men aboard a fleet of four ships, the Balaena, Diana, Active, and Polar Star, visited the region of the Antarctic Peninsula for whaling; like Dallman, they resorted to sealing when whaling was unsuccessful. The ships explored south to about 65° S and discovered a few islets in the Danger Islands group that Ross had not seen. Capt. Thomas Robertson of the Active examined the south coast of Joinville Island and there discovered and named Dundee Island and navigated the strait between. At times, the ships kept company with Carl A. Larsen of the Jason. The crews were awash in blood as 14,000 sealskins were harvested: still, the voyage was barely profitable.


Larsen sailed under the whaling entrepreneur Christen Christensen and the Oceana Company of Hamburg and visited the regions of the Antarctic Peninsula. In the first season he sailed in the Jason; in the second, he was joined by one Captain Evenson in the Hertha and Morten Pedersen in the Castor. In the course of his first sail, Larsen visited the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, discovered petrified wood on Seymour Island, and reached 64° 40' S, 56° 30' W in the western portion of the Weddell Sea. In the second season, he penetrated as far as 68° 10' S on the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, discovering Oscar II Coast, Cape Framnes, Mount Jason, Foyn Coast, and Robertson Island. These findings constituted the most significant new land discoveries since Ross. Evenson on the west side reached 69° 10' S and sighted Alexander Island, the first time this large island had been sighted since Bellingshausen. Pedersen accompanied Evenson as far as 64° 23' S.


Bull, a Norwegian businessman in Melbourne's mercantile business at a time when Australian scientists were cogitating an Australian Antarctic expedition, became enraptured with the idea of a voyage to the Antarctic and believed that one could be paid off by a modest whaling success. He went to Norway and obtained financial support from the elderly Norwegian whaling master Svend Foyn, with whom he was well acquainted. Bull's principal accomplishment was the first confirmed landing on the Antarctic continent, at Cape Adare, on 24 January 1895. Just who stepped ashore first was the subject of a ludicrous squabble, the captain Leonard Kristensen, Carsten Borchgrevink, and Alexander von Tunzelman all making the claim. Sealing and whaling efforts were largely a failure; Bull was repulsed by the killing operations. Bull made no secret of his contempt for Kristensen. Borchgrevink soon led his own expedition to the Antarctic.


Gerlache's party, which included physician Frederick Cook, third officer Roald Amundsen, and a staff of outstanding scientists of diverse nationalities, visited the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, discovered the Gerlache Strait, made twenty landings on various islands, described new coastline, and made the first sledging journey in Antarctica (on Brabant Island). Then, despite the lateness of the season, Gerlache and his second in command, Georges Lecointe, decided to continue probing south into the Bellingshausen Sea. The ship was frozen in, and the party became the first to pass a winter south of the Antarctic Circle. Darkness descended, the wildlife disappeared, an officer died, and many of the men suffered severe mental and physical deprivations and ailments. Cook and Amundsen took moral command, and Cook prescribed a regimen of warmth, proper bedding and clothing, and improved diet: sanity and health gradually returned. The men did not escape the ice until the following March.


Among Antarctic expeditions, Borchgrevink's was unique in that the leader's benefactor and eventual publisher were one in the same. After Borchgrevink had failed to find financial support for an expedition at home in Australia, he roused interest in George Newnes, an entrepreneurial, successful London publisher who understood that publication rights could be attached to sponsorship of newsworthy affairs. The expedition was well organized and staffed. The men built a hut at Cape Adare, were the first party to winter over on the Antarctic mainland, and were the first to employ dogs in the far south. They made first landings on Coulman Island and Ross Island, and were the first to step upon and travel over the Ross Ice Shelf, establishing a new farthest south of 78° 50'.


Scott's British expedition was the most important Antarctic venture since Ross. Members made enormous contributions to every relevant branch of science and produced the first comprehensive photographic and pictorial surveys of the Ross Sea area. Edward VII Peninsula was discovered during an eastward exploration of the Ross Ice Shelf in the first season. The party built a hut at Hut Point in McMurdo Sound, discovered two islands and two peninsulas plus the extention of the Transantarctic Mountains south of Ross Island, and wintered farther south than any prior expedition. They discovered the first emperor penguin breeding colony (at Cape Crozier) and described the species' midwinter breeding behavior. They made the first significant penetrations into the Antarctic interior: Scott, Edward A. Wilson, and Ernest H. Shackleton traveled over the Ross Ice Shelf to 82° 16.5' S; Albert Armitage, second in command, led a party that made the first ascent onto the polar plateau, via the Ferrar Glacier. A relief voyage under William Colbeck in the Morning reached winter quarters during the second summer, but the Discovery could not escape the ice. In the third summer, another relief voyage sailed under Colbeck in the Morning and Harry MacKay in the Terra Nova. The Discovery was freed with explosives and help from the relief vessels, favorable wind, and current.

In one way or another, every subsequent Antarctic expedition during the heroic period owed a significant measure of its origin, design, and inspiration to Scott's expedition. It was the great hinge on which all subsequent Antarctic investigations turned.


Drygalski, professor of geography and geophysics at the University of Berlin, led this government-funded scientific expedition to the Antarctic. A separate party under mountaineer and meteorologist Joseph Enzensperger established a subsidiary scientific and supply station at the Kerguelen Islands. Drygalski's party established its wintering station on their ship Gauss, fast in the ice, at Wilhelm II Coast, where Gaussberg, a mountainous rock, was the only exposed land feature. The scientists gathered an astonishingly large quantity of data, considering that their field of operations was little more than the ship's immediate environs. The party eventually escaped from the ice by strewing heat-absorbing ash and garbage on their floe, accelerating the decay of ice entrapping the ship.


Nordenskjöld's remarkable expedition was conducted in the name of science. The party sailed aboard the Antarctic under Carl A. Larsen. The men explored the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula, showed that Orleans Strait and Gerlache Strait are confluent, and that the Trinity Peninsula and Danco Coast are connected. The ship navigated Antarctic Sound between Joinville Island and the Trinity Peninsula, the first to do so, and thereby passed to the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The men established a hut on Snow Hill Island, explored the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula, made a first landing on its coast, and showed that Herbert Sound between James Ross Island and Vega Island were connected to Prince Gustav Channel. They discovered geologic similarities between the southern tip of South America and the northernmost portion of Graham Land.

In the following season, the ship came to relieve the Snow Hill party, found Antarctic Sound blocked by ice, and left a party at Hope Bay at the northern tip of the Trinity Peninsula. The ship's party then attempted to relieve the Snow Hill party, but the Antarctic was wrecked in the ice, and its company found winter refuge on Paulet Island where one of their party died. An improbable tale of three separated and stranded parties culminated in eventual reunion and relief by Argentineans in the Uruguay.


Bruce organized this purely Scottish expedition in the Scotia with private funding, most of it from the Coats brothers, James and Andrew. Bruce's party established the first perpetual scientific observatory in the Antarctic (Omond House, now Orcadas staffed by Argentina, at Laurie Island, the second largest island in the South Orkney Islands group). Bruce and his men produced an exquisitely detailed survey of Laurie Island, performed outstanding scientific research in a number of disciplines, particularly zoology and botany, and discovered the first land between the Antarctic Peninsula and Enderby Land in the Weddell Sea, naming it Coats Land.


The physician-turned-explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot made the pride of his country in high-latitude exploration his own. He sailed in the Français, a schooner he had built at his own expense specifically for the purpose. His accomplishments on this expedition to the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula included the discovery of the Peltier Channel, Doumer Island, Port Lockroy, and Loubet Land; the first confirmed landing on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula at Cape Tuxen; charting of over six hundred miles of coastlines, including the western coasts of the Palmer Archipelago; and accumulation a large body of scientific data in diverse disciplines. Charcot provided France a new position and precedent in Antarctic affairs. The Français came close to shipwreck in the Antarctic after striking a rock.


Shackleton and his men achieved a full measure of greatness on this remarkable expedition that was supported mostly by private contributions. The party sailed in the Nimrod. After establishing a base at Cape Royds in McMurdo Sound and constructing a hut, members of the fifteen-man shore party made the first ascent of Mount Erebus, discovered the Beardmore Glacier, attained a new farthest south of 88° 23' on the polar ice cap (an advance that constituted the greatest single gain toward either geographical pole), and were the first to approach the south magnetic pole located high in the Victoria Land interior. In addition, Shackleton was the first to bring motorized land vehicles to the Antarctic, and the men produced Antarctica's first book, Aurora Australis.


Charcot set out on a second expedition in a newly constructed schooner, the Pourquoi-Pas?, to expand on his research from the first expedition along the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula. He now had financial support from the French government. Charcot discovered Pendleton Bay and Matha Bay, charted most of Adelaide Island, discovered most of the lands south and east of Adelaide Island, ascended a peak on Jenny Island, made the closest observations to date of Alexander Island, and was the first to sight Peter I Island after Bellingshausen. Charcot charted 1,250 miles of coastlines and added over two hundred miles to the Graham Land coast. Once again, an immense body of scientific data was collected. And also once again, Charcot's ship came close to being wrecked in the Antarctic on a rock.


Amundsen originally intended an expedition to the Arctic and borrowed the Fram from the great Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen. When Frederick Cook and Robert Peary announced the results of their North Pole exploits, Amundsen secretly changed his plan for the South Pole, informing only a few of his party, and telling the rest only just before the final departure from Madeira. All consented to proceed. Science was never intended as part of the program. A base was established in the Bay of Whales, and supply depots were laid in late summer and early autumn as far as 82° S by dog and sledge. After an uneventful winter, Amundsen made too early a start in spring and had to abort the journey.

An ensuing altercation between Amundsen and Hjalmar Johansen caused the leader to cut Johansen and two others from the polar party, reducing its size to five; the three eliminated men were assigned to explore Edward VII Peninsula. Amundsen's party reached the South Pole before Scott, taking sun sightings and closely circumscribing the spot from 14 to 17 December 1911. The men arrived back to base safely after a 99-day journey of 1,860 miles.


Scott once again planned a large-scale scientific expedition with the South Pole the crown jewel. On the way south in Melbourne, Scott received a telegram from Amundsen: a race for the South Pole was on. McMurdo ice forced Scott to select Cape Evans, less favorable than Hut Point, as his hut site. Supply depots were laid in the remaining first season as far as 79° 29' S, while a Western Party explored the dry valleys and Koettlitz Glacier. An Eastern Party, intending to explore Edward VII Peninsula, found Amundsen in the Bay of Whales, and, to avoid the Norwegians, headed for the Victoria Land coast, renamed themselves the Northern Party, and were left at Cape Adare where they spent the first winter doing research. The main party at Cape Evans spent a stimulating winter; during that season, Edward A. Wilson, "Birdie" Bowers, and Apsley Cherry-Garrard accomplished a harrowing sledging journey to Cape Crozier to collect emperor penguin eggs for study.

The southern party-sixteen men, two motor cars, ten ponies, and twenty-three dogs-set out in spring toward the South Pole. Parties of various composition turned north as they were no longer needed; from 4 January 19112, Scott, Wilson, Bowers, "Titus" Oates, and "Taff' Evans went on alone. On 16 January,, they discovered they had been forestalled by Amundsen, and the following day arrived despondent at the South Pole. The journey northward became the final act of a great tragedy as Evans, then Oates, then the remaining three died in turn. Their story was learned only by the good fortune of a search party the following spring. The eloquence of Scott's diary, last letters, and "Message to the Public" assured him legendary status and immortality.

Meanwhile, a second Western Party had been relieved by the ship; the ship's company had taken the Northern Party to Terra Nova Bay to conduct further research, but ice blocked the ship from relieving them. The six men of the Northern Party were marooned with scant food and no winter garb. They survived in a snow cave under appalling circumstances.


A plan for the South Pole was thwarted in the first season by bad weather before the ship Kainan Maru ever reached land. Shirase trimmed his goals in the second season: a sledging party reached 80° 5' S on the Ross Ice Shelf and correctly surmised the presence of land above sea level beneath; the party observed the Alexandra Mountains at Edward VII Peninsula at close hand.


Filchner intended to determine by means of two ships and two separate parties whether land or sea bridged the Weddell and Ross Seas. Constrained finances forced him to abbreviate the plan to a single ship, the Deutschland, operating in the Weddell Sea despite ice conditions that could foil the entire enterprise. Filchner succeeded in penetrating to the southernmost recess of the Weddell Sea: he discovered the Luitpold Coast and reached what was named Vahsel Bay at 77° 44' S, 34° 38' W. A highly fractious relationship developed between Filchner and Richard Vahsel, the ship's captain. Vahsel sabotaged the expedition's principal objective of establishing a firm base on the ice cap of the Luitpold Coast from where a sledging journey to the Ross Sea would have been possible. The men almost completed establishing a wintering site on an iceberg, but "Station Iceberg" drifted northward in a spring tide, and Filchner had to abandon his project. Heading northward, the ship was beset in the ice and drifted for over eight months during which time Vahsel died. During the drift, three men made an extremely difficult and hazardous midwinter sledge journey on the sea ice and disproved land where Morrell had reported it.


Mawson was an Australian geologist and member of Shackleton's 1907-9 expedition. On that expedition, he proved himself highly capable and participated in the first trek toward the south magnetic pole. After returning home, he harbored the idea of leading his own expedition to examine the continent south of Australia. He turned that aspiration into reality, and the accomplishments of his expedition were many. Three separate parties established huts, at Macquarie Island, Cape Denison (which proved to be the windiest known place in the world), and the Shackleton Ice Shelf. The Antarctic coast from Cape Adare to Gaussberg was described; all three parties and the ship's company performed outstanding scientific studies in several disciplines; the party brought the first heavier-than-air aircraft to Antarctica (although it could be used only as a grounded tractor); and they established the first radio communication between the Antarctic continent and more northerly land bases. The expedition also produced a dramatic survival story: Mawson, in a state of starvation, miraculously endured a harrowing solo sledge journey from the east to Cape Denison after his two companions Belgrave E. S. Ninnis and Xavier Mertz perished.


The South Pole having been achieved by Amundsen and Scott, Shackleton envisioned one great remaining Antarctic conquest: crossing the continent via the South Pole. Shackleton intended that a Weddell Sea party would reach the southernmost recess of the Weddell Sea in the Endurance and that several members would cross the continent by their own efforts as far as the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, after which they would be aided by supply depots left by a separate Ross Sea shore party landed in McMurdo Sound by the Aurora. In the course of carrying out these plans, Shackleton discovered the Caird Coast in the Weddell Sea that linked Coats Land and the Luitpold Coast.

Then, before a landing was accomplished, the Endurance was trapped in the ice: it was eventually crushed, and it sunk eight months later. The party of twenty-eight men lived in camps on the ice for another five months, then struggled at sea in three lifeboats and arrived at Elephant Island. A party of six sailed 850 miles in stormy autumn seas in the open boat James Caird to South Georgia; three of the men, Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Crean accomplished the first crossing of the uncharted island interior to reach the whaling station at Stromness Harbor. After three unsuccessful attempts to relieve the marooned party at Elephant Island, Shackleton, with the assistance of Chileans in the Yelcho, rescued his men, who by now had been stranded for over four months.

On the other side of the continent, members of the Ross Sea shore party under Aeneas Mackintosh established their base at Cape Evans. The Aurora was stripped of its moorings in late autumn before all supplies for the shore party were landed; the ship went adrift and was nearly wrecked. The ten men ashore succeeded in laying the depots despite deprivations and the deaths of three men: all their efforts were for naught. The Aurora was repaired in New Zealand and placed under the command of John King Davis; with Shackleton aboard, the ship arrived at Cape Evans to rescue the seven stranded survivors.


Cope, who had been a member of Shackleton's Ross Sea shore party (1914-17), led this four-man, minimalist expedition with a grandiose name. Cope lacked his own ship; each man made his own way to the rendezvous point on Deception Island. Norwegian whalers would drop Cope's party off at Snow Hill Island, from which point the four men intended a range of operations. When ice blocked passage through Antarctic Sound, the whalers deposited them instead on a small islet off the Danco Land coast. There the four established their base. Cope headed north to Montevideo to raise funds for another try the following season, and G. Hubert Wilkins, later of polar aviation fame, joined him as a way out of what appeared to him a failed exploit. But two young men, Thomas W. Bagshawe and Maxime C. Lester, gallantly remained and spent an uncomfortable year making observations on weather, tides, and penguins.


Shackleton organized this Antarctic expedition for scientific inquiry, privately funded by John Q. Rowett, aboard the Quest. Shackleton died at South Georgia on 5 January 1922 as the Antarctic portion of the voyage was about to begin. Frank Wild, Shackleton's loyal and capable second in command, assumed leadership: Wild carried on according to Shackleton's intentions. In fulfillment of its stated scientific purpose, the party pursued studies at South Georgia, in the Weddell Sea, at Tristan da Cunha, and Gough Island. The voyage was also notable for the ship itself, one of the most uncomfortable ever taken to the southern oceans. But the expedition is now remembered most for the loss of its great leader.