In the early 19502, the logbooks of two American ships, the Huron and the Huntress, was found. Those two ships arrived at Yankee Harbour on 8 December 1820 and were hunting for skins among the South Shetland Islands. The following day, the Hurons tender, Cecilia, went in search of rookeries. There was stiff competition among all the ships there, so stiff that several logbooks record angry encounters between the crews of American and British sealers. Thus, John Davis, one of the two captains, took the Cecilia southwards, stopping at Smith and Low islands and passing Hoseason Island without stopping. The ship kept sailing south and on 7 February 1821, his log records a momentous event in Antarctic history.
Commences with open Cloudy Weather and Light winds a standing for a Large Body of Land in that Direction SE at 10A.M. close in with it our Boat and Sent her on Shore to look for Seal at 11A.M. the Boat returned but find no sign of Seal at noon our Latitude was 64°01 South Stood up a Large Bay, the Land high and covered entirely [sic] with snow the wind coming Round to the North & Eastward with Thick weather Tacked ship and headed off Shore. At 4P.M. fresh Gale and Thick weather with snow Ends with Strong Gales at ENE Concluded to make the Best of our way for the Ship I think this Southern Land to be a Continent.
It would appear that Davis had landed at Hughes Bay and this entry in his log is the first known reference to Antarctica as a continent written by someone who had actually seen the mainland. If this landing really did take place and there seems little reason to doubt its authenticity it predates Bulls landing at Cape Adare by 74 years.
First Confirmed Landing
Henryk Johan Bull, a Norwegian who emigrated to Melbourne, organised the voyage which made the first confirmed landing on mainland Antarctica. The expedition was planned in three stages: the first, from Norway to Melbourne, when right whales and seals would be sought in the south Atlantic and on subantarctic islands; the second, with a similar purpose from Melbourne to the islands south of New Zealand; while the final stage would be a voyage from those islands south to the Ross Sea. Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink, a Norwegian settler in Australia, joined the expedition halfway and that started his career as an Antarctic explorer.
The ship left Melbourne on 26 September 1894 and sailed to Campbell Island where they found that the sealing season was over. Sailing further south, a disaster struck the ships propeller was loose on its shaft. Repairs were made in New Zealand. By 10 December they were surrounded by pack ice and icebergs and they took 36 days to travel through some 800 (500 miles) kilometres of pack ice. They crossed the Antarctic Circle on Christmas Day and after eight dangerous days, they broke through into open water and the course was set for Cape Adare.
The cape was sighted on 16 January 1895 but the adjacent Robertson Bay was filled with ice, barring the way. On 18 January, a group of seven made a landing on the Possessions Islands. Borchgrevink discovered lichen growing on sheltered rocks the first time vegetation had been found growing in the Antarctic region proper. Course was again set for Cape Adare and a landing was made on 24 January 1895.
This first landing made on the Antarctic continental mainland resulted in a squabble to who actually got on shore first. The captain wrote in his journal, I was sitting foremost in the boar, and jumped ashore as the boat struck, saying "I have then the honour of being the first man who has ever put foot on South Victoria Land." Borchgrevink, in a magazine article, claimed: I do not know whether it was the desire to catch the jelly-fish (seen in the shallows), or from a strong desire to be the first man to put foot on this terra incognita, but as soon as the order was given to stop pulling the oars, I jumped over the side of the boat. I thus killed two birds with one stone, being the first man on shore, and relieving the boat of my weight, thus enabling her to approach land near enough to allow the captain to join ashore dry-shod. Another New Zealander maintained that he was in the bow and jumped ashore to steady the boat. Bull himself did not join in but merely reported that the sensation of being the first men who sat foot on the real Antarctic mainland was both strange and pleasurable.
A pole with a box showing the Norwegian colours was erected. Borchgrevink discovered the patches of the same lichen already found on the Possessions Islands. Seaweed, jellyfish, rock specimens, seals and penguins were collected.
Commercially, the expedition was a failure. However, the specimens collected and geographical findings were very impressive. Finally, Bull considered that the expedition had given a fresh and strong impulse Antarctic exploration in general.
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