Setting foot on Antarctica: One small step for a man…

Cape Adare – one of the remotest places on earth – is named after a tiny village in Ireland. Such are the vagaries of colonial exploration and happenstance.

Adare-mapCape Adare is the north-easternmost peninsula in Victoria Land, East Antarctica. Captain James Ross (who has a unique small sea gull named after him) discovered it in January 1841 and named it after his friend Edwin Wyndham-Quin, 3rd Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, known as Viscount Adare.


Between 1839 and 1843, Ross commanded an Antarctic expedition comprising the vessels HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and charted much of the continent’s coastline.

Support for the expedition had been arranged by Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort, hydrographer of the British Royal Navy and creator of the Beaufort Scale for measuring wind force.

On the expedition was Joseph Dalton Hooker, a doctor and botanist and close friend of Charles Darwin. It was on the Erebus that Hooker read proofs of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. Captain Ross’s ships were “bomb vessels” – an unusual type of warship named after the mortar bombs they fired and built with extremely strong hulls designed to withstand the recoil of the mortars. Both were to prove of great value in the thick Antarctic ice.

Fifty years later, in January 1895, Norwegian explorers Henrik Bull and Carsten Borchgrevink from the ship Antarctic landed at Cape Adare to collect geological specimens – the first documented landing on Antarctica. Borchgrevink returned to the cape leading his own expedition in 1899 and erected two huts, the first human structures built in Antarctica.

Hansen-graveThe expedition members spent the winter there and the survivors were picked up in January 1900. It was the first expedition ever to winter on the Antarctic continent. Zoologist Nicolai Hanson died during the winter and at his own request was buried above Cape Adare, where a grave (photo left) was excavated from the mountainside. The grave was marked with white quartz stones and a wooden cross and plaque attached to a large stone. It is listed on the Antarctic Treaty’s list of historic sites and monuments in Antarctica.

Cape Adare is also the site of the largest Adélie Penguin rookery in the world.


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