- The continent of Antarctica at the southern pole of the earth is last part of the globe to be conquered by humans. The earliest recorded sighting of the continent was made in 1820, as both British naval officers Edward Bransfield and William Smith, as well as American whaler Nathaniel Palmer reported spotting the continent that year. The Russian navigator Fabian von Bellingshausen circumnavigated Antarctica in an expedition from 1819 to 1821, and an American seal hunter became the first to set his feet on the main land in 1821. Antarctica was recognized as a continent in 1840, and several American, German, British, and French expeditions visited in the latter half of the nineteenth century.Venturing deep into the interior of the continent demanded not only physical strength and endurance, but also know-how in logistics and practical solutions. Ernest Shackleton managed to get within 156 km of the South Pole in an expedition from 1907–1909, when he had to return because he had run out of supplies. In 1910, a race to be the first to reach the South Pole commenced between British naval officer Robert F. Scott and Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen. Scott had led previous expeditions into the Antarctica, and Roald Amundsen had led many expeditions in the Arctic. Scott, relying on horses and primitive snowmobiles, lost to the better prepared Amundsen, who used dog sledges and skis. Amundsen reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, and Scott on January 18. Scott and his crew succumbed to the cold and exhaustion from pulling their sledges, while Amundsen returned safely.As in the Arctic, the hunt for sea mammals such as seal and whale for the purpose of cooking their blubber into oil was the main economic motive behind expansion into the Antarctica. Better harpoons and bigger ships had expanded the range of the whalers from around 1860. The populations of Arctic sea mammals were being exhausted, but improved techniques also brought the Antarctica within range and navigators reported large concentrations of these creatures there. In the 1820s and 1830s, South Orkney, South Shetland, Falkland Islands, South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia were annexed by Great Britain. These became important base areas for Antarctic whaling and also a bridgehead for further British land claims on Antarctica proper.Norway started to fear that British expansion would block its own whaling operations in the area, and it is in this light the previously mentioned race must be seen, as discoveries were means for legitimating land claims. Yet expeditions were undoubtedly also motivated out of adventurism, scientific fervor, and desire for personal glory. Despite the introduction of factory ships, whaling still required land bases not too far from the hunting grounds. Without the presence of any indigenous peoples, it would seem that imperial competition in the Antarctic was a harmless version of a phenomena that killed and enslaved millions elsewhere on the globe.FURTHER READING:Headland, Robert. Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989;Riste, Olav. Norway ’ s Foreign Relations – A History. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2001, pp. 69–137 ;[i]FRODE LINDGJERDET
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.