Discovering Antarctica

State Library of New South Wales

Highlights from the collections of the State Library of New South Wales

Discovering Antarctica
The Antarctic: the land and sea south of 60° S is an area dominated by a continental landmass, largely covered by ice, surrounding the South Pole. Maps and later photography and artworks illustrate the discovery and surveying of a unique, isolated and hostile environment at the bottom of the earth.This chart of the southern tip of South America was originally issued in 1606. The coast line of Tierra del Fuego appears to be part of an unknown southern continent. At the time of publication Cape Horn had still not been discovered. It was only in 1616 that Le Maire and Shouten rounded the tip of South America. The chart is from an atlas based on Mercator's Atlas of 1585-1595. This edition was published in French by Jodocus Hondius and his son Hendrik Hondius.

Van Den Keere's decorative map of the world was first issued in 1608. It is a copy of Blaeu's map of 1608. The decorative figures include Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The side panels show the four elements and the four seasons. At the bottom are the seven wonders of the world. The Van Den Keere plate was sold to Jan Jansson, who issued a number of versions. This 1639 map includes Le Maire Straits, separating Tierra del Fuego from South America.

Polus Antarcticus was first issued in 1637 by Hendricus Hondius. It is the earliest map to focus entirely on the Antarctic continent, which is illustrated by a chain of islands and partly by a series of lines. There were four states of the Polus Antarcticus map, with many issues by other map-makers within each state. The 1657 edition shows Tasman's discoveries from his first voyage, with references to Nova Hollandia and Nova Zeelandia. The original cartouche has been removed to make way for land newly discovered. The large vignettes surrounding the hemispherical map depict scenes from South America and the Pacific region.

An original manuscript chart of Captain Cook’s relating to his second voyage, 6 February 1772. On the back of the map it states ‘Captain Cook's opinion of the rout the Resolution and Adventure ought to take to explore the Southern Ocean, humbly submitted to the consideration of the Earl of Sandwich’. The proposed route of the Resolution and Adventure is marked in yellow. Acquired through the New South Wales Agent General in London in 1922

The British government sent Captain James Cook, now famous after his charting of the east coast of Australia, to explore the far south with the ships Resolution and Adventure.

In late 1772, Cook came upon his first iceberg and in January 1773, he made the first ever crossing of the Antarctic Circle. However, the thick ice pack forced the ships northward. Without knowing it, Cook came within 129 kilometres of the Antarctic coast. During the next two years Cook spent the southern winters in the more temperate latitudes of the Pacific. In the summers he again turned south and continued his eastward voyage around the southern continent.

Towards the end of February 1775 he completed the first circumnavigation of Antarctica, proving that it was neither as large or habitable as once thought.

Cook's Antarctic voyage still remains as one of the greatest voyages of exploration and discovery.

English painter, William Hodges accompanied Cook on his second voyage and completed a number of sketches and paintings of locations visited on the voyage.

Captain James Cook and the crew of the Resolution and Adventure became the first men to cross the Antarctic Circle. They eventually circumnavigated Antarctica, crossing the Antarctic circle three times. Cook reached 71 degrees south, a higher latitude than anyone before him, and in three years sailed some 97,000 km (62,000 miles)

20th century exploration
A number of national expeditions explored Antarctica at the turn of the 20th century, including expeditions from Belgium, England, France, Sweden, Germany, Scotland, Norway, New Zealand and Australia. The State Library holds a significant collection relating to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914.In 1911 a group of scientists and adventurers left Hobart under the leadership of Dr Douglas Mawson. They were bound for Macquarie Island and the then unknown parts of Antarctica. The scientists of the expedition produced information that later made an major contribution to knowledge of the region. The exploration of new lands established precedence to claims, formalised in 1936 as the Australian Antarctic Territory.This drawing was reproduced in `Records of the aurora polaris' by Douglas Mawson in Scientific reports. Series B, v. 2. Terrestrial magnetism and related observations / Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 ; pt. 1.

Photographer Frank Hurley visited Antarctica six times, from his first visit with the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911 to the last in 1932 with the British, Australian, New Zealand, Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE). Hurley was an exceptional photographer and his Antarctic visits covered a substantial part of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
Hurley’s images of the expeditions led by Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton remain as popular and poignant records of a fascinating era of southern discovery.

Frank Hurley wrote, "Sledging was terrifically hot, what with reflection from the snow and sun glare, that we were mightily glad to strip ourselves and haul in our shirts. What characters we looked! Faces nearly black with sunburn and seared with frostbites, begoggled and whiskered. An absolute hush brooded over the plateau, broken only by the creak of our runners, as they glided over the wind polished surface."

Drawings by Charles T. Harrisson who joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition at 43 years of age. He was stationed with the Western Base (Queen Mary Land) where he acted as biologist and artist, accompanying Frank Wild on his main eastern journey and several other sledging parties

Photographer Frank Hurley working whilst on a later expedition to Antarctica in 1929.

Hurley’s pictures were acclaimed as among the finest yet taken of Antarctica. For many people, Hurley’s images of Antarctica were the first they had seen of the southern continent. His internationally renowned images of the Antarctic show the flavour of the continent: his pictures of human life in the far south are now beautiful reminders of a past age – his shots of Antarctica and its wildlife are as vivid and real as a visit to the ice lands now.

State Library of NSW
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Curators: Maggie Patton, Elise Edmonds
Technical support: Chris Burns
State Library of New South Wales

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