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History of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

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History of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

Flag Coat of Arms
Motto: Leo Terram Propriam Protegat
(Latin: Let the lion protect its own land)

Anthem: God Save the Queen

The history of sealing, whaling, and scientific surveys and research, interrupted by World War II and the Falklands War.


  • 16th to 19th century 1
  • 20th century 2
    • Sovereignty dispute, and Falklands War 2.1
  • Recent history 3
  • South Sandwich Islands 4
  • Old maps 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8
  • Notes 9

16th to 19th century

Roche Island depicted on an 18th-century map (R.W. Seale, ca. 1745, fragment)

The Antarctic Convergence, was the first Antarctic territory to be discovered.

According to the Papal Bull Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the island was in the Portuguese hemisphere. Regarding the South Sandwich Islands, both the bull and the Treaty were within the Portuguese hemisphere.

  1. ^ Samuel E. Morison. The European Discovery of America: The Southern Voyages AD 1492–1616. Oxford University Press, 1974. p. 282. ISBN 978-0-19-501823-3
  2. ^ a b Capt. Francisco de Seixas y Lovera, Descripcion geographica, y derrotero de la region austral Magallanica. Que se dirige al Rey nuestro señor, gran monarca de España, y sus dominios en Europa, Emperador del Nuevo Mundo Americano, y Rey de los reynos de la Filipinas y Malucas, Madrid, Antonio de Zafra, 1690. (Narrates the discovery of South Georgia by the Englishman Anthony de la Roché in April 1675 (Capítulo IIII Título XIX page 27 or page 99 of pdf); Relevant fragment.)
  3. ^ a b Public Holidays 2013. Public Holidays 2014. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Gazette No. 2, 13 June 2013. p. 3.
  4. ^ Odd Gunnar Skagestad. Norsk Polar Politikk: Hovedtrekk og Utvikslingslinier, 1905–1974. Oslo: Dreyers Forlag, 1975
  5. ^ Thorleif Tobias Thorleifsson. .Bi-polar international diplomacy: The Sverdrup Islands question, 1902–1930 Master of Arts Thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2004.
  6. ^ National Interests and Claims in the Antarctic, p. 19, Robert E. Wilson
  7. ^ R.K. Headland, The Island of South Georgia, Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  8. ^ The Ross Dependency. The Geographical Journal, Vol. 62, No. 5 (Nov. 1923), pp. 362–365.
  9. ^ Carol Fowl. Unplanned epics – Bligh's and Shackleton's small-boat voyages, website of the National Maritime Museum, first published in the magazine Sailing Today, Issue 75, July 2003.
  10. ^ Britain's Small Wars: The Argentine Invasion of South Georgia
  11. ^ "Remarks on the recapture of South Georgia", Margaret Thatcher Foundation
  12. ^ Marine Protected Areas Order 2012. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Gazette, 29 February 2012.
  13. ^ SGSSI Marine Protection Area (Management Plan).
  14. ^ 2008 February 10: South Sandwich Islands region. U.S. Geological Survey.
  15. ^ National Earthquake Information Center. U.S. Geological Survey.


  • Official website of South Georgia
  • South Georgia Heritage Trust
  • King Edward Point Base
  • Bird Island Base
  • Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources

External links

  • Capt. Francisco de Seixas y Lovera, Descripcion geographica, y derrotero de la region austral Magallanica. Que se dirige al Rey nuestro señor, gran monarca de España, y sus dominios en Europa, Emperador del Nuevo Mundo Americano, y Rey de los reynos de la Filipinas y Malucas, Madrid, Antonio de Zafra, 1690. (Narrates the discovery of South Georgia by the Englishman Anthony de la Roché in April 1675 (Capítulo IIII Título XIX page 27 or page 99 of pdf); Relevant fragment.)
  • William Ambrosia Cowley, Cowley's Voyage Round the Globe, in Collection of Original Voyages, ed. William Hacke, James Knapton, London, 1699.
  • George Forster, A Voyage Round the World in His Britannic Majesty's Sloop Resolution Commanded by Capt. James Cook, during the Years 1772, 3, 4 and 5 (2 vols.), London, 1777.
  • James Cook, A Voyage Towards the South Pole, and Round the World. Performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, In the Years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775. In which is included, Captain Furneaux's Narrative of his Proceedings in the Adventure during the Separation of the Ships. Volume II. London: Printed for W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777. (Relevant fragment)
  • Capt. Isaac Pendleton, South Georgia; Southatlantic Ocean: Discovered by the Frenchman La Roche in the year 1675, 1802, reproduced by A. Faustini, Rome, 1906. (The second map of South Georgia; Pendleton was misled about the nationality of la Roché who, being an Englishman born in London, had a French father.)
  • South Georgia, Topographic map, 1:200000, DOS 610 Series, Directorate of Overseas Surveys, Tolworth, UK, 1958.
  • Otto Nordenskjöld, Johan G. Andersson, Carl A. Larsen, Antarctica, or Two Years Among the Ice of the South Pole, London, Hurst & Blackett, 1905.
  • R.K. Headland, South Georgia: A Concise Account. Cambridge: British Antarctic Survey, 1982. 30 pp.
  • R.K. Headland, The Island of South Georgia, Cambridge University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-521-25274-1
  • Roger Perkins, Operation Paraquat, Picton (Chippenham), 1986, ISBN 0-948251-13-1 (Describes the Argentine invasion and defeat of 1982)
  • Sally Poncet and Kim Crosbie, A Visitor's Guide to South Georgia, Wildguides 2005, ISBN 1-903657-08-3
  • Historia de las Relaciones Exteriores Argentinas, Obra dirigida por Carlos Escudé y Andrés Cisneros, desarrollada y publicada bajo los auspicios del Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales (CARI), GEL/Nuevohacer (Buenos Aires), 2000.
  • Capt. Hernán Ferrer Fougá. El hito austral del confín de América. El cabo de Hornos. (Siglos XVI-XVII-XVIII). (Primera parte). Revista de Marina, Valparaíso, 2003, No. 6.


See also

  • L'Isle, Guillaume de & Henry A. Chatelain. (1705/19). Carte du Paraguai, du Chili, du Detroit de Magellan. Paris. (Map featuring Roché Island.)
  • Seale, Richard W. (ca. 1745). A Map of South America. With all the European Settlements & whatever else is remarkable from the latest & best observations. London. (Map featuring Roché Island.)
  • Jefferys, Thomas. (1768). South America. London. (Map featuring Roché Island.)
  • Joseph Gilbert. (1775). Isle of Georgia with Clerke’s Isles and Pickersgill’s Isle. Plan with panorama. In: Charts, and views of headlands, taken during Captain Cook's Second Voyage, 1772–1774. British Library.
  • Cook, James. (1777). Chart of the Discoveries made in the South Atlantic Ocean, in His Majestys Ship Resolution, under the Command of Captain Cook, in January 1775, W. Strahan and T. Cadel, London.
  • A. Arrowsmith. (1794). Map of the World on a Globular Projection, Exhibiting Particularly the Nautical Researches of Capn. James Cook, F.R.S. with all the Recent Discoveries to the Present Time. London.
See also: Maps showing la Roché's discovery
1802 Map of South Georgia (Cpt. Isaac Pendleton)

Old maps

On 10 February 2008 an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 on the Richter Scale had its epicentre 205 km south-southeast of Bristol Island.[14] On 30 June 2008, an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 struck the region. Its epicentre was at 283 km (176 mi) east-northeast (73 degrees) of Bristol Island.[15]

Argentina claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938, and challenged British sovereignty in the Islands on several occasions. From 25 January 1955 through summer of 1956 Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast of Thule Island. From 1976 to 1982, Argentina maintained a naval base named Corbeta Uruguay in the lee (southern East coast) of the same island. Although the British discovered the presence of the Argentine base in 1976, protested and tried to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, no effort was made to remove them by force until after the Falklands War. The base was eventually removed on 20 June 1982 and the installations demolished in December.

The United Kingdom formally annexed the South Sandwich Islands through the 1908 Letters Patent, grouping them with other British-held territory in Antarctica as the Falkland Islands Dependencies.

The archipelago of the South Sandwich Islands comprises Candlemas, Vindication, Saunders, Montagu, Bristol, Bellingshausen, Cook and Thule discovered by Cook, and the Traversay Islands (Zavodovski, Leskov and Visokoi) discovered by the Imperial Russian Navy expedition of Bellingshausen and Lazarev in the ships Vostok and Mirny in 1819.

Departing from South Georgia, Captain Cook sailed to the southeast to discover Clerke Rocks and a group of islands which he named "Sandwich Land" in honour of Lord Sandwich, then First Lord of the Admiralty. The word "South" was later added to distinguish them from the "Sandwich Islands", now known as "Hawaii".

The southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group were discovered by clarification needed]

The uninhabited South Sandwich Islands are even less hospitable than the main island of South Georgia, affected by volcanic activity as well. Since 1995 the South African Weather Bureau maintains two automatic weather stations on the islands of Zavodovski and Thule.

South Sandwich Islands

Since the 1990s, the islands have become a popular tourist destination, with cruise ships visiting on a fairly regular basis. To protect the territory's unique environment, on 23 February 2012 its government created the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protection Area, one of the world's largest marine reserves, comprising 1.07 million km2.[12][13]

Due to its remote location and harsh Lyell Glacier.

In 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ceased to be Falkland Islands dependencies and became a separate British overseas territory.

Recent history

Since the Falklands War, Britain maintained a small garrison of Royal Engineers on South Georgia until March 2001, when the island reverted to civilian rule. However, Argentina continues to claim South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Due to evidence of an unauthorised visit to Thule Island, the closed station Corbeta Uruguay was destroyed in January 1983.

Finally, the Argentine personnel were removed from the South Sandwich Islands by HMS Endurance on 20 June 1982. The recapture of South Georgia, even more remote than the Falkland Islands, and in foul weather conditions proved a major boost to British ambitions in the Falklands War, and a blow to those of Argentina.

"Be pleased to inform Her Majesty that the White Ensign flies alongside the Union Jack in South Georgia. God save the Queen."[11]

One of the most famous and legendary signals of the entire Falklands War was made by the British forces' commander after the Argentine surrender at Grytviken:

On 25 April 1982 the Royal Navy damaged and captured the Argentine garrison in Grytviken under Lieut.-Commander Luis Lagos surrendered without returning the fire, and so did on the following day the detachment in Leith Harbour commanded by Captain Alfredo Astiz. Nowadays the date of 26 April is celebrated as Liberation Day, a public holiday in SGSSI.[3]


Joined by the corvette St. Andrews Bay remaining under British control.[10]

The Argentine naval station Corbeta Uruguay was clandestinely built on Thule Island, in the South Sandwich Islands on 7 November 1976 and was subject to a number of official British protests, the first of them on 19 January 1977. Arrangements to legitimise the station were discussed in 1978 but failed. At an early stage of the Falklands Conflict, 32 special forces troops from Corbeta Uruguay were brought by the Argentine Navy ship Bahía Paraiso to South Georgia and landed at Leith Harbour on 25 March 1982.

The Grytviken meteorological station maintained in cooperation with the Argentine Meteorological Office (1923)

The first official announcement of an Argentine International Court of Justice or by an independent arbitral tribunal.

Sovereignty dispute, and Falklands War

During the Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay, i.e. to Grytviken and Leith Harbour respectively. These batteries (still present) were manned by volunteers from among the Norwegian whalers who were trained for the purpose.

A Letters Patent was transmitted to the Argentine Foreign Ministry and was formally acknowledged on 18 March 1909 without objections. Argentina also recognised de facto the British permanent local administration set up in 1909, with commercial and naval Argentine vessels that visited the island in the subsequent years duly complying with normal harbour, customs, immigration and other procedures.

Rendition of the James Caird nearing South Georgia

Another Antarctic explorer with a special place in South Georgia's history was Directorate of Overseas Surveys in 1958. For several months in 1961, Carse experimented on living alone at a remote location, Ducloz Head on the southwest coast of the island. Mount Carse, the island's third highest peak is named for him.

There are some 200 graves on the island dating from 1820 onwards, including that of the famous Stromness whaling station.[9]

Managers and other senior officers of the whaling stations often lived together with their families. Among them was Fridthjof Jacobsen whose wife Klara Olette Jacobsen gave birth to two of their children in Grytviken; their daughter Solveig Gunbjörg Jacobsen was the first child ever born in Antarctica, on 8 October 1913. Several more children were born on South Georgia, even recently aboard visiting private yachts.

Most of the whalers were Norwegian, with an increasing proportion of Britons. During the whaling era, the population usually varied from over 1000 in the summer (over 2000 in some years) to some 200 in the winter. The first census conducted by the British Stipendiary Magistrate James Wilson on 31 December 1909 recorded a total population of 720, including 3 females and 1 child. Of them, 579 were Norwegian, 58 Swedes, 32 Britons, 16 Danes, 15 Finns, 9 Germans, 7 Russians, 2 Dutchmen, 1 Frenchman and 1 Austrian.

Larsen chose the whaling station's site during his 1902 visit while in command of the ship Antarctic of the Reindeer to South Georgia in 1911 as a resource for hunting for the people employed in the whaling industry.

Photograph of Solveig Jacobsen standing (with her dog) in front of a whale on the Grytviken flensing plan, taken by Magistrate Edward Binnie in 1916

As the manager of Compañía Argentina de Pesca, Larsen organised the construction of Grytviken ― a remarkable undertaking accomplished by a team of 60 Norwegians since their arrival on 16 November until the newly built whale oil factory commenced production on 24 December 1904. Larsen also established a meteorological observatory at Grytviken, which from 1905 was maintained in cooperation with the Argentine Meteorological Office under the British lease requirements of the whaling station until these changed in 1949.

His family in Grytviken included his wife, three daughters and two sons.

Historical and modern settlements of South Georgia Island

From 1906 on the Argentine company was operating in compliance with its whaling and sealing leases granted by the Falklands Governor. That continued until Grytviken was sold to Albion Star (South Georgia) Ltd. in 1960, closed in 1964, and eventually purchased by Christian Salvesen Ltd.

All whaling stations on South Georgia operated under whaling leases applied for by each company and granted by the Governor of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies. On behalf of the Compañía Argentina de Pesca, the application was filed with the British Legation in Buenos Aires by the company's president Pedro Christophersen and Captain Guillermo Nuñez, a technical advisor and shareholder in the company who was also Director of Armaments of the Argentine Navy.

Britain's 1908 Letters Patent established constitutional arrangements for its possessions in the South Atlantic, including the formal 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude". In 1917 the Letters Patent were modified, applying the "sector principle" used in the Arctic; the new scope of the Falkland Islands Dependencies was extended to comprise "all islands and territories whatsoever between the 20th degree of west longitude and the 50th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 50th parallel of south latitude; and all islands and territories whatsoever between the 50th degree of west longitude and the 80th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 58th parallel of south latitude", thus reaching the South Pole. The 1908 Letters Patent were not disputed by Argentina at the time, but in 1948 Argentina conceived an argument that they were invalid on the grounds that they allegedly encompassed parts of the South American mainland as well as the Falklands, making the latter dependencies of themselves.[6][7][8]

The spread of Norwegian whaling industry to Antarctica in the early 20th century motivated Norway, right after its independence from Sweden in 1905, to pursue territorial expansion not only in the Arctic claiming Jan Mayen and Sverdrup Islands, but also in Antarctica. Norway claimed Bouvet Island and looked further south, formally inquiring with Foreign Office about the international status of the area between 45° and 65° south latitude and 35° and 80° west longitude. Following a second such diplomatic démarche by the Norwegian Government dated 4 March 1907, Britain replied that the areas were British based on discoveries made in the first half of the 19th century, and issued the 1908 Letters Patent incorporating the British Falkland Islands Dependencies with a permanent local administration in Grytviken established in 1909.[4][5]

Norwegian Church in Grytviken
(built 1913)

South Georgia became the world's largest Nippon Suisan Kaisha sub-leased respectively Grytviken in 1963–64 and Leith Harbour in 1963–65, the last seasons of South Georgia whaling.

In the early 20th century South Georgia experienced a new rush of economic activity and settlement. Following a 1900 advertisement by the Falklands Government the entire island was leased to a Punta Arenas company, and a subsequent conflict of interests with the Compañía Argentina de Pesca which had started whaling at Grytviken since December 1904 was settled by the British authorities with the company applying for and being granted British whaling lease.

20th century

During the 19th century, the effective, continuous and unchallenged British possession and government for South Georgia was provided for by the British Falkland Islands Dependency, a distinct entity administered through the Falkland Islands but not part of them in political or financial respect. These constitutional arrangements stayed in place throughout the second half of the 19th century and most of the 20th century, until South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were incorporated as a distinct British overseas territory in 1985.

The sealers pursued their trade in a most unsustainable manner, promptly reducing the elephant seals taken for oil. More efficient regulation and management were practised in the second sealing epoch, 1909–64.

During the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century, South Georgia was inhabited by English and Yankee sealers, who used to live there for considerable periods of time and sometimes overwintered. The first fur seals from the island were taken in 1786 by the English sealing vessel Lord Hawkesbury, while the first commercial visit to the South Sandwich Islands was made in 1816 by another English ship, the Ann.

South Georgia's coast and waters have been surveyed by a number of expeditions since those of Cook and Bellingshausen. In particular, the extensive Polar Year expedition at Moltke Harbour, Royal Bay.

Moraine Fjord and Cumberland West Bay; Thatcher Peninsula with King Edward Point and Grytviken; Allardyce Range with Mount Paget (NASA imagery)

The group of Aurora Islands, were visited and renamed by the American sealer James Sheffield in the Hersilia in 1819, and mapped by HMS Dartmouth in 1920.

The mariner Captain his Britannic Majesty, and his heirs forever. A volley of two or three muskets was fired into the air." Nowadays the date of 17 January is celebrated as Possession Day, a public holiday in SGSSI.[3]

1777 South-Up map of South Georgia (Cpt. James Cook)

These early visits resulted in no ‘Portuguese’ portion of the world as envisaged by the 1494 Tordesillas Treaty concluded between Spain and Portugal.

In 1756, the island was sighted and named 'San Pedro' by the Spanish vessel León under Captain Gregorio Jerez sailing in the service of the French company Sieur Duclos of Saint-Malo, with the merchant Duclos Guyot on board.

Sir icebergs for islands (as possibly did Vespucci before him).

, honouring the discoverer. maps The cartographers started to depict "Roché Island" on their [2] La Roché published a report of his voyage in London in 1678, describing the new land.[2] The actual discovery came (similarly to other early discoveries in that region) as a result of a ship being driven off course in bad weather. The English merchant

Another persistent misconception is that of South Georgia being the mythical Pepys Island reportedly discovered by the English buccaneer William Cowley in December 1683. This is inconsistent with Cowley's report as according to Cowley's diary, after leaving the coast of Brazil he sailed southwestwards to 47° south latitude, and sighted land to the west ― more than 1,700 km or 920 nmi away from South Georgia.


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