Dirección Nacional del Antártico - Instituto Antártico Argentino


The history of a continent begins when men arrive and human presence in Antarctica is very recent.

First sights were made during the XVII century. In 1756 a Spanish vessel, "León", from Peru on route to Cadiz, is crushed south of Cape Horn by a storm; on June the 28th an island is sighted and circumnavigated. The island is called San Pedro.

Between 1772 and 1775, the British explorer Captain James Cook cincumnavigated the Antarctic continent and, although he did not sight it, he deduced its existence from ice masses drifting down. He arrives on San Pedro island but he rename it as South Georgias. In 1794 "Aurora" rocks were geographically situated; their existence, reported by a Spanish vessel 20 years ago, had become a legend.

At the end of the XVIII century a first period of the Antarctic history starts: it is featured by some approaches of Spanish and other flag vessels, farther and farther southward, and by some discoveries of relevant archipelagos.

The XIX century points out a great change in the South American territory, that fights against Spain for succeeding in its independence. Within this bellicose frame, Admiral Guillermo Brown, undertakes a campaign in 1815 to lash the Spanish fleet in the Pacific, with 2 vessels: the frigate "Hércules" and the brig "Trinidad". In search of her destiny she sailed southwards and when passing through Cape Horn a strong storm pushed her towards the Antarctic sea up to 65º S. The Brown´s report indicated the presence of nearby land. The request submitted by the trader Juan Pedro Aguirre to the Consulate of Buenos Aires on February 18, 1818, asking for authorization for installing an establishment for fishing seals on some of the existing islands as far up as South Pole, confirms the acknowledge of Antarctic lands.

One of the various seal-hunting vessels, the "Spiritu Santo", was followed by the American brig "Hercilia" up to Deception island.

The above information is extremely important because it reveals that Argentinean seal-hunting vessels had visited previously the islands and that, if during 1818 they went directly to these islands, we can infer that they knew them previously, since their discover dated at least for the year 1817.

Between 1819 and 1821 the Russian vessels "Vostok" and "Mirny" circumnavigated the Antarctic. Their admiral F G de Bellingshausen, a German in service to Russia, was a cautious and enterprising man. In 1821 he sighted a rocky coast, that he called Tierra Alejandro I (69º 53'S) in honor of the Russian tsar.

All these verifications were the starting point of further vessel trips that moved their activities southward, having as a meeting point the environs of Shetland Islands and in particular the sheltered island of Deception.

In 1823 the English captain Weddell discovers the sea today called by his name, into which he went up to 74º 15'S and 34º 17'W under exceptionally good ice conditions.

Then, and sailing in 1838 from the United States, the Navy captain Charles Wilkes reaches Cape Horn and circumnavigates the Antarctic continent.

At the same time, a French expedition led by Captain Cesar Dumont D' Urville, from the War Navy, was carried out. They discovered Adelia Land, Luis Felipe and Joinville island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Having known these discoveries, James Ross, a British Navy officer, sailed southward from New Zealand on board the "Erebus" and "Terror". He crossed the ice sea, that drifts northward during summer, and after four days he entered an open sea so-called Ross at present. He also sighted the mount "Erebus", an active volcano of over 4,000 m height. After that, the Buenos Aires Government establishes on June 10, 1829, a very important decree for our sovereignty: the creation of the Comandancia Político Militar of Malvinas islands. There is an aspect of this decree that is also essential for our Antarctic sovereignty, because it is the first legal rule that obliges to the protection and conservation of the fauna on adjacent islands of Cape Horn, it means on Antarctic islands. Pinnipeds had been brutally exterminated at the end of the past century on Patagonia and adjacent archipelago coasts.

In 1880 President Roca supported a southern expedition, scheduled by the Italian seaman Guillermo Bove, performed through the Instituto Geográfico Argentino. A special sensibility in recent Antarctic research was developed by the Instituto Geográfico Argentino, particularly through its president Doctor Estanislao S. Zeballos. These efforts came true on November the 23rd, 1896, when Doctor Francisco Seguí, Zeballos´s successor, submitted the project of a scientific polar expedition to the Executive Power.

At the same time, new requirements for installing commercial factories on South Shetland islands and Antarctic Peninsula arose.

In 1894, Luis Neumayer submits a request to the Interior Ministry in order to be authorized to explore and recognize the "Grand Land". After grounding his request on political and economical reasons, he says that it is convenient that those lands are known under the flag to which they belong, and his works will be the base for those who wish to explore and exploit the richness of these lands.

On December the 29th, 1894, the President of the Argentine Republic, Luis S. Peña, endorsed a resolution allowing Neumayer for exploring the territory situated in the southern Patagonia and so-called Grand (today Antarctic Peninsula), although forbidding any kind of exploitation.

At the end of the past century, a series of intensive studies on the Antarctic were developed, recommended by succeeding International Congress on Geography and reaching a successfull moment during the so-called International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), during which several scientific questions were revealed.

Our country offered all the support required to foreign scientific missions.

Under this new focus on polar years the Antarctic Belgian Expedition was carried out between 1897-1899, led by lieutenant Adrian de Gerlache, in which Roald Amundsen participated. Gerlache´s ship was crushed by the ice pack and drifted among the ices during all the winter.

Before him, any scientific expedition had wintered in Antarctica.

In order to satisfy the recommendations of the International Congress on Geography held in Berlin in 1899, four scientific expeditions were organized: the Antarctic German Expedition (1901-1903), led by professor Erich Von Drygalsky; the Antarctic Swedish Expedition (1901-1904), led by professor Otto Nordenskjöld; the Antarctic British Expedition at the same date, led by Captain Robert F. Scott and the Antarctic Scottish Expedition (1902-1904), led by William S. Bruce.

On October the 10th, 1900, the participation in the International Antarctic Expedition was decided. For this purpose, the settlement of a magnetic and meteorological observatory was recommended on Isla de los Estados. On November 1901 the installation of a lighthouse and an observatory begins on Observatory island, New Year Group, in front of the northern coast of Isla de los Estados, under the leading of lieutenant Horacio Ballvé.

The Argentinean government offered all its support to the Swedish Expedition of Dr. Nordenskjöld and it was there where the second lieutenant José María Sobral participated, a Argentinean young man that performed some works on meteorology, magnetology, and geodesy. The expedition wintered between 1902 and1903, and was rescued by the Argentinean corvette Uruguay.

On February 22 1904 Argentina began to occupy Antarctic lands when purchasing the little meteorological station belonging to the Scottish doctor Bruce, on Laurie island, South Orkney islands.

The Argentine occupation is thereby the most ancient and standing one of the Antarctic Continent. In 1950 the Observatory of Orcadas was under jurisdiction of the Air Force and in 1952 under the Navy Ministry, and it was operated as Destacamento Naval Orcadas (decree Nº 13.714 of December 23, 1952), a denomination that remained until the present.

When she was almost thirty years-old, the corvette Uruguay started her most glorious period. Reconditioned to face Antarctic ices she proceeded to carry out relieves to the brand new Orcadas station during 1904-1905 seasons, during which she searched without success the French Expedition of doctor Jean Charcot whose whereabouts was unknown. Further that, she returned to Antarctica during twelve seasons, the last being in 1922. At present, she is a museum vessel together with the frigate Sarmiento at Buenos Aires harbor.

Captain Carl Anton Larsen founded with Argentine manufacturers and traders the first Whale Factory of the South Hemisphere, Argentinean Fishery Company S.A. at South Georgias islands.

The second meteorological standing station in southern seas was also set up by our country in January 1905, in the vicinity of the Argentinean Fishery Company in Grytviken.

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