UK Antarctic Timeline

1772 – 1775

James Cook in HMS Resolution crosses the Antarctic Circle in January 1773 and December 1773.  On 30 January 1774 he reaches 71°10’ S, his Farthest South, coming within about 75 miles of the Antarctic mainland without seeing it.


William Smith discovers South Shetland Islands, the first ever land discovered within the British Antarctic Territory and south of 60° south latitude.


Edward Bransfield with William Smith as his pilot, sight the Antarctic Peninsula on 30 January 1820.  Just three days earlier Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen was the first to discover the Antarctic mainland at Princess Martha Coast.


George Powell commanding Dove set out with Nathaniel Palmer commanding James Monroe from the South Shetland Islands and discovered the South Orkney Islands on 6 December 1821.


On 20 February James Weddell reached a new Farthest South of 74°15’ S in his ship Jane.

1830 – 1832

Southern Ocean Expedition. John Biscoe sights Enderby Land & Adelaide Island and claims the Antarctic Peninsula for Britain.

1839 – 1843

James Clark Ross discovered the Ross Ice Shelf, Ross Sea, Mount Erebus, Mount Terror and Victoria Land.  Extended his Farthest South to 78°10’ S on 23 January 1842.

1898 – 1900

Southern Cross Expedition, officially called the British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900, was the first British expedition of the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration and the first to over winter on the mainland.

1901 — 1904

Discovery Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, on 30 December 1903, reached 82° 17’S, a new Furthest South.  In addition to Scott, the expedition contained many who later became famous for Antarctic exploration – Shackleton, Wilson, Wild & Crean.

1902 — 1904

Scottish National Antarctic Expedition – led by William Speirs Bruce

1907 — 1909

Nimrod Expedition, the first British expedition to seriously target the South Pole.  On 9 January 1909, Ernest Shackleton reached 88’23 S less than 100 nautical miles from the pole.  On 16 January 1909, Professor Edgeworth David reached the South Magnetic Pole

1910 — 1913

Terra Nova Expedition.  On 17 January 1912, Robert Falcon Scott and his four companions reached the South Pole having been beaten to the goal by Roald Amundsen’s party just over a month before.  Tragically, the entire party perished on their return journey.

1914 — 1916

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton was attempting to cross the Antarctic continent.  The expedition failed with their ship, the Endurance, being crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea.  The subsequent journey is one of the great stories of Antarctic survival.

1914 — 1917

Ross Sea Party led by Aeneas Mackintosh was the other arm of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, laying supplies for the proposed crossing.

1921 — 1922

Shackleton-Rowett Expedition was the last expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

1929 — 1931

British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.

1934 — 1937

British Graham Land Expedition.

1943 — 1945

Operation Tabarin led by Lieutenant James Marr and Major Andrew Taylor. The start of a continuous permanent British presence in Antarctica establishing bases including on Deception Island and at Port Lockroy.

1949 — 1952

Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition led by John Giaever.

1956 — 1958

Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Vivian Fuchs completed the first overland crossing of the continent via the South Pole.

1957 — 1958

International Geophysical Year.

1959 (1 December)

Signing of the Antarctic Treaty which entered into force on 23 June 1961.


British Antarctic Territory formed on 3 March, having previously been a Dependency of the Falkland Islands.

1980 — 1981

Transglobe Expedition  led by Ranulph Fiennes.  Only the second crossing of the entire continent, 23 years after the first, and then proceeding to complete the first circumpolar navigation.


The Antarctic ozone hole discovered by British scientists Joseph Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin of the British Antarctic Survey.


The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty was signed in Madrid on October 4.  It entered into force in 1998.