Antarctic exploration

In the 1890s and early 1900s, explorers from various countries competed to explore the continent of Antarctica and reach the South Pole.

Until the end of the 19th century, only sealers and whalers had set foot on the desolate southern land we call Antarctica. Until as late as 1820, no one had even seen its mainland. In the 1890s however, explorers of various countries began to compete for being the first to reach the South Pole.

What is Antarctica?

Antarctica is an enormous continent. Britain could fit into it more than 50 times. More than 99 per cent of it is covered by ice. In places, this ice is more than three miles thick. Antarctica is completely surrounded by the vast Southern Ocean, half of which freezes in winter. It is high, windy and extremely cold. There is no indigenous human population and no life forms at all except around the coast.

How did the Antarctic get its name?

More than 2000 years ago, Greek writers described a large mass of land in the south of the world. Even though they had never seen it, they believed it must exist so that it could ‘balance’ the land they knew about in the northern half of the world. They named this imagined land 'Anti-Arkitos', meaning the 'opposite of the Arctic'.

Discover more about the race to reach the South Pole