Resources > Expeditions > Antarctic > British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900
British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900
- Led by Borchgrevink, they sailed on the Southern Cross. Ten men formed the first party to winter in the Antarctic; at this time it was unknown whether they would survive.
- Sledging journeys were attempted but were largely unsuccessful due to poor weather conditions. During the winter they carried out scientific experiments and meteorological recordings in the huts.
- They were the first to use sledge dogs and kayaks for transport in Antarctica.
- Borchgrevink found rocks containing gleaming gold crystals which he hoped were gold, it was in fact iron pyrites or fools gold.
- When biologist Nicolai Hanson died in October 1899 he was the first man to be buried on Antarctica.
- They reached the furthest south at 78°45-50′S.
Please note the photographs for this expedition are forthcoming.
This expedition was to be the first to winter on the Antarctic mainland. Led by Borchgrevink, 31 men from Britain, Norway, Finland, and Australia sailed on the Southern Cross from London on 22 August 1898. Interestingly the expedition went under the British flag, (taking 500 flags with them), however only two of the wintering party were British. The expedition was privately funded by Sir George Newnes after Norwegian and British governments expressed little interest in funding. As this was the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic their fate was uncertain, the public’s imagination had been captured by the thought that the men may not return and a large crowd gathered to wave the expedition off.
The expedition was well provisioned, taking a ton of compressed vegetables, a ton of compressed potatoes, half a ton of tea and coffee, 3000 tins of cocoa, coffee, chocolate, tinned foods including ham, soup, herrings, kegs of salt beef and pork, and butter in hundredweights. They took lime tablets to hold off scurvy, army rations, ships biscuits, kegs of flour, port, champagne, rum, brandy and whiskey. They also took with them the new primus stove, which had been invented in Sweden by Lindqvist in 1892. This expedition was the first to take dogs to the Antarctic, taking 90 dogs from Greenland and Sweden and 28 tons of dog biscuits to feed them. Knowledge of the Antarctic was so limited at this time that guns were included in their provisions should they come across any polar bears.
Sailing to Antarctica they visited the Balleny Islands and examined a large stretch of the Victoria Land coast making a landing at Cape Adare six months after they had started their voyage. There they set up Camp Ridley on a pebbly beach spit. In between gales two huts were built for the wintering party, each was only 15ft square, one was to be used for stores and the other for living in. The living hut had a double floor and walls lined with papier-mâché, a loft was also built into the ceiling which was lined with seal skins for insulation. Inside the hut were three rooms, a dark room, taxidermy room, and the main room where all the men slept. Each man had a bunk with their own shelves and sliding panels for privacy. The stores hut was a single uninsulated room, which also had a loft where tents and spare clothing were stored.
On 18 February the unloading of the Southern Cross began but storms meant a job which should have taken four days in fact took 12. The goods were lowered into small boats which were then hauled to the beach, men were forced to work knee-deep in cold water. On 19 February a fierce storm blew out one of the boats and some of the dog kennels, these were later washed ashore and used as firewood. During this time the Southern Cross twice broke free of her anchors.
Once the camp was set up the Southern Cross wintered in New Zealand with the rest of the crew leaving on the 1 March 1899, ten men were left behind to spend the winter in Antarctica. This was the first time a ship had left men to winter in the Antarctic and at this point the wintering party did not know if they would see the ship again.
Sledging journeys were attempted in March and April but were largely unsuccessful due to poor weather conditions. During the winter months they carried out scientific experiments and meteorological recordings in the huts. They entertained themselves with concerts and lectures, playing chess, and learning to ski. However, many still found the constant darkness of winter difficult, when bad weather kept them inside for several days at a time tensions would rise.
They did still accomplish a lot including being the first to use sledge dogs and kayaks for transport in Antarctica, and established a mid-winter camp, Stone Hut on Duke of York Island near the head of Robertson Bay. There Borchgrevink found rocks containing gleaming gold crystals which he hoped might have been gold, zoological discoveries were made and Colbeck drew a map of the region which was to prove useful to later expeditions.
When biologist Nicolai Hanson died in October 1899 he became the first to be buried on Antarctica. The 26 year old and had been ill since July, it is thought he died of complications brought on by beriberi disease. He was buried on the top of Cape Adare where a boulder was placed as a headstone until the Southern Cross returned and a brass plaque was made.
Having wintered in New Zealand the expedition ship Southern Cross reached the furthest south of 78 degrees 21 minutes south in 1900 on her return voyage to Antarctica. On the 28 January 1900 the men were awoken by shouts of ‘Post!’, Captain Jensen had returned with the Southern Cross. The mail was handed round and loading began for their return journey. Before returning, the Southern Cross headed southwards into the Ross Sea and explored the Ross ice Shelf. Two parties skied about 10 miles to between 78°45-50′S, the furthest south at this time.
On their return they discovered the ‘gold’ Borchgrevink had found was in fact iron pyrites or fools gold. By the time of their return the Boer War in South Africa was underway, this had captured the public’s full attention and the achievements of the expedition went largely unacknowledged.
For Further Information:
Crawford, J. (1998) That First Antarctic Winter. South Latitude Research Limited.
Borchgrevink, C.E. (1901) First on the Antarctic Continent. C.Hurst & Company.
Headland, R.K (2009) A Chronology of Antarctic Exploration, A synopsis of events and activities from the earliest times until the International Polar Year, 2002-2009. Bernard Quaritch Ltd.