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South Georgia Survey 1951-57


  • A six-man expedition, led by Carse to explore and map the island of South Georgia.
  • They sailed on board the whaling tanker the Southern Opal making their base in the unoccupied prison at Grytviken.
  • Their surveying attempts were hampered by poor weather and had to be abandoned for one year when a member of the party had an accident damaging his knee and needed to be returned to Britain for treatment.
  • They did however, gather a general picture of the island from King Haakon Bay to Novosilski Bay.

Please note the photographs for this expedition are forthcoming.


This was a small private expedition, which set out to explore and map the island. The survey was possible due to sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society and the Scott Polar Research Institute and with equipment borrowed from the War Office and the Ministry of Supply. In 1951 South Georgia still remained unmapped, and due to conflicting national interests this was becoming increasingly important. Six men led by Carse intended to spend one summer on South Georgia with the primary goal of surveying and gathering geological specimens.

They sailed from Glasgow on 16 September 1951 on board the Southern Opal, a whaling tanker. The party landed on 1 November and established a base in the unoccupied prison at main settlement of Grytviken. Once the base was established the group began reconnaissance of the area. A reconnaissance party discovered that there was a break in the Allardyce Range – the high mountain backbone that runs the length of the island. This break ran to the southwest coast and from Royal Bay to Cumberland Bay.

In December the expedition moved to Royal Bay to begin the major sledging journey. The intention being to cross the island quickly and work down the south-west coast mapping the shoreline from overlooking peaks and headlands. During this trip they had many problems with the weather, at Christmas they spent 11 days in one camp trying to find a suitable point for a triangulation station, they had to give up and go for less accurate but faster surveying. Unfortunately on 1 January 1952 Trendall fell down a bergschrund (a deep crack between a moving glacier and the ice frozen to a mountain side), he was alive but had badly injured his knee and had to be taken back to base as quickly as possible where a ship took him back to Britain for treatment.

Later in the season on 25 January the remaining party of five landed at the head of Fortuna Bay, they travelled southwards on extensive glaciers and ice fields man-hauling their sledges. Again they had problems with the weather, the high peaks of the mountain ranges were rarely free from cloud. However, by the end of the journey they had a general picture of the island from King Haakon Bay to Novosilski Bay.

In March they repeated the southern journey, a four-man party (Walton had returned home for family reasons) landed in Royal Bay with the intention of completing the work, which was cut short on the previous year as a result of Trendall’s accident. This repeat trip had its own problems, a depot left on the previous attempt could not be found and it was presumed buried by the deep snow. Short of supplies they were forced to return to base without covering any new ground.

On 18 April 1952 the men once again boarded the Southern Opal and sailed home. In subsequent years parties returned to the area to continue the work begun on this expedition.

Further Information

The Geographical Journal, 1959, 125 (1) 20-37.

Journal of Cambridge University Engineering Society, 1954, 24: 103-111.

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.