Key Dates Timeline

Find all the important and historically significant moments in the history of human endeavour in Antarctica all in one place, from the Discovery of Antarctica and it's first sighting to the Antarctic Treaty and beyond.

The Discovery of Antarctica
1520 - 1775

  • 1520 Ferdinand Magellan discovers the Straits of Magellan
  • 1578 Sir Francis Drake discovers the Drake Passage and proves Tierra del Fuego is not part of the Unknown Southern Land.
  • 1592 John Davis discovers the Falkland Islands.
  • 1675 Antonio de la Roche sights South Georgia.
  • 1699 Edmond Halley searches for the ‘Unknown Southern Land’, reaching 52°24’S and reporting tabular icebergs.
  • 1773-75 Captain James Cook crosses the Antarctic Circle three times.

Sealing, Whaling and the Age of Exploration
1788 - 1820

  • 1788 Sealers arrive at South Georgia
  • 1810 Australian Frederick Hasselborough discovers Macquarie Island whilst searching for new sealing grounds.
  • 1819 William Smith discovers the South Shetland Islands
  • 1819 Sealers arrive in the South Shetland Islands.
  • 1820 Antarctic continent first sighted by Thaddeus von Bellingshausen on 27 January
  • 1820 Antarctic continent sighted by Edward Bransfield on 30 January
  • 1820 Antarctic continent sighted by Nathaniel Palmer 16 November

1821 - 1829

  • 1821 American sealer John Davis lands at Hughes Bay on the Antarctic Peninsula, becoming the first to land on the Antarctic continent
  • 1821 Sealers become stranded on King George Island, becoming the first to overwinter in Antarctica
  • 1821 Nathaniel Palmer discovers the South Orkney Islands and the first fossils
  • 1825 End of large scale sealing
  • 1823 Englishman James Weddell sails to 74°15’S, setting a new southerly record

1829 - 1838

  • 1829 Captain Henry Foster leads the first scientific expedition to Antarctica to discover the true shape of the Earth using gravity measurements
  • 1831-32 Englishman John Biscoe makes the first sighting of Antarctica from the Indian Ocean zone of the Southern Ocean and circumnavigates Antarctica
  • 1838-40 Frenchman Jules Sebastian Csar Dumont d’Urville charts Antarctic Peninsula and discovers Adelie Land during two excursions
  • 1838-40: American Charles Wilkes leads two expeditions on a scientific expedition, discovering Wilkes Land

1839 - 1892

  • 1839 Englishman John Balleny makes the first landing below the Antarctic Circle on Balleny Islands
  • 1839-1843 James Clark Ross sails as far south as possible, reaching 71°30S and determining that the Magnetic South Pole lays inland
  • 1873 German Eduard Dallman takes the first steam whaler into Antarctic waters
  • 1874 HMS Challenger becomes the first steamship to cross the Antarctic Circle and proves Antarctica is a continent

1892 - 1893

  • 1892-93 Norwegian Carl Larsen discovers petrified wood and fossil molluscs, the first evidence of a previous warmer climate
  • 1893-95 Norwegian L. Kristennsen leads a whaling expedition with naturalist Carsten Borchgrevink aboard. They become the first to land on the Antarctic mainland at Cape Adare and discover the first lichens

The Heroic Age
1895 - 1902

  • 1895 Resolution passed at the Sixth International Geographical Congress advocating the exploration of Antarctica
  • 1897-99 Belgian Antarctic Expedition (Adrien de Gerlache)
  • 1898-1900 British Antarctic Expedition (Carsten Borchgrevink)
  • 1901-03 Drygalski (Gauss) Expedition
  • 1901-04 National Antarctic ‘Discovery’ Expedition (Captain Falcon Scott)
  • 1901-04 Swedish Antarctic Expedition (Otto Nordenskjold)
  • 1902-04 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (William Speirs Bruce)

1903 - 1906

  • 1903-05 First Charcot Expedition (Jean-Baptiste Charcot)
  • 1904 Carl Larsen establishes the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia.
  • 1904 First humpback whale caught in Antarctica
  • 1904 Argentina begins permanent occupation of the Orcadas Base on Laurie Island
  • 1906 Christen Christensen takes the first floating factory and two whale-catchers to the South Shetland Islands.
  • 1906 Adolfus Andresen operates the first floating factory at Deception Island
  • 1906 Whale Fishery Ordinance issued

1907 - 1910

  • 1907-09 British Antarctic ‘Nimrod’ Expedition (Ernest Shackleton)
  • 1908 British Government makes a formal claim to territory in Antarctica and issues a letters patent
  • 1908-10 Second Charcot Expedition (Jean-Baptiste Charcot)
  • 1909 Magnetic South Pole reached by Mawson, David and McKay (see British Antarctic ‘Nimrod’ Expedition)
  • 1910-12 Japanese Antarctic Expedition
  • 1910-12 South Pole ‘Fram’ Expedition (Roald Amundsen)

1910 - 1920

  • 1910-13 British Antarctic ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition (Captain Falcon Scott)
  • 1911-12 Filchner Expedition (German)
  • 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic ‘Aurora’ Expedition (Douglas Mawson)
  • 1911 Roald Amundsen reaches South Pole on13 December
  • 1912 Scott reaches South Pole on 17 January. The party perishes on the march back.
  • 1912 Tax on whale oil introduced in Britain’s ‘Falkland Island Dependencies’ territory.
  • 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic ‘Endurance’ Expedition (Ernest Shackleton)
  • 1921 Shackleton-Rowett ‘Quest’ Expedition (Ernest Shackleton)
  • 1920-22 British Imperial Expedition (John Cope)

The Mechanical Age
1923 - 1928

  • 1923: Discover Committee established
  • 1923: Britain transfers administration of the Ross Dependency to New Zealand
  • 1924: France claims territory in Antarctica (Adelie Land)
  • 1925: Discovery in South Georgia on first voyage
  • 1926: New factory ship with ramp introduced allowing whaling to take place in the open sea
  • 1928: Hubert Wilkins and Ben Eilson make the first long-distance flight in Antarctica
  • 1928-30: Byrd’s First Antarctic Expedition (Richard E Byrd)

1929 - 1934

  • 1929 Richard E Byrd becomes the first person to fly over the South Pole
  • 1929 Norway claims territory in Antarctica (Peter I Island)
  • 1929-31 British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (Douglas Mawson)
  • 1931-32 Britain and Norway suspend whaling activity for a year
  • 1932 Deception Island whaling station closes
  • 1933 Australian Antarctic Territory is placed under the authority of the Commonwealth of Australia
  • 1934-37 British Graham Land Expedition (BGLE) (John Rymill)


  • 1935 American Lincoln Ellsworth and Herbert Hollick-Kenyon become the first to fly across the Antarctic continent
  • 1935 Caroline Mikkelsen, wife of a Norwegian whaling captain, becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica

Territorial Claims and Permanent Occupation
1939 - 1942

  • 1939 Norway claims territory in Antarctica (Queen Maud Land)
  • 1939-41 US Antarctic Service Expedition (Richard Byrd) – East Base established on Stonington Island
  • 1940 Chile claims territory in Antarctica
  • 1942 Argentina claims territory in Antarctica

Operation Tabarin
1944 - 1947

  • 1944 British bases established on Deception Island and at Port Lockroy
  • 1945 British base at Hope Bay established
  • 1946 International Whaling Commission set up
  • 1946 British base on Stonington Island established
  • 1946 Operation Tabarin renamed the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS)
  • 1946-47 US Navy Antarctic Developments Program (Operation Highjump)
  • 1947 British base Wordie House established
  • 1947-48 US Navy Antarctic Developments Program (Operation Windmill)

1947 - 1955

  • 1947-48 Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (RARE) (Finn Ronne)
  • 1947-48 First Chilean Antarctic Expedition
  • 1949-52 Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition (John Schjelderup Giaever)
  • 1954 Australia opens Mawson Station
  • 1955 British base on Horseshoe Island established     

The Age of Science and Exploration
1955 - 1957

  • 1955-56 US Navy Antarctic Expeditions (Operation Deep Freeze)
  • 1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Vivian Fuchs and Edmund Hillary)
  • 1956 British Base at Detaille established
  • 1956 McMurdo Base (US), Mirny Station (USSR), and Dumont D’Urville Station (France) established
  • 1956 First tourist flight (Chile)
  • 1957-58 International Geophysical Year (IGY)

The Antarctic Treaty
1959 - 1991

  • 1959 Antarctic Treaty signed by twelve countries
  • 1961 Antarctic Treaty enters into force
  • 1962 Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey becomes the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)
  • 1962 British base at Port Lockroy closes
  • 1985 The discovery of the hole in the Ozone Layer is announced by BAS
  • 1986 A commercial ban on whaling comes into effect
  • 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty signed
  • 1991 International Association of Antarctica Tour-Operators (IAATO) established

1994 - 2006

  • 1994 Antarctic waters become part of the Southern Ocean whale Sanctuary
  • 1995 Port Lockroy designated at Historic Site and Monument (HSM) 61
  • 1996 Port Lockroy renovated and reopened by a team from BAS
  • 1997 Norwegian Boerge Ousland first to cross Antarctica unsupported
  • 1998 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty comes into effect
  • 2006 UKAHT takes over management of Port Lockroy


Go back to our Antarctic history timeline here to learn more about Antarctica and its rich human history.

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