Dangerous Discoveries: Charting the Sub-Antarctics

Modern ships struggle in the rough seas of the Southern Ocean, but imagine how difficult it would be to explore the region for the first time without any maps or the luxuries of a modern ship.

The wooden ships used by early explorers were no match for the rough seas and harsh rocks surrounding the Sub-Antarctic Islands, but those that were successful in charting new islands often came away with a name-sake and a fortune from harvesting seals and whales for their skin, meat, and oil.

Let’s take a look at New Zealand’s Sub-Antarctic Islands and find out how and when they were charted and the stories behind their discovery.

The Auckland Islands

The Auckland Islands were officially discovered by a whaling vessel named Ocean in 1806, although archaeologists have uncovered evidence to suggest that were settled by Polynesian explorers around the 13th century, which makes the islands the most southerly settlement by Polynesians known.

The Auckland Islands (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

Upon their re-discovery, Captain Abraham Bristow named the main island “Lord Auckland’s” in honour of the first Baron of Auckland, William Eden. He also named Enderby Island after his employer, Samuel Enderby, who ran a successful whaling company from the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until 1807 when Captain Bristow returned to the islands that they were officially claimed for Britain.

The Antipodes Islands

Similarly, the Antipodes Islands were visited early on by Polynesian explorers. Visitors to the island in 1886 discovered a shard of what they believed to be early Polynesian pottery, which is now kept in the Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa) in Wellington.

The Antipodes Islands as seen from the north (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Antipodes Islands were re-discovered in 1800 when Captain Henry Waterhouse of the ship HMS Reliance charted the region. Captain Waterhouse’s brother-in-law, George Bass heard about the regions rich wildlife and applied to have monopoly of fishing in the region. After securing permission to fish in the region, he set off immediately for the islands, presumably to begin harvesting the large population of fur seals. He was never heard from again, but his eagerness to get to the islands sparked interest in other businessmen and lead to the sealing boom from 1805 until around 1807.

The Bounty Islands

The HMS Bounty was the first ship to discover the Bounty Islands in 1788 with Captain William Bligh at its helm. While the discovery itself was uneventful, the famous mutiny that occurred on-board shortly after the islands were discovered was not.

The HMS Bounty (Photo: Wikipedia)

On the 28th of April 1789, the ship was moored off the coast of Pitcairn Island near Tahiti. It is said that many of the crew were tired of being treated harshly by their commander, Lieutenant Bligh, and wanted to take up residence on the nearby Tahitian Islands. They soon revolted and set Bligh and 18 of his most loyal crew members afloat in a small boat before settling on Pitcairn Island. Eventually, after an epic journey, Bligh made it to  Timor in the Dutch East Indies before returning to England and reporting the mutiny. Many descendants of the sailors that rebelled are still found on Pitcairn Island.

The Snares Islands

The largest of the Snares Islands were known to the Maori as Te Taniwha (which translates to “the sea monster”), but they were officially discovered by two ships working with the same expedition on the same day, but only one captain was allowed the honour of naming them.

The Snares Islands (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

Captain George Vancouver of the The HMS Discovery called the islands “The Snares” because of their ability to trap wayward ships with little experience in the area.  The second ship was the HMS Chatham, and while its commander Lieutenant William Broughton didn’t get to name the islands, one was named Broughton in his honour.

Campbell Island

Campbell Island gets its name from Robert Campbell,  the owner of a Sydney based trading company by the name of Campbell & Co. It was discovered in 1810 by the Perserverance, which was scouting the area for new sealing grounds. Its commander, Captain Frederick Hasselborough also discovered the Australian Sub-Antarctic Island, Macquarie Island.

Ironically, Captain Hasselborough drowned in Perseverance Harbour when he launched a jollyboat to check on the barrels of seal oil that he had left on the shore during his first visit.

Campbell Island (Photo: Kimberley Collins)

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