Fabian von Bellingshausen and the Discovery of Antarctica

Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1778 – 1852)

Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen
(1778 – 1852)

On January 25, 1852, Baltic German officer in the Imperial Russian Navy, cartographer and explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen passed away. He was a notable participant of the first Russian circumnavigation and subsequently a leader of another circumnavigation expedition, which discovered the continent of Antarctica. He is remembered in Russia as one if its greatest admirals and explorers, and multiple geographical features and locations in the Antarctic, named in honor of Bellingshausen, remind of his role in exploration of the southern polar region.

It is believed that Fabian von Bellingshausen was born on September 20, 1778 in Estonia and that he enrolled at the Russian navy at the age of only 10. He took part in the first Russian circumnavigation from 1803 to 1806 and was made captain in 1816. It is assumed that Bellingshausen was appointed commander of the southern polar expedition which left the Russian naval base of Kronstadt in the Gulf of Finland in July 1819. Bellingshausen was in charge of two ships, the Vostok and the Mirny. The crew’s objective was to explore as far south as possible and to engage in scientific work. Approximately in January 1820, Fabian von Bellingshausen sighted the coast of Antarctica and sailed towards Port Jackson, which they reached on April 11. [1]

Bellingshausen and his crew sailed continued exploring the area. They sailed to the Tuamotu archipelago, making several discoveries and headed south again, probably around November. The expedition discovered Peter I Island and Alexander Island and they explored and mapped Macquarie Island. Fabian von Bellingshausen and his crew then completet the circumnavigation of the Antarctic and returned to Kronstadt in 1821. [1,2]

During the journey, three men had been lost. Also, it took ten years to publish the discovery Bellingshausen and his crew accomplished. It is believed that Russia was quite unimpressed with his circumnavigation of the continent and thus all interest in Terra Australis was abandoned until whaling fleets were sent to the south in 1946. The first Russian scientific base was established on the mainland during the International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. [2]

At yovisto, you may learn more about the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration by Edward Larson.

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