Inside the Thrilling History of Antarctica

By Tennessee Blackmore

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Born in the United Kingdom with an innate sense of curiosity for South America, Antarctica21 expedition team member Tennessee Blackmore can tell you just about anything you’d like to know about Antarctica’s history. Though his travels have taken him all over the world — from the sweltering rainforests of Borneo to the remote outposts of the Himalayas — he keeps coming back to Antarctica with a draw to walk in the same footsteps of great polar pioneers

Photo by Rodrigo Moraga


A South Atlantic historian, Tennessee is an elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Royal Anthropological Institute. He delights in delivering his wisdom into compelling stories to our passengers as part of the educational programming onboard our expeditions. There’s never an empty seat in the house when he’s giving the evening lecture!

 He took time from his current project of writing the first dedicated biography of Sir James Clark Ross — who led the British Antarctic Expedition from 1839 to 1843, discovering the Ross Sea, Ross Ice Shelf, and Ross Seal along the way— to tell us a little more about Antarctica’s history.

 Keep reading to learn more about the White Continent and why it’s so special!

Photo by Rodrigo Moraga

 

The history of Antarctic exploration is a study of human curiosity. As the last great terrestrial discovery, the Seventh Continent was, in many ways, reasoned into existence. Even the inquisitive minds of the Ancient Greeks theorized a great southern land that brought balance to the world. It would be nearly two thousand years before technology and our inquisitive nature would converge to bring humans into the frigid realm of Terra Australis Incognita – the unknown lands of the south — for the very first time. Since James Cook’s Second voyage of discovery in 1772-75, the history of Antarctica became the story of humanity’s wild adventure to understand the unknown for glory, fame, or knowledge. Great tales of endurance, sacrifice, and survival set in an empire of ice. 

 My passion for Antarctic history stems from attempting to understand the human spirit of exploration. What drives us today — or even 100 or 14,000 years from now — to take great steps into the unknown? The human exploration of the Antarctic Region provides historians with our most well-documented and most recent continental discovery, our species’ relationship with Antarctica shifting from exploration to exploitation, and question sovereignty and ownership. Above all, the human narrative of Antarctica is our greatest tool in connecting people with the last pristine wilderness on Earth. I am incredibly privileged to be able to share exhilarating and emotive stories in the places they were written. 

Photo by Rodrigo Moraga

The most famous names of Antarctic exploration, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott, and Roald Amundsen, belong to the Heroic Age: a period between 1897 and 1922 in which world fascination with poles had reached a fever pitch. Their narratives have become Antarctic legend, none more so than Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from 1914 to 1917, which is still cited as one of the greatest survival stories of all time. The tales of Scott’s fatal march from the pole and Shackleton’s open boat journey in James Caird are what inspired me to focus on the history of the Antarctic. 

Before the Heroic Age came a lesser-known but perhaps more heroic era. The exploration of the Antarctic seas during the Age of Sail from 1772 to 1843 holds a special place in history. One explorer I have spent more time researching than any other is Sir James Clark Ross. His British Antarctic Expedition was the last great voyage of the Age of Sail and one of the most awe-inspiring. Discovering the immense Ross Ice Shelf and a further South active volcano — all while navigating ice-choked seas and fierce tempests — is an incredible feat. James Clark Ross, as well as James Weddell and Fabien Von Bellingshausen, are seldom mentioned compared with the Heroic Age heroes, yet the seas in which their discovery took place today bear their names.

 My love of Antarctic history mirrors my love for my role at Antarctica21. Every expedition, I get to share more about the continent I love most. I hope to open people’s eyes to many lesser-known tales of exploration. It’s my wish that this enhances our guest’s experience of this storied continent — and gives them an extra story or two to bring back home to loved ones!

Photo by Rodrigo Moraga

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