Early Encounters With the Southern Lands | Polar Unbound


Magellan found himself conjecturing that the southern lands of Tierra del Fuego, across the Strait of Magellan, were the northern borders of a great southern continent in 1520. Over 50 years later, Sir Frances Drake found himself blown south of Tierra del Fuego and then around Cape Horn, a happy accident that allowed him to fully dispute Magellan’s theory as he encountered a series of islands rather than a continent. 

Of course, the tendency for sailors to be blown off course due to the south Atlantic’s temperamental behavior played a significant role in the discovery of southern lands. In 1619, Bartolom√© and Gonzalo Garcia de Nodal, also blown off course, came upon a series of small islands they named Islas Diego Ramirez. These remained the most southerly recorded lands for 156 years. 

While the Islas Diego Ramirez went down in the books, other reports began to pop up. Dutchman Dirck Gerritsz reportedly discovered snow-capped peaks in 1622, and though his latitude calculations are dubious, he could have potentially spotted the South Shetland Islands. British merchant Anthony de la Roch found shelter in an undiscovered bay in 1675, and it’s thought that he found himself on South Georgia Island and sighted Antarctica and the Clerke Rocks. De la Roch’s reports align well with the location of Terra Australis Incognita on the Dutch East India Company’s map of the time.