The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration began at the end of the 1800s when Antarctica became the focus of international efforts for scientific and geographic exploration. 17 major explorations were launched by ten different countries.
As a precursor to the Historic age, British explorer James Cook, in the late 1770s, explored the southern regions of the world in search of a large continent called Terra Australis. He was unable to reach what is now Antarctica because of the amount of ice in the waters, but he hypothesized that there must be a land mass of origin. The exploration of the South Pole was put on hiatus.
Between 1819 and 1843 interest was revived with the goal of reaching Antarctica proper. This resurgence in exploratory activity did not bring man to set foot on the Antarctic continent but significant contributions were made. Dumont D’Urville first sighted a rocky land formation. Charles Wilkes discovered Victoria Land, home to the volcanos Mt. Terror and Mt. Erebus.
The third act of Antarctic exploration was spurred by German explorer George Von Neumeyer who believed in the importance of the South Pole in meteorology and weather prediction. In addition, the British Dr. John Murray gave a speech on November 27, 1863, entitled “The Renewal of Antarctic Exploration” to the Royal Geographic Society to resolve the mysteries of the Antarctic.
The Heroic Age began with an expedition embarked on by the Belgian Geographic Society in 1897. And culminated in 1921 with the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition.
Nineteen men died in the pursuit of knowledge during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Four died of unrelated illnesses, two died in accidents in New Zealand, and 13 others died in service on or near the continent.