Sunday, May 26, 2013
As the turn of the 20th Century loomed, the nations of the world struggled to fill in the remaining blank spaces on the map. The effort to chart the last continent proved to be the most challenging. In the 17th Century, it was believed that Australia spanned from near the equator to the South Pole, fulfilling a perceived need for balance of the world’s landmasses. Tasman’s exploration of Australia proved that it did not connect to any frozen landmass. The first explorers to venture anywhere near the land of eternal ice were those of the British Captain James Cook’s expeditions in the 1770s, where no significant landmass was ever discovered.
The first confirmed sighting of Antarctic happened in 1818 when Brazilian whalers landed in the King Frederick Islands some 120 kilometers north of the Antarctic Peninsula. The Brazilians built temporary camps in the islands, along with a whaling station to process their vile cargos. Discovery of petroleum oil ended the whaling industry as well as any interest in the tundra islands by Dutch interests, although Britain continued to explore the area. Few in the United Provinces had any interest in a continent covered with glaciers. After all, they already possessed Greenland, which was ice box enough.
Brazil showed a greater interest in the Antarctica. In 1901, the Amundsen Expedition set out to step foot upon the lost continent. The expedition was led explorer Henrich Amundsen, a fourth-generation Brazilian; his family immigrated to Brazil from the Grand Principality of Norway shortly after Brazilian independence. The voyage was mostly a Brazilian affair, with the exception of Adrian de Gerlache, an astronomer and navigator born in Antwerp.
The expedition charted the Antarctic Peninsula, and barely escaped being trapped when the ice began to advance during the final days of the brief summer. Amundsen claimed the peninsula for Brazil. That in itself was not an event to stand out. However, de Gerlache made the same claim for the United Provinces. Though they shared the same king, the two countries did not share the same government. Both explorers argued intensely over the claim, nearly coming to blows over the issue. The debate made its way back to Recife and The Hague, where both Staaten-Generaals backed their respective claims. It was only when King William proposed a joint-occupation, which later mutated into a Commonwealth mandate, did the debate fade and die.
Amundsen returned to Antarctica in 1906, after quickly assembling his new expedition. The mission was rushed, for it came only after word of the Shackleton Expedition planned to reach the South Pole in the same year. Unlike a few years earlier, Recife and The Hague agreed that a British expedition could not be allowed to reach the pole first. Amundsen returned to the frozen land with another Netherlander navigator, Commander Georges Lencointe. There would be no fight over ownership of the South Pole, for the King wanted the flags of both his realms to stand side-by-side, greeting the late Shackleton.
Unfortunately, there would be a flag awaiting the second-place team, but Amundsen would be the one greeted by the Union Jack. According to Shackleton’s log, his expedition reached the pole seventeen days before Amundsen. When a disgusted member of his expedition moved to remove the British flag, Amundsen stopped him. He said that Shackleton won the race fairly, and he would not be denied his place in history. The defeated explorers planted their own flags next to Britain’s before heading north. The news of who reached the South Pole first reached the United Provinces and United Kingdom roughly the same time. Crowds in London celebrated while newspapers in Amsterdam questioned the claim. It was not until Lencointe returned to the United Provinces that he confirmed British claims as accurate, much to the disappointment of the Dutch people.