Fifty years after James Cook circumnavigated Antarctica, Russian naval officer Captain Thaddeus (Fabian) Bellingshausen reprised this historic achievement in 1819–21, in command of the first Russian Antarctic expedition (southern squadron) with the sloops Vostok and Mirnyi. Bellingshausen’s voyage took him farther south than Cook and disproved Cook’s assertion that land could not be reached in the southern ice fields. On 28 January 1820, Bellingshausen observed “a solid stretch of ice … which seemed to be covered in small hillocks”.
The expedition retreated to Australia and the Pacific over the polar winter of 1820, repairing and restocking the vessels in Sydney. Once again setting their sails south, the Vostok and Mirnyi arrived at Macquarie Island on 29 November 1820. During three days, they observed and recorded subantarctic fauna, including the now extinct ground-dwelling parakeet, as well as the activity of sealers, who had decimated the Fur Seal population and were killing Elephant Seals for their blubber and oil. They then continued along the Antarctic coast, discovering Peter I Island, before returning to Russia via the South Shetland Islands, reaching Kronstadt on 4 August 1821.
Cover design: Sonia Young, Australia Post Design Studio
Cover images: Pavel Mikhailov, Macquarie Island view from the north-east side of the isthmus, c. 1821; map of Bellingshausen’s expedition in Antarctica, 1819–21 (Découvertes Gallimard, série histoire, 1987, GNU Free Documentation License); portrait of Bellingshausen (Juulijs/Adobe Stock)