Tasmania is believed by most scientists to be a remnant of the great southern super continent, Gondwana, which also incorporated Antarctica as well as the landmasses of South America, Africa, Madagascar, India, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.
Tasmania’s historic connections with Antarctica are relatively recent, dating back to 1773 when the English mariner, Tobias Furneaux, sailed the Adventure into an unnamed bay on Bruny Island. Furneaux’s ship had become separated from James Cook’s Resolution as they sought to circumnavigate the frozen continent. Thirty years later the English established the first permanent European settlement on the Derwent and Hobart Town was soon a haven for whalers and sealers working in the Southern Ocean. One of the sealers, John Briscoe, reprovisioned his ships in Hobart in 1831 during a successful circumnavigation of Antarctica. During the voyage Briscoe discovered Enderby Land, where Australia’s Mawson station was later established.
In the first half of the 1800s, the whaling boom generated a surge in maritime support industries and infrastructure in the colony, then known as Van Diemen’s Land. Whaling ceased in the late-1800s but Hobart never lost its boat-building, ship-chandlery and provedoring legacy. This made the port a logical staging post in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. France’s Dumont d’Urville, Australia’s Douglas Mawson, England’s James Clark Ross and Norway’s Carsten Borchgrevink and Roald Amundsen all paused in the Derwent on their way to Antarctica.
The Lieutenant-Governor in Hobart, John Franklin – himself a celebrated Arctic explorer – provided lavish hospitality to major national Antarctic expeditions led by d’Urville of France and Ross of England. In 1898, the city was the departure point for the first expedition to spend a winter ashore in Antarctica. The party was led by a Norwegian, Carsten Borchgrevink, and included a Tasmanian physicist, Louis Bernacchi, who is remembered as the first Australian to winter-over in Antarctica.
In December 1911, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Mawson was given a rousing send-off from Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove as it headed south on one of the most dramatic scientific expeditions to Antarctica. A few months later, Amundsen brought Fram into Hobart in order to send a telegram to the King of Norway with the news that his party had reached the South Pole. After sending the telegram, Amundsen publicly announced his feat from the post office’s sandstone steps. A few months later, Mawson’s Antarctic party sent the first wireless messages from Antarctica to the outside world – to a receiving station on Hobart’s Queens Domain.
Hobart’s role as a staging post for expeditions to east Antarctica was formalised in 1981 when the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters were established nearby at Kingston.