The announcement of the issue of a Falkland Islands stamp commemorating the forgotten British naval hero Edward Bransfield has aroused controversy in Britain over who discovered the Antarctic. For many years Bransfield was credited with first spotting it on January 30th, 1820.
But one of Britain's leading Antarctic experts, Bob Headland, curator of the Scott Polar Research Institute of Cambridge University, says Bransfield was only the second man to sight the Continent, just three days after the great Russian explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (1778 - 1852). The Russian did so in his ship the Vostok, while crossing the southern ocean from Rio de Janeiro to Australia leading a scientific expedition on the orders of Csar Alexander the First. It was more than a century later before was realised from a translation of Bellingshausen's account of his voyage that he was the first to discover the Antarctic on January 27th,1820.
The Bransfield stamp, to be issued in December by the Falkland Islands, is a belated recognition of an intrepid British naval hero who died believing he had been the first to discover the Southern Continent that had eluded explorers for centuries. One of his descendants, Sheila Bransfield, a secretary from Kent, who has been conducting a campaign for recognition of Bransfield's achievements, has had his grave restored in Brighton in Southern England, adding the inscription, "The first man to see the Antarctic mainland, on January 30th,1820".
He was a Royal Navy navigator in his mid-Thirties when he took a seal-hunting ship from Valparaiso, Chile, to investigate reports of land south of Cape Horn. He first landed at what are now the South Shetland Islands which he claimed for Britain, raising the Union Jack and calling them "New South Britain".
Bransfield continued sailing south into uncharted waters where the Bransfield Strait is named after him. More recently the British Antarctic Survey named one of its Antarctic ship's "Bransfield". This ship was retired last year to be replaced by the "Ernest Shackleton".
Bransfield's account of his epic voyage was lost by the Admiralty, and there was no interest in Britain in following up his report of the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. He retired form the Navy to become a captain of merchant ships. He died aged 67 in 1852, leaving his widow a pension of only £50 (75 dollars) a year.
By contrast, on his return to Saint Petersburg, Bellingshausen (1778-1852) was feted as one of Russia's greatest explorers