On an Antarctic adventure

On November 17, 1820, Captain Nathaniel Palmer became the first American to discover the Antarctic Peninsula.

Published - November 16, 2017 05:00 pm IST

Captain Nathaniel Palmer

Captain Nathaniel Palmer

Nathaniel Brown Palmer was born on August 8, 1799, in Connecticut, U.S. He was part of the family that founded Stonington, Connecticut. He wore many hats as an American seal hunter, explorer, sailing captain and a ship designer.

Early rewards

Stonington was a leading sealing port of that time. During the 1800’s, the seals in the Antarctic Ocean were in demand especially for trade with China. So, Palmer, who entered the business of sealing, began going on South Sea explorations to locate new seal rookeries, or colonies.

During Palmer’s maiden expedition on board Hersilia (an American merchant vessel) to the South Shetland Islands (group of islands in Antarctica), he served as second mate. His skills and fearless attitude paid off and he soon achieved his first command at the age of 21. His vessel was a sloop (sailing boat with a single mast) and he had named it ‘Hero’. Palmer steered it down south during the Antarctic Summer between 1820 -1821.

On November 17, 1820, while searching for seal rookeries near South Cape Horn, Palmer and his men became the first Americans to discover the Antarctic Peninsula, which is now named Palmer Peninsula. Along with George Powell, an English sealer, explorer and amateur naturalist, Palmer also co-discovered the South Orkney Islands archipelago on the north-east tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Recognition and Fame

The Antarctic science and research programme operated by the U.S. government recognises Palmer’s role in the exploration of the Antarctic area. The Palmer Station — located in the seal islands, the clipper ship — N.B. Palmer (built by Jacob Aaron Westervelt), and the Antarctic icebreaker — RV Nathaniel B. Palmer, are named after him. The Hero Bay, in the South Shetland Islands, is named after Palmer’s sloop, Hero. Hero Rupes, an escarpment (a steep slope or long cliff that forms as an effect of faulting or erosion) which was discovered in the southern hemisphere of the planet Mercury in 1973 is also named after this vessel.

On September 14, 1988, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp honouring Palmer. In 1996, his home in Stonington, the Capt. Nathaniel B. Palmer House, was declared a National Historic Landmark.

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