First landing on Antarctica

First landing on Antarctica

Sketch drawn of the first landing by the Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink (c.1895). In it he portrays himself as the first to set foot on the Antarctic mainland and he does not include Alexander von Tunzelmann at all.

Alexander von Tunzelmann – first landing on Antarctica

New Zealander Alexander Francis Henry von Tunzelmann is sometimes credited as being the first person to set foot on the Antarctic mainland. Seven men from the Norwegian whaling and sealing ship Antarctic, including Tunzelmann, are acknowledged as making the first substantiated landing on the Antarctic continent proper on 24 January 1895. They all landed within seconds of each other, but there is dispute over who was the first to touch land.

Tunzelmann was born in Nelson in June 1877. In November 1894 the 17-year-old and three other New Zealanders were recruited at Stewart Island by the captain of the expedition, Leonard Kristensen. Kristensen had called in to recruit new men after some of the existing crew refused to carry on to the Antarctic when the ship called in for repairs at Port Chalmers.

On 24 January 1895 the Antarctic reached the vicinity of Cape Adare. They found conditions were good enough to take the ship close to the shore and a boat was lowered. Seven men, including Kristensen, Tunzelmann, Carsten Borchgrevink, and the financier and expedition manager, Henryk Bull, made a landing. 

While some accounts note that Borchgrevink or Kristensen was first ashore, others favour Tunzelmann. Up to his death in September 1957 Tunzelmann maintained that he had been the first ashore, having held the boat steady for the group.

In 1984 the New Zealand Antarctic Place Names Committee named the landing site Von Tunzelmann Point. It was officially recognised by the New Zealand Geographic Board in 2004.

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