Sealers' ships immortalised on remote Heard Island

A southern elephant seal lies in front of rusty trypots on a beach at Heard Island.
Rusty trypots on beaches at Heard Island are a reminder of the island's sealing history. (Photo: Eric Woehler)
A black sand beach with elephant seals and two trypots, and ice-covered Stephenson Glacier in the background.

Ships carrying 19th century sealers to the remote Australian Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands (the Territory), have lent their names to some of the islands’ beaches, lagoons and tarns.

The ships, named Josephine, Bertha, Eliza, Marcia, Lydia, Zoe and Cornelia, transported people, mainly from the United States and Cape Verde islands off West Africa, to the region between 1855 and 1882.

For nearly 30 years the sealers hunted and processed Heard Island’s southern elephant seals for oil, enduring extreme isolation, freezing temperatures and incessant winds.

Naming geographic features is a key part of the Australian Antarctic Division’s role in administering the Territory. It helps to keep maps of the region current, which is especially important given the current extent of glacial retreat and volcanic activity in the Territory.  

Among other new feature names on the island is Quilty Cone, commemorating eminent Australian scientist Professor Patrick Quilty, AM, who died in August 2018. Professor Quilty possessed unique knowledge of the Heard Island and McDonald Islands’ geology and authored key geological research papers.

The Territory of Heard Island and McDonald Islands lies in the southern Indian Ocean some 4,100 kilometers southwest of Perth, Western Australia at 53°06’S 73°30’E.

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