Australian Antarctic Magazine — Issue 38: June 2020

Sealers’ ships immortalised on remote Heard Island

An elephant seal lies in vegetation beside rusty trypots on Heard Island.
Rusting trypots, used to render elephant seal blubber, are a reminder of the sealing industry on Heard Island in the mid-19th century. (Photo: Eric Woehler)

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.

Search for names in the Australian Antarctic Gazetteer.

Sally Chambers
Australian Antarctic Division