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Captain Cook claimed the honour of being the first man to sail into the Antarctic Ocean in 1773, which he then circumnavigated the following year. Cook, though, did not see any land, and he declared that there was no such thing as the Southern Continent. Fifty years later, an Irishman who had been impressed into the Royal Navy at the age of eighteen and risen through the ranks to reach the position of master, proved Cook wrong and discovered and charted parts of the shoreline of Antarctica. He also discovered what is now Elephant Island and Clarence Island, claiming them for the British Crown.
Edward Bransfield's varied naval career included taking part in the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816 onboard the 50-gun warship HMS Severn. Then, in 1817, he was posted to the Royal Navy's Pacific Squadron off Valpara so in Chile, and it was while serving there that the owner and skipper of an English whaling ship, the Williams, was driven south by adverse winds and discovered what came to be known as the South Shetland Islands where Cook had said there was no land. Bransfield's superior officer, Captain Sherriff, decided to investigate this discovery further. He chartered Williams and sent Bransfield with two midshipmen and a ship's surgeon into the Antarctic – and the Irishman sailed into history.
Despite his achievements, and many parts of Antarctica and an Antarctic survey vessel being named after him, as well as a Royal Mail commemorative stamp being issued in his name in 2000, the full story of this remarkable man and his historic journey, have never been told – until now. Following decades of research, Sheila Bransfield MA, a member of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, has produced the definitive biography of one of Britain's greatest maritime explorers. The Man Who Discovered Antarctica has been endorsed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, whose patron the Princess Royal, has written the foreword.
As a young girl, Sheila Bransfield was intrigued to see the Bransfield name on an Antarctic map and first began to enquire about this in the 1980s. Research began in earnest in 1996 with the first of hundreds of visits to The National Archives. She learned that her great-great grandfather was born in Cork around the same time as Edward Bransfield, but further research has proved difficult. Then, in 1998 she was alerted to the location and poor condition of Edward Bransfield's grave and began raising funds for its renovation. She visited Antarctica in January 1999 and celebrated an unveiling of the grave in June. Sheila subsequently wrote a number of articles for historical journals and magazines before being accepted by the Greenwich Maritime Institute (University of Greenwich) for a Master of Arts in Maritime History due to her research and publications, receiving her award in 2002.