Tag Archives: Stamps in South Orkneys


12 Jun

In 1903 William Speirs Bruce departed his winter base in the South Orkneys and sailed to Argentina for refueling and refit of his ship the Scotia. On arrival in Buenos Aires he offered the continued control of his South Orkney meteorological and magnetic huts to Argentina and agreed to transport Argentine scientist to the site to continue the scientific work under the leadership of his meteorologist Mossman. His rationale was firstly, to ensure that his team’s detailed work would continue and secondly, to further his dream of a coordinated complex of meteorological stations in and around the Southern Atlantic. His motives were purely scientific.
On arrival at Buenos Aires Bruce contacted both the British First Minister
Mr. W. Haggard and the head of the Argentine Meteorological Service – a Mr. Walter Davies. Haggard contacted both the British and Argentine governments and the Argentine authorities responded with remarkable alacrity, thanking Dr. Bruce and promptly accepting the offer within a few days (incidentally about three months before Haggard heard from the British authorities)!
The Argentinean government clearly knew what they were doing. They allocated the work of ‘Postmaster’ to one of their staff. Stamps were issued representing the South Orkneys as an Argentinean suburb. This was a most significant decision -the presence of a postmaster is an internationally recognized part of demonstrating effective administration and authority over any claimed and occupied area. The South Orkney station has now been continuously manned by Argentina for the past 114 years. Bruce’s decision thus opened the door for the claims and counter claims in the region that continue to this day.
Argentina’s claim is based on her continued occupation of the station. British claims to the area are via the Falkland Islands Dependencies, a complex constitutional arrangement for administering British territories in Sub-Antarctica and Antarctica. In 1908 the Dependencies were listed as: South Georgia, the South Orkneys, South Shetlands, and the Sandwich Islands, and the territory of Graham’s Land, an area south of the 50th parallel S, and between 20° and 80° W. longitude. The agreement was modified in 1917 when it was recognized that this definition could be interpreted as a claim on Southern Argentina and Chile! Also explicitly, to extend to the South Pole.
Argentina’s challenge to the Dependencies came first in the late 1920s and then more extensively in the second-world war. In response, in the height of World War II, in the Antarctic Summer of 1943/44, Britain established what became a permanent occupation called ‘Operation Tabarin’. This was primarily a political statement — the Admiralty and Colonial Office aimed to strengthen British territorial rights to the sovereignty of the Falklands Island Dependency, whilst the Foreign Office aimed at minimizing disruption to Britain’s long-standing ties with Argentina and, particularly at that dark time, to ensure the shipment of war-time meat supplies.
Tabarin was the basis from which Britain’s subsequent post-war, long-term involvement in Antarctica developed. The Falklands Island Dependency Survey was renamed the British Antarctic Survey in 1962, its northern boundary changed to 60°. The organization now operates three research stations in the British Antarctic Territory: year round at Rothera, Halley, and summer only at Signy. In addition there are two summer field support stations: Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu.
In addition to continuous climatic, oceanographic, geographic, ice, atmospheric and space weather observations, findings include the record of a volcanic eruption from under the Antarctica ice sheet, which occurred over 2.000 years ago. This was, apparently, the biggest eruption in the last 10,000 years. The volcanic ash was found on the ice surface. A world-changing observation in 1985 was the discovery of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. This led to an international reduction in the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting substances (ODS) which are mainly responsible for man-made chemical ozone depletion and which were used, for example, in fridges and inhalers.
Halley Research Station is built on a floating ice shelf in the Weddell Sea. The current Halley (VI), is the world’s first re-locatable research facility and indeed has been moved recently because of huge ice cracks in the ice shelf.
Signy is in the South Orkneys Island where Bruce’s work was based. It is a laboratory for biological research open from November to April each year (the southern hemisphere summer).
Bruce is not forgotten here. The Scotia Sea in the South Atlantic is named for his expedition. Also the research community named a laboratory on Signy Island for him in 2016.