Polar Notes

Apr 2024

Polar Note: Celebrating 80 Years of Antarctic History - The Legacy of Port Lockroy

Celebrating 80 Years of Antarctic History: The Legacy of Port Lockroy

For the last 80 years there has stood a humble hut on Goudier Island that has housed explorers, covert operatives, environmentalists and UK Antarctic Heritage teams. It tells tales of bravery, discovery, and scientific pursuit; standing as a reminder of all that has been achieved in Antarctica, including Britain’s Antarctic legacy.  

It was on the 11th of February 1944 that an intrepid team embarked on a covert mission known as Operation Tabarin. Led by the visionary marine zoologist, James Marr, the 14 men ventured into the unknown, driven by a passion for scientific inquiry and a spirit of adventure.

Operation Tabarin Members. Credit: BAS Archives.

Their mission: to establish a permanent British presence in Antarctica and secure Britain’s sovereignty over the Antarctic Peninsula. A mission that still continues today.  

Map depicting location of Port Lockroy. Credit: UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Their journey was not without its challenges. From the treacherous sea ice at Hope Bay to the setbacks with their initial expedition ship, every obstacle seemed determined to thwart their progress. Undeterred, the team pressed on, eventually finding a safe haven on the shores of Goudier Island where Base A Port Lockroy was born.

Construction of Base A, Bransfield House. Credit: UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

What began as a strategic outpost during World War II evolved into a hub of scientific exploration and discovery. Amidst the sea ice and penguins, pioneering research unfolded within the walls of Port Lockroy. Studies of the ionosphere illuminated our understanding of the Earth's upper atmosphere, paving the way for breakthroughs in climate science and the protection of the ozone layer.

Scientific experiments taking place at Port Lockroy. Credit: BAS Archives.

As CEO, Camilla Nichol, aptly puts it, "Base A Port Lockroy is where Britain's scientific age in Antarctica truly began." It serves as a reminder of a time when the pursuit of knowledge replaced notions of conquest and exploitation. With its museum and the world's southernmost post office, Port Lockroy continues to welcome visitors from around the globe, offering them a glimpse into the remarkable history of Antarctic exploration.

Whilst we celebrate this extraordinary building and its story, there remains a duty to protect and preserve this fragile heritage. The dedicated team at Port Lockroy works tirelessly, braving the elements to ensure the hut and its surroundings remain unspoiled. Even as heavy snowfall necessitates repairs to the roof of Bransfield House, their commitment to conservation never wavers.

Visitors to the Antarctic Heritage site of Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula. Credit: BAS Archives.

As we reflect on 80 years of Antarctic adventure and environmental endeavour, we at the UKAHT take pride in continuing to tell the stories of the courage and vision of those who came before us. From the daring pioneers of Operation Tabarin to the custodians of today, each has played their part in shaping the legacy of Port Lockroy, safeguarding it for future generations to explore, cherish and value.

As we raise a toast to Base A Port Lockroy on its 80th anniversary, let us also renew our commitment to preserving its storied past. Ensuring that the spirit of exploration and environmental endeavour, embodied at Port Lockroy, continues to educate and inspire us as we make decisions about Antarctica’s future.