James Clark Ross was born in 1800 and entered the Royal Navy at the age of 11
under the supervision of his uncle Sir John Ross. By 1918 he was involved
in a search for the Northwest passage and made four more trips to the Arctic
and successfully located the North Magnetic Pole in 1831.
In 1839 Ross departed for the Antarctic in the ship Erebus with his friend Francis Crozier commanding a second ship, The Terror. Ross was keen to repeat his earlier triumph by locating the South Magnetic Pole but was frustrated in this due to its position (then) inland. However his repeated attempts to draw near brought his specially strengthened ships through the heavy pack ice that covers the vast sea that today bears his name. For the first time the Ross sea was penetrated and comparatively clear water lay ahead.
As the ship edged ever southward they encountered a vast range of mountains
rising as high as 8,000 ft. These were named the Admiralty range. On January
12 1841 Ross and Crozier planted the flag upon Possession island and named
the region Victoria Land.
"With a favourable breeze, and very clear weather, we stood to the southward, close to some land which had been in sight since the preceding noon [26 January], and which we then called the 'High Island'; it proved to be a mountain twelve thousand four hundred feet of elevation above the level of the sea, emitting flame and smoke in great profusion; at first the smoke appeared like snow drift, but as we drew nearer, its true character became manifest."
The mighty peak was named Mt Erebus and a smaller extinct volcano to the east
was named Mt Terror. Ross had discovered a large Island which would become the
base for many future explorations and is now home to the largest research station
in Antarctica, the United States McMurdo station. During his Discovery expedition
Captain Scott named the island after Ross. Mt Erebus remains active to this day
and smoke can often be seen rising from its peak but no eruption has been seen to
rival that seen by the men on board the Erebus and Terror.
The ships continued south but soon met a vast wall of ice.
"extending from its eastern extreme point as far as the eye could discern to the eastward. It presented an extraordinary appearance, gradually increasing in height, as we got nearer to it, and proving at length to be a perpendicular cliff of ice, between one hundred and fifty feet and two hundred feet above the level of the sea, perfectly flat and level at the top, and without any fissures or promontories on its even seaward face".
Ross named this feature the Victoria Barrier though it was later changed to the Ross Ice Shelf. Ross sailed along the edge of the barrier for 200 miles but could find no way through. By mid February and with winter approaching he turned North, writing:
"we might with equal chance of success try to sail through the cliffs of Dover, as to penetrate such a mass".