Monument to honour explorer
A Cork man credited with being the first explorer to set eyes on Antarctica will be honoured with a memorial paid for by fans who set up a special fundraising committee.
The committee has signed a contract for the design and delivery of a monument in recognition of Edward Bransfield, the navigator and explorer from Ballinacurra, near Midleton.
A memorial stone, which was very kindly donated by Roadstone from their quarry in Ballinacurra, will be unveiled in Ballinacurra in January 2020 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Bransfield’s pioneering expedition which made the first sighting and maps of the Antarctic mainland.
The memorial will be the first anywhere in the world to commemorate his historic feat.
Bransfield, who was born in Ballinacurra around 1785, was press-ganged into the British navy at the age of 18 and survived the brutal Napoleonic Wars.
In 1819 he was given command of the small brig, Williams, and ventured into unknown waters below the tip of South America to investigate reports of islands not marked on any charts.
Bransfield pushed south and on January 30, 1820, made the first confirmed sighting of the Antarctic continent.
The territory, which he named Trinity Land, today forms part of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Luxury cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists to the Antarctic wilderness today cross the ‘Bransfield Strait’ to reach the continent.
His claim of being first to see Antarctica has long been challenged by Russia which believes that their naval captain, Thaddeus von Belling- shausen, saw land three days before.
However, Bellingshausen was unsure and never claimed to be first, while more recent research has strengthened Bransfield’s claim to be the first man to set eyes on the Antarctic mainland.
Bransfield later drifted into obscurity and died in Brighton, England in October 1852, aged 67. He was quickly forgotten until a group of enthusiasts in East Cork launched the campaign to commemorate Bransfield’s feat by placing a monument to the explorer on the 200th anniversary of his historic voyage.
The Remembering Edward Bransfield committee attracted financial support from Cork City Council, the British Antarctic Heritage Trust, international tour companies specialising in Antarctic travel and private individuals from the East Cork area.
Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, owners of Midleton Distillery, also provided significant help through the company’s community support programme. Jim Wilson, chairman of the Remembering Edward Bransfield committee, said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive such generous support from a wide variety of organisations and individuals who recognise the vital importance of Bransfield to both Irish history and the history of Antarctica. Their support is very much appreciated. Bransfield was a brilliant navigator and his expedition in 1820 paved the way many years later for the more celebrated Irish explorers such as Francis Crozier, Tom Crean and Ernest Shackleton.”
Mr Wilson confirmed that the group is now in the position to cease fund-raising activities, apart from a few ongoing planned events.
It has also been decided that any surplus funds at the end of the project will be donated to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). The sculpture will be created by Matt Thompson.
An artist’s impression of what the monument honouring Edward Bransfield will look like.
From left, Liam O’Riordan, secretary of the committee, sculptor Matt Thompson and Eugene Furlong, committee member.