January 4, 1854: Captain William McDonald discovers some islands. The Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) are barren Antarctic islands which are some of the remotest land masses on Earth. Overall, the group contains 144 square miles of land and has 63 miles of coastline. There are two active volcanoes, the only active volcanoes in Australian territories. Mawson Peak, one of the volcanoes, is higher than any mountain on mainland Australia. The islands are on the Kerguelen Plateau in the Indian Ocean. They are about 2,550 miles from Perth, 2,390 miles from Cape Leeuwin, Australia, and 2,600 miles from South Africa. They are about 2,380 miles from Madagascar, 1,010 miles from Antarctica, and 280 miles from the Kerguelen Islands.
There is no recorded sightings of any of these islands prior to the mid-1850s. Peter Kemp spotted a land mass as he was traveling between the Kerguelen Islands to the Antarctic on November 27, 1833 but they were not visited nor named. It wasn’t until November 25, 1853 that Captain John Heard sighted Heard Island when piloting the Oriental from Boston to Melbourne. He reported his find and named the island after himself one month later. McDonald sighted the eponymously named group while aboard the Samarang on this date. There were no landings on the islands until March 1855 when sealers from the Corinthian went ashore.
Heard Island is the largest of the group and contains 142 square miles of the land mass. It is bleak and mountainous, covered in glaciers with 80% of the island under ice. Mawson Peak towers above at 9,006 feet high. It is a complex volcano which showed an active lava flow in July 2000. The McDonald Islands are located 27 miles west of Heard Island and there are three land masses. McDonald Island is 610 feet high, Flat Island is 560 feet high, and Meyer Rock is 560 feet high and they cover one square mile of land in total with McDonald taking up nearly half the land mass. McDonald Island is also an active volcano which last erupted on August 10, 2005. There are more small islets and rocks about 6 miles north of Heard Island with four land masses containing about a half mile of land surface in total.
The reason for landing on the islands at all was for the practice of sealing. Between 1855 and 1880, American sealers would sail to the region and stay for a year or more on Heard Island in horrible conditions. At its peak, there were about 200 people living at Oil Barrel Point in dark, dank huts. By the 1880s, the seal population was so decimated that it was no longer economically sound to send sealers there for the oil produced. Over the 25 active years, more than 100,000 barrels of elephant-seal oil had been produced. Today, the seal population is once again thriving and they are now a protected species. The first recorded landing on McDonald Island took place on February 12, 1971 when Australian scientists landed a helicopter there. The archipelago became a World Heritage Site in 1997.
It’s just fantastic to go out and meet people in the world and get to really remote places.
Ewan McGregor – Those are the same stars, and that is the same moon, that look down upon your brothers and sisters, and which they see as they look up to them, though they are ever so far away from us, and each other. – Sojourner Truth
It was all so far away – there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased. – Georgia O’Keeffe
In the States, you can buy Chinese food. In Beijing you can buy hamburger. It’s very close. Now I feel the world become a big family, like a really big family. You have many neighbors. Not like before, two countries are far away. – Jet Li
Also on this day: Cornelius Vanderbilt – In 1877, the business magnate died.
Not the British Empire Yet – In 871, the Battle of Reading was fought.
Top Ten – In 1936, Billboard magazine published its first hit parade.
Ice Storm – In 1998, an ice storm hit southeastern Canada.
Really Tall – In 2012, Burj Khalifa officially opened.