Monument to be unveiled for Irishman who spotted Antarctica

Edward Bransfield had the first confirmed sighting of the polar continent

A Tabular Iceberg floating In Bransfield Strait near the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. Photograph: Getty Images

A Tabular Iceberg floating In Bransfield Strait near the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula. Photograph: Getty Images


A forgotten Irish master mariner who had the first confirmed sighting of the Antarctic continent is to be remembered with a statue in his home village of Ballinacurra in east Cork.

Edward Bransfield was pressed ganged into the Royal Navy from his father’s fishing boat in Youghal, Co Cork, in 1803 when he was just 18-years-old. Although not formally educated he rose through the ranks and by 1819 he was a ships master. Bransfield was was sent from Valparaiso in Chile to check out a report by a Captain William Smith of his sighting of land further south than was ever reported before.

Bransfield had proved his navigation skills and it was felt that he was the right person to send with Smith to investigate. What Smith had seen was a chain of islands now known as the South Shetlands, named by Bransfield. Then on January 30th, 1820, the mainland of Antarctica was seen and charted for the very first time.


A group from Ballinacurra plan to have a monument erected to Edward Bransfield in his home village. On January 25th, 2020, they will unveil the first and only monument to Bransfield worldwide. The group say there is no official picture of Edward.

Eugene Furlong from the Remembering Edward Bransfield group spoke to Patricia Messinger on C103’s Cork Today Show. He said that plans are well underway for the memorial.

“We got in touch with a local stone sculptor Matt Thompson from East Cork. We contacted Roadstone and they very kindly gave us a lump of stone. Matt has been working on the stone to make a monument. We had no picture of Bransfield so Matt had to put his thinking cap on. The design of the monument is a beacon and on top is the Sextant because of his skill in navigation, then there is the writing about who he was and then there is a penguin to relate to Antarctica. ”

Mr Furlong first became aware of Bransfield about 15 years ago. The commemorative group give talks in schools in Cork and aim to raise awareness of his achievement.

Sculptor Matt Thompson says his idea for the memorial to Edward Bransfield was inspired by the fact that he was a ship’s master who was in charge of the safe navigation and sailing of his ship.


“The shape of the memorial is inspired by navigation markers or beacons built by sailors and fishermen to mark the entrance to safe harbours, such as the beacon in Baltimore, West Cork. As a ships master, one of the tools used most by Edward Bransfield would have been a sextant. He would have used this to find out his position to navigate the ship safely and to chart the new unexplored coastline of the Antarctic mainland he discovered. For this reason I have added it in the design at the top of the stone. It is also a very evocative image of the sea, adventure and the unknown. For fun and an instantly recognizable symbol of the Antarctic I have included a penguin. ”

In 2000 Bransfield was recognised when the Royal Mail issued a stamp in his honour. It depicted an image of the RMS Bransfield, a British Antarctic surveying vessel.

Bransfield Island, Bransfield Strait, Bransfield Rocks and Mount Bransfield in Antarctica were all named in his honour.

Bransfield died in 1852 at the age of 67 and was buried alongside his wife in Brighton. His grave was discovered in a deteriorated state in Brighton twenty years ago. It was subsequently renovated.

The monument will be erected to mark the 200th Anniversary of Edward Bransfield leading the first expedition to see and chart the Antarctic mainland in 1820. Further information can be obtained at