The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, also claimed by Argentina as part of Tierra del Fuego province (because of that, some of the islands have also Spanish names). They are administered from the Falkland Islands by UK civil commissioner Howard Pearce, representing Queen Elizabeth II. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Since 1982, the territory celebrates Liberation Day on June 14. A constitution was adopted October 3, 1985, when the islands became a separate overseas territory, after having been administratively a part of the Falkland Islands. The legal system is based on English Common Law.

The territory measures 4066 km2 in area. The main base (British Antarctic Survey Research Station) and "capital" (seat of the Marine Officer to whom local government is delegated) is King Edward Point, at Cumberland East Bay, near the former Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken, with a maximum accommodation of 18 persons (the winter population is 8 on the average). There is a second base, biological research station Bird Island, at Jordan Cove on the Bird Island 4 km off the western tip of the main island, which can accommodate up to 8 persons but is not continuously occupied. The winter population is 3 to 4 on the average. The total population of the territory therefore ranges from 11 or 12 in winter to a maximum of 26 in summer.

Some fishing takes place in adjacent waters. There is a potential source of income from harvesting fin fish and krill. The islands receive income from postage stamps produced in the UK. The territory has revenues of less than $300,000 against expenditures of nearly $500,000. The territory uses data code SX, and has the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) .gs.



The territory consists of two separate island groups, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands.

South Georgia Group

NASA satellite image of South Georgia island covered with snow.
NASA satellite image of South Georgia island covered with snow.

South Georgia lies in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1390 km south by east of the Falkland Islands, in 54-55°S, 36-38°W. It has a land area of 3756 km&sup2, including satellite islands, but excluding the South Sandwich Islands which form a separate island group. The main island itself, also called Pepys Island, or San Pedro in Spanish, has an area of 3528 km2. It is mountainous, with 11 peaks over 2,000 m high, their slopes furrowed with deep gorges filled with glaciers (Fortuna Glacier being the largest). Geologically, it consists of gneiss and argillaceous schists , with no trace of fossils, showing that the island is, like the Falkland Islands, a surviving fragment of some greater land-mass now vanished, most probably indicating a former extension of the Andean system. The German expedition sent out to observe the transit of Venus was stationed at Royal Bay, on the south-east side of the island in 1882.

The island group consists of the main island of South Georgia, some satellite islands (including Bird Island, Annekov Island, Cooper Island, Pickersgill Islands, Welcome Islands, Willis Islands), as well as the Shag Rocks, including Black Rock, 250 km to the West, and the Clerke Rocks 74 km in the Southeast.

The climate in the islands is variable, with mostly westerly winds throughout the year interspersed with periods of calm; nearly all precipitation falls as snow. Most of the islands, rising steeply from the sea, are rugged and mountainous; South Georgia is largely barren and has steep, glacier-covered mountains; the South Sandwich Islands are of volcanic origin with some active volcanoes. Mount Paget on South Georgia is 2,934 m high. The islands have prevailing weather conditions that generally make them difficult to approach by ship; they are also subject to active volcanism. The north coast of South Georgia has several large bays, which provide good anchorage; reindeer, introduced early in the 20th century, live on South Georgia.

South Sandwich Islands

There are 11 mostly volcanic islands forming an island arc, from north to south:

No. Island (Spanish Name) Area (km2) Height (m) Name of Peak Location
1 Zavodovski 25 550 Mount Curry 56°18' S, 27°34' W
2 Leskov 0.3 190 Rudder Point 56°40' S, 28°08' W
3 Visokoi 35 915 Mount Hodson 56°42' S, 27°13' W
4 Candlemas (Candelaria) 14 550 Mount Andromeda 57°05' S, 26°39' W
5 Vindication (Vidicación) 5 430 Quadrant Peak 57°06' S, 26°47' W
6 Saunders 40 805 Mount Michael 57°48' S, 26°28' W
7 Montagu (Jorge) 110 1370 Mount Belinda 58°25' S, 26°23' W
8 Bristol (Blanca) 46 1100 Mount Darnley 59º03' S, 26º30' W
9 Bellingshausen 1 255 Basilisk Peak 59º25' S, 27º05' W
10 Cook 20 1115 Mount Harmer 59º26' S, 27º09' W
11 Thule or Morrell Island (Tule del Sur) 14 710 Mount Larsen 59°27' S, 27°18' W
310 1370 Mount Belinda 56°18' to 59°27' S,
26°20° to 28°08' W

The South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited.


  • Islands 1 through 3 are collectively known as Traversay Islands
  • Islands 4 and 5 are collectively known as Candlemas Islands
  • Islands 1 through 5 are collectively known als Traversay Islands (wider sense)
  • Islands 9 through 11 are collectively known as Southern Thule


South Georgia (Pepys Island)

Anthony de la Roche, a London merchant sighted the island in 1675 and it was named Pepys Island by William Dampier in 1684. It was rediscovered in 1775 by Captain James Cook. Throughout the nineteenth centur it was a sealers' base and, in the following century, a whalers' base until whaling ended mid-century. Whaling stations included, all on the North coast, starting in the West:

  • Prince Olav Harbour
  • Leith Harbour
  • Stromness
  • Husvik
  • Grytviken
  • Godthul
  • Ocean Harbour

During World War II (Autumn 1943 - Autumn 1944) the island housed a small (14 people) Norwegian military garrison to protect the island from Japanese invasion.

The Falklands War was precipitated on 19 March 1982 when a group of Argentineans, posing as scrap metal merchants, occupied South Georgia at an abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbor . The commander of the Argentinian Garrison was Alfredo Astiz, a Captain in the Argentine Navy who, years later, was convicted of felonies commited during the Dirty War in Argentina. He renamed the island Isla San Pedro when he proclaimed Argentine authority over South Georgia on April 2. The island was recaptured by British forces on 25 April (Operation Paraquet).

The research station at King Edward Point, near the former Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken, became a small military garrison after the Falklands War. This returned to civilian use in 2001 and is operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

Sandwich Islands

The islands were initially named "South" Sandwich Islands to distinguish them from the then "Sandwich Islands" now known as "Hawaii". The southern eight islands were discovered by James Cook in 1775. The northern three by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in 1819.

Argentina's claim over South Georgia (Pepys Island) and the South Sandwich Islands was based on the fact that these dependencies were administered by the Falkland Islands. However, this was done purely as a form of convenience. Geographically speaking, neither dependency is a part of the Falklands.

The Sandwich Islands are highly volcanic with the very deep Sandwich Trench along their eastern rim. From Jan. 25, 1955 through summer of 1956 Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the Southeastern coast of Thule (Morrell) Island, Southern Thule, location 59°27' S, 27°16' W, built on rocky ground. From 1976 to 1982, Argentina maintained a research base named Corbeta Uruguay, at Port Faraday, in the lee (southern East coast) of the same island, at location 59°27' S, 27°18' W. This base was the last Argentinian presence in the territory to be removed at the end of the Falklands War, when 10 Argentinian civilians were taken prisoner of war.

See also

External links

Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13