Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal Post Visit Press Release
(Release date 21st January.)
Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has returned from her official visit to the remote sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. During the visit The Princess Royal had the opportunity to see at first hand the unique environment and heritage of South Georgia, discuss the work of the Government and its partners on these and other issues, and mark the centenary of Shackleton’s crossing of the island.
The Princess Royal travelled to South Georgia on board MV Pharos SG, owned by Byron Marine Ltd and chartered by the Government as their fisheries patrol vessel. The Princess Royal disembarked the ship at the administrative centre King Edward Point, where she was escorted on a tour of the scientific research station run by the British Antarctic Survey on behalf of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
A short distance away in Grytviken the Royal party toured the former whaling station and met with South Georgia Heritage Trust staff who manage the museum on behalf of the Government.
Grytviken, and nearby Leith Harbour, were two of South Georgia’s largest whaling stations operating until the 1960s. Now valued for their cultural heritage, collaborations with the Norwegian Government have led to an ongoing programme of maintenance to preserve some of the key building and artefacts. One of these is the former ‘Slappen’ or Slop Chest which acted as the local stores. The Princess Royal officially opened this restored building as the new South Georgia post office and exhibition space, currently housing a display of images and original lantern slides taken by Shackleton’s expedition photographer Frank Hurley. The materials are on loan from the Royal Geographical Society whose Enduring Eye exhibition has been sponsored by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.
The Princess Royal’s visit marked the centenary of Shackleton’s traverse of the island on his 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and she was able to visit the grave of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who died in South Georgia in 1922. The visit also took in the landing site of the James Caird in King Haakon Bay on the exposed southern side of the island, where he and his comrades landed in May 1916 after their 16 day boat journey from Elephant Island. This visit also took in Possession Bay, to mark the day Captain Cook – on his own Antarctic expedition – first landed at this site on South Georgia in 1775.
No visit to South Georgia would be complete without seeing some of the wildlife that calls the island home. Against a backdrop of the Gold Harbour amphitheatre Her Royal Highness saw 25,000 breeding pairs of king penguins jostling for space with elephant seals and fur seals while light-mantled sooty albatross wheeled from cliff ledges sandwiched between hanging glaciers.
The Princess Royal then visited Bird Island, named by Captain Cook “on account of the vast numbers [of birds] that were upon it” on its discovery in 1775. Bird Island is one of the richest wildlife sites in South Georgia with a concentration of birds and seals that is equivalent to one animal per 1.5m2. Here she met staff at the British Antarctic Survey research station, who contribute to one of the longest running environmental monitoring data sets in the world, and saw the wandering albatross colony which is home to 750 breeding pairs of birds. The Princess Royal was also able to see the endemic South Georgia pipit which is now making a come back on the main island of South Georgia due to the recent rat eradication programme, funded by the South Georgia Heritage Trust of which she is Patron.
James Jansen, Chief Executive of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, said:
“This British Overseas Territory has a long association with polar exploration and is remarkable for its unique wildlife and heritage. This year marks the centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s traverse of South Georgia after his epic 800 mile boat journey from Elephant Island, and the end of a remarkable period of habitat restoration work to eradicate rats and reindeer. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to share this occasion with Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal and I am delighted that she has been able to make this official visit.”
The Princess Royal was accompanied by her husband Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence. In addition to GSGSSI and the FCO, the British Antarctic Survey, the South Georgia Heritage Trust, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, and the Viscount Ridley also participated.