First Antarcticans

Three people can lay claim to being the first person born in Antarctica: the first born in Antarctic waters, the first born on an Antarctic island, and the first born on the Antarctic mainland.

Solveig Jacobsen
Edward Binnie (1884-1956) / Public domain

Every continent must have had a first human local at some point, but we’ll never know their identities (for obvious reasons). Antarctica is the exception: we know the names of the first three Antarcticans.

First, there’s James Kerguelen Robinson. He was born on a whaling ship off the coast of the Kerguelen Islands in 1859. Also known as the Desolation Islands, they’re pretty far north of the Antarctic mainland, but still within Antarctic waters.

Second, there’s Solveig Gunbjørg Jacobsen. She was born in 1913 at a whaling station on South Georgia Island, and stayed there for many years afterwards. (You can see a picture of her above, posing in front of a whale.) Both Kerguelen and South Georgia are within the “Antarctic Convergence,” the point where the cold polar waters meet the warmer oceans. Are they officially part of Antarctica, though?

Antarctica is not owned by anyone, but many countries have existing claims on the empty continent. The Antarctic Treaty of 1961 designated the continent as a place where different countries shared control (technically, a condominium). It also pinned the territorial range of Antarctica to the 60th parallel south of the equator – and that excludes both earlier claims to the first Antartican.

Argentina saw an opportunity. Their claim to parts of Antarctica has been defended more vigorously than most – they’ve had a permanent base (Base Orcadas) in Antarctica longer than anyone, for example. With the goal of adding some more weight to their claim, in 1977 they airlifted Silvia Morella de Palma – at the time seven months pregnant – to Esperanza Base on the Antarctic mainland.

Her husband was in charge of the army detachment at the base, so it wasn’t completely weird for her to be there… but it was a little weird, to be honest. Emilio Marcos Palma was born on the 7th of January 1978, and he was the first person to be born on the Antarctic mainland.

Robinson and Jacobsen both have Antarctic features named after them (the Robinson Pass and Jacobsen Valley, respectively), but Palma doesn’t have any yet – as far as I can tell.

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