Landmarks of explorer Sir James Clark Ross

By Dr David Ainley

It is incredible that “The Last Ocean” has played in London at the Royal Geographical Society, in part through the support of the living members of the Ross family. James Clark Ross himself spoke at the RGS of London! He named the mountains along Victoria Land “The Royal Society Range” in honor of the Society’s support.

The Royal Society Range is actually a long way from Cape Royds

The Royal Society Range is a 100 miles away from Cape Royds

Every time I look out or walk out of my tent at Cape Royds, looming across McMurdo Sound is the Royal Society Range. Though the peaks are 100 miles away sometimes, in the clear air, they seem like a few hours walk.

The Royal Society peaks look closer than they are.

When the Royal Society peaks look closer than they are

James Clark Ross was a true polar explorer having made four trips to the Arctic, wintering over twice and finding the North Magnetic Pole. He then went to what is now the Ross Sea, seeking the South Magnetic Pole, where he made ALL the right decisions, unlike his more famous followers, Scott, Shackleton and even Mawson, whose expeditions came to great grief.

Sir James Clark Ross ©Stephen Pearce

Sir James Clark Ross
©Stephen Pearce



Though JCR wanted to find the South Magnetic Pole, he knew the limits of his expedition and wisely opted out. It was JCR’s logs that led Amundsen to begin his South Pole quest along what is now the Ross Ice Barrier, making his journey many days shorter. During the two trips that JCR made into the Ross Sea, 1839-1843, he named many other geographic features, including Franklin Island, after John Franklin who then was governor of Tasmania.

The Erebus and Terror

The Erebus and Terror


15 years after JCR’s Ross Sea ventures, Franklin was given command of JCR’s two ships, Erebus and Terror, in an attempt to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic but did not have the polar experience of Ross. Franklin disappeared, as did the ships, and JCR came out of retirement to lead the expedition, unsuccessfully, to try to find him.

Cape Royds Mt Erebus

Looking the opposite direction from my camp at Cape Royds, Mt Erebus looms above, an active volcano. To its east, Mt Terror, now extinct, looms above Cape Crozier, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the years at another penguin colony. Erebus and Terror, and James Clark Ross, are names I’m reminded of constantly in my Antarctic ventures, and of course there is the Ross Sea itself, lapping on Ross Islands’ shores.