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A porcelain insulator for use in the production of the first Antarctic telegraph

March 2022

Object Title: Insulators

Object Number: 1995.03.208

This porcelain insulator is one of three. They are the remnants of an electrical time synchronization system that was the first of its kind to be used in the Antarctic. Sourced from the lesser known 1882 German expedition to South Georgia during the first International Polar Year (1882-1883), these insulators were used to connect observatories with a master clock, creating the first telegraph in the Antarctic.

This insulator was left behind from the German expedition to South Georgia in 1882, during the first International Polar Year
The first International Polar Year ran from the 1 August 1882 to 31 August 1883, was a world-wide programme to explore and observe the polar regions. Scientists from eleven countries had stations in the Arctic, as well as two in the sub-Antarctic. The German South Georgia Expedition was the first land-based scientific exploration of the island. The expedition comprised of two stations: the main station in Moltke Harbour, Royal Bay, and a secondary meteorological station in Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands. Eleven men over-wintered in Moltke harbour which was named after their vessel – the first steam powered ship to visit the island. During this expedition, the team spent 13 months carrying out observations and measurements, specifically observing the Transit of Venus that occurred on the 6th of December, 1882.

“An important event in December was the Venus transit on December 6, 1882. Luckily the weather conditions were very favourable and the transit could be observed from beginning to end. But the strong wind threatened to blow away the roof of the dome. Four men equipped with ropes had to hold down the dome on the windward side.” Station der Deutschen Polar-Kommission in Sud-Georgien, Royal Bay by Hans-Jochen Kretzer (1882).


SMS Moltke, the first motor powered vessel to arrive in SG in August 1882
Scientists also focused their attentions on studies of meteorology, geophysics, glaciology, biology, and the movements of the tides. The earliest photos of South Georgia, as well as the first land-based map of the island, a map of the Royal Bay area, were sourced from this expedition. Upon vacating South Georgia, much of the station was removed from the site; however, many artifacts were left behind, including buildings, coal, a number of empty bottles, and the insulators.
These bottles left at South Georgia are just a few of a much larger collection






Earthenware bottles and fragments inscribed “Herzogthum Nassau – Seltzer” were also found

Communication technology in the Antarctic region has evolved since the installation of the first telegraph. Adequate communications in the region can be a matter of life or death, and thus such systems are an integral part of any research station or Antarctic outpost. Until the early 20th century, expedition members could only receive news once their ship returned to collect them; this changed in 1912, when Australia pioneered radio communications at the Commonwealth Bay base, which enabled explorers to receive regular news. Since the introduction of satellite communication in the 1980’s, communication both within and outside of Antarctica has got easier, enabling scientists, workers, and even the South Georgia Museum team to more easily connect with loved ones and colleagues across the globe.