The Prince Edward Islands

Discovery & Naming of The Prince Edward Islands

John Cooper
Prince Edward Islands Management Committee
& Animal Demography Unit

  cave on Prince Edward Island
Photo L.G. Underhill
The large cave on Prince Edward Island that gave the island its second name: Ile de Caverne. The 1948 annexation flagpole still stands at its mouth

On 4 March 1663 the Dutch East Indiaman Maerseveen captained by Barent Ham discovered two islands in the southern Indian Ocean at 41°S. He named them Dena and Maerseveen. Although an incorrect position was given, itis likely that Ham had discovered the Prince Edward Islands which are situated at 46° 55’S.

On 13 January 1772 the French frigates Le Mascarin (Captain M. Marion du Fresne) and Marquis de Castries (Captain Julien Crozet) found the Prince Edward Islands in their current position. Du Fresne named the larger island (now Marion) Ile de l’Espérance (Island of Hope) and the smaller (now Prince Edward) Ile de la Caverne, for its large cave visible from the sea. Du Fresne did not land on the islands and sailed east to discover the now-named Crozet Island group.

On 12 December 1776 Captain James Cook in the Resolution and Discovery on his third voyage of discovery reached the islands,having heard of them previously from Crozet who had given him a chart. Since Crozet’s chart did not name the islands, Cook called them “Prince Edward’s Islands” after the fourth son of the British King, who later became the father of Queen Victoria. It is to be noted that Cook did not give individual names to the two islands.

Cook then sailed to the east and named the currently named Crozet Islands “Marion’s and Crozet’s Islands” after their discoverers in 1772. It is not known how or when the names Marion and Prince Edward became used for the individual islands but is most likely that this usage became adopted sometime in the first-half/middle of the 19th Century by sealers, who were notoriously vague and secretive about naming islands they visited.

Since then no other names have ever been usedfor the Prince Edward Islands over at least a 150-year period. The existing names are thus entrenched inthe scientific and popular literature, on maps and charts and in maritimepilots.


Cooper, J. & Headland, R.K. 1991. A history of South African involvement in Antarctica and at the Prince Edward Islands. South African Journal of Antarctic Research 21: 77-91.