In the early 19th century the geography of Antarctica was almost completely unknown, though occasional sightings of land had been recorded. In 1822 Benjamin Morrell, who had sailed to the South Sandwich Islands the previous year, was appointed commander of the schooner Wasp for a two-year voyage of sealing, trading and exploration in the Antarctic seas and the southern Pacific Ocean. In addition to his sealing duties Morrell had, as he put it, "discretionary powers to prosecute new discoveries." He proposed to use this discretion to investigate the Antarctic seas "and to ascertain the practicality ... of penetrating to the South Pole." This would be the first of four extended voyages that would keep Morrell at sea for most of the following eight years, although he would not revisit the Antarctic after the initial voyage.
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