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Georg Forster and His Antarctic Research Station


George Forster Antarctic Station cover of 1 November, 1988


During 2017 I organized a Cook philatelic exhibit for a regional stamp show.  In utilizing the Captain Cook Stamp Checklist,1 I noted that the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) had issued two stamps commemorating George Forster and the Antarktisforschungsstation Georg-Forster (Georg Forster Antarctic Research Station).  The first was in 1979 and the second in 1988.  I also located two interesting covers marking Antarctic exploration produced in 1988 and 1990 bearing these stamps.


George Forster and his father J.R. Forster sailed in Resolution on Cook’s Second Voyage.  In the past I have used their journals when writing articles about Captain Cook’s circumnavigation of Antarctica and his exploration of Sub-Antarctic Islands.2  My focus is usually on Reinhold Forster, the accomplished, but often irascible, natural scientist.  However reading Helene Nymphius’s article about George3 prompted me to write an article about my philatelic items related to him.  


The Georg Forster Antarctic Research Station opened in 1976 and closed in 1993. 


Georg Forster hand stamp on the reverse side of the 1988 cover, with the location of the DDR’s Antarctic research station


It initially focused on research into the Antarctic ozone hole.  The station was located in Antarctica’s Queen Maud Land, at 70o 46′ South Latitude, 11o 50′ East Longitude.  Queen Maud Land occupies about 1 million square miles (2.7 million square kilometres).  The station is in the area known as the Schirmacher-Oase (Schirmach Lake District), a plateau seasonally free of ice and snow, containing fresh water lakes, an area of about 25km × 3km.  Norway claims the territory under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty System of 1961. 


The British Antarctic Territory lies to its west, and the Australian Antarctic Territory lies to its east.  I estimate the distance from where Resolution first crossed the Antarctic Circle in 1773 to the Georg Forster Research Station to be about 900 miles. 


The East German scientific research activities in Queen Maud Land (known collectively as GeoMaud) began in the 1980s.  The Fourth GeoMaud Expedition was scheduled for the summer of 1990/1991, but was delayed until the Antarctic summer of 1995/1996 by events surrounding the reunification of Germany.  By the time it took place, it had an expanded research mission.  An international group of 23 scientists affiliated with many German and Italian universities as well as 18 support personnel from Germany, Austria, New Zealand, and Australia participated in various research activities.  The expedition obtained 250,000 samples of the Antarctic crust to determine the composition of the “super continent” Gondwana before its break up 180,000 million years ago.  Research Station George Forster was one of the sites utilized.4 


The Stamps


On 20 March, 1979, East Germany issued a 35p value stamp portraying profiles of Resolution and George Forster, and showing the years 1754 and 1794—the years of his birth and death.  It was part of an issue commemorating famous scientists. 


On 22 March, 1988, a 35p stamp was issued by East Germany depicting the research station, some distant hills and the Southern Ocean.  Below is the inscription Antarktisforschungsstation der DDR “Georg-Forster”.  The stamp commemorated the 12th anniversary of the founding of the station. 


The Covers


The cover postmarked 1 November, 1988, was produced to commemorate thirty years of Antarctic research by East Germany (1959-1989).  It bears the stamp issued earlier that year featuring the Georg Forster Research Station, which is nicely cancelled with a circular postmark with the words Antarktisstation DDR “Georg-Forster”.  A map of Antarctica appears on the left with an arrow pointing to the station.  In the middle is a balloon carrying technical measuring equipment to examine the ozone layer (Ozonforschung) along with the words Station “Georg-Forster”.  This copy is signed by the leader of the research station.  It was mailed to the Academy of Scientific Research, Institute for Earth Physics, Potsdam. 


The second cover is postmarked 2 October, 1990.  It has two of the Georg Forster stamps of 1979, and the same circular cancel as the first cover, though with a different date.  It was produced to mark the 4th Antarctic Expedition under the GeoMaud banner and the “Geodätisches Programm” (Geodesy—size and shape of the Earth).  The cover bears a special hand stamp marking the fourth Antarctic expedition.  It was mailed to Erfurt. 


I always find it interesting when philately marks persons or events that have a connection to Captain James Cook.  An important aspect of Cook’s voyages was the gathering of natural scientific information, including botanical and other samples.  Other sources include paintings and sketches of lands and scenes created through the eyes of artists who accompanied the three voyages.  In this instance George Forster is commemorated almost 220 years after Resolution and Adventure became the first ships in recorded history to cross the Antarctic Circle,5 marking continued international scientific research of a different scope in the twentieth century.  The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) was established in 1958, and continues to monitor international collaboration in Antarctica,.  The work monitored includes the scientific activities of 34 nations, such as those in Queen Maud Land, where the Georg Forster Research Station once operated.


James C. Hamilton

Georg Forster Antarctic Station cover of 2 October, 1990, marking the 4th GEOMAUD scientific expedition


1.Obtainable online from www.captaincooksociety.com/home/collectables/stamps

2.Forster, George.  A Voyage Round the World.  Edited by Nicholas Thomas and Oliver Berghof.  University of Hawai`i Press.  2000. 

Forster, Johann Reinhold.  Observations Made During a Voyage Round the World.  Edited by Nicholas Thomas, Harriet Guest and Michael Dettelbach.  University of Hawai`i Press.  1996. 

Forster, Johann Reinhold.  The Resolution Journal of Johann Reinhold Forster, 1772-1775.  Edited by Michael Hoare. Hakluyt Society. 1982.

3.Cook’s Log, page 18, vol. 40, no. 2 (2017). 

4.See International Collaboration in Antarctica at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232004512_International_collaboration_in_Antarctica_The_International_Polar_Years_the_International_Geophysical_Year_and_the_Scientific_Committee_on_Antarctic_Research 

5.Cook’s Log, page 3, vol. 38, no. 3 (2015). 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 10, volume 40, number 4 (2017).

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