Despite more than 200 years of European exploration, it wasn't until the second half of the 18th century that the first dedicated search for the southern continent took place.
In 1767, Alexander Dalrymple published an account of historical discoveries in which he described a giant, unknown southern continent.
The British government sent Captain James Cook, now famous after his charting of the east coast of Australia to explore the far south with the ships Resolution and Adventure. In late 1772, Cook came upon his first iceberg and in January 1773, he made the first ever crossing of the Antarctic Circle. However, the thick ice pack forced the ships northward. Without knowing it, Cook came within 129 kilometres of the Antarctic coast.
During the next two years Cook spent the southern winters in the more temperate latitudes of the Pacific. In the summers he again turned south and continued his eastward voyage around the southern continent. Towards the end of February 1775 he completed the first circumnavigation of Antarctica, proving that it was neither as large or habitable as once thought.
Cook's Antarctic voyage still remains as one of the greatest voyages of exploration and discovery.