Possession Day in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Date in the current year: January 17, 2024

Possession Day in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Possession Day is one of the bank holidays in the British overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It is celebrated on January 17 to commemorate the day when Captain James Cook claimed the island of South Georgia for Great Britain.

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a remote possession of the United Kingdom in the Atlantic Ocean. It consists of the main island of South Georgia and a group of uninhabited smaller islands that lie about 430 miles east of it. South Georgia has a very small non-permanent population that varies between 15 and 40 people depending on the season; it includes researchers, museum employees, a deputy postmaster, and a government officer.

The first person to sight the Antarctic island of South Georgia was English merchant Anthony de la Roché, whose ship was blown off the course during his return voyage from South America to Europe in 1675. The battered ship found refuge in one of the bays of South Georgia (then just an unnamed island in the Antarctic), where it was anchored for two weeks before continuing its journey.

The first recorded landing on the island was made by Captain James Cook during his second voyage. Using Anthony de la Roché’s reports to aid his navigation, Cook discovered South Georgia on his way back to Britain in January 1775, named it after King George III, and claimed the island for Great Britain. The anniversary of this event is now celebrated in SGSSI as Possession Day. Later on, Cook also discovered the South Sandwich Islands.

In 1786, South Georgia became a base for seal hunting, which continued throughout the 19th century. An 1843 letters patent formally established arrangements for the government of the island as a Falkland Islands Dependency, which meant that it was administered through the Falkland Islands but was not part of them economically or politically. This arrangement stayed in place throughout most of the 20th century. The South Sandwich Islands were formally annexed by Britain in 1908.

In the early 20th century, South Georgia became a major whaling center. Companies from Argentina, Norway and other countries opened their whaling stations on the island, which operated under leases granted by the Governor of the Falkland Islands. Most of them were closed during World War II and destroyed by German raiders.

The sovereignty of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands was repeatedly disputed by Argentina. Argentina made its first claim to the sovereignty over South Georgia in 1927, since the employees of its whaling company had been the first permanent residents on the island, and expanded its claim to include the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. The dispute reached its peak in 1982, culminating in the Falklands War that resulted in the British victory.

In 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands became a separate overseas territory of the United Kingdom. However, the post of the commissioner of SGSSI is held by the governor of the Falkland Islands, so while SGSSI is not a dependency of the Falkland Islands anymore, it is governed by the same person.

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Possession Day in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, public holidays, bank holidays, James Cook