Overview Franz-Josef-Land, map
General: Prince George Island is both the biggest (ca. 2820 km²) and the longest (115 km) in Franz-Josef-Land. As typical for most parts of the archipelago, it consists of extensive complexes of tabular mountains, which are mostly covered under ice caps (elevations up to 415 m above sea level), while a few steep rock capes and edges peek out of the ice masses along the coastlines, including also some minor ice-free lowland stretches on and below the cliffs. Towards the North, the plateaus get lower, and the highest north is an extensive tundra area on the Armitage Peninsula, one of the largest icefree land areas of the archipelago. The plateau mountains, originally probably one huge plateau, have broken up both tectonically and then by erosion over the millions of years, resulting in a very curved and indented outline of the island with a number of peninsulas and bays, partly filled with ice.
Biology, wildlife: Especially the icefree extensive lowlands of the north are covered by a sparse tundra vegetation, interrupted by areas with practically only mosses and lichens. Right under coastal birdcliffs some limited places with a more productive plantlife can be found.
Due to the larger variety of icefree terrain types, also the range of bird species on this large island is bigger, including probably all regular breeder species of the archipelago: Primarily Alle alle, Uria lomvi, Rissa tridactyla, Cepphus grylle, Fulmarus glacialis and Larus hyperboreus nesting in steep cliffs or slopes, while the other species are found more spread over the icefree areas in considerably smaller numbers.
History: For the Payer-Weyprecht Expedition, the west of the archipelago was just about vaguely visible in the far distance without much discernable details, even from the westernmost point it reached in spring 1874 (Cape Brünn on the east side of McClintock Island). Accordingly, only a vaguely drawn in part of coastline assigned to a supposed huge land mass to the west ("Zichy Land") refers to parts of the east coast of George Land.
The first near contact with these land masses, including the mapping and naming of capes between Cape Neale and Cape Peterhead was done by the Benjamin Leigh Smith Expedition on the EIRA in 1880, naming the capes mostly after expedition members and calling the western part Alexandra Land, while the eastern part continued to be called Zichy Land, and the extension and structure of this supposed huge landmass towards north and west continued to be a mystery, possibly all the way to the east of the Spitsbergen archipelago.
A thorough exploration of these western parts of the archipelago was left to the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition (1894-97), which mapped the area on several tours - first the south by ship, and then in spring 1897 on a long sledge tour all the way up and along the north coasts of what then was recognized as two islands, separated by the Cambridge Sound. The western one kept the name Alexandra Land, while the eastern, main island was named by Jackson after George Frederik Ernest Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince of Wales (the later King George V of Windsor) in 1897 as Prince George Land. Travelling in spring with the sounds solidly frozen over, it was nevertheless seemingly difficult to differenciate sea ice and land in the low areas of northern Prince George Land, where they misstook partly lowlands as sea, therefore mapping the Armitage Peninsula as an own island.
Only in summer 2010, russian explorers discovered remains of a grave and some documents from the ill-fated ST ANNA expedition, proving that some of its members reached George Land on their attempt of escape.
Inspite of its size, Prince George Land played only a minor role in the history of the archipelago - some capes were used as temporary camps and cache locations, and on Cape Neale, a delegation placed ashore from the Soviet icebreaker KRASSIN hoisted the red flag in summer 1928, claiming the archipelago for the Soviet Union.
Names: The island was named after George Frederik Ernest Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Prince of Wales, by the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition in 1897, after having determined most of the coastlines and its separation from Alexandra Land. The important capes in the southern part were mostly named already by the Leigh Smith expedition in 1880: Cape Neale (surgeon of the EIRA), Cape Crowther (mate of the EIRA), Cape Grant (participant and photographer with prior polar experience), Cape Stephen and Cape Forbes are named after shipyard Stephen and Forbes in Peterhead (builders of the EIRA), and Cape Peterhead (home port of the EIRA).
On internet, it is repeatedly stated that the name Prince George Land comes already from the TEGETTHOFF expedition and refers instead to Prinz George Louis von Hessen-Darmstadt, who served in the Austrian and British military and came from the same area as Weyprecht. However, this prince died already in 1705: 168 years before the TEGETTHOFF expedition, and without any clear connection to polar activities. Moreover, the TEGETTHOFF expedition, the Leigh Smith Expedition and the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition named places either after contemporary persons connected to the expedition (including supporters, superiors and relatives), or after other geographic places, and nowhere on maps of the TEGETTHOFF expedition does the name Prince George Land appear: the relevant area is called Zichy Land there. Therefore, it seems convincing that the name was given by the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition, referring to the Prince of Wales.
Name today: George Land.
Further coastal panoramas - a click on a picture leads to an enlarged version: