Graham Land is the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula, specifically, the portion which lies north of a line joining Cape Jeremy and Cape Agassiz. The Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost part of mainland Antarctica, and the only part of that continent that extends outside the Antarctic Circle. The southern tip of South America, Cape Horn is about 610 miles (980 kilometers) farther north, and is separated by the Drake Passage.
On the western (Bellingshausen Sea) side of the Peninsula, Graham Land includes the Davis Coast, Danco Coast (which includes Hughes Bay, sight of first landing on the Antarctic mainland), Oscar II Coast, Graham Coast, and Fallières Coast. On the southwestern coast of Graham Land is the Wordie Ice Shelf. There are numerous off-shore islands including the South Shetland Islands across the Bransfield Strait and Anvers Island across the Gerlache Strait. On the eastern (Weddell Sea) side of the Peninsula, Graham Land includes the Nordenskjöld Coast, Oscar II Coast, Foyn Coast, and Bowman Coast. The southern part of this eastern coast is encased in the vast Larsen Ice Shelf. North of these Antarctic Coasts, lies the Trinity Peninsula at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula ending at Prime Head (63°S).
The peninsula is in essence a mountain range with peaks becomng higher as the range progresses farther south. This range is considered an extension of the Andes Mountain Range that runs the length of South America. The the coastal fringes of Graham Land, which are free of permanent ice, are part of the Marielandia Antarctic tundra ecoregion.
The first sighting of Graham Land occurred on January 30, 1820 by a British expedition headed by Edward Bransfield and piloted by William Smith sailing south from the South Shetland Islands when they observed "high mountains, covered with snow" and named the area Trinity Land. Eight months later a small boat of American seal hunters led by Nathaniel Palmer followed a similar route and sighted the same area, which was named Palmer Land.
For much of the nineteenth century a bitter debate was waged between British and American champions for each side claiming primacy in the discovery. This was reflected in competing names for the entire peninsula. Agreement on this name by the US-ACAN and UK-APC in 1964 resolved a long-standing difference over the use of the American name "Palmer Peninsula" or the British name "Graham Land" for this feature. Graham Land is now that part of the Antarctic Peninsula northward of a line between Cape Jeremy and Cape Agassiz, whilst Palmer Land is the part southward of that line.
In 1952, the log of another American sealing ship, the Huron, came to light. It revealed that the ship's Master John Davis, looking for new seal sitings in the Huron's support vessel, the Ceciliam, sent a boat of men ashore on the north shore of the peninsula on February 7, 1832. Finding no seals, the men returned after an hour to the Cecilia. Davis noted in the log, "I believe this Southern Land to be a Continent." Based upon his recorded position, Davis was in what is now named Hughes Bay, on the western coast of the Graham Land. This appears to have been the first landing on the Antarctic continent. The next did not occur for another 74 years.
The name is from Sir James R.G. Graham, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time of John Biscoe's exploration of the west side of Antarctic Peninsula in 1832.