It was probably first seen in 1775 by Captain James Cook, and named in about 1912, presumably by Norwegian whalers who frequented its harbours.
Its historical significance is that it represents the destination of Ernest Shackleton's epic rescue journey in 1916.
During the Second World War the whaling stations were closed excepting Grytviken and Leith Harbour. Most of the British and Norwegian whaling factories and catchers were destroyed by German raiders, while the rest were called up to serve under Allied command. The resident British Magistrates (W. Barlas and A.I. Fleuret) attended to the island’s defense throughout the War. The Royal Navy armed the merchant vessel Queen of Bermuda to patrol South Georgian and Antarctic waters, and deployed two four-inch guns at key locations protecting the approaches to Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay, i.e. to Grytviken and Leith Harbour respectively. These batteries (still present) were manned by volunteers from among the Norwegian whalers who were trained for the purpose.
The three whaling stations, Husvik, Stromness and Leith Harbour were linked by a rough track along the beach. During the whaling era, whalers from Stromness and Husvik would use it to get to Leith Harbour to use the island's one cinema.