Discovery and early sightings
Southeast coast of Bouvet Island in 1898
The island was discovered on 1 January 1739 by Jean-Baptiste Charles Bouvet de Lozier, commander of the French ships Aigle and Marie. Bouvet, who was searching for a presumed large southern continent, spotted the island through the fog and named the cape he saw Cap de la Circoncision. He was not able to land and did not circumnavigate his discovery, thus not clarifying if it was an island or part of a continent. His plotting of its position was inaccurate, leading several expeditions to fail to find the island again. James Cook's second voyage set off from Cape Verde on 22 November 1772 to find Cape Circoncision, but was unable to find the cape.
The next expedition to spot the island was in 1808 by James Lindsay, captain of the Samuel Enderby & Sons' (SE&S) snow whaler Swan. Swan and another Enderby whaler, Otter were in company when they reached the island and recorded its position, though they were unable to land. Lindsay could confirm that the "cape" was indeed an island. The next expedition to arrive at the island was American Benjamin Morrell and his seal hunting ship Wasp. Morrell, by his own account, found the island without difficulty (with "improbable ease", in the words of historian William Mills) before landing and hunting 196 seals. In his subsequent lengthy description, Morrell does not mention the island's most obvious physical feature, its permanent ice cover. This has caused some commentators to doubt whether he actually visited the island.
On 10 December 1825, SE&S's George Norris, master of the Sprightly, landed on the island, named it Liverpool Island and claimed it for the British Crown and George IV on 16 December. The next expedition to spot the island was Joseph Fuller and his ship Francis Allyn in 1893, but he was not able to land on the island. German Carl Chun's Valdivia expedition arrived at the island in 1898. They were not able to land, but dredged the seabed for geological samples. They were also the first to accurately fix the island's position. At least three sealing vessels visited the island between 1822 and 1895. A voyage of exploration in 1927-28 also took seal pelts.
Norris also spotted a second island in 1825, which he named Thompson Island, which he placed 72 kilometres (45 mi) north-northeast of Liverpool Island. Thompson Island was also reported in 1893 by Fuller, but in 1898 Chun did not report seeing such an island, nor has anyone since. However, Thompson Island continued to appear on maps as late as 1943. A 1967 paper suggested that the island might have disappeared in an undetected volcanic eruption, but in 1997 it was discovered that the ocean is more than 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) deep in the area.
The annexation of the island on 1 December 1927
In 1927, the First Norvegia Expedition – led by Harald Horntvedt and financed by Lars Christensen – was the first to make an extended stay on the island. Observations and surveying were conducted on the islands and oceanographic measurements performed in the sea around it. At Ny Sandefjord, a small hut was erected and, on 1 December, the Norwegian flag was hoisted and the island claimed for Norway. The annexation was established by a royal decree on 23 January 1928. The claim was initially protested by the United Kingdom, on the basis of Norris's landing and annexation. However, the British position was weakened by Norris's sighting of two islands and the uncertainty as to whether he had been on Thompson or Liverpool (i.e. Bouvet) Island. Norris's positioning deviating from the correct location combined with the island's small size and lack of a natural harbour made the UK accept the Norwegian claim. This resulted in diplomatic negotiations between the two countries, and in November 1929, Britain renounced its claim to the island.
The Second Norvegia Expedition arrived in 1928 with the intent of establishing a manned meteorological radio station, but a suitable location could not be found. By then both the flagpole and hut from the previous year had been washed away. The Third Norvegia Expedition, led by Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen, arrived the following year and built a new hut at Kapp Circoncision and on Larsøya. The expedition carried out aerial photography of the island and was the first Antarctic expedition to use aircraft. The Dependency Act, passed by the Parliament of Norway on 27 February 1930, established Bouvet Island as a dependency, along with Peter I Island and Queen Maud Land. The eared seal was protected on and around the island in 1929 and in 1935 all seals around the island were protected.
In 1955, the South African frigate Transvaal visited the island. Nyrøysa, a rock-strewn ice-free area, the largest such on Bouvet, was created sometime between 1955 and 1958, probably by a landslide. In 1964 the island was visited by the British naval ship HMS Protector. On 17 December 1971, the entire island and its territorial waters were protected as a nature reserve. A scientific landing was made in 1978, during which the underground temperature was measured to be 25 °C (77 °F). In addition to scientific surveys, a lifeboat was recovered at Nyrøysa, although no people were found. The lifeboat belonged to a scientific reconnaissance vessel ("The scientific reconnaissance vessel “Slava-9” began his regular 13th cruise with the “Slava” Antarctic whaling fleet on 22 October 1958 … On 27 November she got to Bouvet Island. A group of sailors landed but were unable to leave the island in time because of worsened weather and stayed on it for about 3 days. The people were withdrawn only by helicopter on 29 November").
The Vela Incident took place on 22 September 1979, on or above the sea between Bouvetøya and Prince Edward Islands, when the American Vela Hotel satellite 6911 registered an unexplained double flash. This observation has been variously interpreted as a nuclear test, meteor, or instrumentation glitch.
Since the 1970s, the island has been visited frequently by Norwegian Antarctic expeditions. In 1977, an automated weather station was constructed, and for two months in 1978 and 1979 a manned weather station was operated. In March 1985, a Norwegian expedition experienced sufficiently clear weather to allow the entire island to be photographed from the air, resulting in the first accurate map of the whole island, 247 years after its discovery. The Norwegian Polar Institute established a 36-square-metre (390 sq ft) research station, made of shipping containers, at Nyrøysa in 1996. On 23 February 2006, the island experienced a magnitude 6.2 earthquake whose epicentre was about 100 km (62 mi) away, weakening the station's foundation and causing it to be blown to sea during a winter storm. In 2014, a new research station was sent from Tromsø in Norway, via Cape Town, to Bouvet. The new station is designed to house six people for periods of two to four months.
In the mid-1980s, Bouvetøya, Jan Mayen, and Svalbard were considered as locations for the new Norwegian International Ship Register, but the flag of convenience registry was ultimately established in Bergen, Norway in 1987.
In 2007, the island was added to Norway's tentative list of nominations as a World Heritage Site as part of the transnational nomination of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Krill fishing in the Southern Ocean is subject to the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which defines maximum catch quotas for a sustainable exploitation of Antarctic krill. Surveys conducted in 2000 showed high concentration of krill around Bouvetøya. In 2004, Aker BioMarine was awarded a concession to fish krill, and additional quotas were awarded from 2008 for a total catch of 620,000 tonnes (610,000 long tons; 680,000 short tons). There is a controversy as to whether the fisheries are sustainable, particularly in relation to krill being important food for whales. In 2009, Norway filed with the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to extend the outer limit of the continental shelf past 200 nautical miles (230 mi; 370 km) surrounding the island.
The Hanse Explorer expedition ship visited Bouvet Island on 20 and 21 February 2012 as part of "Expédition pour le Futur". The expedition's goal was to land and summit the highest point on the island. The first four climbers (Aaron Halstead, Will Allen, Bruno Rodi and Jason Rodi) were the first humans to climb the highest peak. A time capsule containing the top visions of the future for 2062 was left behind. The next morning, Aaron Halstead led five other climbers (Sarto Blouin, Seth Sherman, Chakib Bouayed, Cindy Sampson, and Akos Hivekovics) to the top.
Amateur Radio DX-peditions
Several amateur radio DX-peditions have been conducted to the island.
||3Y1VC, 3Y3CC, and 3Y5DQ
||First serious activations
||47,000 QSOs during their stay on the island
||In 16 days the operators made almost 50,000 QSOs
||ZS6GCM Petrus 
||An international group organized and initiated a DX-pedition that arrived near Bouvet on January 31, 2018. On February 3, 2018, the DX-pedition was cancelled due to poor weather conditions and trouble with the ship's engines.