An historical review is made of Antarctic medical practice, which is unique because of the absence of an indigenous population. This review begins with the primitive shipboard practice of doctors accompanying Captain James Cook around 1775 and concludes with the modern era of permanent stations and vast scientific endeavour. The heroic era of Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and Mawson and the highly mechanized transition period are contrasted with the present day. Medical practice on modern expeditions has reached a high standard, but there is still much to be learned concerning human adaptation. Comment is made on the possible utilization of Antarctica's natural resources bringing increases in polar populations and facilitating the expansion of medical research in the future era of polar medicine.