Belgian toponymy in the Antarctic

Alexandre Thys, Roger Charlier, Charles W. Finkl, Marie-Claire Chaineux

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


It might be argued that this paper does not sensu stricto contribute to "polar science". It however re-kindles aspects of its history and of that of both oceanography and cartography. Obviously the interest for the polar regions was keen in the 19th century and elicited financial support. The paper may lift anew the veil that has somewhat dimmed the light that should shine on polar science achievements of Belgian explorer s and scientists.

Knowledge of the names of geographic features in the Antarctic is probably less widespread, and yet, there are many Belgian names on and near the southernmost continent Most names were given by the head of the first ever Antarctic expedition to spend a Winter on the southernmost continent. Belgian navy lieutenant Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery's expedition" in the Antarctic, brought back a wealth of scientific information. His trip ended precisely 111 years ago, and has been--literally--carved in stone as the the Belgica, is indeed one of the few vessels that Prince Albert I of Monaco selected to be represented on the façade of the Musée Océanographique de Monaco.

de Gerlache and his crew were plying mostly un-chartered seas. The Belgica before ploughing into Antarctic waters sailed in and about Tierra del Fuego and Graham Land, wthere several islands were spotted and named. The names can be grouped in two categories: towns and regions, and names of individuals.

Cities and one province were honoured. Antwerp (in French Anvers) was first on the list. The ship had been held up there because stevedoring and other services had not been paid for and there was no more money available. De Gerlache did never forgot that Antwerp mecenae dug in their pockets to get the expedition finally on its way.and thus was the name of the city that once was the largest in the world, and still a ranking 3rd or 4th harbour in the 19th century world given to the largest island de Gerlache discovered. The province of Brabant had also provided help to the venture and thus when another island was discovered, it became Brabant Island. Still in the same general area is the ile de Gand, a Flanders city with a rich historical past. The island is the site of a permanent U.S. Antarctic station, but at this writing the US has not had the urge to change the name or even to anglicize it. Historical weight oblige, probably.

Liège is the city where scientific complement member Arctowski studied at the universi.ty becoming and a chemist and a geologist. It was not forgotten in the naming of islands frenzy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings IPY Oslo Science Conference, Oslo, June 2010
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2010
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jun 2010 → …

Publication series

NamePaper #2016


Period1/06/10 → …


  • Belgium
  • polar
  • place name


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