Explore the journey of the 'Belgica'
In the 19th century the Antarctic regions were still largely terra incognita. Driven by a keen sense of discovery and after extensive lobbying, Adrien de Gerlache, a Belgian explorer, was able to purchase a ship in Norway which he dubbed the 'Belgica'.
In August 1897, the Belgica left Antwerp and headed south with a competent and scientifically skilled crew. In January 1898 they reached Graham Land, in the north of the Antarctic Peninsula. When de Gerlache sailed in between the peninsula and a long string of islands to the west, he decided to call the passage the 'Belgica Strait'. In later times, it was renamed Gerlache Strait in his honour. The crew charted and named several islands in this region with familiar sounding names such as 'Brabant' and 'Anvers'.
However, before long the expedition gets trapped in the pack ice of the Bellinghausen Sea, in March 1898. The vessel is forced to spend the winter in Antarctica, a great opportunity according to de Gerlache. Yet the men suffer from the winter, the cold, the lack of fresh food and also the total darkness; the polar night lasted for three months. One of the sailors even left the ship, on the verge of madness, saying "I'm going back to Belgium".
During the summer, the crew attempted to cut out a channel through the thick sea with explosives, but the ice immediately froze over again. A second winter in Antarctica would be fatal. Yet in February 1899, the channel opened again and by the end of March the expedition landed in Punta Arenas, Chile. In November, de Gerlache and his team were welcomed back at the port of Antwerp, bringing home of great deal scientific data and meteorological observations. The Brabançonne sounded and Belgium's national flag was waving!