This unrecorded and handsome Italian map presents the route of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897 to 1899, the first expedition to winter in the Antarctic region.
In 1896, after a period of intensive lobbying, Adrien de Gerlache purchased the Norwegian-built whaling ship Patria, which, following an extensive refit, he renamed Belgica. Gerlache had worked together with the Geographical Society of Brussels to organize a national subscription, but was only able to outfit his expedition after the Belgian government voted in favor of two large subsidies, making it a state-supported undertaking. With a multinational crew that included Roald Amundsen from Norway, Emil Racovita from Romania, and Henryk Arctowski from Poland, they set sail from Antwerp on 16 August 1897.
The map shows how in January of 1898, the expedition made its way towards Graham Land. What it doesn’t show is that on 22 January, Carl Wiencke was washed overboard during a storm and drowned. Wiencke Island was named in his honor. Sailing in between the Graham Land coast and a long string of islands to the west, Gerlache named the passage Belgica Strait. Later, it was renamed Gerlache Strait in his honor.
The expedition was able to chart and name several islands, making some twenty separate landings.
On 28 February, the expedition became trapped in the ice of the Bellinghausen Sea, near Peter I Island. Despite efforts of the crew to free the ship, they quickly realized that they would be forced to spend the winter on Antarctica. Without sufficient supplies for the endeavor, the crew, some of which did not survive, underwent extreme hardship. The vessel was not released from the ice until a year later, in March, 1899.
The voyage of the Belgica tracked on this map is thus one of the most fascinating of the early Antarctic expeditions.