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RV Belgica (1884)

Belgica trapped in the ice, 1898
Name: Patria (1884–96)
Belgica (1896–1916)
Isfjord (1916–17)
Belgica (1917–40)
Owner: Johan Christian Jakobsen (1884–96)
Adrien de Gerlache (1896–1902)
N C Halvorsen (1902)
Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1902–1916)
Det Norske Kulsyndikat (1916–17)
Kristian Holst (1917–40)
Franco-British Expeditionary Force (1940)
Operator: Johan Christian Jakobsen (1884–96)
Adrien de Gerlache (1896–97)
Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–99)
Adrien de Gerlache (1899–1902)
N C Halvorsen (1902)
Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans (1902–1916)
Det Norske Kulsyndikat (1916–17)
Kristian Holst (1917–40)
Franco-British Expeditionary Force (1940)
Port of registry: Svelvik (1884–96)
Antwerp (1896–1916)
Spitsbergen (1916–17)
Harstad (1917–40)
Builder: Christian Brinch Jørgensen
Launched: 1884
Out of service: 19 May 1940
Fate: Scuttled
General characteristics
Class & type: Whaler (1884–96)
Research ship (1896–1901)
Whaler (1901–04)
Research ship (1904–09)
Whaler (1909–18)
Factory ship (1918–40)
Depôt ship (1940)
Tonnage: 263 GRT
Length: 35.97 m (118 ft 0 in)
Beam: 7.62 m (25 ft 0 in)
Draught: 4.11 m (13 ft 6 in)
Propulsion: Sails, steam engine
Sail plan: Barque (1884–1918)
Complement: 23 (Belgian Antarctic Expedition)

Belgica was a barque-rigged steamship that was built in 1884 by Christian Brinch Jørgensen at Svelvik, Norway as the whaler Patria. In 1896, she was purchased by Adrien de Gerlache for conversion to a research ship, taking part in the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897–1901, becoming the first ship to overwinter in the Antarctic. In 1902, she was sold to Philippe, Duke of Orléans and used on expeditions to the Arctic in 1905 and from 1907–09.

In 1916, she was sold and converted to a passenger and cargo ship, serving Spitsbergen from the Norwegian mainland under the name Isfjord. In 1918, she was sold and renamed Belgica, being converted to a factory ship. Requisitioned by the British in April 1940, she was used as a depôt ship, being scuttled when the Franco-British Expeditionary Force evacuated Harstad. In 2007, plans to build a modern replica of Belgica were announced.


  • Description 1
  • History 2
    • Early history 2.1
    • Antarctic expedition 2.2
    • Arctic expeditions 2.3
    • Later history 2.4
  • Replica 3
  • Tributes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


The ship was 35.97 metres (118 ft 0 in) long, with a beam of 7.62 metres (25 ft 0 in) and a draught of 4.11 metres (13 ft 6 in). She was rigged as a barque.[1] As well as sails, the ship was propelled by a 35 horsepower (26 kW) steam engine built by Nylands Verksted, Oslo.[2] The engine drove a screw propellor that was arranged so that could be raised out of the water if necessary.[3]


Early history

Patria was built by Christian Brinch Jørgensen at Svelvik, Norway.[2] She was built as a whaler.[4] The ship was constructed of Pine, American Pine and Oak ribs, with 110 millimetres (4.3 in) thick Greenheart planks clad in oak and sheeted in Iron. The ship had a strengthened bow to enable her to operate in ice.[3] Her designer and owner was Johan Christian Jakobsen.[1]

Antarctic expedition

Belgica in Antarctic waters

In 1896, Patria was bought by Roald Amundsen, Henryk Arctowski, Antoni Dobrowolski and Emil Racoviţă.[7] The overloaded Belgica broke down in the North Sea and was forced to put into Ostend for repairs.[5] Two crewmen deserted there and two more crewmen went ashore without permission, returning to Belgica drunk.[7]

At one point, Belgica almost rammed the Belgian Royal Yacht.[7] Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was reached on 6 October 1897. Frederick Cook joined the ship there.[5] On reaching Montevideo, Uruguay, the cook was sacked and a Swedish replacement was hired. On the voyage between Montevideo and Punta Arenas, Chile, the engineer allowed the boiler to run dry. He was dismissed when the ship reached Punta Arenas,[7] which was on 1 December 1897.[5] Further disciplinary problems at Punta Arenas resulting in the Chilean Navy being asked to intervene. The Swedish cook and three Belgian sailors were dismissed, and Belgica departed for the Antarctic somewhat undermanned.[7]

Sailor Carl Wiencke was lost overboard en route to Antarctica, Wiencke Island being named in his honour.[7] Belgica crossed the Antarctic Circle on 15 February 1898.[4] On 3 March, Belgica became wedged in the pack ice. The crew had not prepared for overwintering in Antarctica well. De Gerlache forbade the crew to eat the penguin and seal meat that had been stockpiled because he hated eating it. As a result, scurvy became a problem on board Belgica. Following the death of magnetician Emile Danco on 5 June 1898, the situation worsened.[7] Morale worsened after the death of Nansen, the ship's cat, on 22 June.[6]

By 22 July, command of the ship was taken by Amundsen and Cook, as de Gerlache and Lecointe were too ill. Cook insisted that the men ate the penguin and seal meat, following which the crew rapidly recovered from the scurvy. The prospect of a second winter in Antarctica spurred the crew on in their efforts to free Belgica. On 14 February 1899, Belgica was finally freed from the ice, although it was another month before she was able to set sail for Punta Arenas, where she arrived on 28 March.[7] Belgica was repaired in Punta Arenas, then sailed for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Leaving Buenos Aires on 14 August 1899, she sailed for home, arriving at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 30 October and Antwerp on 5 November, sparking national celebrations in Belgium.[5] Following her return to Belgium in 1901, Belgica was again used for whaling.[1]

Arctic expeditions

Belgica, painting (2012) by the Belgian painter Yasmina

In 1902, Belgica was sold to N C Halvorsen,[7] and then later that year to [10]

Later history

In 1916, Belgica was sold to the Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompagni, Spitsbergen and was renamed Isfjord.[8] She was rebuilt to include cabins for female staff. Isfjord was used to carry coal and passengers between Svalbard and northern Norway.[3]

In 1918, Isfjord was sold to Kristian Holst, [10]


In 2006, the [10] Construction is scheduled for completion in 2013.[13]

It is planned to raise the wreck of Belgica and to put it on display at the Belgian National Maritime Museum, Antwerp. Before the wreck is raised, the Royal Norwegian Navy will remove the remaining ammunition.[13]


A 425 km-long (264 mi) scarp on Mercury has been named "Belgica Rupes" by the International Astronomical Union based on a suggestion by the MESSENGER team.[14]


  1. ^ a b c "Belgica (ex-Patria) (+1940)". Wrecksite. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "Belgica" (in Norwegian). Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Technische fiche" (in Dutch). Belgica Genootschap VZW. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c "ANTARCTIC SHIPS". Antarctic Circle. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "BELGICA". Gia Nhien & Co. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Lewis, Val (2002). Ship's Cats in War and Peace. Shepperton: Nauticalia Ltd. pp. 59–60.  
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Adrien de Gerlache, Belgica, Belgian Antarctic Expedition 1897 – 1899". Cool Antarctica. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Belgian Merchant A-G". Belgische Koopvaardij. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "Expedities" (in Dutch). Belgica Genootschap VZW. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f "Sunken polar ship emerges from the depths". Views and News from Norway. 20 August 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  11. ^ Kindell, Don. "Naval Events, June 1940, Part 1 of 4 Saturday 1st – Friday 7th". Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  12. ^ Kindell, Don. "Naval Events, June 1940, Part 2 of 4 Saturday 8th – Friday 14th". Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  13. ^ a b c "The New Belgica". Steenschuit. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  14. ^ "Belgica Rupes". Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. USGS. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 

External links

  • PatriaPhotograph of
  • VZW New Belgica

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