February 21, 2020

Henryk Arctowski (born Henryk Artzt), Polish scientist and explorer, died 21 February, 1958, in Bethesda, northwest of Washington, D.C. Arctowski conducted much scientific work and observation as part of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897-1899) aboard the Belgica.

Arctowski (Internetowy Polski Słownik Biograficzny)

Expedition leader Adrien de Gerlache de Gomery needed strong, versatile researchers for his Antarctic expedition and particularly for the post of scientific leader. Henryk Arctowski came strongly recommended and assisted Gerlache in putting together the team of scientific staff for the expedition aboard Belgica.

The scientific staff comprised:

Georges Lecointe, second in command, executive officer and hydrographer. On the death of Lieutenant Emile Danco on 5 June, 1898, Lecointre took over the duties of magnetician.

Henryk Arctowski, geologist, oceanographer and meteorologist.

Frederick A. Cook, surgeon, photographer and anthropologist.

Antoine Dobrowolski, assistant meteorologist.

Emile Georges Racovitza, naturalist.

To prepare for the many fields of studies that would be entrusted to him, Arctowski researched geographic, oceanographic, glacial work from around the world and visited experts across Europe.

Despite Belgica being caught in the ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, Arctowski and the rest of the men struggled to continue their observations and research and to implement the scientific programme. A small hut was built near the ship. Most staff and crew members assisted in some way but Arctowski and fellow Pole Dobrowolski worked very closely particularly on meteorological work.

Belgica (Norwegian Maritime Museum)

During early-March, 1899, Arcowski had a close call with a curious sea leopard that had come up from a break in the ice floes. Arctowski was at work on the ice where he had a number of delicate meteorological instruments. The sea leopard rapidly approached Arctowski to have a look at what was going on. Presumably Arctowski got a bit of a fright and, as he had nothing to defend himself against a potential assault, he got up and walked around the ice floe twice. The sea leopard, having had a look at the equipment, followed him but then seemingly got bored and plunged back into the waters. When it raised its head again from the waters to look back, Arctowski thought it was going to return for a renewed attack and he ‘made warlike gestures, and uttered a volley of sulphureous Polish words, but the seal didn’t mind that’ (Cook’s words!).

Cook also wrote of the scientific data compiled during the expeditions:

‘The excellent series of magnetic observations by M. Lecointe indicate the magnetic pole to be about two hundred miles east of its present assigned position. The hourly meteorological observations, under the direction of M. Arctowski, are of priceless value to students of weather. The painstaking zoological work by M. Racovitza, and the numerous other observations and studies of Antarctic life and phenomena, are of a like value.’

Frederick Albert Cook (Library of Congress)

He later became professor of geophysics and meteorology at Jan Kazimierz University (now the van Franko National University of Lviv, in Lviv, Ukraine). Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station on King George Island, off the coast of Antarctica, was named in his honour.

Arctowski portrait: Internetowy Polski Słownik Biograficzny 



Jacek Machowski, Henryk Arctowski (15 July 1871-21 February, 1958), Polish Polar Research Vol. 19 (1998), pp. 7-10.

Jacek Machowski, Contribution of H. Arctowski and A. B. Dobrowolski to the Antarctic Expedition of Belgica (1897-1899), Polish Polar Research Vol. 19 (1998), pp. 15-30.


Cook, F. A. Through the First Antarctic Night, 1898-1899: A Narrative of the Voyage of the ‘Belgica’; Among Newly Discovered Lands and over an Unknown Sea about the South Pole. New York, 1909.

de Gerlache, A. The Belgian Antarctic Expedition Under the Command of A. de Gerlache de Gomery: Summary Report of the Voyage of the ‘Belgica’ in 1897-1898-1899. Brussels, 1904.


Patryk Zakrzewski, Henryk Arctowski–The Cold Weather Enthusiast




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