Historical story

Dutch people earlier in Antarctica

Willem van der Does was not the first Dutchman at the South Pole. Historical research by the Fleming Jozef Verlinden shows that three gentlemen set foot on the white earth more than 20 years before Van der Does.

In an article by science magazine EOS, Verlinden talks about his research into the story behind these pioneers. After an intensive search in various archives and books, he comes across three relatively unknown names who visit Antarctica before Willem van der Does. It concerns Cornelis Snijders, Pieter de Bruyne and Joseph van Waterschoot van der Gracht.

One of the names found by Verlinden only occurs once:Cornelis Snijders. He traveled with the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1903-1904. In the archives, Cornelius is listed as 'AB' (Able Seaman), or 'full sailor'. In the book The Voyage of the Scotia, the ship's doctor and geologist of the expedition John Harvey-Pirie writes that Cornelius - here called 'Dutch Harry' - is the sailor who vocally directs the sea shanties. Singing sea shanties is one way to keep your spirits up during the hard work on board. John Harvey-Pirie does not provide much more information about Cornelius. We do know from the municipal archives of Amsterdam that not long after his return from Antarctica, Cornelius married Finette Frederika Arends on November 29, 1905. He died on October 1, 1915 in Amsterdam of an unknown cause.

The documents in which Pieter de Bruijne is mentioned seem to tell the success story of a magnate. Pieter leaves for Chile in 1890. The government has introduced favorable financial benefits there to make Chile more attractive to European emigrants. Pieter settles in Punta Arenas. Over the years he has built up an empire around livestock farming, shipping and mining. In 1904 he also became interested in whaling. He starts a company, assembles a fleet and establishes a whaling station in the South Shetland Islands. Pieter de Bruijne's whaling company is the first to plant the Chilean flag on Antarctic soil. Although that happens with Dutch hands.

Joseph van Waterschoot van der Gracht sets foot on Antarctic soil out of scientific interest. He is a geologist, photographer and landscape painter. During the summer of 1911-1912 he visits Deception Island (where Pieter de Bruijne built his whaling station) and spends five months with the whalers. Driven by his curiosity and fascination with Antarctica, he takes part in the first Australian expedition the following summer (1911-1914). This expedition explores the coast of Antarctica south of Australia. Unfortunately, the tour has to deal with very bad weather. Perhaps these harsh conditions are the reason that Joseph does not return to Antarctica after this expedition.

The discovery of the three new names is special. It means that Dutch history in Antarctica must be revised. The extensive results of Jozef Verlinden's research are bundled in the book 'To Antartica'.