How About We Spend A Winter In Antarctica, Chaps? – Henryk Arctowski


Winter is cold. Sure, not everywhere, but here in the dead centre of Europe the temperature drops down to around zero on average, and whilst it isn’t dick-waving ‘I’ve been in minus 10 and didn’t give a toss’ territory it still is a darn sight colder than any sane person wants to spend time in. Actually, no, wait, let’s get back to dick-waving for a moment. Antarctica is pretty cold, right? Hah, take your zeros and multiply it by sweet mother of lord, and you get an Antarctic winter. That place is the coldest, driest and windiest continent going after all.

Spending winter in Antarctica sounds like the sort of thing that will eventually become a Channel Four reality show featuring Neil Buchanan, Abi Titmuss and Dappy from N-Dubz. When Messrs. Titmuss, Buchanan and Dappy cuddle up around that most miserable of fires, they may well cast a wandering thought as to who the first to spend a winter in the tundra was. Together, our intrepid trio would remember the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, and maybe even the name Henryk Arctowski.

Born in July 1871, Henryk Artzt (not yet Arctowski) found himself as a Polish baby child living in the segment of Polska that the Russians were in charge of. This sucked, especially when one found themselves in a school in a German neighbourhood. As a result, Henryk getting prosecuted in his youth for speaking Polish at school shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Mama y Papa (Spanish for Mama and Papa) Artzt knew Henners needed to get out, and they made the decision to send him off to Liége (Belgium). Here he studied maths, physics, and astronomy, before swanning off to the Sorbonne to study chemistry and geology. Dude loved studying I guess.

From 1893 Henryk worked in a well respected laboratory in Liegé, at which point he requested permission from the Belgian government to change his surname to Arctowski. Rather than being a harbinger of things to come, this was more to try and emphasis his Polishness. The harbinging (not a word) would come true too, as Henry soon applied to take part in the aforementioned Belgian Antarctic Expedition, otherwise known as the Mad Bastards Who Will Try And Spend Winter In Antarctica Club. He was accepted (probably on account of being mad enough to apply), and to Antarctica they went.

Before heading off to the madness of the south Arctowski took studies in glaciology in Switzerland and oceanography in England, in order to be as best prepared as possible for that whole ‘researching oceanography’ part of the trip. Henry was chief co-ordinator of the scientific work there (why else were they there?), and he also performed a vast number of physical observations.


As I’m sure you have already assumed the winter in Antarctica was a total ballache. The deaths began almost immediately, with Carl Wiencke getting washed overboard and dying upon arrival. The ship was terribly equipped, with not enough winter clothing or food on board. Whilst this seems like madness, one must assume that this entire crew was mad in the first place. They killed penguins and they killed seals, in order to store the meat. To a man they then complained about the quality of the meat, which is understandable. They were plagued by mental illness and poor morale, not to mention the occasional lack of sanity, with one crew member heading off in order to ‘go back to Belgium’.

Survive the winter they did however, and they also managed to put together an entire year’s worth of meteorological observations. Upon returning home Henryk Arctowski devoted his entire existence to evaluating their findings, editing the results in geology, geomorphology, oceanography, glaciology and meteorology before publishing them in 10 editions. A riotous read I’m sure. Arctowski took part in congresses worldwide, and worked hard to improve international co-operation in polar sciences. Henryk was also somewhat obsessed with introducing a globally applicable method of gathering statistics.

It wasn’t all science science science for Henryk Arctowski however, although it was mostly science science science. A staunch patriot, Henryk used his position in the international scientific community to further the Polish independence agenda, publishing a 2462 page report that was described as ‘magnificent’. Long, but magnificent. World War One ended and Poland returned to the map, at which point Henryk could finally return to his home nation. He was offered the position of Minister of Education, which he declined in order to become Professor of Geophysics and Meteorology at the university in Lviv (then Lwów). I guess it was all science science science.


Henryk decided there wasn’t enough research in his life, and he utilised his great respect in the new Polish republic to research all the subjects he’d dreamt of looking into. This meant that Poland received great information and advances when it came to the chemical properties of crude oil, variations in magnetic fields, climate change, atmospheric dynamics and various points of research in the oil industry. A riot he was, a riot.

In 1939 Henry headed to the United States of the USA with his wife Arian Jane Addy, and everything sort of went to shit from here. That was fairly on point for Poland I guess. The Nazis invaded, the Brits declared war and Poland gulped. A whole host of Henryk’s unfinished papers were lost to fire, but he immediately cabled the Polish government and offered to contribute his life savings to the national defence. Dude really liked Poland.

Henryk Arctowski continued to work all the way up until his death in 1958. He lived most of his life in exile, but flew the Polish flag proudly until he stopped being able to fly things proudly. The Polish research station in Antarctica rightfully bears his name, as do a whole host of other geographical phenomena.

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