Header image of Antartica with signature of Louis Bernacchi

Biography

Louis Charles Bernacchi was a physicist and astronomer, who is best known for his role in several expeditions to the Antarctic.

Louis Bernacchi with Dog in Antartica

Early Life

Bernacchi was born on 8th November 1876 in Belgium to an Italian father and Belgium mother, who migrated to Tasmania in 1884. His father Angelo Bernacchi, established a vineyard on Maria Island in 1884. He was educated in Hobart Tasmania at the Hutchins School. He trained in astronomy at the Melbourne Observatory in the use of sextants and magnetic instruments. During this period he developed an interest in Antarctic Exploration, expressed in letters to the press and by following the proceeding of Antarctic Exploration Committees.

Polar Exploration

He joined Carstens Borchgrevink's Southern Cross expedition (1898-1900) which wintered at Cape Adare, Antarctica, joining the expedition in New Zealand after the previous physicist candidate had been rejected on medical grounds. The expedition was the first to spend the winter on the Antarctic continent (the Belgian Antarctic Expedition having been first to overwinter in 1898) and the first to sledge towards the South Pole. He wrote a book about the expedition To the south polar regions: expedition of 1898-1900 originally published in 1900 and being republished later in 2013.

He was again a physicist on the Discovery expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott (1901-1904). Bernacchi was the only man on this expedition who had previously been to the Antarctic. During the trip, he made extensive magnetic observations. Following the trip, Bernacchi was awarded the Royal Geographical Society and King's Antarctic Medal as well as the Légion d'honneur. Scott was the best man at Bernacchi's marriage in 1906 in England and invited him to participate in his ill-fated second expedition but Bernacchi declined due to family commitments.

Subsequent Career

Following two short expeditions to Africa and the upper Amazon Basin in Peru, Bernacchi made two unsuccessful attempts to run for the House of Commons as a Liberal Party candidate, standing in Widnes in 1910. He also invested in rubber plantations in Malaya, Java and Borneo.

Louis Bernacchi in his Military Uniform

During World War I, he served subsequently in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Admiralty and the United States Navy. In 1919, he received both an Order of the British Empire and the United States Navy Cross. Following the war, he returned to his interests in rubber.

He remained active in scientific organisations, most notably the Royal Geographical Society, serving as a council member between 1928 and 1932. Bernacchi planned his own expedition to the Antarctic in 1925, but failed to raise sufficient funds. In 1930, he organised the British Polar Expedition and helped to organise the Second International Polar Year in 1932.

Bernacchi wrote a number of books on the Antarctic including a biography of Lawrence Oates called A Very Gallant Gentleman published in 1933 and Saga of the Discovery in 1938. In World War II, he returned to the Royal Naval Reserve Volunteers before failing health lead to his death in London on 24th April 1942.

Louis Bernacchi statue in Hobart, Tasmania

Commemoration

Two landmarks in Antarctica are named after him: Bernacchi Head, on Franklin Island and Bernacchi Bay, on the coast of Victoria Land.

In 2001, Australia Post issued a postal stamp in honour of the 100th anniversary of Australia's involvement in Antarctic exploration. The Premier of Tasmania, Jim Bacon, unveiled sculptures of Bernacchi and fellow explorers at Sullivans Cove, Hobart.

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