Louis Bernacchi

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Louis Charles Bernacchi
Bernacchi at WIdnes.jpg
Bernacchi in 1910
Born(1876-11-08)8 November 1876
Died24 April 1942(1942-04-24) (aged 65)
London, England
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy
Years of service1914-1919 & 1939-1942
Rank Lieutenant commander
Spouse(s)Winifred Edith, née Harris (m. 1906)
Children Michael Bernacchi

Louis Charles Bernacchi CMG OBE (8 November 1876 – 24 April 1942) was an Australian physicist and astronomer best known for his role in several Antarctic expeditions. [1]


Early life

Bernacchi was born in Belgium on 8 November 1876 to Italian parents in one of the communes of Brussels known as Schaerbeek. [2] [3] His father, Diego Bernacchi, established a vineyard on Maria Island in 1884. He was educated in Hobart, Tasmania, at the Hutchins School from May 1889 and finishing at the school around Easter 1891. [2] [4] He entered the Melbourne Observatory in 1895 where he spent about three years studying magnetism and meteorology. [5] 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 Christchurch, 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 was awarded the Cuthbert-Peek Grant of the Royal Geographical Society that allowed him to work on the geomagnetic data. [2] He wrote a book about the expedition To the south polar regions: expedition of 1898–1900 published in 1900. [6] His granddaughter Janet Crawford has edited a version of his diaries from the expedition under the title That First Antarctic Winter: The story of the Southern Cross Expedition of 1898–1900. [7]

He was again a physicist on the Discovery expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott (1901–1904). [2] 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 Polar Medals as well as the Légion d'honneur. Scott was the best man at Bernacchi's marriage in 1906. [1]

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. [1]

During World War I, he served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the Admiralty in the anti-submarine division, [8] and later with 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. [1]

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 Exhibition and helped to organise the Second International Polar Year in 1932. [1]

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 his death in 1942. [1]


Three landmarks in Antarctica are named after him: Bernacchi Head, on Franklin Island, Cape Bernacchi and Bernacchi Bay, both on the coast of Victoria Land. [9] A species of Antarctic fish, the Trematomus bernacchii was named in his honor. [10]

In 2001, Australia Post issued a postal stamp in honour of the 100th anniversary of Australia's involvement in Antarctic exploration. [11] The Premier of Tasmania, Jim Bacon, unveiled sculptures of Bernacchi and fellow explorers at Sullivans Cove. [12]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Swan, R. A. (1979). "Bernacchi, Louis Charles (1876–1942)". Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Atkin, Andrew (1979). "New Light on the British National Antarctic Expedition (Scott's Discovery Expedition) 1901-1904" (PDF). Canterbury University. Retrieved 15 December 2021.
  3. Carsten Borchgrevink (1901). First on the Antarctic continent: Being an account of the British Antarctic expedition, 1898–1900. p. 14.
  4. Carsten Borchgrevink (1901). First on the Antarctic continent: Being an account of the British Antarctic expedition, 1898–1900. p. 14.
  5. Carsten Borchgrevink (1901). First on the Antarctic continent: Being an account of the British Antarctic expedition, 1898–1900. p. 14.
  6. "Physics in Australia to 1945 – BERNACCHI, Louis Charles". www.asap.unimelb.edu.au.
  7. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,3867957,00.html [ dead link ]
  8. Black, Nicholas Duncan (2005). "The Admiralty War Staff and its influence on the conduct of the naval war between 1914 and 1918" (PDF). University College, University of London. Retrieved 20 December 2021.
  9. Louis Bernacchi – Biographical notes at www.coolantarctica.com
  10. "Trematomus bernacchii summary page". FishBase.
  11. "Antarctica a sticking point". In: The Hobart Mercury, 17 May 2001 page 13.
  12. "Sculpting a piece of Antarctic history". In: In: The Hobart Mercury, 11 September 2002.