Georges Lecointe (explorer)

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Georges Lecointe
Georges Lecointe
Lecointe as second-in-command of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition
Born (1869-04-29)April 29, 1869
Antwerp, Belgium
Died May 27, 1929(1929-05-27) (aged 60)
Uccle, Belgium
Nationality Belgian
Occupation naval officer and scientist
Known for second-in-command of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition
Spouse(s) Charlotte Dumeiz (1900-1929)
  • Henri Lecointe
  • Charlotte Lecointe
  • Louis-Georges Lecointe

Georges Lecointe (29 April 1869 - 27 May 1929) was a Belgian naval officer and scientist. He was captain of the Belgica and second-in-command of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, the first to overwinter in Antarctica. After his return to Belgium he was deeply involved in the foundation of the International Research Council and the International Astronomical Union.[1]

Early life and career

Georges Lecointe was born in Antwerp on 29 April 1869. His father was a well-known mathematics teacher and he proved early on to be a gifted student. He entered the Royal Military Academy in 1886. After being appointed in 1891 as second lieutenant in the First field artillery regiment and spending some time in the cavalry school in Ypres, he passed the officer examination of the École Polytechnique for the French Navy. The Belgian government detached him to the French Navy, where he was ultimately promoted to ship-of-the-line lieutenant in 1897.[2][3] This detachment was exceptional and happened as a result of an audience with king Leopold II: it was only granted to one other Belgian officer, but refused to his friend Emile Danco.[4]

Between 1894 and 1897 he trained on a number of ships in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, Cochinchina and Tonkin. In 1897 he was attached to the Observatory of the Bureau des Longitudes and published a course on navigation and dead reckoning, La navigation astronomique et la navigation estimée, aimed at navy students of the École Polytechnique. In his second book, La création d'une marine nationale Belge (On the Creation of a Belgian National Navy), he pleaded for the re-creation of the Belgian Navy, which had been abolished in 1862.[5] This, however, did not happen until the end of the World War I.[6]

Belgian Antarctic Expedition

Lecointe acquitted himself admirably; amiable and firm, he secured the respect of all. As a navigator and astronomer he was unsurpassable, and when he afterwards took over the magnetic work he rendered great services in this department also. Lecointe will always be remembered as one of the main supports of this expedition.

— Roald Amundsen, The South Pole

Emile Danco, a mutual friend of Lecointe and expedition commander Adrien de Gerlache, proposed him in October 1896 to join the Belgian Antarctic Expedition. De Gerlache hired him in 1897 as captain of the Belgica and second-in-command of the expedition. He was also responsible for the astronomical and hydrographical observations and, after Danco's death in 1898, measurements of the earth's magnetism.

The expedition set sail from Antwerp in August 1897 and started observations in the Antarctic region later that year. On 22 January 1898 sailor Carl Wiencke was washed overboard and drowned, despite a heroic rescue effort by Lecointe. They made their way to the Weddell Sea in early 1898, where the Belgica froze fast in pack ice, forcing them to overwinter. During astronomical observations on the pack ice, Lecointe was taken for a seal and narrowly escaped being shot. Both Lecointe and de Gerlache suffered heavily from scurvy, to the point where the actual command of the expedition had to be taken over by first mate Roald Amundsen and surgeon Frederick Cook. Despite de Gerlache's misgivings, they cajoled the sick expedition members into eating fresh seal and penguin meat, nursing them back to health.[3][7][8]

Early in 1899 the crew finally managed to free the Belgica. On reaching South America Lecointe started exploring the Andes while de Gerlache sailed the Belgica back to Belgium.[9] After his return, Lecointe published Au Pays des Manchots (In Penguin Country), chronicling the Belgica expedition.

Scientific career and later life

Lecointe was engaged to Charlotte Dumeiz (1873-1940) before the departure of the Belgica. Charlotte Bay was named after her, and they married shortly after his return. The couple had three children: Henri, Charlotte and Louis-Georges. Both sons studied at the Free University of Brussels.[5][10][11]

On his return he was promoted to captain-commandant, spent a short time in the Belgian Legion during the Boxer war and was appointed as scientific director of the Royal Observatory in Uccle. Together with Henryk Arctowski and Antoni Bolesław Dobrowolski he organized the scientific results of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, as secretary of the commission charged with the publication of the results. In addition he oversaw a large-scale renovation of the observatory and was made responsible for the Belgian training ships.

He served voluntarily during the First World War as an artillery major and was involved in the defense of Antwerp, but spent most of the war interned in the Netherlands after the fall of the city.[5] After the war he turned his attention to international cooperation in sciences, and played an important role in the creation of the International Research Council and affiliated scientific unions, in particular the International Astronomical Union. He served as its vice-president from 1919 to 1922,[12] and lead its Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams from 1920 to 1922, while it was temporarily located in Uccle following the First World War.[13] In 1919 he was elected to the executive committee of the International Research Council at its founding congress in Brussels, together with Schuster, Volterra and Hale, with Picard as president.[14]

An illness forced him to resign from the Royal Observatory in 1925 and caused his death in Uccle, on 27 May 1929.[2][3]


Lecointe Island, Mount Lecointe, Lecointe Guyot, Georges Point and the asteroid 3755 Lecointe were named in his honor. The Belgian Navy named two Algerine-class minesweepers after him: the M901 Georges Lecointe (1950-1959, ex HMS Cadmus) and the F901 Georges Lecointe (1959-1969, ex HMCS Wallaceburg).[15]

Selected works

  • La navigation astronomique et la navigation estimée. Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1897
  • La création d'une marine nationale belge. Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1897
  • Au pays des Manchots. Bruxelles, O. Scheppens et Cie, 1904
  • In the series by the Commission de la Belgica, Résultats du Voyage du S.Y. Belgica en 1897-1898-1899 sous le commandement de A. de Gerlache de Gomery: Rapports Scientifiques. Antwerp, Buschmann, 1901-1913, Lecointe published 5 reports:
    • Astronomie: Etude des chronomètres, première partie. Méthodes et conclusions. Antwerp, Buschmann, 1901
    • Astronomie: Etude des chronomètres, deuxième partie. Journaux et calculs. Antwerp, Buschmann, 1901
    • Travaux hydrographiques et instructions nautiques: Cartes. Antwerp, Buschmann, 1903
    • Travaux hydrographiques et instructions nautiques (premier fascicule). Antwerp, Buschmann, 1905
    • Physique du globe: mesures pendulaires. Antwerp, Buschmann, 1907


  1. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cox, J.-F. (1961). "Lecointe, Georges". In L'Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Biographie Nationale (PDF) (in French). Tome 31 Suppl. Tome III (Fascicule 1er). Bruxelles: Ets. Emille Bruylant. pp. 545–546. Retrieved April 4, 2013. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  4. Lecointe, Georges (1907). Physique du globe: mesures pendulaires (PDF). Résultats du Voyage du S.Y. Belgica en 1897-1898-1899 sous le commandement de A. de Gerlache de Gomery: Rapports Scientifiques (1901-1913) (in French). Anvers: Buschmann. pp. 3–7. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Cox, J.F. (1959). "Notice sur Georges Lecointe" (PDF). Annuaire de l'Académie royale de Belgique (in French). CXIX: 1–32. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. anon. "Historiek - deel 2: 1835-1940" (in Dutch). Belgische Defensie. Retrieved 2013-05-05. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Amundsen, Roald (1999). Roald Amundsen's Belgica diary: the first scientific expedition to the Antarctic. Decleir, Hugo (ed.). Bluntisham. p. 208. ISBN 978-1852970581.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Kløver, Geir O., ed. (2010). Antarctic Pioneers. The Voyage of the Belgica 1897-99. Oslo, Norway: The Fram Museum. p. 119. ISBN 978-82-8235-007-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. de Gerlache, Adrien (1902). Quinze Mois dans l'Antarctique - Voyage de la Belgica (in French). Bruxelles: Ch. Bulens. p. 302. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Charlotte Bay". Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica. Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Retrieved 2013-04-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Dumont de Chassart, Reginald. "Georges Lecointe". GeneaNet. Retrieved 2013-04-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. anon. "G. Lecointe". International Astronomical Union. Retrieved 2013-04-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Sperling, Norman (June 1991). "The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams: A Case Study in Astronomical Internationalism". Griffith Observer: 2–17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  15. "M 901 et F 901 Georges Lecointe" (in French). Retrieved March 26, 2013. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links