Madhouse at the End of the Earth

by Julian Sancton Madhouse


Madhouse depicts an amazing, grueling adventure of which I had never heard. Why is that? I suspect that, if ever someone decides to make a movie of this harrowing ordeal, only then will it stick to the public imagination.

In short, what happened was this: In 1897, the converted whaler Belgica set sail from Belgium to Antarctica, hoping to conduct scientific research and make history by penetrating deep into the southern continent. Early in 1898, the ship became wedged in pack-ice. There it sat, crew aboard, for nearly a year.

Sancton relies heavily on officer diaries to describe the frigid nightmare that followed, in particular the words of Frederick Cook, the colorful American who served as ship’s doctor, and the strange Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who would later become a world-famous explorer.


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