February 28, 2007

February 1907


Amundsen received an offer of further lectures in England, although attendance, it was noted, would not be great. "Your spectacular expedition attracted attention among the scientific public, but has not caught the imagination of the general public sufficiently to make the lecture tour a financial success." [1]

It had been known for some time that the Northwest Passage would not after all be the navigable trade route hoped for since the days of Cabot, and interest had dwindled even in Britain, source of numerous expeditions even before that of Amundsen's hero Sir John Franklin. Still, the Norwegian Consulate in London wrote to Amundsen that they were "more than surprised by the way in which you and your expedition have been ignored by the British press," and his British press agent ventured that "the expedition had lacked grandeur despite achieving great things." [2]

"There is no doubt," wrote Scott Keltie, "that if you had returned home via Cape Horn with your ship, and thus circumnavigated America, before sailing up the Atlantic and along the Thames to London, it would have made a big impression on the British public and thereby you could possibly have got more money from papers and publishers." [3]


[1] Gerald Christy? quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.56-57.
[2] Both quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.57.
[3] Scott Keltie, letter to Roald Amundsen, [date not given], quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.57.

February 20, 2007

Wednesday, 20 February 1907


Ernest Shackleton [1]

Scott, perhaps still smarting from the announcement in the Times of Shackleton's expedition, in which it was noted "that the southern sledge party of the Discovery would have reached a much higher latitude if they had been more adequately equipped," [2] wrote to Scott Keltie, "I am astonished. I am in doubt as to the spirit in which Shackleton has acted -- of course it may be coincidence but it looks as though he has had an inkling of my intentions & has rushed to be first in the field.... Shackleton owes everything to me ... I got him into the Expedition -- I had him sent home for his health but I spared no pains to explain & publish reasons which should destroy any idea that reflected on his character -- First & last I did much for him." [3] "I believe," he added, "that every explorer looks upon certain regions as his own, Peary certainly does and I believe there are African precedents."

Amundsen certainly did not. He would write years later, "I do not belong to that class of explorer who believes that the Polar sea has been created for myself alone. My view is the diametric opposite. The more the merrier; simultaneously at the same place if you like. Nothing stimulates like competition. [That is] the sporting spirit that ought to reign in these regions. First come, first served is an old saying." [4]

Scott's own plans for an Antarctic expedition would not be made public until 1909.


[1] Wikimedia Commons.
[2] The Times, 12 February, 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.226.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 20 February 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.225.
[4] Roald Amundsen, Gjennem Luften til 88° Nord, p.20, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.255.

February 18, 2007

Monday, 18 February 1907


To Scott, Shackleton's announcement seemed a breach of professional etiquette if not an act of outright treachery. Keltie, having been told Scott's intentions in confidence, could say nothing about them to Shackleton, and wrote to Scott, "He told me he had been planning something of the kind ever since he came back, probably to prove that though he had been sent home, he is quite as good as those who remained. He assured me that he had heard on the best authority that the Belgians had an expedition ready to send out to the Discovery quarters and make for the Pole, and that is the reason why he wished to rush out with his announcement.... The position is an awkward one, as you can understand."

"I suppose even if you had the necessary funds, you would not think of going down there as a rival to Shackleton? He is very confident of success, but I am doubtful of it myself, and it is just possible that he may have to return within 18 months after he set out without doing much. then of course it might be our opportunity." [1]

Scott was already writing to Shackleton. "The situation is awkward for me. As a matter of fact I have always intended to try again but as I am dependent on the Navy I was forced to reinstate myself & get some experience before I again asked for leave, meanwhile I thought it best to keep my plans in the dark.... You see therefore that your announcement cuts right across my plans but in a way I feel I have a sort of right to my own field of work in the same way as Peary claimed Smith's Sound and many African travellers their particular locality -- I am sure you will agree with me in this and I am equally sure that only your entire ignorance of my plan could have made you settle on the Discovery route without a word to me. As I say Michael Barne is now in town I wish you would meet him and discuss matters as he is in possession of my ideas."

Barne, who had been Scott's second lieutenant on the Discovery, had since tried to raise money for an expedition of his own to the Weddell Sea, but agreed in September 1906 to accompany Scott again instead.

"PS," Scott wrote, "I feel sure that with a little discussion we can work in accord rather than in opposition -- I don't believe the Foreigner will do much, the whole area is ours to attack." [2]

He was writing again almost immediately. "I ought perhaps to explain to you what has been my attitude with regard to the South a little more carefully as I wrote in haste.... Of course my intention was to go to McMurdo Sound our old winter quarters again! I cannot but look upon this as my area until I signify my intention to desert it -- I think this is not a dog in the manger attitude for after all I know the region better than anyone, everything concerning it was discovered by our expedition and it is a natural right of leadership to continue along the line which I made.... The foreigners always conceded this when I was abroad or rather they conceded that the sphere of the Ross Sea was English; indeed they did this in the case of 'Discovery' herself on account of Ross. Surely if a foreigner has the good taste to leave this to the country which has done the work there, the English must admit the same argument to apply amongst themselves." He added, somewhat disingenuously, "I would explain to you that the reason I did not write to you [earlier] was because it never entered my head that you had a wish to go on. I have imagined you as very busy.... I had naturally no object in keeping any of our old company in the dark, you know how attached I am to all and how gladly I would take anyone who cared come again." [3]


[1] Scott Keltie, letter to R.F. Scott, 18 February, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.299.
[2] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, 18 February, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.299-300.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, undated, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.300.

February 11, 2007

Monday, 11 February 1907


Roald Amundsen and his crew aboard the Gjøa, upon arrival at Nome in 1906. In the back, from left, Godfred Hansen, Anton Lund, unknown, unknown; in front, Amundsen, Peder Ristvedt, Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, Helmer Hanssen. Lindstrøm and Helmer Hanssen would later accompany Amundsen to the Antarctic. [1]

Amundsen lectured at the Royal Geographical Society in London, on his attainment of the Northwest Passage the year before. Admiral Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton said afterwards, "I do not think an Arctic expedition ever did so much with such small means.... I have had the experience of three Arctic winters and five Arctic summers, and I can say that nothing I have heard of surpasses the work of Captain Amundsen." [2]

Ernest Shackleton was also present at the lecture, having come to ask the support of the RGS for his planned expedition in the Nimrod to the Antarctic. [3]

At this time, and with a view towards achieving the North Pole, Amundsen asked Fridtjof Nansen if he could have the Fram, the ship that Nansen had commissioned for his exploration of the Arctic. Amundsen's plan was to repeat Nansen's 1893-1896 drift but to enter the Arctic ice pack further to the east, using wind and currents to reach a higher latitude than Nansen had, and thereby coming within range of a dash to the Pole with skis and dogs. Nansen, however, having long held a dream of being first at the South Pole, told Amundsen of his own plans for the Fram. [4]

The Fram was in fact State property, but such was Nansen's stature in Norway as not only an explorer but by now as a statesman and public figure that there was little question in Amundsen's mind who had the disposal of her.


[1] Britannica.com. The two unidentified men are probably Ole Foss and an American called Beauvais, picked up late in the expedition as extra hands; see Amundsen's The North West Passage, v.2, ch.11.
[2] Geographical Journal
, vol.XXIX, no.5, p.485, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.199.
[3] "Ernest H. Shackleton".
[4] In Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), Tor Bomann-Larsen says that in March of 1906, the men on the Gjøa, in the accumulation of newspapers they received in Alaska after the Northwest Passage, first read of Nansen's tentative plans for the South Pole.

February 4, 2007

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen, the photograph used as the frontispiece to The Northwest Passage. [1]

Born 16 July 1872, Roald Amundsen came from a family of shipowners and captains in southeastern Norway. His mother pressured him to become a doctor, but upon her death when he was 21, Amundsen left university for a life at sea. Inspired since boyhood by the crossing of Greenland by Nansen in 1888 and by the doomed Franklin expedition, Amundsen decided to become an explorer.

By 1907, Amundsen had accompanied the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, the first to winter in the Antarctic, and led his own expedition, the first to navigate the Northwest Passage and reach the North Magnetic Pole. He had learned much, and now set his sights on the North Pole itself.

The French ambassador to Norway, Louis Delavaud, wrote in 1912 of Amundsen at this time, "[This] man, whose energy and modesty I had often the occasion to admire, had never given me such an impression of power .... [That] he had an authority and charm, nobody denies, who has approached him.... Without chasing people, he does not flee them. [He possesses] simplicity ... and a charm of conversation enlivened by sharp remarks, but without malice. Far from seizing the occasion to shine, as he could easily do, he listens more than he speaks, quite happily keeping in the background, smiling a little vaguely, and always he avoids speaking of himself." [2]

Hugh Robert Mill, geographer and meteorologist, and librarian of the Royal Geographical Society, found Amundsen "of a reserved and very sensitive nature. Although brave, daring and self-reliant above most men, he shrank from criticism, and withered under any suspicion of ridicule. He was, I think, the most successful and the most unhappy of all the Polar explorers whom I have met." [2]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] Louis Delavaud, L'Explorateur Roald Amundsen, pp.3-17, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.198.
[3] Hugh Robert Mill, An Autobiography, p.149, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.198.