September 14, 2009

Tuesday, 14 September 1909


Amundsen in his study at Uranienborg, ca. 1910. Photograph by Anders Beer Wilse. [1]

Amundsen postponed the departure of his expedition until 1st July, 1910. The general strike in Sweden, he told the newspapers, would delay the delivery of the diesel motor for the Fram.

Peary announced the next day his intention of claiming the South Pole, and the German Wilhelm Filchner had already declared his expedition for the South, which would depart in May of 1911.


[1] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.

September 13, 2009

Monday, 13 September 1909


The Times announced that "Captain Scott informs us that another expedition ought to be arranged for at once .... [It] will, it is hoped, start in August next." [1]

"The main object of this Expedition," Scott wrote in his public appeal for funds, "is to reach the South Pole, and to secure for The British Empire the honour of this achievement." [2]

The announcement came as something of a surprise to the public, and even to the RGS.

In a letter to Leonard Darwin, Scott wrote, "At this juncture in the history of Polar Exploration, I think it absolutely necessary to continue those efforts which have given this country the foremost place in Antarctic research.... I believe that the main object, that of reaching the South Pole, will appeal to all our countrymen as the one rightly to be pursued at this moment, but the plan which I present provides also for the scientific exploration of a considerable extent of the Antarctic continent and will therefore I hope commend itself to the Royal Geographical Society." [3]

Kathleen Scott had gone into labour as the news appeared, and gave birth to a son the next day. He would be christened Peter Markham Scott.


Perhaps Amundsen did not have access to the Times, or he like much of the British public at least later remembered only Scott's emphasis on science, for in The South Pole he wrote, "Scott's plan and equipment were so widely different from my own that I regarded the telegram that I sent him later, with the information that we were bound for the Antarctic regions, rather as a mark of courtesy than as a communication which might cause him to alter his programme in the slightest degree. The British expedition was designed entirely for scientific research. The Pole was only a side-issue, whereas in my extended plan it was the main object." [4]


[1] The Times, 13 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.221.
[2] The Times, 13 September, 1909, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.356.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Leonard Darwin, 13 September, 1909, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.357.
[4] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, v.1.

September 11, 2009

Saturday, 11 September 1909


The North Pole, a photo taken in 2006 by the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. [1]

The New York Times printed a cable from Peary in Labrador, saying that Cook had "not been at the pole on April 21st, 1908, or at any other time. He has simply handed the public a gold brick." [2]

Controversy still remains today over which, if indeed either, Cook or Peary had been first.

Amundsen was again interviewed by the press, who asked if he believed in Cook. "'Unreservedly,' he replied. 'How can you explain this affair with Peary?' 'Well,' answered Amundsen, 'Peary has got it into his head that he is entitled to a monopoly of everything up there in the North.'" [3]

The next day, Amundsen cabled Daugaard-Jensen to double his order of Greenland dogs, from fifty to a hundred.


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] "Peary Denounces Cook", New York Times, 11 September 1909.
[3] Aftenposten (Christiania) afternoon edition, 11 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.220.

September 9, 2009

Thursday, 9 September 1909


Amundsen wrote to Jens Daugaard-Jensen, the Inspector (chief administrative officer) for North Greenland, thanking him for his "kind willingness to obtain sledge dogs, Eskimo equipment etc., from the Danish colonies in Greenland. I now take the liberty of specifying in greater detail what I require: 50 dogs. 14 complete Eskimo suits of sealskin. 20 prepared sealskins to repair the suits.... 20 dog whips.... sealskin straps.... As far as the dogs are concerned, it is absolutely essential that I obtain the very best it is conceivable to obtain. Naturally I am fully aware that as a result the price must be higher than that normally paid, but I am willing to adapt myself accordingly." [1]

His original intention had been to get the dogs in Alaska, on his way to the Bering Strait, but now with the added "diversion", it would be necessary to have them before the Fram went south.


[1] Roald Amundsen, letter to Jens Daugaard-Jensen, 9 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.218.

September 8, 2009

Wednesday, 8 September 1909


Amidst the speculation over Cook and Peary, Amundsen told reporters, somewhat disingenuously, "It would be useless to make speculations as to the points arrived at by the two explorers. It is not important if the exact mathematical pole was reached or not, but it is important that the geographical conditions of the spot were observed. Probably something will be left to be done. What is left will be sufficient for all of us." [1]

He was on his way to Copenhagen to see Cook, who was being fêted as "the conqueror of the North Pole". He had left a note for Leon, "Write to Thv. Nilsen ... and tell him the exp. is postponed and will get under way in a few months.... Give the same reason to all the others. Possible departure July 1910." [2]

Some years later, Cook wrote of their visit, "Amundsen told me ... that he was about ready to take the Fram ... for another try at the Pole. He asked me about the currents, the weather, and what I thought of the prospects. I advised against the execution of the enterprise because at best I believed he could only duplicate the voyage of Nansen and Sverdrup. Furthermore, I said the North Pole is now out of the picture. Why not try for the South Pole.... [The idea] almost took Amundsen's breath."

Whether or not Cook was in fact the first to suggest the South Pole to Amundsen is not known, or if Amundsen's surprise was due to Cook inadvertently lighting on his change of plan.

"He sat in meditation for a while as was his custom when new ideas were suddenly flashed. Then said Amundsen, 'The Fram is not a good sea boat for the heavy South Seas. But this is the thing to do. Let me think it over.'" [3]

Amundsen himself wrote afterwards, "Just as rapidly as the message had travelled over the cables I decided on my change of front -- to turn to the right-about, and face to the South." [4]


[1] New York Times, 8 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.216.
[2] Roald Amundsen, note to Leon Amundsen, [ca. 7 September, 1909], quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.75.
[3] F.A. Cook, unpublished memoirs, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.216.
[4] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole, ch.2.

September 7, 2009

Tuesday, 7 September 1909


Robert Peary aboard the Roosevelt, ca.1909 [1]

The newspapers continued to astonish: "Peary: Has he also planted the Stars and Stripes on the North Pole?" [2]

Robert Peary claimed to have reached the Pole on 6th April, 1909, a year after Cook, who cabled cheerfully to the New York Herald, "Two records are better than one." [3]

Peary, an American Navy engineer who had in the course of his career as an Arctic explorer pioneered the use of Inuit survival techniques such as igloo-building and fur clothing, had departed New York on 6th July 1908 to winter on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada, and set off for the Pole in late February of 1909. His announcement that he, with Matthew Henson and four Inuit companions, had reached the Pole, was somewhat anticlimactic in light of Cook's own announcement.


[1] Library of Congress.
[2] Aftenposten (Christiania), 7 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.215.
[3] New York Herald, 7 September 1909, quoted by Bruce Henderson in True North : Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole (New York : Norton, c2005), p.243.

September 3, 2009

Friday, 3 September 1909


Amundsen in a studio portrait by Anders Beer Wiltse, 1909. [1]

When interviewed in Christiania about his old friend's stunning announcement, Amundsen said, "'Dr. Cook was my partner on the Belgica expedition as physician ... and all on board appreciated highly his experience and his ability. His was an uncommonly stanch [sic], persevering, and energetic personality, and I admire him.'"

"'The possible results from Dr. Cook's achievement will have no influence on my projected expedition. I am not planning to reach the point of the pole. My trip will be for oceanographic exploration.'"

"Capt. Amundsen characterized Cook's dash to the pole as 'the most brilliant sledge trip in the history of polar exploration'." [2]

London newspapers, the New York Times reported, "are not wholly convinced by the narrative, and persist that it will be necessary to await more details and reports. They are unable to conceive how a task which has beaten the ablest polar explorers provided with everything that money could purchase could have been achieved in such a seemingly off-hand and unpremeditated manner and with such ease and quickness." [3]


[1] Galleri NOR, Norsk Folkemuseum, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[2] "Former Companion Lauds Cook", New York Times, 3 September 1909.
[3] "London Papers Praise Cook", New York Times, 3 September 1909.

September 1, 2009

Wednesday, 1 September 1909


Frederick Cook [1]

Norwegian newspapers announced THE NORTH POLE REACHED. "Dr. Cook reached the North Pole on the 21st April 1908, arrived in May 1909 from Cape York at Upernavik [Greenland]." [2]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] Aftenposten (Christiania) afternoon edition, 1 September 1909, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.215.