AMUNDSEN, FIRST TO THE SOUTH POLE

13 Nov

On our cruise to Norway and Spitsbergen we visited the Polar Museum in Tromso – many details of Roald Amundsen’s expeditions; lantern slides, original letters, photographs, newspaper articles, which gave information about his attempts at the North Pole and the North West Passage in 1906, and his plans for a further attempt to go north in 1909. Also information about his successful expedition to the South Pole in 1911

 I was of course, particularly interested by Amundsen’s change of plans, his decision to sail south from Madeira in September 1910 instead on north: Why did he do this and why did he keep the plans secret? The explanation was funding. 
 In 1910 he wrote that although the plan to take ‘Fram’ south rather than north could be interpreted as a change of plan, this was not the case; it was actually an extension of the original plan, an extension needed so he could be sure of attracting sufficient funds and equipment for the long drift on the polar ice. He wrote that he had actually changed his plans in 1909, secondary to the announcement that the Americans, Peary and Cook had claimed to have got to the North Pole. This claim would have deterred donors from giving Amundsen the necessary funds for his northern plans. Something else was needed to attract public attention and interest in order to attract the large amount of money still needed.
In August 1910, he wrote to Nansen (who he had not informed before sailing), in the same vein. He started his letter; ‘It is not easy to send you these lines, but there is no way to avoid it, and therefore I will just have to tell it to you straight. When the news from the Cook, and later the Peary, expeditions came to my knowledge last autumn, I instantly understood that this was the death sentence for my own plans. I immediately concluded that after this I could not be expected to secure the financial support I required for the expedition’. He said that the Norwegian Parliament’s decisions to decline requests for support proved him right. He did not want to abandon his plans but he realised that the South Pole, the main remaining challenge in the Polar Regions, was the one to excite public interest. He had not told Nansen of his plans because he was afraid that Nansen would stop him. He had no animosity against Scott and wanted to meet him.
He wrote that he was sending the King the same message and that his brother would make a public announcement a few days after Nansen had received the message.
He did not go back to the ‘long drift on the polar ice’ and the scientific expedition he had planned to the north. But his achievement in reaching the South Pole first was magnificent. He attracted world fame, international attention and he lectured widely to fascinated audiences.

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