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Vintage photos of Roald Amundsen and his men – the first humans at the South Pole

David Goran

“The North Pole is reached!” was the news that flashed all over the world.

The first expedition to reach the geographic South Pole was led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. He and four others arrived at the Pole on the 14th December 1911, five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base and later learned that Scott and his four companions had died on their return journey.

Amundsen’s plans had focused on the Arctic and the conquest of the North Pole by means of an extended drift in an icebound ship. He obtained the use of Fridtjof Nansen’s polar exploration ship Fram and undertook extensive fundraising. Preparations for this expedition were disrupted when, in 1909, the rival American explorers Frederick Cook and Robert E. Peary each claimed to have reached the North Pole. Amundsen then changed his plan and began to prepare for a conquest of the South Pole; uncertain of the extent to which the public and his backers would support him, he kept this revised objective secret. When he set out in June 1910, he led even his crew to believe they were embarking on an Arctic drift and revealed their true Antarctic destination only when Fram was leaving their last port of call, Madeira.

A portrait of Roald Amundsen. source

A portrait of Roald Amundsen. source

 

The opening of Roald Amundsen’s manuscript

The opening of Roald Amundsen’s manuscript

 

Hoisting the flag

Hoisting the flag

 

In the North-East trades

In the North-East trades

 

Taking an observation

Taking an observation

 

In warmer regions

In warmer regions

 

In the absence of Lady Partners, Bonne takes a turn with the dogs

In the absence of Lady Partners, Bonne takes a turn with the dogs

 

The “Fram’s“ saloon decorated for Christmas eve

The “Fram’s“ saloon decorated for Christmas eve

 

The crew of the “Fram“ in the Bay of Whales

The crew of the “Fram“ in the Bay of Whales

 

A photograph of penguins

A photograph of penguins

 

The Provision Store

The Provision Store

 

Entrance to the hut

Entrance to the hut


Amundsen made his Antarctic base, “Framheim”, in the Bay of Whales on the Great Ice Barrier. After months of preparation, depot-laying and a false start that ended in near-disaster, he and his party set out for the Pole in October 1911. In the course of their journey, they discovered the Axel Heiberg Glacier, which provided their route to the polar plateau and ultimately to the South Pole. The party’s mastery of the use of skis and their expertise with sledge dogs ensured rapid and relatively trouble-free travel. Other achievements of the expedition included the first exploration of King Edward VII Land and an extensive oceanographic cruise.

Killing seals for depot

Killing seals for depot

 

Inside a dog tent

Inside a dog tent

 

Amundsen ordered 100 North Greenland sledge dogs—the best and strongest available

Amundsen ordered 100 North Greenland sledge dogs—the best and strongest available

 

A winter evening at Framheim

A winter evening at Framheim

 

Midwinter day, June 1911

Midwinter day, June 1911

 

Trying on patent goggles

Trying on patent goggles

 

At work on personal outfit

At work on personal outfit

 

Lindstrom with the buckwheat cakes

Lindstrom with the buckwheat cakes

 

Johansen packing provisions in the “Crystal Palace“

Johansen packing provisions in the “Crystal Palace“

 

Johansen packing biscuits in the “Crystal Palace“

Johansen packing biscuits in the “Crystal Palace“

 

Amundsen in winter costume/ Hassel in working dress/Wisting in winter costume/ Stubberud in winter costume

Amundsen in winter costume/ Hassel in working dress/Wisting in winter costume/ Stubberud in winter costume

 

Prestrud and Bjaaland in winter dresses

Prestrud and Bjaaland in winter dresses

The expedition’s success was widely applauded. The story of Scott’s heroic failure overshadowed its achievement in the United Kingdom, unable to accept that a Norwegian had been the first person to set foot in the South Pole, but not in the rest of the world. Amundsen’s decision to keep his true plans secret until the last moment was criticised by some. Recent polar historians have more fully recognised the skill and courage of Amundsen’s party; the permanent scientific base at the pole bears his name, together with that of Scott.

 

Photos: University of Toronto Libraries