FRIDTJOF NANSEN (/ˈfrɪd.tʃɒf ˈnænsən/ FRID-choff NAN-sən ;
10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegian explorer, scientist,
diplomat, humanitarian and
Nobel Peace Prize laureate . In his youth
he was a champion skier and ice skater. He led the team that made the
first crossing of the
Nansen studied zoology at the
Royal Frederick University in
In the final decade of his life, Nansen devoted himself primarily to the League of Nations , following his appointment in 1921 as the League's High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Among the initiatives he introduced was the " Nansen passport " for stateless persons, a certificate recognised by more than 50 countries. He worked on behalf of refugees until his sudden death in 1930, after which the League established the Nansen International Office for Refugees to ensure that his work continued. This office received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1938. Nansen was honoured by many nations, and his name is commemorated in numerous geographical features, particularly in the polar regions.
* 1 Family background and childhood * 2 Student and adventurer
* 3 Crossing of
* 3.1 Planning * 3.2 Expedition
* 4 Interlude and marriage
* 5 Fram expedition
* 5.1 Theories and plans * 5.2 Preparations * 5.3 Into the ice * 5.4 Dash for the pole * 5.5 Retreat * 5.6 Rescue and return
* 6 National figure
* 6.1 Scientist and polar oracle * 6.2 Politician and diplomat * 6.3 Oceanographer and traveller * 6.4 Statesman and humanitarian
* 7 Later life * 8 Death and legacy * 9 Works * 10 See also * 11 Notes * 12 References * 13 Sources * 14 External links
FAMILY BACKGROUND AND CHILDHOOD
Nansen at the age of four
The Nansen family originated in Denmark.
Hans Nansen (1598–1667), a
trader, was an early explorer of the
White Sea region of the Arctic
Ocean. In later life he settled in Copenhagen, becoming the city's
borgmester in 1654. Later generations of the family lived in
Copenhagen until the mid-18th century, when Ancher Antoni Nansen moved
to Norway (then ruled by Denmark). His son, Hans Leierdahl Nansen
(1764–1821), was a magistrate first in the
Baldur was a lawyer without ambitions for public life, who became Reporter to the Supreme Court of Norway . He married twice, the second time to Adelaide Johanne Thekla Isidore Bølling Wedel-Jarlsberg from Bærum , a niece of Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg who had helped frame the Norwegian constitution of 1814 and was later the Swedish king's Norwegian Viceroy . Baldur and Adelaide settled at Store Frøen, an estate at Aker, a few kilometres north of Norway's capital city, Christiania (since renamed Oslo). The couple had three children; the first died in infancy, the second, born 10 October 1861, was Fridtjof Nansen.
Store Frøen's rural surroundings shaped the nature of Nansen's childhood. In the short summers the main activities were swimming and fishing, while in the autumn the chief pastime was hunting for game in the forests. The long winter months were devoted mainly to skiing, which Nansen began to practice at the age of two, on improvised skis. At the age of 10 he defied his parents and attempted the ski jump at the nearby Huseby installation. This exploit had near-disastrous consequences, as on landing the skis dug deep into the snow, pitching the boy forward: "I, head first, described a fine arc in the air ... hen I came down again I bored into the snow up to my waist. The boys thought I had broken my neck, but as soon as they saw there was life in me ... a shout of mocking laughter went up." Nansen's enthusiasm for skiing was undiminished, though as he records, his efforts were overshadowed by those of the skiers from the mountainous region of Telemark , where a new style of skiing was being developed. "I saw this was the only way", wrote Nansen later.
At school, Nansen worked adequately without showing any particular
aptitude. Studies took second place to sports, or to expeditions into
the forests where he would live "like
STUDENT AND ADVENTURER
Nansen as a student in Christiania
In 1880 Nansen passed his university entrance examination, the examen artium . He decided to study zoology , claiming later that he chose the subject because he thought it offered the chance of a life in the open air. He began his studies at the Royal Frederick University in Christiania early in 1881.
Early in 1882 Nansen took "...the first fatal step that led me astray
from the quiet life of science." Professor
Robert Collett of the
university's zoology department proposed that Nansen take a sea
voyage, to study
Nansen did not resume formal studies at the university. Instead, on Collett's recommendation, he accepted a post as curator in the zoological department of the Bergen Museum . He was to spend the next six years of his life there—apart from a six-month sabbatical tour of Europe—working and studying with leading figures such as Gerhard Armauer Hansen , the discoverer of the leprosy bacillus, and Daniel Cornelius Danielssen , the museum's director who had turned it from a backwater collection into a centre of scientific research and education. Nansen's chosen area of study was the then relatively unexplored field of neuroanatomy , specifically the central nervous system of lower marine creatures. Before leaving for his sabbatical in February 1886 he published a paper summarising his research to date, in which he stated that "anastomoses or unions between the different ganglion cells" could not be demonstrated with certainty. This unorthodox view, confirmed by the simultaneous researches of the embryologist Wilhelm His and the psychiatrist August Forel . Nansen is considered the first Norwegian defender of the neuron theory, originally proposed by Santiago Ramon y Cajal . His subsequent paper, The Structure and Combination of Histological Elements of the Central Nervous System, published in 1887, became his doctoral thesis.
CROSSING OF GREENLAND
Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, whose 1883 expedition had penetrated
160 kilometres (100 mi) into the
The idea of an expedition across the
Nansen rejected the complex organisation and heavy manpower of other
Despite the adverse publicity, Nansen received numerous applications
from would-be adventurers. He wanted expert skiers, and attempted to
recruit from the skiers of Telemark, but his approaches were rebuffed.
Nordenskiöld had advised Nansen that
Sami people , from
On 3 June 1888 Nansen's party was picked up from the north-western
Icelandic port of
Ísafjörður by the sealer Jason . A week later the
The expedition left Jason "in good spirits and with the highest hopes of a fortunate result", according to Jason's captain. There followed days of extreme frustration for the party as, prevented by weather and sea conditions from reaching the shore, they drifted southwards with the ice. Most of this time was spent camping on the ice itself—it was too dangerous to launch the boats. By 29 July they were 380 kilometres (240 mi) south of the point where they had left the ship. On that day they finally reached land, but were too far south to begin the crossing. After a brief rest, Nansen ordered the team back into the boats and to begin rowing north.
During the next 12 days the party battled northward along the coast
through the ice floes. On the first day they encountered a large
Eskimo encampment near Cape Steen Bille , and there were further
occasional contacts with the nomadic native population as the journey
continued. On 11 August, when they had covered about 200 kilometres
(120 mi) and had reached
Umivik Bay , Nansen decided that although
they were still far south of his intended starting place, they needed
to begin the crossing before the season became too advanced for
travel. After landing at Umivik, they spent the next four days
preparing for their journey, and on the evening of 15 August they set
out. They were heading north-west, towards Christianhaab (now
Qasigiannguit) on the west
Over the next few days the party struggled to ascend the inland ice over a treacherous surface with many hidden crevasses . The weather was generally bad; on one occasion all progress was halted for three days by violent storms and continuous rain. On 26 August Nansen concluded that there was now no chance of reaching Christianhaab by mid-September, when the last ship was due to leave. He therefore ordered a change of course, almost due west towards Godthaab (now Nuuk) , a shorter journey by at least 150 kilometres (93 mi). The rest of the party, according to Nansen, "hailed the change of plan with acclamation". They continued climbing, until on 11 September they had reached a height of 8,922 feet (2,719 m) above sea level, the summit of the icecap with temperatures dropping to −50 °F (−46 °C) at night. From then on the downward slope made travelling easier, although the terrain was difficult and the weather remained hostile. Progress was slow because of fresh snowfalls which made dragging the sledges as hard as pulling them through sand. By 26 September they had battled their way down to the edge of a fjord that ran westward towards Godthaab. From their tent, some local willows and parts of the sledges Sverdrup constructed a makeshift boat, and on 29 September Nansen and Sverdrup began the last stage of the journey, rowing down the fjord. Four days later, on 3 October 1888, they reached Godthaab, where they were greeted by the town's Danish representative. His first words were to inform Nansen that he had been awarded his doctorate, a matter that "could not have been more remote from my thoughts at that moment". The crossing had been accomplished in 49 days, making 78 days in total since they had left the Jason; throughout the journey the team had maintained careful meteorological, geographical and other records relating to the previously unexplored interior. The rest of the team arrived in Godthaab on 12 October.
Nansen soon learned that no ship was likely to call at Godthaab until
the following spring, though they were able to send letters back to
Norway via a boat leaving
INTERLUDE AND MARRIAGE
Hvidbjørnen reached Copenhagen on 21 May 1889. News of the crossing had preceded its arrival, and Nansen and his companions were feted as heroes. This welcome, however, was dwarfed by the reception in Christiania a week later, when crowds of between thirty and forty thousand—a third of the city's population—thronged the streets as the party made its way to the first of a series of receptions. The interest and enthusiasm generated by the expedition's achievement led directly to the formation that year of the Norwegian Geographical Society .
Nansen accepted the position of curator of the Royal Frederick University's zoology collection, a post which carried a salary but involved no duties; the university was satisfied by the association with the explorer's name. Nansen's main task in the following weeks was writing his account of the expedition, but he found time late in June to visit London, where he met the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and addressed a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS).
The RGS president, Sir Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant Duff , said that Nansen has claimed "the foremost place amongst northern travellers", and later awarded him the Society's prestigious Founder\'s Medal . This was one of many honours Nansen received from institutions all over Europe. He was invited by a group of Australians to lead an expedition to Antarctica, but declined, believing that Norway's interests would be better served by a North Pole conquest.
On 11 August 1889 Nansen announced his engagement to Eva Sars , the daughter of Michael Sars , a zoology professor who had died when Eva was 11 years old. The couple had met some years previously, at the skiing resort of Frognerseteren , where Nansen recalled seeing "two feet sticking out of the snow". Eva was three years older than Nansen, and despite the evidence of this first meeting, was an accomplished skier. She was also a celebrated classical singer who had been coached in Berlin by Désirée Artôt , one-time paramour of Tchaikovsky . The engagement surprised many; since Nansen had previously expressed himself forcefully against the institution of marriage, Otto Sverdrup assumed he had read the message wrongly. The wedding took place on 6 September 1889, less than a month after the engagement.
Main article: Nansen\'s Fram expedition
THEORIES AND PLANS
Nansen in 1889 (28 years old)
Nansen first began to consider the possibility of reaching the North
Pole by using the natural drift of the polar ice when, in 1884, he
read the theories of
Henrik Mohn , the distinguished Norwegian
meteorologist . Artifacts found on the
This idea remained with Nansen during following years. After his
triumphant return from
Many experienced polar hands were dismissive of Nansen's plans. The
retired American explorer
Adolphus Greely called the idea "an
illogical scheme of self-destruction". Sir Allen Young, a veteran of
the searches for Sir John Franklin\'s lost expedition , and Sir
Joseph Hooker , who had sailed south with
James Clark Ross
Modern photograph of the Fram 's rounded hull
Colin Archer , Norway's leading shipbuilder and naval
architect, to design and build a suitable ship for the planned
expedition. Using the toughest oak timbers available, and an intricate
system of crossbeams and braces throughout its length, Archer built a
vessel of extraordinary strength. Its rounded hull was designed so
that it would slip upwards out of the grip of packing ice. Speed and
sailing performance were secondary to the requirement of making the
ship a safe and warm shelter during a predicted lengthy confinement.
With an overall length of 128 feet (39 m) and a beam of 36 feet (11
m), the length-to-beam ratio of just over three gave the ship its
stubby appearance, justified by Archer thus: "A ship that is built
with exclusive regard to its suitability for object must differ
essentially from any known vessel." The ship was launched by Eva
Nansen at Archer's yard at
From thousands of applicants, Nansen selected a party of twelve. Otto
Sverdrup from the
INTO THE ICE
Routes taken during the 1893–96 Fram expedition: Fram's route eastward from Vardø along the Siberian coast, turning north at the New Siberian Islands to enter the pack ice, July–September 1893 Fram's drift in the ice from the New Siberian Islands north and west to Spitsbergen, September 1893 – August 1896 Nansen and Johansen's march to Farthest North, 86°13.6′N, and subsequent retreat to Cape Flora in Franz Josef Land, March 1895 – June 1896 Nansen and Johansen's return to Vardø from Cape Flora, August 1896 Fram's voyage from Spitsbergen to Tromsø, August 1896
Fram left Christiania on 24 June 1893, cheered on by thousands of well-wishers. After a slow journey around the coast, the final port of call was Vardø , in the far north-east of Norway. Fram left Vardø on 21 July, following the North-East Passage route pioneered by Nordenskiöld in 1878–79, along the northern coast of Siberia. Progress was impeded by fog and ice conditions in the mainly uncharted seas. The crew also experienced the dead water phenomenon, where a ship's forward progress is impeded by friction caused by a layer of fresh water lying on top of heavier salt water. Nevertheless, Cape Chelyuskin , the most northerly point of the Eurasian continental mass, was passed on 10 September. Ten days later, as Fram approached the area in which Jeannette had been crushed, heavy pack ice was sighted at around latitude 78°N. Nansen followed the line of the pack northwards to a position recorded as 78°49′N, 132°53′E, before ordering engines stopped and the rudder raised. From this point Fram's drift began.
The first weeks in the ice were frustrating, as the drift moved unpredictably, sometimes north, sometimes south; by 19 November Fram's latitude was south of that at which she had entered the ice. Only after the turn of the year, in January 1894, did the northerly direction become generally settled; the 80° mark was finally passed on 22 March. Nansen calculated that, at this rate, it might take the ship five years to reach the pole. As the ship's northerly progress continued at a rate rarely above a mile (1.6 km) a day, Nansen began privately to consider a new plan—a dog sledge journey towards the pole. With this in mind he began to practice dog-driving, making many experimental journeys over the ice. In November Nansen announced his plan: when the ship passed latitude 83° he and Hjalmar Johansen would leave the ship with the dogs and make for the pole while Fram, under Sverdrup, continued its drift until it emerged from the ice in the North Atlantic. After reaching the pole, Nansen and Johansen would make for the nearest known land, the recently discovered and sketchily mapped Franz Josef Land . They would then cross to Spitzbergen where they would find a ship to take them home.
The crew spent the rest of the 1894–95 winter preparing clothing and equipment for the forthcoming sledge journey. Kayaks were built, to be carried on the sledges until needed for the crossing of open water. Preparations were interrupted early in January when violent tremors shook the ship. The crew disembarked, fearing that the vessel would be crushed, but Fram proved herself equal to the danger. On 8 January 1895 the ship's position was 83°34′N, above Greely's previous Farthest North record of 83°24.
DASH FOR THE POLE
Nansen and Johansen prepare to depart Fram for their polar trek, 14 March 1895. Nansen is the figure second from left, Johansen second from right.
On 14 March 1895, after two false starts and with the ship's position at 84°4′N, Nansen and Johansen began their journey. Nansen had allowed 50 days to cover the 356 nautical miles (660 km; 410 mi) to the pole, an average daily journey of seven nautical miles (13 km; 8.1 mi). After a week of travel a sextant observation indicated that they were averaging nine nautical miles a day, (17 km; 10 mi), putting them ahead of schedule. However, uneven surfaces made skiing more difficult, and their speeds slowed. They also realised that they were marching against a southerly drift, and that distances travelled did not necessarily equate to northerly progression. On 3 April Nansen began to wonder whether the pole was, indeed, attainable. Unless their speed improved, their food would not last them to the pole and then on to Franz Josef Land . He confided in his diary: "I have become more and more convinced we ought to turn before time." On 7 April, after making camp and observing that the way ahead was "a veritable chaos of iceblocks stretching as far as the horizon", Nansen decided to turn south. He recorded the latitude of the final northerly camp as 86°13.6′N, almost three degrees beyond the previous Farthest North mark.
At first Nansen and Johansen made good progress south, but on 13 April suffered a serious setback when both of their chronometers stopped. Without knowing the correct time, it was impossible for them to calculate their longitude and thus navigate their way accurately to Franz Josef Land. They restarted the watches on the basis of Nansen's guess that they were at longitude 86°E, but from then on were uncertain of their true position. The hut on Franz Josef Land , covered in snow, in which Nansen and Johansen spent the winter of 1895–96. A drawing, based on Nansen's photograph.
Towards the end of April they observed the tracks of an
Arctic fox ,
the first trace they had seen of a living creature other than their
dogs since leaving Fram. Soon they began to see bear tracks, and by
the end of May seals, gulls and whales were in evidence. On 31 May, by
Nansen's calculations, they were only 50 nautical miles (93 km; 58 mi)
It was soon clear that this land was part of a group of islands. As they moved slowly southwards, Nansen tentatively identified a headland as Cape Felder, on the western edge of Franz Josef Land. Towards the end of August, as the weather grew colder and travel became increasingly difficult, Nansen decided to camp for the winter. In a sheltered cove, with stones and moss for building materials, the pair erected a hut which was to be their home for the next eight months. With ready supplies of bear, walrus and seal to keep their larder stocked, their principal enemy was not hunger but inactivity. After muted Christmas and New Year celebrations, in slowly improving weather they began to prepare to leave their refuge, but it was 19 May 1896 before they were able to resume their journey.
RESCUE AND RETURN
On 17 June, during a stop for repairs after the kayaks had been attacked by a walrus , Nansen thought he heard sounds of a dog barking, and of voices. He went to investigate, and a few minutes later saw the figure of a man approaching. It was the British explorer Frederick Jackson , who was leading an expedition to Franz Josef Land and was camped at Cape Flora on the nearby Northbrook Island . The two were equally astonished by their encounter; after some awkward hesitation Jackson asked: "You are Nansen, aren't you?", and received the reply "Yes, I am Nansen." Johansen was soon picked up, and the pair were taken to Cape Flora where, during the following weeks, they recuperated from their ordeal. Nansen later wrote that he could "still scarcely grasp" the sudden change of fortune; had it not been for the walrus attack that caused the delay, the two parties might have been unaware of each other's existence. The Nansen–Jackson meeting at Cape Flora , 17 June 1896
On 7 August Nansen and Johansen boarded Jackson's supply ship
Windward , and sailed for Vardø where they arrived on the 13th. They
were greeted by Hans Mohn, the originator of the polar drift theory,
who was in the town by chance. The world was quickly informed by
telegram of Nansen's safe return, but as yet there was no news of
Fram. Taking the weekly mail steamer south, Nansen and Johansen
The homeward voyage to Christiania was a series of triumphant
receptions at every port. On 9 September
Fram was escorted into
Christiania's harbour and welcomed by the largest crowds the city had
ever seen. The crew were received by King Oscar, and Nansen, reunited
with family, remained at the palace for several days as a special
guest. Tributes arrived from all over the world; typical was that from
the British mountaineer
SCIENTIST AND POLAR ORACLE
Nansen's first task on his return was to write his account of the voyage. This he did remarkably quickly, producing 300,000 words of Norwegian text by November 1896; the English translation, titled Farthest North, was ready in January 1897. The book was an instant success, and secured Nansen's long-term financial future. Nansen included without comment the one significant adverse criticism of his conduct, that of Greely, who had written in Harper\'s Weekly on Nansen's decision to leave Fram and strike for the pole: "It passes comprehension how Nansen could have thus deviated from the most sacred duty devolving on the commander of a naval expedition."
During the 20 years following his return from the Arctic, Nansen devoted most of his energies to scientific work. In 1897 he accepted a professorship in zoology at the Royal Frederick University , which gave him a base from which he could tackle the major task of editing the reports of the scientific results of the Fram expedition. This was a much more arduous task than writing the expedition narrative. The results were eventually published in six volumes, and according to a later polar scientist, Robert Rudmose-Brown , "were to Arctic oceanography what the Challenger expedition results had been to the oceanography of other oceans."
In 1900 Nansen became director of the Christiania-based International
Laboratory for North Sea Research, and helped found the International
Council for the Exploration of the Sea . Through his connection with
the latter body, in the summer of 1900 Nansen embarked on his first
Nansen was now considered an oracle by all would-be explorers of the
north and south polar regions. Abruzzi had consulted him, as had the
Adrien de Gerlache , each of whom took expeditions to the
Antarctic. Although Nansen refused to meet his own countryman and
By 1901 Nansen's family had expanded considerably. A daughter, Liv,
had been born just before
Fram set out; a son, Kåre was born in 1897
followed by a daughter, Irmelin, in 1900 and a second son Odd in 1901.
The family home, which Nansen had built in 1891 from the profits of
POLITICIAN AND DIPLOMAT
King Oscar II , last king of the union of Sweden and Norway. He remained Sweden's king after Norway's independence in 1905.
The union between Norway and Sweden , imposed by the Great Powers in
1814, had been under considerable strain through the 1890s, the chief
issue in question being Norway's rights to its own consular service .
Nansen, although not by inclination a politician, had spoken out on
the issue on several occasions in defence of Norway's interests. It
seemed, early in the 20th century that agreement between the two
countries might be possible, but hopes were dashed when negotiations
broke down in February 1905. The Norwegian government fell, and was
replaced by one led by
In February and March Nansen published a series of newspaper articles which placed him firmly in the separatist camp. The new prime minister wanted Nansen in the cabinet, but Nansen had no political ambitions. However, at Michelsen's request he went to Berlin and then to London where, in a letter to The Times, he presented Norway's legal case for a separate consular service to the English-speaking world. On 17 May 1905, Norway's Constitution Day, Nansen addressed a large crowd in Christiania, saying: "Now have all ways of retreat been closed. Now remains only one path, the way forward, perhaps through difficulties and hardships, but forward for our country, to a free Norway". He also wrote a book, Norway and the Union with Sweden, specifically to promote Norway's case abroad.
On 23 May the Storting passed the Consulate Act establishing a
separate consular service. King Oscar refused his assent; on 27 May
the Norwegian cabinet resigned, but the king would not recognise this
step. On 7 June the Storting unilaterally announced that the union
with Sweden was dissolved. In a tense situation the Swedish government
agreed to Norway's request that the dissolution should be put to a
referendum of the Norwegian people. This was held on 13 August 1905
and resulted in an overwhelming vote for separation, at which point
King Oscar relinquished the crown of Norway while retaining the
Swedish throne. A second referendum, held in November, determined that
the new independent state should be a monarchy rather than a republic.
In anticipation of this, Michelsen's government had been considering
the suitability of various princes as candidates for the Norwegian
throne. Faced with King Oscar's refusal to allow anyone from his own
House of Bernadotte to accept the crown, the favoured choice was
Prince Charles of Denmark . In July 1905 Michelsen sent Nansen to
Copenhagen on a secret mission to persuade Charles to accept the
Norwegian throne. Nansen was successful; shortly after the second
referendum Charles was proclaimed king, taking the name Haakon VII. He
and his wife, the British princess Maud , were crowned in the Nidaros
In April 1906 Nansen was appointed Norway's first Minister in London. His main task was to work with representatives of the major European powers on an Integrity Treaty which would guarantee Norway's position. Nansen was popular in England, and got on well with King Edward, though he found court functions and diplomatic duties disagreeable; "frivolous and boring" was his description. However, he was able to pursue his geographical and scientific interests through contacts with the Royal Geographical Society and other learned bodies. The Treaty was signed on 2 November 1907, and Nansen considered his task complete. Resisting the pleas of, among others, King Edward that he should remain in London, on 15 November Nansen resigned his post. A few weeks later, still in England as the king's guest at Sandringham , Nansen received word that Eva was seriously ill with pneumonia . On 8 December he set out for home, but before he reached Polhøgda he learned, from a telegram, that Eva had died.
OCEANOGRAPHER AND TRAVELLER
An illustration of the workings of the Nansen bottle
After a period of mourning, Nansen returned to London. He had been persuaded by his government to rescind his resignation until after King Edward's state visit to Norway in April 1908. His formal retirement from the diplomatic service was dated 1 May 1908, the same day on which his university professorship was changed from zoology to oceanography. This new designation reflected the general character of Nansen's more recent scientific interests. In 1905 he had supplied the Swedish physicist Walfrid Ekman with the data which established the principle in oceanography known as the Ekman spiral . Based on Nansen's observations of ocean currents recorded during the Fram expedition, Ekman concluded that the effect of wind on the sea's surface produced currents which "formed something like a spiral staircase, down towards the depths". In 1909 Nansen combined with Bjørn Helland-Hansen to publish an academic paper, The Norwegian Sea: its Physical Oceanography, based on the Michael Sars voyage of 1900.
Nansen had by now retired from polar exploration, the decisive step being his release of Fram to his fellow-Norwegian Roald Amundsen , who was planning a North Pole expedition. When Amundsen made his controversial change of plan and set out for the South Pole, Nansen stood by him. Between 1910 and 1914, Nansen participated in a several oceanographic voyages. In 1910, aboard the Norwegian naval vessel Fridtjof, he carried out researches in the northern Atlantic, and in 1912 he took his own yacht, Veslemøy, to Bear Island and Spitsbergen. The main objective of the Veslemøy cruise was the investigation of salinity in the North Polar Basin. One of Nansen's lasting contributions to oceanography was his work designing instruments and equipment; the " Nansen bottle " for taking deep water samples remained in use into the 21st century, in a version updated by Shale Niskin .
At the request of the Royal Geographical Society, Nansen began work
on a study of
In the summer of 1913 Nansen travelled to the Kara Sea, by the
Jonas Lied , as part of a delegation investigating a
possible trade route between Western Europe and the Siberian interior.
The party then took a steamer up the
STATESMAN AND HUMANITARIAN
Nansen raised funds to help the famine in Russia by taking photographs and selling postcards of the disaster.
On the outbreak of war in 1914 Norway declared its neutrality, alongside Sweden and Denmark. Nansen was appointed president of the Norwegian Union of Defence, but had few official duties, and continued with his professional work as far as circumstances permitted. As the war progressed, the loss of Norway's overseas trade led to acute shortages of food in the country, which became critical in April 1917 when the United States entered the war and placed extra restrictions on international trade. Nansen was dispatched to Washington by the Norwegian government; after months of discussion he secured food and other supplies in return for the introduction of a rationing system. When his government hesitated over the deal, he signed the agreement on his own initiative.
Within a few months of the war's end in November 1918 a draft agreement had been accepted by the Paris Peace Conference to create a League of Nations , as a means of resolving disputes between nations by peaceful means. The foundation of the League at this time was providential as far as Nansen was concerned, giving him a new outlet for his restless energy.
He became president of the Norwegian League of Nations Society, and although the Scandinavian nations with their traditions of neutrality initially held themselves aloof, his advocacy helped to ensure that Norway became a full member of the League in 1920, and he became one of its three delegates to the League's General Assembly.
In April 1920, at the League's request, Nansen began organising the
repatriation of around half a million prisoners of war, stranded in
various parts of the world. Of these, 300,000 were in Russia which,
gripped by revolution and civil war, had little interest in their
fate. Nansen was able to report to the Assembly in November 1920 that
around 200,000 men had been returned to their homes. "Never in my
life", he said, "have I been brought into touch with so formidable an
amount of suffering." Nansen continued this work for a further two
years until, in his final report to the Assembly in 1922, he was able
to state that 427,886 prisoners had been repatriated to around 30
different countries. In paying tribute to his work, the responsible
committee recorded that the story of his efforts "would contain tales
of heroic endeavour worthy of those in the accounts of the crossing of
Even before this work was complete, Nansen was involved in a further humanitarian effort. On 1 September 1921, prompted by the British delegate Philip Noel-Baker , he accepted the post of the League's High Commissioner for Refugees. His main brief was the resettlement of around two million Russian refugees displaced by the upheavals of the Russian Revolution . At the same time he tried to tackle the urgent problem of famine in Russia ; following a widespread failure of crops around 30 million people were threatened with starvation and death. Despite Nansen's pleas on behalf of the starving, Russia's revolutionary government was feared and distrusted internationally, and the League was reluctant to come to its peoples' aid. Nansen had to rely largely on fundraising from private organisations, and his efforts met with limited success. Later he was to express himself bitterly on the matter:
There was in various transatlantic countries such an abundance of maize, that the farmers had to burn it as fuel in their railway engines. At the same time the ships in Europe were idle, for there were no cargoes. Simultaneously there were thousands, nay millions of unemployed. All this, while thirty million people in the Volga region—not far away and easily reached by our ships—were allowed to starve and die.
A major problem impeding Nansen's work on behalf of refugees was that
most of them lacked documentary proof of identity or nationality.
Without legal status in their country of refuge, their lack of papers
meant they were unable to go anywhere else. To overcome this, Nansen
devised a document that became known as the "
Nansen passport ", a form
of identity for stateless persons that was in time recognised by more
than 50 governments, and which allowed refugees to cross borders
legally. Among the more distinguished holders of Nansen passports were
From 1925 onwards he spent much time trying to help Armenian refugees, victims of Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War and further ill-treatment thereafter. His goal was the establishment of a national home for these refugees, within the borders of Soviet Armenia . His main assistant in this endeavour was Vidkun Quisling , the future Nazi collaborator and head of a Norwegian puppet government during the Second World War . After visiting the region, Nansen presented the Assembly with a modest plan for the irrigation of 36,000 hectares (360 km2 or 139 square miles) on which 15,000 refugees could be settled. The plan ultimately failed, because even with Nansen's unremitting advocacy the money to finance the scheme was not forthcoming. Despite this failure, his reputation among the Armenian people remains high. Nansen wrote the book, Armenia and the Near East in 1923 which describes his sympathies to the plight of the Armenians in the wake of losing its independence to the Soviet Union. The book was translated in many languages including Norwegian, English, French, German, Russian and Armenian. After his visit to Armenia, Nansen wrote two additional books called "Gjennem Armenia" ("Across Armenia"), published in 1927 and "Gjennem Kaukasus til Volga" ("Through Caucasus to Volga").
Within the League's Assembly, Nansen spoke out on many issues besides those related to refugees. He believed that the Assembly gave the smaller countries such as Norway a "unique opportunity for speaking in the councils of the world." He believed that the extent of the League's success in reducing armaments would be the greatest test of its credibility. He was a signatory to the Slavery Convention of 25 September 1926, which sought to outlaw the use of forced labour. He supported a settlement of the post-war reparations issue, and championed Germany's membership of the League, which was granted in September 1926 after intensive preparatory work by Nansen.
Nansen, photographed towards the end of his life.
On 17 January 1919 Nansen married Sigrun Munthe, a long-time friend with whom he had had a love affair in 1905, while Eva was still alive. The marriage was resented by the Nansen children, and proved unhappy; an acquaintance writing of them in the 1920s said Nansen appeared unbearably miserable and Sigrun steeped in hate.
League of Nations commitments through the 1920s meant that
he was mostly absent from Norway, and was able to devote little time
to scientific work. Nevertheless, he continued to publish occasional
papers. He entertained the hope that he might travel to the North
Pole by airship, but could not raise sufficient funding. In any event
he was forestalled in this ambition by Amundsen, who flew over the
Umberto Nobile 's airship Norge in May 1926. Two years later
Nansen broadcast a memorial oration to Amundsen, who had disappeared
In 1926 Nansen was elected Rector of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, the first foreigner to hold this largely honorary position. He used the occasion of his inaugural address to review his life and philosophy, and to deliver a call to the youth of the next generation. He ended:
We all have a Land of Beyond to seek in our life—what more can we ask? Our part is to find the trail that leads to it. A long trail, a hard trail, maybe; but the call comes to us, and we have to go. Rooted deep in the nature of every one of us is the spirit of adventure, the call of the wild—vibrating under all our actions, making life deeper and higher and nobler.
Nansen largely avoided involvement in domestic Norwegian politics,
but in 1924 he was persuaded by the long-retired former Prime Minister
Following continued turmoil between the centre-right parties, there was even an independent petition in 1926 gaining some momentum that proposed for Nansen to head a centre-right national unity government on a balanced budget program, an idea he did not reject. He was the headline speaker at the single largest Fatherland League rally with 15,000 attendees in Tønsberg in 1928. In 1929 he went on his final tour for the League on the ship Stella Polaris, holding speeches from Bergen to Hammerfest.
In between his various duties and responsibilities, Nansen had
continued to take skiing holidays when he could. In February 1930,
aged 68, he took a short break in the mountains with two old friends,
who noted that Nansen was slower than usual and appeared to tire
easily. On his return to
Nansen was a close friend of a clergyman named Wilhelm. Nansen himself was an atheist.
DEATH AND LEGACY
Post-mortem photograph of Nansen. Mount Fridtjof Nansen in Antarctica, named and photographed by Roald Amundsen Image of moon crater Nansen from Clementine b/w data
Nansen died of a heart attack, at home, on 13 May 1930. He was given a non-religious state funeral before cremation, after which his ashes were laid under a tree at Polhøgda. Nansen's daughter Liv recorded that there were no speeches, just music: Schubert 's Death and the Maiden , which Eva used to sing. Among the many tributes paid to him subsequently was that of Lord Robert Cecil , a fellow League of Nations delegate, who spoke of the range of Nansen's work, done with no regard for his own interests or health: "Every good cause had his support. He was a fearless peacemaker, a friend of justice, an advocate always for the weak and suffering."
Nansen had been a pioneer and innovator in many fields. As a young
man he embraced the revolution in skiing methods that transformed it
from a means of winter travel to a universal sport, and quickly became
one of Norway's leading skiers. He was later able to apply this
expertise to the problems of polar travel, in both his
Through his work on behalf of the League of Nations, Nansen helped to
establish the principle of international responsibility for refugees.
Immediately after his death the League set up the Nansen International
Office for Refugees , a semi-autonomous body under the League's
authority, to continue his work. The Nansen Office faced great
difficulties, in part arising from the large numbers of refugees from
the European dictatorships during the 1930s. Nevertheless, it secured
the agreement of 14 countries (including a reluctant Great Britain)
to the Refugee Convention of 1933. It also helped to repatriate 10,000
In 1954 the League's successor body, the
In his lifetime and thereafter, Nansen received honours and
recognition from many countries.
Nansen Ski Club , the oldest
continually operated ski club in the United States, located in Berlin,
New Hampshire , is named in his honour. Numerous geographical features
are named after him: the
Nansen Basin and the Nansen-
* Paa ski over Grønland. En skildring af Den norske
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