1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nansen, Fridtjof

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21870641911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 19 — Nansen, Fridtjof

NANSEN, FRIDTJOF (1861–), Norwegian scientist, explorer and statesman, was born at Fröen near Christiania on the 10th of October 1861. His childhood was spent at this place till his fifteenth year, when his parents removed to Christiania, where he went to school. He entered Christiania university in 1880, where he made a special study of zoology; in March 1882 he joined the sealing-ship “Viking” for a voyage to Greenland waters. On his return in the same year he was appointed curator of the Bergen Museum, under the eminent physician and zoologist Daniel Cornelius Danielssen (1815–1894). In 1886 he spent a short time at the zoological station at Naples. During this time he wrote several papers and memoirs on zoological and histological subjects, and for one paper on “The Structure and Combination of the Histological Elements of the Central Nervous System” (Bergen, 1887) the Christiania university conferred upon him the degree of doctor of philosophy. But his voyage in the “Viking” had indicated Greenland as a possible field for exploration, and in 1887 he set about preparations for a crossing of the great ice-field which covers the interior of that country. The possibility of his success was discountenanced by many Arctic authorities, and a small grant he had asked for was refused by the Norwegian government, but was provided by Augustin Gamel, a merchant of Copenhagen, while he paid from his private means the greater part of the expenses of the expedition. As companions Nansen had Otto Neumann Sverdrup (b. 1855), Captain O. C. Dietrichson (b. 1856), a third compatriot, and two Lapps. The expedition started in May 1888, proceeding from Leith to Iceland, and there joining a sealing-ship bound for the east coast of Greenland. On the 17th of July Nansen decided to leave the ship and force a way through the ice-belt to the land, about 10 m. distant, but the party encountered great difficulties owing to ice-pressures, went adrift with the ice, and only reached the land on the 29th, having been carried far to the south in the interval. They made their way north again, along the coast inside the drift ice, and on the 16th of August began the ascent of the inland ice. Suffering severely from storms, intense cold, and other hardships, they reached the highest point of the journey (8920 ft.) on the 5th of September, and at the end of the month struck the west coast at the Ameralik Fjord. On reaching the settlement of Godthaab it was found that the party must winter there, and Nansen used the opportunity to study the Eskimos and gather material for his book, Eskimo Life (English translation, London, 1893). The party returned home in May 1889, and Nansen's book, The First Crossing of Greenland (English translation, London, 1890), demonstrates the valuable scientific results of the journey. A report of the scientific results was published in Petermanns Mitteilungen (Gotha, 1892). On his return from Greenland Nansen accepted the curatorship of the Zootomic Museum of Christiania university. In September 1889 he married Eva, daughter of Professor Michael Sars of Christiania university, and a noted singer (d. 1907).

In 1890 he propounded his scheme for a polar expedition before the Norwegian Geographical Society, and in 1892 he laid it before the Royal Geographical Society in London (see “How can the North Polar Region be crossed?” Geogr. Journal, vol. i.), by which time his preparations were well advanced. His theory, that a drift-current sets across the polar regions from Bering Strait and the neighbourhood of the New Siberia Islands towards the east coast of Greenland, was based on a number of indications, notably the discovery (1884), on drift ice off the south-west coast of Greenland, of relics of the American north polar expedition in the ship “Jeannette,” which sank N.E. of the New Siberia Islands in 1881. His intention was therefore to get his vessel fixed in the ice to the north of Eastern Siberia and let her drift with it. His plan was adversely criticized by many Arctic authorities, but it succeeded. The Norwegian parliament granted two-thirds of the expenses, and the rest was obtained by subscription from King Oscar and private individuals. His ship, the “Fram” (i.e. “Forward”), was specially built of immense strength and peculiar form, being pointed at bow and stern and having sloping sides, so that the ice-floes, pressing together, should tend, not to crush, but merely to slip beneath and lift her. She sailed from Christiania on the 24th of June 1893. Otto Sverdrup was master; Sigurd Scott Hansen, a Norwegian naval lieutenant, was in charge of the astronomical and meteorological observations; Henrik Greve Blessing was doctor and botanist; and among the rest was Frederik Hjalmar Johansen, lieutenant in the Norwegian army, who shipped as fireman. On the 22nd of September the “Fram” was made fast to a floe in 78° 50′ N., 133° 37′ E.; shortly afterwards she was frozen in, and the long drift began. She bore the pressure of the ice perfectly. During the winter of 1894–1895 it was decided that an expedition should be made northward over the ice on foot in the spring, and on the 14th, of March 1895 Nansen, being satisfied that the “Fram” would continue to drift safely, left her in 84° N., 101° 55′ E., and started northward accompanied by Johansen. On the 8th of April they turned back from 86° 14′ N., the highest latitude then reached by man; and they shaped their course for Franz Josef Land. They suffered many hardships, including shortage of food, and were compelled to winter on Frederick Jackson Island (so named by Nansen) in Franz Josef Land from the 26th of August 1895 to the 19th of May 1896. They were uncertain as to the locality, but, after having reached 80° N. on the south coast of the islands, they were travelling westward to reach Spitsbergen, when, on the 17th of June 1896, they fell in with Frederick Jackson and his party of the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition, and returned to Norway in his ship, the “Windward,” reaching Vardö on the 13th of August. A week later the “Fram” also reached Norway in safety. She had drifted north after Nansen had left her, to 85° 57′, and had ultimately returned by the west coast of Spitsbergen. An unprecedented welcome awaited Nansen. In England he gave the narrative of his journey at a great meeting in the Albert Hall, London, on the 8th of February 1897, and elsewhere. He received a special medal from the Royal Geographical Society, honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and a presentation of books (the “Challenger” Reports) from the British government, and similar honours were paid him in other countries. The English version of the narrative of the expedition is entitled Farthest North (London, 1897), and the scientific results are given in The Norwegian North Polar Expedition 1893–1896; Scientific Results (London, &c., 1900 sqq.).

In 1905, in connexion with the crisis between Norway and Sweden, which was followed by the separation of the kingdoms, Nansen for the first time actively intervened in politics. He issued a manifesto and many articles, in which he adopted an attitude briefly indicated by the last words of a short work published later in the year: “Any union in which the one people is restrained in exercising its freedom is and will remain a danger” (Norway and the Union with Sweden, London, 1905). On the establishment of the Norwegian monarchy Nansen was appointed minister to England (1906), and in the same year he was created G.C.V.O.; but in 1908 he retired from his post, and became professor of oceanography in Christiania university.