Carsten Borchgrevink

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink was born in Norway in 1864. In 1888 Borchgrevink migrated to Australia where, after four years of bouncing around, he became a teacher. It appears safe to claim that Borchgrevink had an inner passion for adventure and exploration. In 1893 he signed on as a "generally useful hand" with the Norwegian sealing and whaling expedition led by Henrik Johan Bull. Commander Leonard Kristensen and the crew of the ANTARCTIC investigated whaling possibilities throughout the sub-Antarctic islands and eventually landed at Cape Adare on January 24, 1895. Over the course of these two years they visited Tristan da Cunha, the Prince Edward Islands, Îles Crozet, Îles Kerguelen, the Balleny Islands, Campbell Island and Possession Island. The landing at Cape Adare was the first confirmed landing on the Antarctic continental mainland. Commercially, the expedition was a failure.

Despite the poor commercial results, many geological and botanical findings tweaked the interest of the Australian Antarctic Committee, especially that of Professor T. W. Edgeworth David. Both Bull and Borchgrevink went on the lecture circuit in Melbourne and Sydney but could not raise enough interest to finance a second expedition.

Falling on deaf ears, Borchgrevink left for England. He presented his study to the Geographical Congress in London which resulted in Dr. H. R. Mill declaring "His blunt manner and abrupt speech stirred the academic discussions with a fresh breeze of realism. No one liked Borchgrevink very much at that time, but he had a dynamic quality and a set purpose to get out again to the unknown South that struck some of us as boding well for exploration". The British went on a campaign to raise the necessary funds and support for a significant expedition to the Antarctic. Meanwhile, Borchgrevink offered to lead a small expedition of his own with the primary goal of finding the South Magnetic Pole. In 1897 Borchgrevink returned to Australia to raise funds for his private expedition. Unfortunately, his success was limited as Australian interest was now with the Royal Geographical Society, under the leadership of Sir Clements Markham, and their large-scale plans. Never giving up, Borchgrevink turned to his employer, wealthy British publisher Sir George Newnes, and persuaded him to provide £40,000 for the small expedition. The Royal Geographical Society was furious as the money donated by Newnes would have been enough to "get the National Expedition on its legs".

First Confirmed Landing

Borchgrevink immediately went to work on his expedition by purchasing the POLLUX, a 521-ton ship, which he renamed the SOUTHERN CROSS . The ship left London on August 23, 1898 and arrived at Hobart, Tasmania on November 28. They departed Hobart on December 19 and sailed for 43 days before sighting the Balleny Islands on January 12, 1899. They crossed the Antarctic Circle on January 23 and on January 28 they sighted one of the Russell Islands, first seen by James Clark Ross in 1841. The SOUTHERN CROSS became caught in the ice and it was not until February 14 that they broke free. Three days later they sighted their landing place at Cape Adare.

Bernacchi wrote of the scene before them: "Approaching this sinister coast for the first time, on such a boisterous, cold and gloomy day, our decks covered with drift snow and frozen sea water, the rigging encased in ice, the heavens as black as death, was like approaching some unknown land of punishment, and struck into our hearts a feeling preciously akin to fear . . . It was a scene, terrible in its austerity, that can only be witnessed at that extremity of the globe; truly, a land of unsurpassed desolation".

Landing operations began the next morning and were completed some ten days later. "Camp Ridley", named after Borchgrevink's mother, was firmly established with prefabricated huts. The wintering party consisted of ten men and 75 sledge dogs.

The average age of the wintering party was 27 years old. A number of measurements were taken at the start and conclusive evidence showed that the three Englishmen were, on average, taller, stronger and heavier than the Norwegians while the two Finns, although small in stature, were slim and capable of withstanding any amount of cold.

Until winter arrived on May 15, various members of the party surveyed the coast of Robertson Bay and collected specimens of birds, fish, seals and penguins. Then the blizzards hit. On July 24 the huts were nearly destroyed by fire as a candle left burning in a bunk set the structure on fire. A great deal of damage occurred before the flames were extinguished. On the night of August 31, Hanson, Ellifsen and Bernacchi were nearly asphyxiated by coal fumes as they slept. Coal had been left burning in the stove and luckily Bernacchi woke up in time to throw open the door before they all died. One of the Finns fell to the bottom of a crevasse. Fortunately he had a knife with him and, by cutting toeholds in the ice, he was able to climb out to safety. Hanson, the expedition's zoologist, died on October 14.

The cause of his death is still a mystery. He was buried at the top of Cape Adare and Bernacchi wrote "There amidst profound silence and peace, there is nothing to disturb that eternal sleep except the flight of seabirds. In the long dark winter night, the brilliant and mysterious Aurora Polaris sweeps across the sky and forms a glorious arc of light over the Cape and the grave. In the summer the dazzling sunlight shines perpetually upon it".

On January 28, 1900 the SOUTHERN CROSS returned for the party and early in the morning, while all were asleep, Captain Jensen knocked on the door, calling "Post!" The first to winter over on the Antarctic mainland, Borchgrevink and the crew sailed around the coast into the Ross Sea and towards the Ross Ice Shelf. They landed on Possession Island and found the tin box that was left there in 1895. They later landed at the foot of Mount Terror where Borchgrevink and the captain narrowly escaped drowning when a tidal wave, created by a huge calving of ice, nearly swept them to their death.

During their exploring of the area, a number of botanical specimens were collected and magnetic observations taken. The ice shelf had receded 30 miles since Ross first visited. On February 16, Borchgrevink, Colbeck and one of the Finns set out across the ice shelf and reached an estimated 78°50´S which was the farthest south reached to that time.

It was getting late in the season to be lingering in the area so they sailed onwards to Franklin Island where they made magnetic observations and determined the South Magnetic Pole to be much farther north and west than previously assumed. From here they sailed north out of the Ross Sea and crossed the Antarctic Circle on February 28, 1900.

Clearly Borchgrevink's expedition contributed significantly to the knowledge of Antarctica. But, the reception received in England was poor, at best. At this time, all eyes were turned upon Robert Falcon Scott's upcoming voyage in 1901. Besides, the authorities were still unhappy with his funding by a fellow countryman. Nevertheless, Borchgrevink continued to lecture in England and Scotland and was finally made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1902 he visited the United States where the American Geographical Society held a dinner in his honor. Norway also bestowed honors on their hero. He was created a Knight of St. Olaf and later a Knight Daneborg. It was not until 1930 that the English finally awarded Borchgrevink for his efforts when he was given the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. The President of the Society proclaimed that "When the SOUTHERN CROSS returned, this Society was engaged in fitting out Captain Scott to the same region, from which expedition much was expected, and the magnitude of the difficulties overcome by Borchgrevink were underestimated. It was only after the work of Scott's Northern Party on the second expedition of 1912 . . . that we were able to realise the improbability that any explorer could do more in the Cape Adare district than Mr. Borchgrevink had accomplished. It appeared, then, that justice had not been done at the time to the pioneer work of the SOUTHERN CROSS expedition, which was carried out under the British flag and at the expense of a British benefactor".

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink made one more voyage, to the West Indies in 1902 to examine volcanic eruptions, but for the remainder of his life he lived in Slimdal, Norway where he was active in literary and sporting activities. He died in 1934.


First on the Antarctic Continent: Being an Account of the British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900, by C. E. Borchgrevink.

To the South Polar Regions, by Louis Bernacchi.

Antarctica; the Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent, by Reader's Digest.

Antarctica, the Last Continent, by Ian Cameron.

Before the Heroes Came: Antarctica in the 1890's, by T. H. Baughman.

Antarctic Conquest, the Great Explorers in Their Own Words, by Walker Chapman.

The White Continent, by Thomas R. Henry.


Antarctica, the Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent, Second Edition by Reader's Digest.

Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events, by Robert K. Headland.