The Belgica was originally named Patria and built in 1884 by master shipbuilder Johan Christian Jacobsen in Svelvik. Its primary use was for hunting northern bottlenose whales in the Arctic, sometimes in combination with seal hunting.
The ship was a three-masted barque, built of pine, oak and greenheart, with a hull protected by a double wooden skin wherever it could be exposed to ice screwing.
- Built: 1884
- Ship type: three-masted barque
- Length: 36 metres
- Breadth: 7.80 metres
- Draught: 4.2 metres
- Main engine: 35 hp from Nyland’s workshop
- Tonnage: 263 gt
In 1896, Patria was bought for 70,000 francs (around 50,000 kroner) by Adrien de Gerlache, who needed a ship for his forthcoming expedition to Antarctica. A refit at Framnæs shipyard in Sandefjord saw the installation of several cabins and a laboratory, and the replacement of the ice-protective skin. The ship was repainted, and Patria was renamed Belgica.
De Gerlache’s expedition left Belgium in summer 1897 and became the first to overwinter with a ship in Antarctica. Amundsen described Belgica in his diary as a “magnificent sea vessel,” adding, “It is with joy and grandeur that we look at it. We all love it. And it is beautiful, too, with its steel grey color and white trim.” 📜
After the expedition’s return in 1899, Belgica was periodically employed for whaling and seal hunting in the Arctic, before being leased in 1901 to the American Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition, which used it to establish a depot in north-east Greenland. Belgica was then used for various voyages to Svalbard and Greenland, including the summer expedition of Louis-Philippe-Robert, Duc d ’Orléans in 1905. In 1907, Orléans bought Belgica for 130,000 francs and used it for a voyage to the Kara Sea. Two years later, he took the ship to Greenland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. On all three of Orléans’s Arctic voyages in Belgica, Adrien de Gerlache was employed as master.
In 1916, Belgica was sold to coal concern Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani A/S (SNSK) in Svalbard. The ship was refitted and renamed Isfjord. The plan was to use Isfjord for transporting coal and materials between Longyearbyen and northern Norway, but after only five trips it was clear that extensive repairs and upgrades were needed, and in 1918 Isfjord was put up for sale.
The ship’s new owner, Kristian Holst, restored its name to Belgica and stripped it down for use as a fish processing plant during the Lofoten fishing season and as an unpowered freighter between Harstad and Bergen.
In 1940, Belgica was taken over by British troops and anchored outside Harstad in the Brurvika cove, where it was used as an ammunition depot for Allied forces. On May 19, 1940, Belgica sank as a result of hull damage during a German bombing raid on Harstad.
During Easter 1990, divers found the wreck of Belgica lying on the sandbank in the mouth of Brurvika.
Source: Vidar Skålevik, www.wedive.no
The Belgica Society took ownership of the wreck in 2007 and investigated the possibility of raising it, but with advice from The Arctic University Museum of Norway and for reasons that include the presence on board of so much ammunition, their ambitions have since become limited to a partial recovery. In 2006, the VZW New Belgica foundation was established at a shipyard in Antwerp to create a replica of Belgica.
Kjell-G. Kjær 2005: Belgica in the Arctic, Polar Record 41: 205-214 (2005) 📜
National Maritime Museum, Antwerp: Belgica – den første overvintringen i Antarktis 1897-1899 📜
Store norske leksikon: Belgica
The scientific work of the Maud expedition was led by Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, ably assisted by several of the crew. Various scientific measurements were made, and their subsequent analysis resulted in several interesting discoveries. From the tidal surveys came one of the most important, which was the probable absence of large land masses in the Arctic Ocean. The importance to oceanography of the expedition’s research is widely recognized, helping to lay the foundations as it did for our modern understanding of the ocean systems in the Northern Hemisphere.
Astronomical observations and navigation
Astronomical observations were absolutely essential to knowing where the expedition was, and to calculating the ship’s drift through different periods and regions. Observations were made several times a week, weather permitting, with either a theodolite or a sextant, and a wall of snow blocks was built on the ice by the ship for the purpose. Here, the observer could be sheltered from the weather in the structure they named “Uranienborg”.
An angle-measuring instrument used mostly at sea for navigation, consisting of a telescope, a mirror system and an arc graduated in degrees and minutes. Standard use involves measuring the vertical angle between the horizon and a known celestial body, usually the sun, and calculating a position from this with the aid of astronomical tables and a clock. When the horizon is not available, in foggy conditions for example, an artificial horizon can be created using water in a container or the like.
An angle-measuring instrument consisting of a telescope and graduated arcs, from which horizontal and vertical angles can be read with great precision.
Studies of the earth’s magnetic field were made using a magnetometer. The measurements had to be carried out at a good distance from the ship so that they were not disturbed by the iron objects on board, and the first were made with only an ice block as protection from the wind. But in the winter of 1922–23, the crew built a small ice house that they named “The Crystal Palace” and equipped it with electric lights and a non-magnetic stove. Summer observations were made in a tent. The equipment was lent by the Carnegie Institution in Washington and specially adapted to polar conditions. As well as determining the declination, inclination and intensity of the earth’s magnetic field, the magnetic surveys were important for determining the local compass deviation for navigational purposes.
- Magnetometer: Instrument used to measure the strength and direction of the earth’s magnetic field.
Measurements were also made of electrical activity in the atmosphere, using an electrometer borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and modified by Odd Dahl so that its operation was more automated.
For three years, regular meteorological observations were made six times a day; these included air pressure, temperature and humidity, wind, sunshine and snow depth. Wind measurements at altitude were performed by releasing balloons and following them with telescopes; every minute, the direction and angle of elevation was recorded as the balloon drifted away. From these observations, they could calculate the balloon trajectory over time and thus the wind direction and strength at different heights. In the winter and in the dark, they suspended small paper lanterns beneath the balloons so they could follow them from the ice. More than 500 balloons were launched.
Atmospheric temperature profiles were measured by sending up instruments with box kites, both supplied by the U.S. Weather Bureau. The kites were tethered with a steel wire and could reach heights of several thousand metres in favourable conditions. Motorised winches were to be used to haul the kites in – one with a hot-bulb engine and one with a motorcycle engine – but both failed in the cold.
Ocean and ice
Sverdup and Malmgren made several studies of the sea ice. The ice depth was measured daily, and water samples were gathered for measuring the water’s density, salinity, oxygen content and hydroxyl value. Temperatures of the sea and ice were also recorded at various depths.
Tides were studied and recorded using various methods. When they found that the current meter they had with them didn’t work in low temperatures, they eventually made their own on board.
Samples were collected of marine plankton and seabed-living organisms, but in the absence of a biologist on board these were conserved until they could be studied later.
Harald Ulrik Sverdrup:
“The Norwegian North Polar Expedition with the ‘Maud’ 1918-1925. Scientific Results”, published by the Geofysisk Institutt, Bergen, in cooperation with other institutions. Bergen, A.S. John Griegs Boktrykkeri, 1927-39 📜.
“Maud-ekspedisjonens videnskabelige arbeide 1922-1925” [“The Maud expedition’s scientific work 1922-1925”], Naturen, nr. 6, juni 1926, 50. aargang. 📜.
“Tre aar i isen med «Maud»” [“Three years in the ice with ‘Maud'”], Gyldendal, Oslo, 1926 📜 .
“Havsisen, resultat från Maudexpeditionen” [“Sea ice, results from the Maud expedition”], Naturen, nr. 3, mars 1926, 50. aargang 📜.
“Studies of humidity and hoar-frost over the Arctic Ocean”, Geofysiske publikasjoner, vol. 4, no. 6, 1926 📜.
“On the properties of sea-ice”, in: Norwegian North Polar Expedition (1918-1925). Scientific results. Vol. 1a. Special reports (5). Bergen: Geofysisk Institutt, 1927.
1918–25 Maud expedition
The original crew of the Maud expedition comprised nine men with extensive experience from previous expeditions and scientific work. As early as 1919, however, two men, Peter Tessem and Paul Knutsen, left the expedition. They were to bring the expedition’s scientific material and mail back to Norway, but died on the way to the telegraph station at Dikson, Siberia. Ahead of the expedition’s second phase (1922–25), several of the crew were replaced and experienced pilots and scientific assistants were brought on board. The original crew was composed only of men from Norway and Sweden, but several local and indigenous people, such as Gennadiy Olonkin and Kakot, also became key members of the expedition.
Maud was built specifically for Amundsen’s expedition to drift across the Arctic Ocean. When the expedition ended, the ship was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company and saw a few years’ use in Canadian Arctic waters. It then lay for nearly 90 years as a wreck in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, before being transported back to Norway in 2018.
- Built: 1916–17
- Ship type: three-masted schooner
- Length: 120 feet (36.5 m)
- Breadth: 40 feet (12.3 m)
- Draught: 16.9 feet (5.15 m)
- Sail area: 600 m²
- Main engine: Bolinder semi-diesel, 240 hp
- Tonnage: 292 gt
Maud was built at Christian Jensen’s yard in Vollen, Asker. Jensen said that Amundsen’s reaction to seeing the first contours and sketches was to declare, “This vessel will be the best polar ship in the world.” Maud would be constructed on the same principles as the polar ship Fram, but be both shorter and broader, and considerably lighter. Jensen’s original estimate for the job was around 300,000 Kroner.
The keel was laid in July 1916 and Maud was launched a year later, on June 7, 1917. But material and labour costs had now more than doubled, partly because suitable timber had to be ordered from the Netherlands, so Maud’s final construction cost reached around 650,000 Kroner. On top of this came costs for equipment, crew and provisions.
With Queen Maud’s consent, Amundsen christened the ship with a block of ice: “It is not my intention to scorn the noble grape, but even now you should get a little taste of your proper element. For the ice you are built, and in the ice you will spend your best years, and there you will do your work. With our queen’s permission, I christen you Maud.” 📜
Blueprints of the polar ship Maud
Amundsen was allowed to reuse on Maud some of Fram‘s materials and equipment, including the rudder, anchor winch, propeller and masts. Both rudder and propeller could be raised to protect them from ice damage, as had been the case on Fram.
Amundsen thought that a crew of eight men was the minimum required to handle the ship, so around Maud’s saloon lay ten one-man cabins, each identically furnished at the basic level, with desk, washbasin and single bunk. There was a galley, of course, and also a laboratory. Amundsen describes the interior in his book about the expedition:
“On the walls hung photographs. Linoleum was laid on the floor, and coir runners over this. Around the saloon lay the 10 cabins, one for each man. From the expedition’s side, these were equipped with a desk, a bunk with linen, linoleum with carpet on top, and curtains for the windows and doors. […] Friends had equipped my cabin, and so nicely and beautifully was it done that I blushed and lowered my eyes the first time I went in there. You would have thought I was going on honeymoon.” 📜
When the expedition had to end for lack of money in 1925, the ship was bought by Hudson’s Bay Company in a forced sale for 40,000 dollars. They renamed it Baymaud and used it to supply several of their northern outposts 📜. In the summer of 1927, Baymaud was brought into Cambridge Bay, Canada, where it served for several years as a floating workshop, warehouse and radio station. In 1930, according to radio operator W.G. Crisp, “a leak developed at the Baymaud’s propeller shaft which could not be repaired without docking. She sank at her moorings and became a complete wreck.” 📜 Through the 1930s, the decline of Baymaud continued.
It is perhaps a sad irony that Maud’s working life should end here, for Cambridge Bay lies at the western end of Queen Maud Gulf, a stretch of water separating Victoria Island from mainland Canada and named by Amundsen himself for the Queen of Norway in 1905, during the first ever transit of the Northwest Passage in the Gjøa.
In 1990, Asker municipality bought the Baymaud from Hudson’s Bay Company for one dollar, with a plan to transport the wreck back to Norway. Neither this, nor plans to bring the wreck to Tromsø, met with any success, and some advocated leaving the wreck in Cambridge Bay, but in 2011 the project “Maud Returns Home” began its work to salvage the ship and return it to Norway. The wreck was lifted in 2016 and towed the following summer to Greenland to spend the winter there. Finally, in August of 2018, came the symbolic moment when the wreck of the Maud was towed into Bunnefjord to lie briefly off Amundsen’s home, Uranienborg, before continuing to its temporary residence at Tofte in Oslo Fjord.
The Oslofjord Museum, MiA is located in Vollen in Asker and has several resources and collections related to Maud.
Read Christian Jensen’s description of the building of Maud (in Norwegian).
Follow the “Maud Returns Home” project.
When the North Pole became the South Pole
In 1908, Roald Amundsen presented a plan to explore and drift across the Arctic Ocean. Three years later he reached the opposite end of the world.
“I have never known any man to be placed in such a diametrically opposite position to the goal of his desires as I was at that moment,” he wrote later.
Join the drama that led up to the expedition and learn why Amundsen’s plans were turned upside down.
1910–1912 Fram expedition
The crew of the Fram expedition was originally selected to carry out a multi-year operation across the Arctic Ocean, but ended up going to Antarctica and the South Pole. The crew had varied backgrounds and experiences; many had spent large parts of their lives at sea, some had participated in polar expeditions, while others were selected because of their useful skills or as good skiers.
On arrival in the Bay of Whales in Antarctica, nine men were put ashore, while the rest of the crew completed the first oceanographic work in the Southern Ocean.
Took some part
1928 Latham expedition
- Aircraft type: Latham 47.02 (Latham 47-II)
- Length: 16.30 m
- Wingspan: 25.20 m
- Height: 5.20 m
- Weight: 4,900 kg
- Maximum departure weight: 6,886 kg
- Top speed: 170 km/h
- Range: 900 km
- Engines: 2 x Farman 12We 500 hp (373 kW) 12-cylinder water-cooled W-block
- The hull was made of wood and steel. The bottom was rounded and boat-shaped which made it suitable for landing in large leads, but not on sea ice. Beneath the lower wing on each side was a small float.
- Amundsen first tried to get hold of a Dornier Wal flying boat, similar to N 24 and N 25 used on the expedition to 88 degrees north. He failed, but through contacts of the merchant Fredrik Peterson, head of the Norwegian-French Chamber of Commerce in Paris, the French navy made available a Latham flying boat. Latham 47.02 was the second prototype of this model and originally designed to cross the Atlantic. In the spring of 1928, a test flight of almost 2000 km had been made between Caudebec (France) and Bizerte (Tunisia).
- When the decision was made to use the Latham to search for the Italia expedition, modifications were made at the factory in Caudebec for flying in polar regions. Water pipes, oil pipes and the carburettor were clad to prevent frost formation. The propeller was replaced and a heater installed to maintain a constant temperature around the accumulator batteries.
- After the plane’s arrival in Bergen on June 17, 1928, the circulation pump was overhauled and the port wing float was patched with a metal plate.
The clip below was filmed in the days before Latham 47.02 and the French crew left for Norway in the summer of 1928. At the end of the clip, aviator Renè Guilbaud and radio operator Emile Valette appear in close-up.
Dragon, Maurice: Memoire de la derniere tragedie de la conquete du pole du nord, (2018).
Kristensen, Monica: Amundsens siste reise
Hovdenak, Gunnar: Roald Amundsens siste ferd📜
1928 Latham expedition
When Latham 47.02 took off from Tromsø on 18 June 1928, there were six people on board. The four Frenchmen, Guilbaud, de Cuverville, Brazy and Valette, all had long experience of flying the Latham 47 and had made several flights together before. They were joined in Bergen by Norwegians Amundsen and Dietrichson, whom none of them had previously met and who had never flown in a Latham aircraft.
1928 Latham expedition
Loaded on board in Bergen:
- First aid equipment
- Meta stove with box of fuel blocks
- 100 rounds of ammunition
- 1 carbine
- Parachute for provisions and other things to be dropped to the missing men
- Collapsible boats
- 1428 kg of aviation fuel
- 100 kg of oil
- 70 l of distilled water
Amundsen told the journalists in Bergen that they had a number of things with them that were to be thrown down to Nobile with a parachute, including first aid equipment, rifles, biscuits, pemmican, chocolate and a stove.
Loaded on board in Tromsø:
- 1224 kg aviation fuel
- 90 l Castrol oil
- 10 kg glycerin (for de-icing)
There is no specific list of provisions taken on the Latham expedition, but these items have been mentioned since:
Loaded on board in Bergen:
- 10 kg pemmican
- 10 kg chocolate
- 1 large box of oatcakes
Loaded on board in Tromsø:
- Some bottles of drinking water
- Sandwiches for the crossing to Svalbard
Oscar Wisting took part of the expedition’s equipment with him on the cargo ship Ingeren, which was to arrive in Svalbard a few days after the Latham. There is no definitive record of exactly what was on board the Latham when it took off from Tromsø on 18 June 1928.
Nita and Camilla
The story of Nita, Camilla and their life at Uranienborg will appear here soon.