“Treasure chest” found at Uranienborg
On 22 November 2015, Henrik Smith – then department director at the Follo museum – discovered a chest in one of the outbuildings at Roald Amundsen’s home. On one side of the chest was written, “Leon Amundsen, Kristiania, Norway. From Roald Amundsen, Nome, Alaska.”
The find led to the launch in 2020 of a major digitization project. Read more about the discovery of the chest in Aftenposten, 26.11.2015 📜.
Fourteen hundred photographs, including negatives on both nitrate and glass, paper positives of various sizes, and slides varying in size and quality were contained in the chest. Also inside were notebooks, lectures, rationing diaries, letters, photographic postcards, and much, much more.
Almost at the top of the pile was an envelope on which was written in English, “North West Passage, Photographs not used” – inside were over 350 photographs apparently returned to Amundsen by the publishers of the English edition of his book on the Gjøa expedition.
As well as new images from the Gjøa expedition, several photos from the Fram expedition were found, including a repronegative of the famous photo taken by Olav Bjaaland at the South Pole. This copy from the original may be a step closer to the original than we knew existed.
The photographic material originates mainly from the years 1903 to 1920. Most of the public images are inscribed with date and place, whereas many of the private images lack such information.
A war lecture from 1918 and scientific works by Harald Ulrik Sverdrup from the Maud expedition were also in the chest, as were some more personal items, such as a book containing an alphabetical summary of songs Roald Amundsen liked.
The entire contents of the chest will be digitized and made accessible here📜
1903-06 Gjøa expedition
The story of the Gjøa expedition will appear here soon.
In the meantime, you can explore our resources related to this expedition.
Photo, Fridtjof Nansen
Portrait of Fridtjof Nansen that Amundsen took with him on the Gjøa expedition and later hung on the wall of his home at Uranienborg.
Fridtjof Nansen was one of Amundsen’s great sources of inspiration. He had high status as a polar explorer after his expeditions across Greenland in 1888 and over the Arctic Ocean in 1893–96.
The photo hung onboard in the lounge of the Gjøa during the journey through the Northwest Passage. When the expedition had safely sailed through, Amundsen stood and looked at the portrait.
“It seemed as if the picture had come to life, as if he winked at me, nodding, ‘Just what I thought, my boy!’ I nodded back, smiling and happy, and went on deck.”
Nansen signed the picture, ʺTo Captain Roald Amundsen with wishes of good luck and progress on the journey from his friend Fridtjof Nansen, June 16, 1903.ʺ
Uranienborg has been home to several dogs. Some participated in expeditions, while others guarded the house when Amundsen was travelling.
Saint Bernard. Rex was probably the first dog Amundsen had at Uranienborg. There are photographs of him from 1910 and 1913, but we don’t know how long he lived.
Obersten, Lucie and Storm
Greenland Dogs. These were the three dogs that returned to Norway after the South Pole trip, of whom Obersten (The Colonel) was the only one to have been on the sledge journey all the way to the pole.
When the dogs arrived from Buenos Aires in Kristiania on February 10, 1913, they were met by veterinarian Anker-Nielsen. With two young assistants, he escorted the trio through the city, followed by a crowd who wanted to see the famous South Pole dogs. For a while they were housed at the vet’s but were eventually moved out to Svartskog. Later in 1913, Lucie and Storm went to Svalbard to participate in a several-month-long sledge expedition led by Arve Staxrud. Obersten, on the other hand, became a major attraction at dog shows and received several prizes and diplomas.
At Svartskog, Obersten met Rex, who had guarded the house while Obersten and Amundsen were in Antarctica.
After her stay in Svalbard, Lucie returned to Svartskog and Uranienborg, while Storm was looked after by South Pole explorer Sverre Hassel. Hassel took Storm around Norway on a lecture tour about the South Pole journey. Storm was one of the lecture’s attractions and appeared with harness and equipment.
Since Roald Amundsen travelled a lot, the dog team at Uranienborg was mostly left to his brother Leon and his family and Jørgen Stubberud. In October, Leon Amundsen was taking some fresh air with Obersten and Lucie when they both ran away. Lucie was reported missing in the newspaper and a reward offered for anyone returning her. In the newspaper she was described as “Steel gray, pointed head, wise playful eyes, of size somewhat larger than an Elkhound, responds to her name”. Both were later returned.
In the summer of 1914, Obersten and Lucie left Svartskog. According to the newspapers, it had become too expensive for Amundsen to have them there while they constantly supplied themselves with the local sheep and other animals. Obersten went to the Wistings in Horten and Lucie was sent to an unknown family outside the city. Lucie and Obersten had several puppies. One died of what was described as puppy disease, another was run over by the Holmenkoll tram and a third was adopted by a lawyer named Manskow. In her old age, Lucie was taken in by the Salvation Army as a watchdog for the rest of her life, but we don’t know when she died.
Obersten enjoyed life in Horten and gradually became a familiar sight in the town, especially with the local butcher. Wisting describes Obersten’s latter days in the book “16 years with Roald Amundsen” (1930): “It is an old saying that when a wise man grows old, he goes to a monastery, so also with ‘Obersten’. He went to the Salvation Army. Outside their premises, he sat every night in all kinds of weather, listening devoutly to the speeches, the singing, and the music. Finally, his time was up. It was as if I had lost one of my loved ones, so much did I miss him.” 📜
Obersten probably died around 1919-1920. When the Ski Museum was to be established at Frognerseteren (since moved to Holmenkollen), Obersten’s pelt was retrieved and the dog stuffed. He is on display there today, together with Amundsen’s equipment from the South Pole expedition.
Romeo and Julie
The Saint Bernards Romeo and Julie lived at Uranienborg in the 1920s. Journalists visiting the polar hero would report that the dogs seemed intimidating when they came barking, but that Amundsen had good control over them. Julie had several puppies, but we know little about where they ended up.
Mixed breed. He was never at Uranienborg, but Nicodemus still features promimently in the house. Nicodemus met Amundsen in Eagle City in 1906 and accompanied him on the sledge journey back to the Gjøa at King Point. A mix between the local sled dogs and a Saint Bernard, he sank through the snow more easily than the others but still followed Amundsen all the way and was taken on board the Gjøa. The newspapers reported that Nicodemus would stay with the expedition all the way to New York, but he disappeared after the Gjøa reached San Francisco. The crew is said to have honoured him with a toast. At home at Uranienborg, Amundsen hung a photograph of Nicodemus in a handmade frame on the wall of the blue living room.
Tahan, Mary R. : Roald Amundsen’s Sled Dogs (Springer, 2019) , The Return of the South Pole Sled Dogs (Springer, 2021).