“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 📜.

Treasure hunting at Uranienborg is always an exciting affair, and in 2015 this chest full of documents and photos was found in a storeroom. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

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.

Paper positives from the Fram expedition that lay hidden in the chest. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

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.

One of many photographs of the Netsilik Inuit. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.
Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting saluting the Norwegian flag at the South Pole in December, 1911. The photo was taken by Olav Bjaaland. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

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📜

Portrait of Roald Amundsen. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.
Program from one of Amundsen’s war lectures in 1918. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

Related resources

1872
Roald Amundsen born July 16
1880
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
1886
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
1890
Starting university
1893
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
1893
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
1894
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
1895
Ship’s Officer’s exam
1896
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
1899
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
1900
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
1907
Polar bears as draft animals
1908
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
1909
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
1914
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
1918
Maud expedition
1922
Nita and Camilla move in
1923
Uranienborg for sale
1924
Amundsen goes bankrupt
1925
To 88 degrees north
1926
Norge expedition
1927
Lecture tour in Japan
1928
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
1938
Betty’s house burns down
2015
A chest full of photographs is discovered
2015
“Treasure chest” found at Uranienborg
2020
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital

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.

Gjøa expedition

1872
Roald Amundsen born July 16
1880
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
1886
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
1890
Starting university
1893
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
1893
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
1894
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
1895
Ship’s Officer’s exam
1896
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
1899
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
1900
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
1903 – 1906
1903–06 Gjøa expedition
1907
Polar bears as draft animals
1908
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
1909
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
1914
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
1918
Maud expedition
1922
Nita and Camilla move in
1923
Uranienborg for sale
1924
Amundsen goes bankrupt
1925
To 88 degrees north
1926
Norge expedition
1927
Lecture tour in Japan
1928
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
1938
Betty’s house burns down
2015
A chest full of photographs is discovered
2020
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital

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

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1872
Roald Amundsen born July 16
1880
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
1886
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
1890
Starting university
1893
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
1893
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
1894
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
1895
Ship’s Officer’s exam
1896
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
1899
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
1900
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
1903
Photo, Fridtjof Nansen
1907
Polar bears as draft animals
1908
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
1909
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
1914
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
1918
Maud expedition
1922
Nita and Camilla move in
1923
Uranienborg for sale
1924
Amundsen goes bankrupt
1925
To 88 degrees north
1926
Norge expedition
1927
Lecture tour in Japan
1928
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
1938
Betty’s house burns down
2015
A chest full of photographs is discovered
2020
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital

Amundsen’s dogs

Uranienborg has been home to several dogs. Some participated in expeditions, while others guarded the house when Amundsen was travelling.

Dog collar found at Uranienborg. To which dog it belonged is unknown. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

Rex

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.

Amundsen and Rex outside Uranienborg. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

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.

The diploma Obersten received after receiving “1st Prize in the Open Class and Honorary Prize” in a 1913 dog show. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.
Obersten photographed by Anders Beer Wilse after the homecoming from Antarctica. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

At Svartskog, Obersten met Rex, who had guarded the house while Obersten and Amundsen were in Antarctica.

Obersten (left) meets Rex in summer 1913. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

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.

Advertisement for Sverre Hassel’s South Pole lecture where Storm was shown in harness.
Source: The newspaper Nordkapp. 30.1.1914 / National Library of Norway.

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.

Obersten on display in the Ski Museum at Holmenkollen, together with other equipment from the South Pole expedition. Photo: Skimuseet i Holmenkollen.

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.

Romeo and Juliet filmed in the spring of 1922 at home at Uranienborg. Amundsen meets them on the stairs and Nita and Camilla play with them in the garden. Film: National Library of Norway.

Nicodemus

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.

Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

Sources:

Tahan, Mary R. : Roald Amundsen’s Sled Dogs (Springer, 2019) , The Return of the South Pole Sled Dogs (Springer, 2021).