Student with polar interests

Amundsen himself said that his interest in the polar regions began as a 15-year-old. In particular, he was excited by the story of Sir John Franklin’s fatal expedition to the Northwest Passage: “When I was fifteen years old, the works of Sir John Franklin, the great British explorer, fell into my hands. I read them with a fervid fascination which has shaped the whole course of my life.” he wrote in his last book in 1927.

In May 1889, Amundsen was among the tens of thousands of people in Kristiania’s streets when Fridtjof Nansen and his Greenland expedition returned. “That day I wandered with throbbing pulses among the bunting and the cheers, and all my boyhood’s dreams reawoke to tempestuous life. For the first time something in my secret thoughts whispered clearly and tremulously: ‘If you could make the Northwest Passage!'”

This reproduction of John Everett Millais’ painting “The North-West Passage” (1874) is said to have been acquired by Amundsen when he was young and still hangs in the living room of his home. The painting’s subtitle is “It might be done and England should do it”. Photo: Follo museum/ MiA.

In autumn 1890, Roald starts university. Eventually he begins studying medicine, but later admits that this was mostly to please his mother and not out of self-interest. The same year, his mother, Gustava Amundsen, sells the house in Uranienborgveien and moves to a boarding house outside the city centre. Roald Amundsen moves with the nanny Betty into an apartment in Parkveien 6.

In February 1893, Roald Amundsen meets another of his polar idols, when he hears a lecture from Greenland explorer Eivind Astrup at the student society. Amundsen was inspired by Astrup’s stories, such that he went that same evening with some friends to Nordmarka (a forest area just north of Oslo). Even though Eivind Astrup was almost the same age as Amundsen, he was already one of the world’s most experienced polar explorers. He had taken part in the American Robert Peary’s expedition over the northern part of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Astrup returned to Greenland later that year and went on to make several plans for his own expeditions. Sadly, he would realize none of them before taking his own life in winter 1895.

Of Astrup and Nansen, Astrup was probably the most important inspiration for Amundsen – something that emerges from Amundsen’s statement to Norsk Idrættsblad in 1909: “Eyvind Astrup in particular had a great influence on my future involvement with polar research, as I spent so much time with him. Nansen stood farther away from me. He was the prophet I always looked up to with awe.”

One of the two portraits of Eivind Astrup that stand on Roald Amundsen’s desk. Photo: Follo museum / MiA.

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Roald Amundsen born July 16
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1887 – 1889
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1887 – 1893
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Starting university
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
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1903 – 1906
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Amundsen buys Uranienborg
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1910 – 1912
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Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
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Amundsen goes bankrupt
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Norge expedition
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Uranienborg becomes a museum
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