1887–1893

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.

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
1887 – 1893
1887–1893 Student with polar interests
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
2020
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital