1918–1925 Maud expedition

Thursday, November 10, 1908, Kristiania (Oslo).

Gamle Logen’s great hall is packed with people. Sitting in expectation are the capital’s prominent women and men, among them scientists, professors, and members of government. King Haakon is in the front row. All eyes, though, are on the 36-year-old man behind the podium, who two years ago conquered the Northwest Passage. As slides are projected onto the wall behind him, Roald Amundsen presents his plan for a new expedition.

Amundsen presents his new plan for the audience in Gamle Logen, November 1908. Illustration from newspaper Dagens Nyt, Morgenposten, 11.11.1908.

“With Fram equipped for seven years and a skilled crew, I will leave Norway at the beginning of 1910. The course is set round Cape Horn for San Francisco, where coal and provisions will be taken on board. From here, we will head for Point Barrow, America’s most northerly point, where I hope to be in July-August. From here we will send the last message home before the real voyage begins. On leaving Point Barrow, my intention is to continue the voyage with the smallest possible crew. We will set course for the drift ice in a N-NW direction from here, and then seek out the most favourable place for further penetration north. Once this has been found, we will push as far in as possible and ready ourselves for a four-to-five-year drift across the Arctic Ocean.”

Bathymetric chart of the Arctic with a line drawn in pencil from Point Barrow across the Arctic Ocean. The chart still hangs in the study at Uranienborg. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

If all goes to plan, they will leave Kristiania (Oslo) on January 2, 1910. But Amundsen will quickly learn that with this expedition very little goes as originally planned. First, two Americans get in the way: Frederick Cook and Robert Peary. Each believes that he has become the first to reach the North Pole, and that the other is lying. Perhaps neither of them speaks the truth, but in any case, they create a problem for Amundsen. The North Pole has been the main commercial selling point for his expedition, and something has to change.

On September 8, 1909, he sends out a message to the expedition members: “…the expedition’s departure has had to be postponed for some months because of various delays. The departure will probably take place in July 1910.”

Behind the scenes, the expedition had been expanded to include a visit to the Pole that remained unconquered, the South Pole. Amundsen’s official explanation that came later described how the trip to the South Pole had been made purely for economic reasons, admitting at the same time that it would provide little scientific value in comparison with a drift across the Arctic Ocean. But he had needed money, and money goes to those who come first.

It is early 1912 when Amundsen sails triumphantly north from Antarctica. Several have since suggested that Amundsen is now satisfied, that he actually doesn’t want to fulfil the original plan to drift across the Arctic Ocean. But in some of the first telegrams that he sends after conquering the South Pole, Amundsen is still occupied with heading northward. The plan is intact.

But Amundsen still finds that not everything goes to plan: again, there is a lack of money, and when some of the crew withdraw, they leave the expedition at one point with no scientists. Is there even any value in drifting over the Arctic Ocean without scientists on board? Even Nansen advises Amundsen to wait. The delay is also hard on the polar ship Fram. After spending a long time in South and Central America, in anticipation of becoming the first ship through the Panama canal, it is decided that she will instead sail home to Norway.

The expedition’s costs continue to mount – repairs, new equipment, crew, and delays – and then in the summer of 1914, war breaks out in Europe. It is in all this chaos that the real story of the polar ship Maud begins, when it becomes clear that Fram is no longer fit for long expeditions. The ship is in worse condition than first thought and Roald Amundsen realizes that he needs a new one. Shipbuilder Christian Jensen in Vollen, Asker, gets the job.


The ship must be as strong as Fram, about the same length, but even broader. Also, it must have the same oval hull shape, so that it can survive the force of the ice. But the world’s economic turmoil makes the project increasingly expensive. The 300,000 Kroner originally intended for the building of the ship becomes in the end 650,000 Kroner, the equivalent of over 16 million today.

“A more careful, skilful and conscientious work has not been carried out in Norwegian shipbuilding,” writes Amundsen later. 📜

On June 17, 1917, everything is ready for the launch. Amundsen’s diary for the day will read,

“In the afternoon at 5.45, Maud slipped onto the water. Everything was as ordered – flat calm, scorching hot, and sparkling clear. No party was announced, but a lot of people from the village were present. I christened the vessel – in its element – ice!” 📜

The polar ship Maud

But it will be some time before the expedition is ready to sail — the world is still in the chaos of war. Maud spends her first winter on the water lying off Akershus fortress in Kristiania (Oslo). New Year’s Eve 1917 brings Amundsen his first night on board and he wakes up to a new year on a new ship.

Work proceeds through the spring to put in place crew, provisions and equipment for the planned five years. When at last fully loaded, the ship is 200 tons heavier, with, amongst other things, 500 kilos of chocolate and 300 books. On St John’s Eve (June 23), 1918, Maud weighs anchor and leaves Kristiania. They put into Horten first, and then Bergen, where the scientific instruments are brought on board. Amundsen himself comes aboard in Tromsø. On July 18, they leave Vardø, the expedition’s last Norwegian port.


In his book about the expedition, Nordostpassagen (1921), Amundsen describes Maud from the inside:

“On the wall hung the photographs of the royal family, given to the Fram expedition in 1910. On a small shelf beneath stood the beautiful large silver mug that the King and Queen gave the expedition on the same occasion.” 📜

Harald Ulrik Sverdrup (standing), Emmanuel Tønnesen (sitting with book) and Paul Knutsen photographed in Maud’s saloon before departure from Norway. The portraits of the royal family were transferred from Fram and would later hang on board the airship Norge before eventually finding their current home on the wall at Uranienborg. The silver mug is now privately owned. Photo: Ingimundur Eyjolfsson, Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.

The wicker chairs were the same as had been on board Fram on the journey to Antarctica eight years earlier. Two of the chairs are today at Uranienborg.

“On the walls hung other photographs. Linoleum was laid on floor, and over this coir runners. Around the lounge 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 overlaid, 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 think I was going on honeymoon.” 📜

Amundsen put “The Stars Are With The Voyager”, by British poet Thomas Hood, on his cabin wall. Photo Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.
Amundsen didn’t describe the pictures that hung over his bed. Photo: Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.

The first winter, 1918–19

It is August 6 and evening has fallen when the expedition reaches the Russian Arctic outpost of Khabarova. Among those at the telegraph station is the 21-year-old Gennadiy Nikitich Olonkin, who has a Norwegian mother and speaks both languages. Olonkin pays the Maud a visit, after which Amundsen writes in his diary, “To my surprise, he asked – when he said goodbye – if he could be allowed to stay with us. Since this guy – he is 21 years old – has made an extremely good impression on all of us and is also an engine expert, I decided to adopt him as our 10th man.” 📜

With Olonkin on board, Maud sails on to the telegraph station at Dikson, before continuing towards Cape Chelyuskin, the northernmost point on the Eurasian land mass. But there they are stopped by the ice. Nothing helps, and an overwintering is unavoidable, in a bay that they name “Maudhavn”.

Map of Maudhavn. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.
Maud in Maudhavn. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Through autumn and winter, several sledge journeys are made, and the scientific work, led by Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, begins. Geomagnetic and astronomical observatories are established, along with a kite station, a balloon station and a site for the meteorological instruments. At some of the stations a telephone connection to the ship is also installed.

Scientific work

On deck, a steam bath is installed, of the same model that Amundsen had used on his Antarctic expedition. Saturday is set as the regular wash day and the routine is established: breakfast at eight o’clock, everyone at work a half hour later. After three hours’ work comes an hour’s lunch break, and then back to work. In the evenings, the books from the ship’s library come out, or chessboards, draughts, or darts. Every Saturday is marked with a toddy and a gramophone concert or film showing. Crew members’ birthdays and any others they want to celebrate are marked with a day off.

The stove on board Maud. Behind it, the film projector that was used on Saturdays. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.
Paul Knutsen in the galley. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

But Amundsen’s diary will record several dramatic and painful turns during his time in Maudhavn.

September 30 sees the first accident, when he falls over the ship’s rail and lands three metres below, ”head first with right upper arm and shoulder straight into the glass-hard, mirror-smooth, gnarly ice. It was a terrible shock. I immediately straightened up into a sitting position but could hear how the broken bones ground against each other. Stars of all colours passed my eyes, but I did not lose consciousness” 📜

Wisting comes running, bringing a dram – and only then do the stars disappear. Amundsen stays in his bunk for four days, and for the next five weeks he must carry his broken arm in a sling. Rønne sews a bespoke reindeerskin suit for a one-armed man.

Amundsen on board Maud, sporting a pipe and Rønne’s specially sown reindeerskin jacket to accommodate his broken arm. Photo Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

On November 8, it gets worse. At around half past seven in the morning, Amundsen comes up on deck to enjoy the stillness and the light ­– even though the sun set for the winter fourteen days ago, there is still a red glow on the horizon. He goes down the gangway and out onto the ice in front of the ship. Suddenly, he sees the dog Jakob dash off over the ice towards land and out of sight. Soon, Amundsen hears Jakob bark, and someone who answers. It was a sound unintelligible to Amundsen: “Yes – right now I’m wondering what this sound reminded me of. It reminded me of that a human being produces when he breathes hard on a mirror, for example, to brush off a mark. It was exactly the same sound, only louder.” 📜 “As I stand thus, 3 figures suddenly appear in the dim moonlight. The first was Jakob, the second a female bear, followed immediately by a little cub.” 📜

Amundsen runs for his life and at the same time shouts for help – ”Bear, Bear!”. They reach the gangway at the same time, Amundsen and the bear. First, he feels the blow from behind, and then he is thrown to the ground, landing right on his broken arm and staying down. He’s just waiting to feel the polar bear’s jaw around his neck. But, ”when I turned around I saw her in a cat-like leap set out on the ice towards the cub.” 📜

Amundsen seizes the chance to run on board, where he is met by Wisting with a rifle in his hands. Armed, Wisting feels safe enough to go down onto the ice and put an end to the bear. He moves closer and readies to fire, but the bolt jams – he tries again, with the same result. Now it is suddenly Wisting whose life is in danger. Several others are now also on deck, including Sverdrup with his own gun. Quick as flash, they swap guns and Wisting fires. The bear roars its last and sighs. Amundsen’s injury is less serious, but the bear has left its mark. Wisting writes later that ”Virtually the entire back of his skin suit was ripped out and hanging in shreds, and in the small of his back were the deep tracks of four bear claws.” 📜

Amundsen kept the skin and skull of the bear that had attacked him and later gave the remains to his good friend Herman Gade. The skin eventually disintegrated, but when Amundsen’s home opened as a museum in 1935, Gade donated the polar bear head to Uranienborg, where it remains part of the collection. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

Not until the end of November is Amundsen back at work, but just a few weeks later his life is again in danger. His diary for November 10 reads, “Had a little suffocation episode in the magn. obs. this afternoon.” 📜

Amundsen has been working lately in the magnetic observatory. As well as being built without nails or iron of any kind, the small building they had set up near the ship was very cramped. Whenever Amundsen worked inside, he would light the Lux paraffin lamp on the ceiling, and in this airless space the fumes from the lamp and the lack of oxygen were a deathtrap. At first he feels dizzy, then something happens to his pulse, which beats “with the pace of a machine gun during a major attack”. 📜

Amundsen has carbon monoxide poisoning. He staggers outside – “That was as far as I reached, the vessel, where the legs refused further service … I simply could not stay upright.” 📜 Many hours pass before he recovers and the incident will affect his health for the rest of his life.

The winter in Maudhavn is cold; several times the thermometer reads 30 or 40 degrees below zero. Nevertheless, the crew is doing well and they hunt often – polar bear skins and meat are excellent for both dogs and people. There is also a lot of equipment to be made: Tessem makes sledges, Sundbeck is in the smithy, and Rønne sews ski boots, leather clothes, sleeping bags and tents.

When Christmas comes, Maud is decorated for a party. As Amundsen tells it, ”Christmas Eve came with the most wonderful weather. Calm, clear, and around ‑40°. Heaven’s vault shone in competition with our saloon in its decorations. In here, it was decorated with garlands and flowers, arrangements, coloured lanterns and much more. In the sky shone the most beautiful northern lights. At 12 noon we ate a light lunch, to be able to attack the Christmas dinner at 5 with greater vigour.” 📜

A Christmas tree, presents and Father Christmas all appeared on Christmas Eve. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.
The salon decked out for a party with a white cloth on the table. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

New Year sees the publication of the “Maud saga”, featuring Roald Polfarer, Oscar Bueskytte and Harald Boklærd in a retelling of the expedition’s first winter. In February, Sverdrup begins sending instrumented balloons and kites into the air. Amundsen recalls later, “The old boyhood joy of seeing a kite rise is still inside me. And then all the strange messages it brings down again!” 📜 And when the sun and the temperature climb, the season for sledge journeys begins. Hunting, cairn building and mapping are all needed, but this summer will see Maud‘s complement reduced in number, because Peter Tessem and Paul Knutsen want to go home. Their reasons are several.

Peter Tessem pictured in the saloon on Maud. Of Tessem, Amundsen wrote: “He is of the type who shuts his mouth during work time, but lets his hands run all the more diligently.” Photo: Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.
Paul Knutsen pictured in the saloon in Maud. Amundsen described him as “exceptionally handy”. Photo: Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.

Amundsen’s offical line will be that they are taking the expedition’s mail and scientific material home with them to Norway. When Maud leaves Maudhavn on September 12, 1919, Tessem and Knudsen are left behind to begin their overland journey. It is the last time the two men are seen alive.

Tessem and Knutsen wave farewell to the crew on board Maud. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Through the Northeast Passage

When Maud leaves Maudhavn in September, it is with the hope of getting far enough into the ice that they can begin the final drift across the Arctic Ocean. But that’s not how it will go. Just eleven days from weighing anchor, they are stopped by the ice again, and on September 23, 1919, the expedition’s second winter camp is established, this time off Ayon Island [Ajonøya].

It isn’t long before those on board Maud discover that they are not alone at Ayon Island. Ashore, several tents can be seen – they belong to the Chukchi, the local indigenous people. Olonkin, Hanssen and Amundsen go ashore to the nearest Chukchi tents. Amundsen has experienced this before, in the Northwest Passage when he met the Netsilik Inuit, and he seizes the opportunity to study the Arctic experts again. He suggests that Sverdrup should join the Chukchi and live with them through the winter. Sverdrup agrees and will later spend long periods with several of the local indigenous peoples along the coast.

Sverdrup stands at the back with pipe in mouth and his local friends sit in front. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Sverdrup will describe his experiences from these encounters in a book on the life and ways of the Chuckchi  (English title “Among the tundra people”).

(Click on the image to read the book online at the National Library of Norway📜)

The winter at Ayon Island erodes the morale of many on board, and the atmosphere is sometimes fraught. Conflicts arise, and gradually more people express their wish to be out of the ice. On September 26, 1919, Amundsen writes in his diary, “Have today said goodbye to Rønne & Tønnesen and informed them that they will be allowed to go home.” 📜

December 1 sees Tønnesen, accompanied by Hanssen, Wisting and a local Chukchi, set off with a dog sledge in the direction of Nome on the other side of the Bering Strait. As well as driving Tønnesen ashore so that he can begin the journey home, the three carry valuable mail and reports from the expedition.

On Maud, only four crew remain, and though they are often visited by local Chukchi and traders, the work duties must still be distributed between them. As Christmas approaches, Amundsen’s place is in the galley to take care of the Christmas baking. For December 21, his diary entry reads, “Today, I did a complete dry run and served for dinner reindeer roast with cranberry jam and, for dessert, cakes, lentils, chocolate cakes, rum cakes and cream rolls. Pretty well done, it must be said, for a Sunday morning.” 📜

Despite there being so much to do, there is still time for various handicrafts. Amundsen is particularly impressed when Sundbeck and Rønne present the ship with a gramophone player inlaid with pieces of mammoth tooth: “On Wednesday evening, the Sundbeck-Rønne company delivered a table that is probably the finest work that was ever delivered on a polar expedition. It is made according to the pattern of small 8-sided Algerian smoking tables with mother-of-pearl. However, this table is considerably more valuable – the inlays are of mammoth and a gramophone is housed in the interior. It is simply art. Of course, we tried it immediately and its tone was far clearer and sharper than in the purchased Pathephone. Belonging to the table is an 8-sided copper tray with the following set in copper: cigarette box, 2 ashtrays, candlestick and match holder.” 📜

One who comes often to visit Maud is the local trader George Kibisow, who represents the Copenhagen-based Russian Trading Company. At the end of April 1920, Amundsen buys himself a mammoth tooth and 27 white fox skins from Kibisow. He is also offered a bear cub, which Kibisow says he captured off Kolyma on a trip in March. When the bear cub arrives on Maud, it is tethered to a small crate out on the ice and given the name Marie.

May 22, 1920 – Amundsen tries to take Marie for a walk on a lead: “Have had my first walk today with Marie, who did not seem to find any pleasure in it. Resisted as far as she could, but had to let the superior force drag her. Can already pat her without danger of losing fingers. She places no great value on it, but completely turns her back on me. She likes blubber best. She has not eaten fish yet. 📜

The next day, Amundsen writes, “It’s not easy to make friends with Marie, but it may happen. I carry her now whenever I want, but then have to make sure to hold her head otherwise she would bite. She is constantly feuding with the dogs. The little thing is not afraid.” 📜

When Amundsen comes with sweet milk, the friendship with the little bear improves. On 27 May, Amundsen notes: “The relationship [between] Marie and me – gets better every day. She now comes to me quite boldly to get her milk.” 📜

Gradually, Marie accepts more and more contact. She lets herself be petted and cared for. In just a month, several of the crew have established good relationships with Marie, and Amundsen in particular often writes about her in his diary.

So it comes as quite a surprise when he says on June 17, 1920, “Chloroformed Marie to put her down this morning. I had to give up all hope today of getting it trained. After having cared for and given it food for a month, when I came to her with milk in the morning, she came right at me in full rage. Under an experienced trainer she might have become well-mannered, but I had to give it up.” 📜

Sverdrup gets a teddy bear hug from Marie. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Marie, then, never becomes the tame pet that Amundsen may have hoped. Instead, she will be stuffed and brought home to Uranienborg.

The contrast between life on board Maud and life behind the sledges is great. For Wisting, Hanssen and Tønnesen, who are on their way to Nome, the days are arduous, particularly so for Tønnesen, who becomes separated from the others on several occasions. The first is when he leaves the tent to stretch his legs in a snowstorm. Only several hours later does he hear the shouts and shots from the others and find the tent again. On a later occasion, after he sets off before the others to avoid the dogs snapping at his heels, they lose him for several days. Eventually, on January 12, 1920, they reach Nordkapp (now Cape Schmidt), around 250 km east of Maud’s location. Tønnesen finds lodgings here with the trader George Kibisow, who promises to help him get home to Norway. Wisting and Hanssen continue in order to dispatch the reports from the expedition. But conditions are difficult, and Wisting waits at East Cape (now Cape Dezhnev) on the Chukchi Peninsula, while Hanssen continues along the Bering Strait coast to Anadyr. Here, he manages to send and receive both mail and telegrams. When they return to Maud on June 14, Hanssen and his dogs have travelled more than 1500 km.

Southern boy Emanuel Tønnesen was 25 years old when he signed on the Maud. Here photographed in the galley before departure in 1918.
Photo: Ingimundur Eyjolfsson, Follo museum, MiA / National Library of Norway.

The expedition news in the telegrams that Hanssen sends is quickly on the Norwegian front pages. Among several dramatic headlines is that of Dagbladet on April 29, 1920, which in English reads, “Roald Amundsen’s North Pole expedition falling apart.”

(Click on the image to read the article online at the National Library of Norway📜)


When the ice finally loosens its grip on 8 July, 1920, course is set for Nome, Alaska. A week later, they have become only the third expedition in history to navigate the Northeast Passage, yet they remain far from their ultimate goal.

Rønne, Sundbeck and Hanssen all leave the expedition on arriving in Nome. Only four men now remain: Amundsen, Wisting, Sverdrup and Olonkin. But even these few do not give up hope of completing the plan to drift across the Arctic Ocean. Just a few weeks after arriving in Nome, they are on their way back to the ice.

Again, they face obstacles, as the ice ravages Maud and damages both propeller and shaft. Eventually, the men on board realize that they will spend yet another winter off the coast of Siberia. Off Cape Serdtse-Kamen, the expedition’s third winter quarters are established.

To boost morale, Amundsen establishes a new tradition – every Saturday’s gramophone concert will now end with the singing of It’s a long way to Tipperary.

Through the darkness of winter shine some brighter moments, such as when the locals come to visit. One of these is Kakot, a Chukchi who comes to find work. Kakot is widowed and has been relying on relatives to look after his five-year-old daughter while working on the Maud, but now she is sick and he brings her on board.

Amundsen is charmed by the girl who will eventually come to call him Grandpa. She is nursed back to health by the crew and given the name Kakonita, or “Nita” for short (her original Chukchi name apparently too difficult to pronounce and now lost). In a process that remains unclear, Kakot agrees to hand over her care to Amundsen, who will take her back to Norway.

Nita asleep in Amundsen’s cabin on board Maud. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

At East Cape, a stand-in big sister is found for Nita in the form of ten-year-old Camilla Carpendale, whose Australian trader father and Chukchi mother welcome Amundsen’s offer of a European education for her.

Camilla photographed a short time after arriving on board Maud. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Soon, then, the two girls will leave the ice far behind as part of Amundsen’s new plan. His diary for April 27, 1921 reads,

“The plan for the future is beginning to take shape.  At the end of May I travel to East Cape, whereupon by whale boat and Eskimos I try to reach Nome most quickly via the Diomede Islands, Cape Prince of Wales and Teller. From here I send my first telegrams. First of all, the official report telegr.” 📜

– Amundsen will apply to the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) for funding for a new attempt to reach further north. He needs 300,000 Kroner –

“Then I will go as quickly as possible to Seattle to arrange everything. I will try to meet Maud in Dutch Harbor by tugboat – If I don’t get the 300,000, then I will have to sell Maud to acquire a smaller vessel. We 4 are determined to make the trip over the pole, cost what it will. But it will be a shame if we have to travel less well equipped. If we get the 300 – I want 2 airplanes and an experienced pilot  – preferably an officer in the Norwegian Navy. Yes, they should be happy, if we were finally able to get on board with tip-top equipment. But – after the severe adversity we have had, I am prepared for rejection. There is nothing people can tolerate less than adversity. On us 4 it has had the opposite effect. Never have we been more keen to get started than now.” 📜

One does not make money drifting around in the ice – it is the time afterwards that is profitable, when one can sell the story of one’s spectacular experiences. But then one must also have a story that sells. This is exactly what Amundsen has in mind, and it is in the air that it will happen, but first he must get to Seattle, where there is much to organize, and then home to Norway with Nita and Camilla. The three of them travel overland to East Cape in May and then by sea via Nome, to arrive in Seattle on July 5.

Air campaign

Left on Maud are Wisting, Olonkin, Sverdrup, and four Chukchi locals, among them Kakot, father of Nita. After escaping the ice in June 1921, and finally reaching Seattle on August 31, they put the ship into dry dock to be repaired and equipped for the new plan.

Amundsen is optimistic when he meets the press in Seattle. Bergens Aftenblad writes, “Granted, the hair is grey and the features marked, but never has Roald Amundsen had a clearer belief in his great enterprise than right now, and he is cheerful and happy as a schoolboy.” 📜

It is also in Seattle that Amundsen gets to know Håkon Hammer, a Danish-born businessman whom he refers to as “The Expedition’s Honorary Member”. Later, Amundsen will style him “an optimistic scoundrel,” but here and now he is excited about Hammer’s business sense and his plans for the expedition.

Through the winter, Wisting and Olonkin are responsible for equipping Maud. Sverdrup travels to the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, where he can collate the scientific observations and acquire more scientific equipment. In January 1922, Amundsen leaves for Norway with the girls and Oscar Wisting’s wife Elise. The crew will reassemble in May.

The crew in Seattle in 1922 before their third departure. Standing behind, from left: Odd Dahl, Oskar Omdal, Carl Hansen, Gennadiy Olonkin. Standing in front, from left: Søren Marentius Syvertsen, Finn Malmgren, Kakot. Sitting, from left: Harald Ulrik Sverdrup, Elmer G. Fullerton (dismissed in Deering), Roald Amundsen, Oscar Wisting. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Maud has been improved in several ways and the crew augmented: Sverdrup has acquired his scientific assistant in Finn Malmgren; Søren Marentius Syvertsen has been given responsibility in the engine room; ship’s officer Carl Hansen has joined; and pilots Odd Dahl, Oskar Omdal and Elmer Fullerton have come on board. Several Chukchi also remain, including Kakot.

Maud at the quay in Seattle. Coming aboard are equipment, provisions and new personnel. Film: “With Roald Amundsen’s North Pole expedition to the first winter quarters”, National Library of Norway.

It is in the large crates being loaded on board that the new plan lies. They contain two aircraft: a Junkers-Larsen JL-6 that has been named Elisabeth and a smaller Curtiss Oriole that carries Kristine on its side. With these names, Amundsen is honouring Kiss Bennett, the woman he is currently enchanted by.

The bold plan is to fly the Junkers to Spitsbergen or Greenland via the North Pole, while the smaller aircraft will be used from Maud for ice reconnaissance.

As Maud casts off on June 3, 1922, the wharf is full of people and the streets are crowded with spectators. For the newspapers, the expedition is still good material and expectations are high. 📜  

From Seattle, the voyage takes them first to Nome, where Amundsen comes on board, and then to East Cape, where all of the Chukchi except Kakot leave the expedition. The intention is to sail from here to Point Barrow, but ice conditions force them to pause at Deering, on Alaska’s west coast. Here, at the trading post run by Samuel Magids and his brother Boris — Amundsen had met Sam’s wife Bess on the SS Victoria between Seattle and Nome, Amundsen celebrates his fiftieth birthday. On the same day, July 16, the locals, and perhaps Bess in particular, are treated to the sight of Kristine in the air. The aircraft had been towed to the beach on a raft for assembly and a week had been spent preparing an airstrip.

On July 28, Maud heads off to begin her drift with the sea ice across the Arctic Ocean, but Amundsen, Omdal and the Junkers aircraft “Elisabeth”, are transferred to the cargo ship Holmes and are landed with filmmaker Reidar Lund at Wainwright in northern Alaska. The area will be quieter than Barrow, with its roughly five hundred inhabitants, and the beach will be perfect as an airstrip. Little does Amundsen know as he is rowed ashore that he will never set foot aboard Maud again.

Amundsen is brought in to Wainwright and waves goodbye to those left on the Holmes. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

It is already too late in the year and the weather too poor to attempt the trans-polar flight that Amundsen had planned, so in Wainwright they build a small overwintering station that they name “Maudheim”. The summer ends with Elisabeth yet to take to the air, and Reidar Lund heads south on the Holmes after a month or so. In December, Amundsen also heads south, leaving Omdal at Maudheim to work alone on the aircraft through the winter. An impressive sledge journey takes Amundsen to Nome, where he will spend the winter still on the hunt for more money.

Maudheim under construction by Amundsen and Omdal. Film: “With Roald Amundsen’s North Pole expedition to the first winter quarters”, National Library of Norway.

On April 13, 1923, Amundsen sets off with a dog team towards Wainwright. When he arrives on May 9, efforts to fly with Elisabeth swiftly resume. Omdal manages a fifteen-minute test flight on May 11, but a ski collapses on landing and the plane is badly damaged. Still, they persevere.

An unsuccessful attempt to get Elisabeth into the air. Film: “With Roald Amundsen’s North Pole expedition to the first winter quarters”, National Library of Norway.


“What would you all say if we gave up?” writes Amundsen in his diary three days later 📜. On June 10, he and Omdal try again to fly from Wainwright, but when the axle breaks as they try to get off the ground, it really is all over. Rather than being flown to the North Pole, Elisabeth is instead dismantled and abandoned on the beach.

Meanwhile, the crew of the Maud continue, but their progress, too, is frustrated. When they become icebound off the New Siberian Islands, another overwintering begins without Maud having begun to drift over the Arctic Ocean. The old routines fall into place and the scientific work begins.

On July 16, 1923, Amundsen’s fifty-first birthday, Odd Dahl makes two short flights in Kristine with Wisting on board. These trials are pioneering in their use of the ship, and of skis on the Arctic Ocean ice, but they end abruptly when on the third test the landing gear collapses and the propeller is damaged. Kristine is reloaded aboard the Maud and does not fly again. Odd Dahl later declares the aircraft totally unsuitable for the Arctic: “The Curtiss Oriole was made for California conditions; it was a padded and nicely equipped Sunday plane that would transport movie stars from Hollywood to various filming locations.” 📜

Kristine is pulled over the ice through surface water. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Then, they lose a man. In July 1923, Søren Marentius Syvertsen dies – Wisting diagnoses encephalitis. In his book, Tre aar i isen med ‘Maud’ [Three years in the ice with ‘Maud’], Sverdrup describes the mood after Syversten’s body is lowered into a gap in the ice: “We went back to Maud. We did not like to look at each other, because none of us had dry eyes […] A long time passed, it was over a year before we again talked about Syvertsen when we sat together.”

Syvertsen’s body draped in the Norwegian flag, just before it was lowered into a gap in the ice. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

Yet life in the ice must go on for those who remain on board. Several sledge journeys are completed and the scientific work goes on throughout the winter. The routines on board are established as before. There is still a toddy and gramophone concert every Saturday, but now the audience is becoming more demanding. Carl Hansen, who is responsible for the music, receives a stream of varying requests: Dahl wants to hear Hawaiian music, which Sverdup can’t stand; Olonkin protests if two violin solos are played one after the other; Malmgren wants to hear jazz, while Hansen’s favourite is “Carry me back to old Virginia”. Not one of those on board can sing himself, according to Sverdrup. But Dahl, Sverdrup and Malmgren do have other talents — they start drawing calendars, and every month a new picture is hung in the salon.

May 1925’s calendar depicts a polar explorer who is following a weather balloon through a telescope, but sees a scantily clad dancer instead. Borrowing from Martin Luther, the text reads: “Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang. Der bleibt am Pol sein Leben lang” (“He who loves not wine, women and song, remains at the Pole his whole life long”). The drawing is by Finn Malmgren, who knows that they will soon be able to head for home. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.
The calendar for June 1924 shows a ship, perhaps Maud, in warmer climes — far from the ice and cold they were surrounded by. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

After the unsuccessful flying attempts, Amundsen returns to Norway in September 1923 to try to pull together a new aircraft expedition. But it costs money, and Haakon Hammer, whom Amundsen has involved in the project, has been entering into agreements that are impossible to honour.

On June 27, 1924, the Norwegian newspapers print a press release from Amundsen announcing that: “As sufficient financial support has been impossible to find, the expedition must be postponed until further notice.” 📜 Finally, then, it is over – the debts are too great, the promises from Hammer too many, and Roald Amundsen is broke. Newpapers around the world print stories about how much everything has cost – the Norwegian state has contributed more than one million kroner to the expedition – and many are tired of Amundsen’s spending: “We have a poor country. We cannot afford to provide our only university and our science with tolerable conditions. There can be no talk in these times and in these circumstances of the state’s money being used for continued promotion of Roald Amundsen’s person” argues Morgenavisen on June 30, 1924.

(Click on the image to read the Morgenavisen article online at the National Library of Norway.📜)

Later Amundsen will concede, “I had undoubtedly committed a major mistake by leaving my business affairs so blindly to others.” 📜 The collaboration with Hammer costs Amundsen dearly.

Already, in February 1924, Wisting had received a discouraging telegram from Amundsen, ordering that if no ocean current took them northward, then he should take Maud to San Francisco.  Then, in April 1924, had come Amundsen’s unqualified instruction in the form of a new telegram: “Go to Nome if possible. The expedition’s financial situation is miserable.” 📜

The crew of Maud in 1924. Standing from left, Odd Dahl, Finn Malmgren, Oscar Wisting and Kakot. Behind sit Sverdrup, Olonkin and C. Hansen. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute / National Library of Norway.

But the opportunity would be a long time coming. Maud is forced to spend yet another winter in the ice north of Siberia, and only in June 1925 is a course finally set for Nome. Here, they are met on arrival by a police boat that comes to seize the ship. Only with help from the local consul and other Norwegians is the crew released and Maud allowed to sail for Seattle, where they dock in October. Maud is impounded and the crew is laid off — the expedition is definitively over.

Wisting is the last man on board, remaining there to prepare Maud for sale. “So it is with us sailors, that a ship we have sailed with for a long time, we love her. It may sound a little corny, but it is nonetheless the case. We dress her up in finery, we take care of her and rejoice when others think she is beautiful. Maud was not exactly beautiful, but she had another quality that is far, far more valuable and that outweighs all the beauty of the world – she was dependable. I felt as if I had failed her on the heavy day when I ambled on board for the last time and saw all those dear places that for me held so many good memories. I lived again with my comrades, and I remembered it, and I remembered it. Right from laughter and jokes, to life’s bitterest seriousness. Now, irrevocably, it was all over.” 📜

When Wisting is done, he goes on a drinking binge that lasts two days.

Later that year, Maud is sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company for 40,000 USD and renamed the Baymaud. Five years later, in 1930, the ship sinks in shallow water in Cambridge Bay. There it remains, until 2016, when it is raised to be returned home to Norway. In August 2018, what remains of Maud is towed into Bunnefjord and up to Amundsen’s home, Uranienborg, before being taken to her temporary home at Tofte in Oslofjord.

Maud lying off Amundsen’s home for the first and probably last time, 19 August 2018. Photo: Follo museum, MiA.

Related resources

Roald Amundsen born July 16
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
Starting university
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
Ship’s Officer’s exam
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
Polar bears as draft animals
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
Maud expedition
1918 – 1925
1918–25 Maud expedition
Nita and Camilla move in
Uranienborg for sale
Amundsen goes bankrupt
To 88 degrees north
Norge expedition
Lecture tour in Japan
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
Betty’s house burns down
A chest full of photographs is discovered
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital