Norway's Forgotten Explorer

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (1864 - 1934)


Carsten Borcgrevink (Colbeck Collection, Canterbury Museum)
Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink was born in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway on the 1st December 1864. 

At the age of 24 he migrated to Australia and 5 years later, in 1893 he signed on, as a "generally useful hand, to the Norwegian whaling and sealing vessel “Antarctic” under Commander Leonard Kristensen.  It was on this voyage that the first confirmed landing on the Antarctic continent was made.  Who was actually first to step ashore remains a matter of debate.  Borchgrevink was one of three Norwegians in the party to make this claim and in any event there was no more than seconds between them.

At the conclusion of this voyage Borchgrevink left the ship and began a lecture tour in Melbourne and Sydney.  He planned an Antarctic expedition of his own and among other things wanted to locate the South Magnetic Pole.  After failing to raise the funds in Australia he travelled to England to try to gain interest there but official support could not be found.  Borchgrevink did however manage to persuade the wealthy British publisher Sir George Newnes to contribute £40,000 for a private expedition.

He then purchased the 521 ton whaling ship “Pollux” which he renamed the “Southern Cross”.  He sailed south from London in August 1898 and finally departed Hobart, Australia in December.  They crossed the Antarctic Circle on January 23rd 1899 and after delays in the pack ice Borchgrevink returned to Cape Adare to construct the first buildings and undertake the first winter-over on the continent.

Although aspects of Borchgrevink's expedition were to create controversy there is no doubt that it contributed greatly to the very limited knowledge of Antarctica that was available at that time.  As well as its scientific and other findings they discovered the bay that later became known as the Bay of Whales that was used by Roald Amundsen for his base “Framheim”, the starting point for his conquest of the South Pole.

Men and dogs on ridge behind Cape Adare c. 1898 (Credit: Bernacchi Collection, Canterbury Museum)

Unfortunately, when he returned to England Borchgrevink received little recognition for his achievements because at that time polar interest was focussed very much on Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition in 1901.

Borchgrevink however continued to lecture in England and in Scotland where he was made a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.  In 1902 he visited the United States and was honoured by the American Geographical Society.  In Norway he received an award from the Norwegian Geographic Society, was made a Knight of St. Olaf and later a Knight of the Danebrogorden (Denmark).  It was not until 1930 that the English finally recognised the achievements of his expedition and awarded him the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

Carsten Borchgrevink on Southern Cross. c. 1898 (Credit: Bernacchi Collection, Canterbury Museum)
For the remainder of his life he lived in Norway where he was active in literary and sporting activities.  His involvement in International sport led to him being created a Knight Commander of the Austrian Imperial Order of Franz Joseph.

He died in 1934. 

Read about the other expedition members




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This website was produced with the support of the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage, Riksantikvaren.