Hjalmar Johansen

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For the Danish gymnast, see Hjalmar Peter Johansen.
Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen
HjalmarJohansen.JPG
Born (1867-05-15)May 15, 1867
Skien, Norway
Died January 3, 1913(1913-01-03) (aged 45)
Oslo, Norway

Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen (May 15, 1867 – January 3, 1913) was a polar explorer from Norway. He shipped out with Fridtjof Nansen's Fram expedition in 1893–1896, and accompanied Nansen to notch a new Farthest North record near the North Pole on what was then the frozen Arctic Ocean. Johansen also participated in the expedition of Roald Amundsen to the South Pole in 1910–1912.

Early life[edit]

Born in Skien, in Telemark county, Norway. He was the second eldest son in a Christian family of five children. His father was a farmer and was also keen for Johansen to attend a military academy, although Johansen had ambitions to become a lawyer and attended Royal Frederik’s University, to study law in Christiania (now Oslo). However, he performed poorly at law school, due to a low attendance of lectures. At the age of 21, Johansen's father died, prompting him to leave law school. After dropping out of school, Hjalmar briefly worked in an office job, however, by that time he had already made his mark as an athlete; he was an excellent skier and gymnast. In gymnastics he became Norwegian champion in 1885 in Fredrikshald and world champion in 1889 in Paris.

Exploring expeditions[edit]

Medal of the South Pole

Arctic[edit]

Johansen joined Nansen's polar expedition with Fram in 1893; he had to take the position of stoker, as the others were filled. After Fram froze fast, he became Sigurd Scott-Hansen's assistant with his meteorologic studies. Using skis and sled dogs – Johansen was an expert dog driver – Johansen accompanied his chief to their joint closest approach to the North Pole, 86 degrees 14 minutes north, in 1895. On their way home, Johansen and Nansen were forced to spend the winter on Franz Josef Land because of severe damage to their kayaks when crossing open channels in the ice. During the expedition, Johansen once fell through the ice and was barely saved by Nansen, and also received a blow on his head by a polar bear.[1]

On the return of the Nansen parties to Norway, Johansen and other members of the crew of the Fram were celebrated as heroes. Johansen was promoted to captain in the Norwegian infantry, a role he didn't succeed in. He drank heavily and left the army. In the years 1907 to 1909, Johansen participated in four expeditions to Svalbard.

Antarctica[edit]

In 1910 he was one of Amundsen's men on the Fram and in Antarctica. Amundsen and his men, racing for the South Pole with Robert Falcon Scott, started out for the South Pole too early in the season and had to return to base camp at the Bay of Whales.

Johansen had disagreed with the early start and had to rescue a less experienced member of the party, Kristian Prestrud, from freezing to death on the return journey. Amundsen had taken the best dogsled and sped off towards the camp without regard for his men as a storm approached. As a result, Prestrud and Johansen had no tent or cooking equipment to melt snow and had no choice but to press on for the camp in a blizzard with extreme windchill (−50°C) and a dangerous descent towards the base camp.

Johansen had saved Prestrud from death and carried him to the base camp. However, the mishap enraged Amundsen. Upon their return to the Bay of Whales, Johansen quarrelled with Amundsen in front of the other men; Amundsen reacted to the argument by dismissing Johansen from the party heading for the South Pole. He further disciplined Johansen by ordering him to subordinate himself to Prestrud, and ordering the two men to embark on a minor expedition towards King Edward VII Land while the other members of the main expedition resumed their trek towards the Pole.

The Amundsen party successfully reached the Pole and reunited with the subsidiary party. On the expedition's landfall in Tasmania Amundsen dismissed Johansen from the Fram, paid him off, and ordered him to return separately to Norway. Once Johansen had left Amundsen's party, the triumphant leader made the entire remaining crew sign a paper that stated that they were to keep quiet about the whole expedition. Amundsen was to have the sole right of writing about it in his soon-to-be-published book. After returning separately to Norway, Johansen found that he was never to be credited by Amundsen for any contribution to the expedition, including his heroic rescue of Prestrud. However, for his participation in the expedition, Johansen was awarded the Medal of the South Pole (Sydpolsmedaljen), the Royal Norwegian award instituted by King Haakon VII in 1912 to reward participants in Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition.

As a result of his disgrace Johansen resumed drinking alcohol, became clinically depressed, and, in 1913, committed suicide.[2] His wife and four children survived him.

Legacy[edit]

Johansen's reputation, after his death, largely drifted into the obscurity that the vengeful Amundsen sought for it. In 1997, however, biographer Ragnar Kvam, Jr. published a biography of the forgotten explorer, The Third Man. As a result of this and other work, Johansen's place in the story of Norwegian polar exploration is being rehabilitated.

In 2005, the International Hydrographic Organization officially approved the proposal by an American arctic scientist to name Hjalmar Johansen Seamount, a newly discovered volcanic edifice on the floor of the Arctic ocean northwest of Spitzbergen. The location is 82 degrees, 57 minutes N, 3 degrees, 40 minutes W, and the top of the undersea mountain lies at a water depth of 4800 meters.[3]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Hjalmar Johansen: With Nansen in the North. Ward, Lock and Co Limited, London 1899. Download full text