Roald Amundsen collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of journals and logs kept by Amundsen as leader of the Norwegian Northwest Passage Expedition, 1903-1906, and correspondence predominately on non polar matters. 

  • MS 101/11/1-3;D AMUNDSEN R. Letters (3) to W. S. Bruce, 1912-1913 [Brief letters of thanks regarding Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912] 3 leaves, holograph
  • MS 477;MJ AMUNDSEN R. Journal and logbook, 1903-1906 [Norwegian Northwest Passage Expedition, includes personal journal, 1903-1906 and the ships log, 1903-1906] microfilm
  • MS 1537/2/29/2;D AMUNDSEN R. Letter to E. H. Shackleton, 15 March 1912 [Reply to a telegram of congratulation sent for attaining the South Pole] holograph
  • MS 1119;D AMUNDSEN R. Letter to A. de Gerlache de Gomery, 13 March 1897 [Regarding his arrival in Antwerp, lessons in navigation, living arrangements] holograph (Xerox copy)
  • MS 1248;MJ AMUNDSEN R. Journal, 27 May 1905 to 31 August 1906 [Norwegian Northwest Passage Expedition, 1903-1906] holograph, microfilm
  • MS 1325/2;D AMUNDSEN R. Letter to H. R. Mill, 9 July 1925 [Brief letter of thanks] typescript, damaged
  • MS 1645;D AMUNDSEN R. Letter to Herbert [Illegible], 13 March 1912 [Thanking him for invitation for electing him as honorary member of sailing squadron, written from Hobart on return from Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912] photocopy

Administrative / Biographical History

Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (1872-1928) was born near Oslo, Norway into a prosperous shipbuilding family. Amundsen was inspired to become a polar explorer by travel books on the Arctic and by the exploits of his countryman Fridtjof Nansen.

Amundsen spent two years as a medical student at Oslo University before he went to sea in a sealer to East Greenland, obtaining his mate's certificate in 1895. He joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, 1897-1899 (de Gerlache de Gomery) as first mate of Belgica. The ship was beset by pack ice and drifted south of Peter I y for 12 months, becoming the first exploring vessel to winter south of the Antarctic Circle. A comprehensive scientific programme was undertaken and detailed collections were made.

On his return Amundsen obtained his master's certificate in 1900 and also trained in geomagnetism under the German physicist Georg von Neumayer. In 1903, despite inadequate financial support, he sailed the small fishing boat Gja with six companions from Baffin Bay westward through the Arctic archipelago of northern Canada, living in close contact with local Inuit. During the first winter, he sledged with dog teams to the North Magnetic Pole. In the second summer, Gja emerged into the Beaufort Sea, becoming in August 1905 the first ship to achieve the Northwest Passage.

For two years following his return, Amundsen was engaged in writing and lecturing in order to pay the debts of the expedition. He began to prepare for his next great venture, hoping to reach the North Pole by drifting across the Arctic Ocean like Nansen. Winning Nansen's support, the Norwegian government loaned Amundsen the research vessel Fram, in September 1909, the news that Frederick Cook and Robert Peary had reached the North Pole reduced Amundsen's enthusiasm for this expedition. Sailing from Norway in June 1910, ostensibly for the Arctic, he switched objectives and headed instead for the South Pole on the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912, informing Robert Falcon Scott of his intentions before Scott left New Zealand. By the end of January 1911, Amundsen was established at Framheim on the Ross Ice Shelf, and on 14 December 1911 he and four companions reached the South Pole by dog sledge, claiming the South Polar Plateau for Norway. His expedition was a model of foresight, organization and efficiency.

In the earlier years of the First World War, Amundsen amassed a small fortune by speculation in shipping. Putting his money into the furtherance of his schemes of exploration, Amundsen returned to the Arctic in 1918 with his own ship Maud, in which he sailed and drifted along the Siberian coast.

On his return to Norway, Amundsen became interested in flight as a means of exploration, and after some preliminary ventures, he flew from Spitsbergen in 1925, reaching 88° North before being forced to descend. The following year, with Lincoln Ellsworth and General Nobile, he took the Norge airship from Spitsbergen to Alaska over the North Pole in 72 hours. In June 1928, he was lost with two companions while flying over the Arctic Ocean in search of a missing Italian expedition led by Nobile.

Published work My life as an explorer by Roald Amundsen, Heinemann, London (1927) Roald Amundsen's Belgica diary, the first scientific expedition to the Antarctic, edited by Hugo Decleir, Bluntisham Books Bluntisham, Erskine Press Norwich (1999)

Biographical information, Roald Amundsen explorer by Charles Turley, Methuen & Co. London (1935) Amundsen by Bellamy Partridge, Robert Hale, London (1953) Roald Amundsen - en biografi (Norwegian) by Tor Bomann-Larsen, Cappelen Oslo (1995)


The material is arranged by accession number

Access Information

Access to archive material is by appointment only.

An on line booking form is available via the SPRI archive web pages


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they quote the entire MS reference and the name of the author

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author signs the item.

Other Finding Aids

Published catalogue by Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing, New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute for material received after 1982.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some of the material is on microfilm

Archivist's Note

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham with assistance from R. Stancombe. With reference to Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 Scottish Geographical Magazine (November 1928) volume 44 p259-260 Nature (October 1928) volume 122 number 3075 p514-516, 545 and R. K. Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034 Clive Holland Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486

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Copying of material by readers is prohibited.

The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

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Further accessions are possible

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library. This material includes photographic collections for the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1912. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link. Any requests for photographs should be directed to the SPRI Picture Library Manager.

Other archival collections contain mention of Amundsen and his polar expeditions, for example Stephen Carter Jackson [MS 1454;MJ Compilation of photocopied extracts from books and articles, archival photograph collections, and some manuscript material, relating to Amundsen's career in the Arctic] We also hold the diary of Captain William Mogg who accompanied Amundsen for part of his northwest passage expedition.