Gunnerius Isachsen collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the Norwegian Exploring Expedition, 1898-1902 (leader Otto Sverdrup) to the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

Administrative / Biographical History

Gunnerius (Gunnar) Ingvald Isachsen was born on 3 October 1868 at Drøbak, Norway. In 1891, he joined the army, becoming a lieutenant in the cavalry and advancing to the rank of captain in 1899. He studied at the marine observatory in Wilhelmshaven, Germany, in 1898, the year in which he served as cartographer in Fram on the Norwegian Exploring Expedition, 1898-1902 (leader Otto Sverdrup), organized to explore the north coast of Greenland by way of Smith Sound. In May 1899, Isachsen and Ove Braskerud set out on a journey with the object of crossing Ellesmere Island, reaching a point in the interior at about 78° 30 minutes North, 83° West, before returning to Fram in July. The following March, Isachsen and Sverre Hassel accompanied Sverdrup on a sledging journey along the south and west coasts of Ellesmere Island, until April when, from the west coast of Axel Heiberg Island, they sighted new land to the west, which he and Hassel set out to explore. On 20 April, they landed on the new island, Amund Ringnes Island, where they remained for a short time before returning to the ship. In 1901, Isachsen and Hassel accompanied two sledging parties to Norwegian Bay before travelling by way of the north coast of Graham Island to Cape Southwest, Axel Heiberg Island. They then crossed Hendriksen Strait to the south coast of Amund Ringnes Island, continuing west to Ellef Ringnes Island before returning to the northernmost point of Amund Ringnes Island. They returned to Framat Goose Fiord by way of Axel Heiberg Island. During the final year of the expedition, Isachsen and Edvard Bay surveyed Baad Fiord on the south coast of Ellesmere Island before crossing Jones Sound to Cape Sparbo, Devon Island, and exploring its north coast.

Between 1903 and 1905, Isachsen transferred to the French army, serving in North Africa and Paris. In 1906, Isachsen led the Norwegian party on the International Scientific Expedition (leader Albert I, Prince of Monaco), sponsored by the Prince to conduct oceanographic and high-altitude meteorological work northwest of Spitsbergen and to survey and map the unknown interior areas of northwest Spitsbergen and Prins Karls Forland. Isachsen and his party took the steamer Kvedfjord to the east coast of Krossfjorden, where they made their first camp. They conducted topological surveys around Krossfjorden before moving to southeast Danskøya, the starting point for their main inland surveys. Using Smeerenburgbreen as their main route inland, they divided into two main parties, systematically exploring that region. He returned to Svalbard the following year as leader of the Norwegian Party on the International Scientific Expedition, sponsored by Albert I to continue their scientific work in northwest Spitsbergen.

In 1908, Isachsen undertook training in oceanography at Bergen, and in 1909 and 1910, was appointed to lead two Norwegian scientific expeditions, sponsored to make surveys in west-central and northwest Spitsbergen. The results of these expeditions included astronomical and magnetic determinations, meteorological and geological observations, and mapping of the land around Raudfjorden and Woodfjorden, and of Prins Karls Forland. In 1911, Isachsen was sent on a special commission to Russia and Japan, and in 1919, he attended the Spitsbergen conference in Paris as technical delegate representing Norway.

In 1923, Isachsen was appointed director of the Norwegian Maritime Museum, travelling on a voyage to East Greenland in the same year. He returned to East Greenland in 1924, the year in which he was promoted major in the militia. Between 1926 and 1927, Isachsen sailed to the Antarctic on a Norwegian Whaling Expedition in the factory ship N.T. Nielsen-Alonso. He returned south on the Norwegian (Christensen) Antarctic Expedition, 1929-1930, later leading the Norwegian (Christensen) Antarctic Expedition, 1930-1931, sailing in Norvegia to the South Shetland Islands and Bouvetøya. He died on 19 December 1939 at Oslo.

Published work Grønland og Grønlandsisen (Norwegian) by Gunnar Isachsen, J W Cappelens Forlag Oslo (1925) SPRI Library Shelf (38)[pub.1925] Jorden rundt efter blhvalen (Norwegian) by Gunnar Isachsen, Kommandør Chr. Christensens Hvalfangstmuseum Sandefjord (1927) SPRI Library Shelf 639.245.1(7)[Norwegian pub.1927] Norvegia rundt Sydpollandet; Norvegia-Ekspedidisjonen 1930-1931 (Norwegian) by Gunnar Isachsen, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag Oslo (1934) SPRI Library Shelf (7):91(08)[1930-1931]


The collection is arranged chronologically

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

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

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and 'Gunnar Isachsen' (Norwegian) by Adolf Hoel in Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift 1940 volume 8 number 1-2 p1-5 and geocities

Other Finding Aids

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.

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Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device 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.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible