The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

History of Antarctic Exploration in 30 Objects

Nansen Stove Diagram

This popular expedition stove was an essential piece of equipment for Antarctic sledging parties. Developed by the Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930), this stove allowed explorers to efficiently heat their food whilst simultaneously melting snow for water.  The stove was made up of an enclosed burner with a cylindrical aluminium vessel that held two cooking pots that sat within one another, allowing the heat to pass around both.  Travelling in the polar regions placed heavy demands on the body and so high energy foods were a major part of the explorers’ diets.  The main meal of the day was often ‘Hoosh’- a mixture of ground biscuits and pemmican (dried beef and beef fat flavoured with currants) accompanied by tea at lunch time and hot chocolate for breakfast and dinner.

Nansen was a household name and a major source of information and inspiration to pioneering Antarctic explorers at the turn of the twentieth century, including Scott and Shackleton.  In 1888 Nansen, along with five companions, became the first to traverse the Greenland icecap.  Unlike other explorers, who had set off from the populated west coast of Greenland, the Norwegian chose to start from the east coast allowing no possible retreat to a safe base.  Nansen prepared carefully, paying great attention to the equipment and provisions the expedition needed. Clothing, footwear, skis, cooking apparatus, tents and food were all carefully selected and at times modified for efficiency.  Nansen’s companions were selected with equal care, with all the party being expert skiers and used to outdoor life in extreme conditions.  Such careful preparation paid dividends when six weeks after setting off from the east coast, Nansen and his companions successfully reached the west coast town of Godthaab and announced to the world they had crossed the enormous ice sheet.

Nansen’s success propelled him onto newspaper front pages and he became a national figure, pursued for similar adventures.  At first the explorer seemed tempted to make an attempt to reach the South Pole but instead set about pioneering a fresh approach to reach the North Geographic Pole.  Realising that the Pole most likely lay under sea ice, he conceived of a plan to drive a boat into the ice along the Eurasian side of the Arctic and then float over the North Geographic Pole.  Nansen set about designing a ship that was intended to withstand the huge pressures of being stuck in ice.  The resulting ship, named the Fram (Norwegian for forward), was created to be as strong as possible, with smooth rounded sides that would allow the ship to be squeezed up out of the ice rather than being crushed.

Though the Fram’s design was conceptually brilliant, Nansen’s did not succeed in achieving his goal.  Unable to get his ship far enough along the Siberian coastline before it became trapped in the ice, the ship did drift towards Greenland but unfortunately not over the geographic North pole.  Realising that the ship would fall short, on 14 March 1895 Nansen and his colleague Hjalmar Johansen, decided to proceed on skis with dog-drawn sledges.  The intrepid men managed to get within 3˚of the Pole, but were forced to abandon the attempt when they realised that their supplies were running low.  Although unsuccessful in his attempt to achieve the Pole, Nansen had proved his skill as a leader of polar exploration.  In an age when little was known about the polar regions and the skills needed to survive there, his experiences would prove to be an invaluable source of information for those explorers planning to venture south.

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Currently on display at the South Australia Museum