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The End of The Voyage - The Bratvaag Find

On August 5, 1930, the sealing vessel, Bratvaag of Aalesund, was hunting seals in the vicinity of White Island. This vessel was also carrying a scientific expedition led by Dr. Gunnar Horn, whose group was studying the glaciers and seas around Great Island. The captain of the vessel was Peder Eliassen who had sailed the Arctic seas for more than twenty years.

White Island was typically inaccessible to sealers and whalers since it usually was surrounded by a wide belt of thick polar pack ice. It also was often hidden from view by thick ice fogs. It was known, however, to be prime hunting ground for walrus. It had been an exceptionally warm year in 1930 and the sea was virtually free of ice. The fog was light that afternoon, so some of the men decided to approach White Island to hunt walrus and to do a little scientific exploring. The men noted that they were "delighted to have reached the 'inaccessible island' with such ease and were overjoyed at the opportunity to visit it even if only for a very short time." (Horn, 1930)

The sealers approached the island from the southwest side where they were surprised to see extensive snow-free patches of land near the foot of the glacier. They found the same conditions when they walked to the northeast side. Otherwise the island appeared to be covered with ice that in some places was more than 660 feet deep. They anchored about half a mile from the Island and used a motorboat to take much of their gear ashore. They saw a herd of walrus and began the hunt. They were successful and brought some of the animals to the shore to clean the carcasses. Two of the hunters (Olav Salen and Karl Tusvick) got thirsty and went looking for water.

These men found a small stream and nearby they saw a bit of metal sticking out of the snow. Upon looking further, they noted a dark object protruding from a mound of snow. When they approached they could tell it was part of a boat sticking out of the ground. In the boat was a lot of equipment frozen in ice, including a boatswain's hook with the words "Andrée's Polar Expedition, 1896" engraved upon the visible portion. They pulled the hook from the frozen interior of the boat and took it to their fellow hunters. At that point the Captain had come to the island to help load the walrus catch. When he was informed of the find he decided to decided to investigate further and sent word to the scientists to join him.

The find lay on the northwest side of a rocky hill and one of the first things found was the partial skeleton of a man, half buried in the snow and ice. The body appeared to be leaning against the hill. The skeleton had been disturbed by bears, and much of the upper part of the body was missing, but a monogram on the jacket identified the body as being that of Andrée. There were worn out boots on his feet and close by was a gun, cooking utensils, an axe, and a primus stove. The stove had oil in it and, when tested, seemed to be in good working condition. In the pocket of the jacket were a diary, a pencil and a pedometer (Kansas City Star, 1930). The pages of the diary were sealed together by the glue which had dissolved and re-frozen over the entire booklet and could not be opened.

Nearby was the boat half buried on its side in ice and half filled with ice. When Eliassen and the scientists looked through the ice, they saw clothing, equipment, a furled Swedish flag and bones. It was not clear whether the bones were human or animal. There were also instruments and rags scattered around the boat as though the contents had been searched by scavenging polar bears. Nearby was a sledge frozen solidly into the ice.

Several yards from the camp, one of the men found what appeared to be a grave with a skull lying loose on the rocks. It was assumed that the person had been buried under a cairn of rocks but the grave had been disturbed by animals. From the grave, the searchers were able to retrieve much of the skeleton. Elsewhere they found a pelvis. The group felt this was probably the grave of Strindberg because of initials on the clothing.

The group decided they must take as much of the find as possible aboard the Bratvaag to ensure proper burial of the bodies and to allow scientists to examine the artifacts and determine their authenticity. They felt they could not leave the materials in place as the weather and animals might further destroy the find. In addition, they knew it might be years before another group could land on White Island.

Thus, the crew began digging. First they freed the bodies from the snow and ice. Then they began to work on freeing the boat. As they dug, it was clear that the boat was bound to a sledge and that they would have to free the boat in order to be able to transport it. In a packet of books near one end of the boat, Eliassen found the expedition's observation book which he was able to open somewhat. The captain believed this book had been written by Nils Strindberg, the scientific member of the expedition. The flyleaf of the book was inscribed: "The Sledge Journey, 1897" indicating that the journal was written after the group had left the balloon (Horn, 1930). They were unable to remove the iced-in contents of the boat without the danger of damage, so they decided to take the boat aboard in its frozen state. They also discovered another sledge near the boat. By the side of that sledge they retrieved a handkerchief with the initials N.S., which was thought to have belonged to Strindberg.

With extreme difficulty they transported the bodies, small artifacts, boat, and sledges back to the beach and made repeated trips in the motorboat to convey these to the Bratvaag. Luckily, they had unusually calm weather in which to do this grim task. The scientists felt there might be more artifacts buried deeper in the snow, but they decided to take what they had and to come back on their return voyage to see if the melting had continued.

As a final gesture, the group erected a memorial cairn on the hill where they had located the body of Andrée. In the cairn they put a bottle with a note: "In this place, the Norwegian Expedition to Franz Josef Land found the relics of the Swedish Andrée Expedition. White Island, August 6, 1930, Gunnar Horn."

The sailors agreed that the relics had only been located because of the time of year, the unusually warm and fine weather, and the wish of some of the sailors to go ashore to skin their catch. If it had not been for these fortuitous circumstances, the fate of the Andrée party might have remained a mystery forever. In fact, another expedition had come to White Island earlier in the year and had walked over the site without seeing any evidence of the camp.

On August 8, the Bratvaag spied a sealer out of Tromsö, named the Terningen, whose captain, Gustav Jensen, was invited to the Bratvaag and shown certain artifacts (he declined the opportunity to view the bodies) to prove that the find was indeed the remains of Andrée's expedition (New York Times, 1930b). Capt. Jensen was returning home and agreed to send a message to the Norwegian authorities of the find, since the Bratvaag crew and scientists wished to finish their hunting and scientific work before returning to harbor.

The Bratvaag returned to White Island on Aug. 26 to look for further artifacts, but could not go ashore due to heavy seas. On the 30th they were near enough to civilization that they were able to hear on their wireless radio that the world was anxiously waiting for them to come home and that many vessels containing members of the press were vying to be the first to board the boat (Topeka Daily Capital, 1930; New York Times, 1930a). They were given governmental orders to proceed to Tromsö. On Sept. 2, they were met at Tromsö by scientists charged by the Swedish and Norwegian governments to take possession of, and preserve, the find. The remains of Andreée and Strindberg were carried to the Tromsö Coast Hospital for study and preparation for burial and were later released to their families (Kansas City Star, 1930).


 

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Original Source:
 

Primary Source:

Horn, G.(1930) The Bratvaag expedition discovers the camp. In Andree's Story: The Complete Record of His Polar Flight, 1897 - Boy's Edition. NY, Blue Ribbon Books, Inc. pp. 163-184.

Supplemented with Information From:

Kansas City Star (Aug. 30, 1930). Proof of Andree. Kansas City, MO.

Kansas City Star (Sept. 2, 1930). Return of Andree. Kansas City, MO.

New York Times (Aug. 30, 1930). Thinks Andree Lived Two Years in Arctic. NY.

New York Times (Aug. 31, 1930).Deny Repudiating Story of Andree. NY.

Topeka Daily Capital (Aug. 28, 1930). Newsmen race in Arctic Ocean for Andree Saga. Topeka, KS.

Weekly Kansas City Star (Sept. 3, 1930). From Icy Tomb. Kansas City, MO.

 
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Transcriber: 
 

Jennifer Holvoet, Ph.D. -Author

 
 
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