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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Borchgrevink, Carsten Egeberg (1864–1934)

by R. A. Swan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (1864-1934), by unknown photographer, 1895

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (1864-1934), by unknown photographer, 1895

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN01/04/95/21

Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevink (1864-1934). Antarctic explorer, was born on 1 December 1864 in Christiania, Norway, son of Henrik Christian Borchgrevink, barrister, and his wife Annie, née Ridley. Educated at Gjertsen College, he later studied natural science at the Royal College in Tharandt, Saxony. After returning to Norway in 1888, he migrated to Australia where he worked on survey teams in Queensland and New South Wales. In 1892-94 he taught languages and natural science at the Cooerwull Academy, Bowenfels, New South Wales.

Borchgrevink claimed to have had a continuing interest in polar exploration, and to have been stimulated by the work of local scientific enthusiasts on the first Australian Antarctic Committee. In 1894 the Norwegian H. J. Bull, a former resident of Victoria, organized an Antarctic whaling expedition in the ship Antarctic; it called at Melbourne and Borchgrevink signed on as a deck-hand, with permission to carry out scientific work as well. After many vicissitudes a landing was made at Cape Adare on the Antarctic continental mainland on 24 January 1895 with Borchgrevink claiming to be the first man to set foot thereon. Returning to Australia and later to England, he read numerous papers to learned societies and worked to gain support for an expedition, led by himself, to spend a winter and carry out scientific work at Cape Adare. His scientific writings encouraged the English geographical authorities to increase their efforts to organize a large expedition, but when he gained the financial support of his employer, the publisher Sir George Newnes, their approval turned to resentment. Nevertheless his plans proceeded; the Pollux was purchased and renamed Southern Cross, barque-rigged, and fitted with steam-engines. A small scientific staff was chosen, including L. C. Bernacchi.

The party left Hobart on 19 December 1898; a base was set up at Cape Adare next February. Man's first winter on the continental mainland was spent with only one death to mar the achievement; they landed on the Ross Barrier for the first time, and made a sledge journey thereon to latitude 78°50'S, the highest southern latitude reached in the Antarctic to that date. Valuable scientific work of a pioneering nature was carried out, but did not receive due recognition at the time because of Borchgrevink's low standing in England. None the less, he was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society on his return. His own sovereign appointed him a knight of St Olaf and he received similar honours from Denmark (1907) and Austria (1911). In 1904 the Royal Scottish Geographical Society awarded him its silver medal. Finally, in 1930, after the value of his work had been fully recognized, the Royal Geographical Society awarded him its Patron's Medal. The English edition of Borchgrevink's book, First on the Antarctic Continent (London, 1901), was criticized for its journalistic style; the German and Norwegian versions carried fuller accounts of the party's scientific achievements. His only other field-work of note was during 1902 when he went to the West Indies on a scientific expedition for the National Geographic Society to study the effects of recent volcanic eruptions.

On 7 September 1896 at the parish church of Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, Borchgrevink had married Constance Prior Standen; they had two sons and two daughters. He died in Oslo on 21 April 1934 and was cremated. Although he had been somewhat obsessed by a desire to be first and was not a properly trained scientist, his pioneering work in the Antarctic was valuable to later, more elaborate, scientific expeditions.

Select Bibliography

  • R. A. Swan, Australia in the Antarctic (Melb, 1961)
  • JRAHS, 46 (1960), pts 1, 3
  • Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian Branch), 68 (1966-67)
  • Polar Record, 17 (1975), no 108.

Citation details

R. A. Swan, 'Borchgrevink, Carsten Egeberg (1864–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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