Fridtjof Nansen's Matches: Carried by the Norwegian Explorer during His Ill-Fated Attempt to Become the First Man to Reach the North Pole

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Fridtjof Nansen's Matches: Carried by the Norwegian Explorer during His Ill-Fated Attempt to Become the First Man to Reach the North Pole


On a misty June day in 1896, a party of British explorers based on a remote Arctic archipelago spotted a black speck moving along the horizon. Realising they were all present, the expedition leader, Frederick Jackson, ran down to find out who could possibly be wandering around in the wilderness.

'The rest of us scrambled for telescopes and binoculars, and some climbed up the rock in order to find out who the mysterious newcomer was,' said the group's botanist, Harry Fisher. As they watched the two specks gesticulating at each other in the distance, it occurred to them that it could be the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who had set off three years earlier for the North Pole.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When Fisher saw that the stranger 'had a gun in one hand and a bamboo stick in the other' and 'was wearing "ski" and was jumping about from one ice hummock to another in a marvellous manner', he knew that their suspicions were correct, and they all rushed down to greet him and 'cheered until we were hoarse'.

Nansen and his companion hadn't reached the pole, but they had gone four degrees farther north than anyone else, before spending an entire winter living off polar bear and walrus meat. 'He was absolutely black from head to foot,' said Fisher. 'And the brightness of his eyes was accentuated by the grime of his face.' It was a very different sight from the man the New York Times described the next year as looking 'more like a big healthy sport-loving college boy than the world-famed scientist and explorer'--a young-looking, six-foot-tall 36-year-old with 'light hair and moustache, blue eyes and a fair complexion'.

Born in 1861, by the age of four, Nansen was a proficient skier, and by 18, he had broken a world record for distance skating. …

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