Nils Larsen of Norvegia Expeditions First to Set Foot on Island Discovered by Famous Explorer
Nordic sea captain, Nils Larsen of the legendary Norvegia Expeditions, celebrated as the first person ever to set foot on an Antarctic island initially sighted by a famous Russian.
A celebrated sea captain hailing from the Kingdom of Norway in Northern Europe, Nils Larsen of the Norvegia Expeditions and his crew traveled more than 17,000 kilometers to complete scientific research in Antarctica in a series of missions which are now legendary.
Having sought prior permission from Norway’s Foreign Office to claim any uncharted territory that was found on behalf of the Scandinavian nation, Larsen would, while exploring Earth’s southernmost continent, become the first person ever to set foot on a volcanic island in the Bellingshausen Sea, originally spotted by a famous Russian explorer.
The island in question, Peter I Island, is more than 450 kilometers from continental Antarctica. Covering over 150 square kilometers, and now a dependency of Norway, Peter I Island was first sighted by the famous explorer, cartographer, and Russian naval officer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, after whom the Bellingshausen Sea is named. It was not, however, for another 100 years or more than anyone would set foot on the volcanic isle, when, in 1929, sea captain Nils Larsen of the Norvegia Expeditions arrived.
Despite being claimed by Norway, Peter I Island retains the name originally assigned by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, where it was christened for Peter I of Russia. Norway annexed it in 1931, thanks to sea captain Nils Larsen of its Norvegia Expeditions, and made it a dependency two years later, in 1933.
Nils Larsen of the Norvegia Expeditions and his crew also claimed two further islands – Bouvet Island and Queen Maud Land. As a result of Nils Larsen’s efforts, Norway, to this day, still holds a trio of dependent territories in the Antarctic and Subantarctic.
Perilous to reach and uninhabited by humans, no other person would set foot on Peter I Island for almost two decades, when only the second-ever landing occurred in 1948. Today, the island remains predominantly subject to scientific research. Covered mostly by a glacier and largely surrounded by pack ice, even now, Peter I Island is a demanding destination to reach, as first learned by Nils Larsen of the legendary Norvegia Expeditions almost a century ago.
Crowned by an imposing 5,380-foot tall mountainous peak, the island is home solely to seabirds and seals. Peter I Island became subject to the Antarctic Treaty in 1961, precisely 30 years after its annexation courtesy of Nils Larsen and sea captain of the Norvegia Expeditions. In 1987, an automated meteorological station was installed on the island.
Despite being almost impossible to access for large parts of the year, some nine decades or more after Nils Larsen of the Norvegia Expeditions became the first person ever to set foot on the imposing volcanic isle, in more recent years, Peter I Island has, in fact, managed to welcome a strictly limited number of tourists. Most, it’s said, are interested in the scientific significance of the island, while others wish to visit to enjoy its limited Antarctic wildlife.
Nils Larsen Lives on via Geographical Areas Named to Honor the Norwegian Sea Captain
Explorer and famous sea captain Nils Larsen’s name lives on after the Norwegian’s role in the annexation of significant swathes of the world’s southernmost continent.
Almost a century on, Norwegian sea captain Nils Larsen’s name remains recognizable the world over thanks to his part in the internationally renowned Norvegia Expeditions to Antarctica, following which three now-famous geographical areas on Earth’s southernmost continent—including Mount Nils Larsen and the Nils Larsen Glacier—were named in his honor.
Home to the geographic South Pole, Antarctica is Earth’s southernmost continent. Part of the famous Norvegia Expeditions, sea captain Nils Larsen and crew traveled some 17,000 kilometers or more from their European homeland to Antarctica to complete scientific research and discover new whaling grounds in the waters surrounding the continent.
The expeditions, which took place from 1927 to 1931, were financed by Norwegian ship-owner and whaling merchant Lars Christensen. Christensen, in addition to wanting to complete scientific research and discover new whaling grounds, also sought permission from Norway’s Foreign Office to claim any uncharted territory that was found on behalf of the Scandinavian nation. Multiple islands of varying sizes in the vast Southern Ocean were annexed by financier Lars Christensen, sea captain and explorer Nils Larsen, and the rest of the Norvegia Expeditions crew as a result.
Later expeditions to the region, again financed by Christensen, this time included airplanes, with mapping now a priority for the whaling merchant. These later missions were christened the Thorshavn Expeditions and, again, included former Norvegia Expeditions crew member Nils Larsen. Close to 100 years since the first of the Norvegia Expeditions in 1927, the legendary sea captain remains immortalized in the shape of Mount Nils Larsen, Enderby Land’s Mount Nils, and the Nils Larsen Glacier, each clearly named after the famous Norwegian.
Mount Nils Larsen can be found in Queen Maud Land, a large area of the continent of Antarctica annexed during the Thorshavn Expeditions. Both here and at Mount Nils and the Nils Larsen Glacier, explorer and famous sea captain Nils Larsen shall forever live on in name as part of the ancient Antarctic landscape – still one of the most inhospitable places on the planet, and where new polar expeditions continue to this day.
Born on 19 June 1900 in Sandar, Norway, Nils Larsen passed away on 29 September 1976. In addition to becoming the namesake of Mount Nils Larsen, Mount Nils, and the Nils Larsen Glacier alike, as a direct result of Nils Larsen’s expeditions alongside the likes of aviation pioneer Hjalmar Riiser-Larsen and whaling merchant Lars Christensen, Norway successfully achieved a number of highly significant annexations, including of Bouvet Island in 1927 and, two years later, in 1929, Peter I Island.
Peter I Island remains home to the Nils Larsen Glacier, named in the famous sea captain’s honor as the first person ever to set foot there – a further testament, if it was needed, to Larsen’s place in history as a legendary explorer.
Nils Larsen and the History of Whaling in Norway
Nils Larsen, who lived between 1900 and 1976, was a prominent Norwegian sea captain and whaler. While he is most associated with his expeditions in Antarctica, he is also deeply involved with the controversial history of whaling in Norway.
Nils Larsen was born and raised in Sandar, Norway. From there, he became a noted whaler and captained several whaling ships for Thor Dahl A/S of Sandefjord – a prosperous shipping company. Larsen also served as the first mate to Lars Christensen – a Norwegian whale-ship owner who financed many Norvegia expeditions of Antarctica. It was during these expeditions that Norway annexed of Peter I Island and Bouvet Island. Both of these Antarctic islands were uninhabited and the extremely harsh environment only allowed for very short stays.
Nils Larsen and Whaling in Norway
Whale hunting – or “whaling” – has been a part of Norwegian coastal culture for millennia. The oldest evidence of whaling indicates that natives in Norway were hunting whales as early as the 9th or 10th century. Vikings from Norway innovated whaling methods meant to drive small cetaceans (whales) into the fjords in Iceland where they were more easily caught.
While many restrictions have been placed on whaling globally, some places in Norway continue traditional, sustainable whaling practices to this day.
In Norway, whaling involved the hunting of minke whales for use as animal and human food. In the past, their blubber (or fat) was used to create oil and garnered high prices in trade. Now any minke whales hunted are used locally or exported to Japan, where the meat is considered a delicacy.
Nils Larsen came onto the whaling scene at the height of its popularity and saw it through to its decline in modern times. While traditional whaling was done with spears, Nils Larsen and other early 20th century whalers usually relied on harpoons – a mechanized spear gun that allowed whalers to hunt with never-before-known accuracy. Because the harpoon was launched mechanically it was able to penetrate to much greater depths than human propelled spears, and as a result, whales became much easier prey.
This led to a hunting frenzy that almost wiped out multiple species of whale completely. While there are now more whales than this generation has ever seen, they are nowhere near their pre-whaling populations.
Nils Larsen gave up whaling in favor of the greater thrill and promise of glory offered by Antarctic expeditions. He left his mark on the area and there are several landmarks named after Nils Larsen in the Antarctica area, including Mount Nils Larsen, Mount Nils, and Nils Larsen Glacier.
Norwegian Sea Captain Nils Larsen was the First Person to Set Foot on Peter I Island in 100 Years
Peter I Island is a remote island in Antarctica. In fact, it’s so difficult to access, it was featured in the Atlas of Remote Islands. The nearest coast to Peter I Island sits more than 260 miles away. Few people have heard of this island and even fewer have traveled to it. However, Norwegian sea captain Nils Larsen was one of those few people who were able to set foot on the island, and he was amazingly the first one to do so in more than 100 years.
Nils Larsen was most known for his Norway expeditions of Antarctica. He was born in Sandar, Norway, on June 19, 1900. He achieved his master’s degree, and eventually became a famous sea captain and whaler. He captained countless ships and held the position of the first mate on Norvegia Expeditions of Antarctica. During this scientific expedition is when Norway annexed Peter I Island and Bouvet Island in Antarctica. It is also the expedition during which Nils Larsen became the first person to set foot on Peter I Island.
Nils Larsen, an avid adventurer, is one of few people in the past century who have been able to set foot on a completely deserted island. He was able to step on an island that was completely uninhabited and remains almost always hidden by dense pack ice. Peter I Island feels even more remote than it technically is because although it is 260 miles from the nearest coast, it’s actually roughly 1,150 miles to the most southern tip of South America. When Nils Larsen stepped foot there in February of 1929, he probably didn’t know just how far from civilization he really was.
Nils Larsen claimed this island for Norway on Feb. 2, 1929. This claim later becomes true Norwegian law two years later. However, claims of any land south of 60 degrees were later deemed invalid as part of the Antarctic Treaty. Nevertheless, Nils Larsen has long been praised for his expeditions and groundbreaking scientific discoveries throughout his lifetime.
The island was once again studied by the Norwegian Institute in 1987. Since that date, roughly 15 tourist ships have ventured to Peter I Island in Antarctica. Although, it is believed that only some of those tourists were able to make any sort of short landing. To this day, the number of people who have set foot on Peter I Island is minimal, and Nils Larsen remains a legend as the first person to step foot there in more than 100 years.