Fridtjof Nansen.

In April 1894, almost exactly 130 years ago, the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen was observing a solar eclipse in the Arctic Ocean.  Nansen had set out in June 1893 with the deliberate intention of getting his ship, Fram, trapped in the Arctic sea-ice and allowing it to carry him across the North Pole.  It was an expedition that demanded patience, determination and resourcefulness, and one of the distractions was a solar eclipse that happened on 6th April 1894. 

Watching eclipse from farthest north. 

Nansen described the event, which was carefully watched by himself and his crew members Hjalmar Johansen and Sigurd Scott-Hansen:

‘Friday, April 6th:  A remarkable event was to take place to-day, which naturally we all looked forward to with lively interest.  It was an eclipse of the sun.  During the night Hansen had made a calculation that the eclipse would begin at 12.56 o’clock.  It was important for us to be able to get a good observation, as we should thus be able to regulate our chronometers to a nicety.  In order to make everything sure, we set up our instruments a couple of hours beforehand, and commenced to observe.  We used the large telescope and our large theodolite. 

‘Hansen, Johansen, and myself took it by turns to sit for five minutes each at the instruments, watching the rim of the sun, as we expected a shadow would become visible on its lower western edge, while another stood by with the watch.  We remained thus full two hours without anything occurring.  The exciting moment was now at hand, when, according to the calculation, the shadow should first be apparent. 

‘Hansen was sitting by the large telescope, when he thought he could discern a quivering in the sun’s rim;  33 seconds afterwards he cried out, ‘Now!’ as did Johansen simultaneously.  The watch was then at 12 hrs 56 m 7.5 s.  A dark body advanced over the border of the sun 7 1/2 seconds later than we had calculated on.  It was an immense satisfaction for us all, especially for Hansen, for it proved our chronometers to be in excellent order.  Little by little the sunlight sensibly faded away, while we went below to dinner. 

‘At 2 o’clock the eclipse was at its height, and we could notice even down in the saloon how the daylight had diminished.  After dinner we observed the moment when the eclipse ended, and the moon’s dark disc cleared the rim of the sun.’


Nansen’s expedition had to be abandoned when it became apparent that the drifting ice wouldn’t carry the ship over the North Pole.  Leaving Otto Sverdrup in charge of the ship, Nansen and Johansen set off with dog-drawn sledges in an attempt to reach the Pole on foot.  They didn’t succeed, but miraculously they survived an Arctic winter.  They were rescued by another exploring party and arrived home in Norway in 1896, just before the homecoming of the Fram.   Nansen was celebrated as a pioneering explorer, and was a guest of RSGS in 1897, when he received the RSGS Gold Medal and attended a banquet in his honour.


Banquet menu from RSGS Collections

Quote and illustration from Fridtjof Nansen’s ‘Farthest North’ (1897)

1897 Banquet menu:  RSGS Collections