Nansen: “I would be an Englishman”

I was enjoying my polar books the other night and came across a quote attributed to everyone's  favourite humanitarian polar explorer and scientist, Fridtjof Nansen.

Fridtjof Nansen
Fridtjof Nansen, 1915, from the George Grantham Bain Collection

If I were not a Norwegian, I would be an Englishman rather than belong to any other nation

Nansen is quoted in Fridtjof Nansen, his life and explorations, by James Arthur Bain, 1897.

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

Fridtjof Nansen quoted by James Bain, 1897. Page 45

It's hard not to be in awe of Nansen.

The Fridtjof Nansen Institute describe him as a polar explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. The Wikipedia page provides the facts, but don't skip the reason he was awarded the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize: the Nansen Passport represent an astonishing achievement.

Nansen liked the English.

This was not a universal sentiment.

The American Lieutenant Commander George Washington DeLong was the commander of a famous Arctic expedition expedition on the USS Jeanette.

He said on the choice of sailors for his polar expeditions:

[I want] Single men, perfect health, considerable strength, perfect temperance, cheerfulness, ability to read and write English, prime seamen of course …

… Norwegians, Swedes and Danes Preferred.

Avoid English, Scotch, and Irish.

Refuse point-blank French, Italian, and Spaniards.

The quote is on page 68 of  The voyage of the Jeannette.

Voyage of the Jeannette

His expedition ended in disaster, and I don't think he had any English on his crew. His ship however was British - it was HMS Pandora before it was sold to the American James Gordon  Bennett and sailed as a United States government ship renamed as the USS Jeannette.

If you have time the period newspaper reports of the tragedy are amazing.

Maybe in a future post I will talk about how the disastrous expedition DeLong led provided Nansen with some key facts which contributed to him leading one of the most famous expeditions of all: The Fram Expedition 1893-96.

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