Did you know that Sverre Hassel declined to participate in a later expedition with Amundsen?
Sverre Helge Hassel (1876–1928) was born in Oslo. He went to sea at an early age and trained to the rank of first mate and captain.
He was aboard Otto Sverdrup’s second Fram expedition in 1898. The original idea had been to try to sail around Greenland via Baffin Bay and possibly attempt to reach the North Pole. After a confrontation between Sverdrup and the American Robert Peary on Ellesmere Island, the experienced captain chose to explore new territories in northern Canada, including Ellesmere Island and the Sverdrup Islands. Peary was of the opinion that the Norwegians were encroaching on his territory and that he had a monopoly on exploration of the area. Peary later claimed to have been at the North Pole in 1908, but this claim was later disputed.
In 1909, Roald Amundsen asked Sverre Hassel to take part in an expedition with Fram aiming for the North Pole, during which Hassel’s duty would be to look after the dogs, Hassel agreed. Before Fram arrived in Madeira in the summer of 1910, Hassel was initiated into Amundsen’s secret plan to conquer the South Pole. After some hesitation, he agreed to come along. It was important for Amundsen to have an experienced dogsledder with him to the South Pole, and when Amundsen designated Hassel as leader of one of the sleds, Hassel was very surprised, but pleased. Nonetheless, he had his doubts about Amundsen’s sudden turnaround. At the end of August 1911, on a day when the mercury showed 60°C, Hassel wrote, “If only we could postpone setting off until 1 November. But if one intends to be first to the Pole, perhaps one has no choice.”
Hassel had mixed opinions about “the Chief” during the expedition, and after returning home from the South Pole he refrained from all further polar exploits. Amundsen had been exceedingly nervous about that the British would beat him to the Pole. According to Hassel’s diary, “the Chief” had seemed both neurotic and querulous during the most challenging parts of the trip. After that, Hassel declined to participate in another expedition under Amundsen and took a position as customs administrator in Grimstad. He died in 1928 during a visit to Uranienborg, the home of his old “Chief” Roald Amundsen.