# 18473

BODMAN, Anders Gustaf (Gösta), 1875-1960

The Swedish South Polar Expedition, 1901-1904 : expedition meteorologist and hydrographer Gösta Bodman’s unpublished manuscript account in the form of an archive of his private letters and Antarctic journal; with original photographs taken on Snow Hill Island, Antarctica.

Sammelband of manuscript material housed in a modern album, quarto (295 x 245 mm), cloth-backed marbled papered boards, containing [270] pages of Bodman’s manuscript letters and commentary, much of it written on Svenska Sydpolsexpeditionen stationery, the individual items archivally mounted on stubs; compiler’s title leaf in typescript Den Svenska Sydpolarexpeditionen 1901 – 1904, skildrad i privatbrev från Gösta Bodman; the documents divided by the compiler into 7 sections, each with its own typescript title leaf; the penultimate section containing Bodman’s Snow Hill Island journal with a total of approximately [50] small format Kodak photographs laid down on the pages by Bodman as his manuscript progressed.

A remarkably well preserved collection of original manuscript material relating to one of the last expeditions of the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, containing Gösta Bodman’s unpublished first-hand account, written in situ, of Nordenskjöld’s epic South Polar Expedition, 1901-1904.

Contents of the Archive:

I. Före utresan [Before the departure]. July / August 1901. Two letters from Bodman to his mother, addressed from Uppsala and HM Svensksund.

II. Överenskommelser med Otto Nordenskjöld och med Dagens Nyheter (Telegramecode). [Agreements with Nordenskjöld and the newspaper D.N.]. Two lengthy manuscript documents.

III. Göteborg till Cap Verdeöarne, 17.10.1901 – 14.11.1901. Several letters from Bodman to his mother and sister, written on the first part of the voyage to Cape Verde.

IV. Södra halvklotet till Staaten Island, 25.11.1901 – 5.1.1902. Several letters from Bodman to his mother written on board the Antarctic in the South Atlantic, at Rio de la Plata, and on Staten Island (Tierra del Fuego).

V. Antarktis till Landstigningen på Snow Hill, 18.1.1902 – 21.2.1902. Numerous lengthy letters (obviously never posted) from Bodman to his mother describing the journey through Antarctic waters to Snow Hill Island.

VI. Övervintringen på Snow Hill, 21.2.1902 – 8.11.1903. The most substantial section of the archive, recording, in the form of a diary addressed to his mother, Bodman’s incredible two-year experience on Snow Hill Island as a member of Nordenskjöld’s five-man party left ashore by the expedition ship Antarctic. His account includes approximately 50 small photographs of the Antarctic landscape and wildlife, and the five expedition members and their sled dog companions going about their work and daily activities, as well as his detailed architectural plan in pen and ink of the expedition hut which was to shelter the men through two Antarctic winters. Bodman’s narrative is full of observations about the Antarctic environment, descriptions of his companions, his scientific work, and the harsh living conditions endured in the shore party’s gruelling ordeal on Snow Hill Island.

VII. Räddningen och Hemresan. [The rescue and journey home]. A 12-page letter addressed to his mother, written on board the rescue vessel, the Argentine corvette Uruguay; another to his mother and sister written at Observatory Island near New Year Island, Tierra del Fuego; and a 12-page letter to his mother while homeward bound on a Hamburg Süd postal steamer. These letters provide an eyewitness account of the miraculous rescue of Nordenskjöld’s Snow Hill Island party by the Uruguay, and recount the similar fate of the crew of the expedition vessel Antarctic.


The archive was assembled by renowned polar philatelist Dr. Fred Goldberg (1942-2016), associate professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Goldberg was a member of the 2001-2002 expedition to Snow Hill Island, during which repair and restoration of Nordenskjöld’s hut was carried out. In Spring 2002 he organised a major exhibition on the Swedish South Polar Expedition at the National Maritime Museum, Stockholm.

The Expedition:

On the 16 October 1901, the Swedish South Polar Expedition, comprising seven Swedish scientists supported by a Norwegian crew, set sail from Göteborg, Sweden in a small steam-powered ship, the Antarctic. The expedition itself was led by geologist and geographer Dr. Otto Nordenskjöld; the Antarctic was under the command of Carl Anton Larsen. One of the scientists, Gösta Bodman, was to act as the expedition’s meteorologist and hydrographer.

The expedition’s aim was to conduct research over a single year on Seymour Island off Graham Land on the Antarctic Peninsula. Seymour was a flat, muddy landscape supposedly paved with fossils of both plants and marine creatures, described by Nordenskjöld as “one of the most remarkable places in the Antarctic regions.” Nordenskjöld’s voyage came at the same time as Britain and Germany’s efforts to explore the region, led by Scott and Drygalski respectively. Unlike these expeditions, the Swedish venture was not government funded, and instead relied on private contributions.

The Antarctic reached Buenos Aires on the 15 December 1901. Nordenskjöld, conscious that the expedition was short of funds, agreed to an offer from the Argentinian government: in exchange for food, fuel, and aid, naval officer Jose Sobral would be taken aboard as part of the crew. Sobral would later become part of the expedition’s wintering party, as would American artist F. W. Stokes, who also joined the expedition in Argentina.

Once in Antarctic waters, Nordenskjöld made two significant geographical discoveries: first, that Louis-Philippe Land was connected to Danco Land, and second, that the Orléans Strait ran into the Gerlache Strait. Both findings ran contrary to previous knowledge, and Nordenskjöld in fact later wrote that he considered these to be the most important geographical discoveries of the whole expedition. After making a depot of supplies on Seymour Island, the Antarctic attempted to travel further south, but was met with a band of impassable ice. An effort was made to sail around it, but the ice seemed endless. Nordenskjöld wrote that they were “sailing a sea across which none had hitherto voyaged […] it seemed as though the Antarctic world merely wished to entice us deeper into its interior in order to annihilate us.” With winter approaching, they chose to turn back rather than venture further.

On the 9 February 1902, they sighted land. Nordenskjöld chose Snow Hill Island – rather than Seymour Island to the northeast – for his winter campsite, as it seemed to afford protection from the weather in the form of several hills and ice walls. He, Bodman, and three others went ashore with their equipment and sled dogs. Their ship sailed north for the Falklands, with its autumn and winter scheduled for scientific survey.

The wintering party on Snow Hill’s first completed projects were a magnetic observatory, and the construction of a prefabricated hut to serve as their base of operations. However, not long into their stay, the men discovered that Snow Hill Island was actually significantly exposed and storm-prone. The observatory was destroyed soon after its completion, along with one of their boats. Several sled dogs were also lost in the storms. Despite this, the scientists continued their research, which yielded spectacular results. Among their many geographical findings were several ammonites and leaf fossils which formed the basis for the Swedish South Polar Expedition Reports. These were discovered during their methodical outings across the landscape, carried out despite constantly being hampered by bad weather. Tents routinely collapsed, and the dogs often ran back to the hut, ate rations and destroyed equipment. On one journey the men covered 380 miles in just 33 days.

As winter passed, Nordenskjöld’s party waited for the ice to melt so their ship could finally return and collect them, but there was to be no sign of an open passage. Then, on 18 February 1903, a vicious storm completely froze the sea, sealing them in and condemning the men to another gruelling winter on Snow Hill. They accepted their fate and began to stockpile supplies, killing four hundred penguins and thirty seals as fuel and food for the coming year. They continued their meteorological surveys and sled outings for another eight months. On the 12 October 1903 Nordenskjöld spotted through his field glasses what he thought was a group of three penguins making their way towards him. They were actually three men, “black as soot from top to toe […] my powers of guessing fail me when I endeavour to imagine to what race of men these creatures belong”. Even when they introduced themselves as members of his own expedition, Nordenskjöld failed to recognise these men. The Antarctic had attempted to relieve the Snow Hill party the previous November, but was unable to due to a huge ice sheet in the Antarctic Sound. Larsen had decided to send a team of three men to venture a distance of 200 miles across the ice to collect the long-stranded party and guide them back to the ship. Remarkably, these men survived a winter on the ice with few provisions, and in early Spring 1903 had managed to strike out for Nordenskjöld and Bodman’s camp on Snow Hill. Now they were finally reunited, though without the ship there appeared no means of rescue.

Within a matter of just ten days, however, their miraculous rescue was effected by the Uruguay, an Argentine corvette which had been despatched at the request of the Swedish authorities. The Uruguay had also rescued the crew of the Antarctic, who had abandoned the vessel after it was crushed in the ice and spent the winter stranded on Paulet Island.