Roald Amundsen's Pocket Knife

Thursday 30 September 2021

This is the knife Roald Amundsen used for cutting and erecting the pole on which the Norwegian flag was flown at the South Pole on 14 December 1911. "RA" is scratched on one side and "Sydpolen 12-14-11" was carved on the other side by one of Amundsen’s team, Oscar Wisting.

Pocket knife owned by Roald Amunsen

Canterbury Museum 1980.199.1. Photo by Jane Ussher

In 1922, Roald Amundsen gave the knife to Haakon von Hedemann Hammer, his closest friend and the financial backer for many of his expeditions.

In 1978, Hammer’s widow Obera (now remarried and living in the United States) visited New Zealand and, as she described it, “spent a full day in your world-famous museum as the personal guest of the director Roger Duff.”

Obera was interested in selling the Amundsen papers collected by her late husband and the knife. Roger Duff was very interested in the collection but as the museum could not afford US$2,000 for the entire collection Duff raised the idea of buying just the knife. At this time Obera wanted the papers and knife to stay together.

Roger Duff died suddenly just eight days after Obera’s visit and the matter could have ended there. But in February 1980, Obera wrote to Canterbury Museum offering the knife for US$1,000. Obera had been very impressed with Duff and the Museum and said that she felt that Canterbury Museum was “the proper place” for this historic knife. She further said that, “Because Dr Duff wanted the knife so much, I personally feel that the exhibition of it would be rather like a memorial to him.”

Museum Curator David Harrowfield followed this up and the knife was purchased for US$1,000, with the funds coming from donations made by Peter Skellerup and Sir Robertson Stewart.

As Norway is very protective of its material culture, this is one of the few items from Amundsen’s expedition that are held in an institution outside of Norway.

Historic photo of Amundsen and explorers at the South Pole December 1911

Members of Roald Amundsen's South Pole expedition at the pole in December 1911. From left: Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting. No known copyright

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