During our trip to Tromsø, in early September 2018, one of the places I was keen to visit was the Polar Museum in Tromsø, Norway.
Fresh from having binge-watched the Netflix series, The Terror, a fictionalized account of Captain Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the Arctic in 1845–1848, and my interest in Polar exploration whetted, I was eager to learn more about Arctic explorers.
Located in former Customs House on the quayside – a stone’s throw from our Tromsø hotel, the Clarion Collection Hotel With – and dating from 1830, the polar museum in Tromsø is all about Arctic exploration and trapping.
As the centre of seal hunting in North Norway in the late 1800s, Tromsø was the “Gateway to the Arctic” and an important base for many polar expeditions.
Near the museum is a statue of Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who led the Antarctic expedition of 1910–12, which was the first to reach the South Pole, on 14 December 1911.
He was an important person during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and the first person to reach both poles. He also led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Arctic.
The museum is a shrine to these courageous men and women and the ships and equipment that were essential for life both on the sea and in the Arctic.
From the remarkably life-like exhibits, which ranged from macabre to fascinating, it is obvious that life as an Arctic explorer or trapper was hard and that they must have been used to great risk, hardship, deprivation and exposure to extreme conditions.
Some of the subjects of the exhibitions included:
- Overwintering in the Arctic – The trapper Henry Rudi who killed 713 polar bears
- The first woman to winter in the Arctic – Wanny Woldstad
- Seal hunting in the Arctic Ocean
- Fridtjof Nansen’s and Roald Amundsen lives and expeditions
- Helmer Hansen and Hjalmar Johansen who accompanied Amundsen to the South Pole
- Svalbard, Willhelm Barentz’ discovery of the region in the 1500s, whaling in the 1600-1700s and Russian overwintering
- Temporary exhibitions with Arctic content
I feel obliged to include a trigger warning for animal-lovers. Some of the exhibits of animal trapping and seal hunting were downright distressing.
Here’s a photo-essay of some of the exhibits I found most fascinating.
Many of the exhibits are not labeled in English so it was hard to figure out what they represented.
These, of course, showcase some objects used by explorers.
This exhibit contains British and Dutch graves that date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
This dog accompanied Roald Amundsen at the Gjoa-expedition, the first navigation through the Northwest passage in 1903-1906.
Objects that belonged to Norwegian trapper and polar bear hunter, Henry Rudi, who was born in Tromsø.
We didn’t actually end up spending a lot of time inside the museum because the thermostat was set so high, we found it uncomfortably warm in all the layers of clothes we were wearing.
But if you like history and creepy stuff, visiting the Polar Museum in Tromsø is one of the things you might enjoy doing.
Polar Museum Tromsø Hours and Opening Times:
- August 1 – June 14: 11am – 5pm (11.00-17.00)
- June 15 – August 15: 09am – 6pm (09.00-18.00)
- Closed on May 1 and May 17
Polar Museum Tromsø Entrance Fee: NOK 50
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