The Ronne Family
Born in Hamar, Norway,
15 September 1861; Died in Horton, Norway, 23 May 1932
Richard Rønne (1861-1932)
participated on 4
of Roald Amundsen’s expeditions, and he sewed the tent which Amundsen
left at the South Pole in December 1911.
Martin Rønne grew
up in Horten by the Oslo fjord. He became a sail maker by profession
and had a workshop in Horten.
He was engaged as
sail maker on Amundsen’s expedition to Antarctica 1910-12, remaining
on the Fram while the shore group wintered at the Bay of Whales and
sledged to the South Pole. Amundsen wrote of Rønne’s hard work with
his beloved sewing machine on the voyage south, when he sewed sails,
shoes, dog harnesses, clothes and anything else necessary. Not least
he sewed the small 3-man tent of thin silk that was taken on the Pole
trip as a reserve and left at the Pole to be found a month later by
Robert F. Scott.
to assist Amundsen, joining his next expedition on the Maud through
the Northeast Passage 1918-20, and then travelling to Ny-Ålesund,
Svalbard, in 1925 to assist preparations for Amundsen’s attempt to ﬂy
to the North Pole with the 2 planes N24 and N25.
described Rønne as ‘the expedition’s busiest man’, working long days
preparing shoes, trousers, tents, sleeping bags, boat and sledge
details. The following year he was there again, helping to get the
Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Transpolar Flight with the airship Norge
ready to ﬂy over the North Pole.
In 1928-30 Rønne
participated on American Richard Byrd’s Antarctic expedition.
Rønne had 7
children, and his son, Finn Ronne,
moved to America, became a captain in the US Navy and became, like his
father, famous as an Antarctic expeditioner.
participated on four of Roald Amundsen’s expeditions, and he sewed
the tent which Amundsen left at the South Pole in December 1911.
Martin Richard Rønne
was born on 14 September 1861 in Vang and grew up in Mandal. At the
age of 14 he went to sea as an able seaman on various sailing ships,
before enlisting as a constable in the Naval Corps in Horten by the
Oslo Fjord. He gained petty officer’s rank and moved to the reserve
corps, but went off to sea again from 1894 to 1899. On 20 December
1899 his wife, Maren Gurine Gulliksen, gave birth to a son Finn.
Finn Rønne (1899-1980: called Ronne in the US) became a US citizen
in 1929 and a famous Antarctic explorer in his own right.
Martin Rønne was now
nearly 40 and he took up the profession of sail maker at the naval
shipyard Karljohansvern in Horten. Roald Amundsen met him here when
Amundsen started experimenting with man-lifting kites and Rønne
sewed sails and a kite chair for the experiment. Being small and
light, Rønne was also used to test fly.
When the Fram
was being fitted out at the Horten shipyard in 1909, Rønne was
contracted for Amundsen’s (arctic) expedition with the
responsibility for all the sailcloth equipment for the expedition,
such as dog harnesses, windproof trousers, anoraks and gloves,
dog-sledge covers and tents. Not least he sewed the small three-man
tent of thin silk that was taken on the Pole trip as a reserve and
left at the Pole to be found a month later by Robert F. Scott and
his men. The diaries of Amundsen and the others on the Fram
on the voyage south relate how hard Rønne worked at his sewing
machine while the ship rolled uncomfortably and the over 100 dogs
and puppies bumped around his legs. Rønne remained on the Fram
for the oceanographic cruise while the shore group wintered at the
Bay of Whales and sledged to the South Pole.
Rønne returned to
his sail making, now as a town hero, but continued to assist
Amundsen, joining his next expedition on the Maud through
the Northeast Passage 1918-20. After two winterings through the
Passage he asked to leave for home when the ship arrived in Nome,
Alaska in 1920. In 1925, however, 63 years old, he again agreed to
help Amundsen, travelling to Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard, to assist with
the preparations for Amundsen’s attempt to ﬂy to the North Pole with
the two flying boats N24 and N25. Amundsen
described Rønne as ‘the expedition’s busiest man’, working long days
preparing shoes, trousers, tents, sleeping bags, boat and sledge
details. The following year he was there again, helping to get the
Amundsen-Ellsworth-Nobile Transpolar Flight with the airship
Norge ready to ﬂy over the North Pole. Here in Ny-Ålesund he
met American Richard Byrd and agreed to participate on Byrd’s first
antarctic expedition 1928-30. Rønne then helped pave the way for his
son Finn to join Byrd’s second expedition 1933-35.
Martin Rønne was
involved in the preparations for Byrd’s second expedition when he
died on 15 May 1932. He was cremated in Bergen and the urn was
interred in Horten churchyard.
Rønne had six other
children in addition to Finn. A small street in Horten has been
named after him: Martin Rønnes gate.
Martin Rønnes gate. In: Gjengangeren 14.12.1996
(From the Fram Museum's Website)
My Father-in-Law, Martin Rønne
By Edith M.
was just 9 years old when his father, Martin Rønne, was selected by
Norwegian Explorer, Roald Amundsen, to go on what everyone supposed would
be a mission to attain the North Pole.
inquisitive small children, Finn and his brothers had always been
fascinated by their father's detailed stories of his numerous adventures
at sea. From his very first trip, until his death some 60 years later, the
ends of the earth had a magnetic pulling force on Martin Rønne. He became
a veteran of high latitudes in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. For
twenty years he remained the constant companion of Captain Roald Amundsen,
that great explorer who became the first to reach both the North and South
was born with a sea-faring background. His grandfather, an English
sailing master and ship-owner, who had settled at Mandal in southern
Norway, took him along on summer cruises to the North Sea and Baltic ports
when Martin was only eight years old. With the curiosity of the very
young, he watched the sailors every move. He knew the ship from stem to
stern, climbed the rigging and the yard-arms and observed the heavy
planking on the ship's side. Far out on the bow-sprit, he dreamed of a
day when he also might be on a sailing ship making long voyages to distant
By the age
of thirteen Martin Rønne was ready for a career on schooners and barkentines trading in ports all over the earth. His seamanship was
learned long before radio, diesel, or radar were integral parts of ships
plying the world's oceans. In an era when it took iron men to handle
wooden ships, he used the mariners sextant, memorized the points on the
compass rose and knew the name of every sail, running line and fixed stays
on the most complicated full-rigged sailing ship. After three years at
sea, he returned home as a full-fledged sailor before his seventeenth
birthday. Schooling for his ticket as a navigator was followed by
military service in the Navy and then many years of criss-crossing the
world's oceans in Norway's merchant marine. When barely forty years of
age, he retired from the sea and settled down ashore in Horten, the home
port of the Norwegian Navy. But not for long!
In 1908 when
Roald Amundsen, fresh from his conquest of the North-west Passage, came to
the military establishment in Horten to select men for his forthcoming
North Pole expedition, Martin Rønne was interviewed by the world famous
explorer. As a result of their first meeting, Amundsen selected Martin
Rønne as a member of his FRAM expedition in the capacity of sailmaker.
size of his ship FRAM limited the expedition's complement to a total of
eighteen men. Therefore, the more trades a man knew, the more valuable he
would be. Each man was specifically chosen for his capabilities,
seamanship, efficiency and personality as a member of the team whose aim
was to be first to reach the North Pole by ship. Rønne's height was 5’-8”
and he weighed about 160 pounds. He was wiry and hard as a nail which
contributed to his additional assignment as the expedition's aerial
usual method of piloting a ship through the pack ice was from the crow's
nest on the foremast, Amundsen thought it would be helpful to observe the
pack ice ahead from a much higher vantage point. He introduced
box-kites. Ten to twelve of them attached to one another were able to
carry a man aloft to a height of 300 meters. An observer standing in a
light canvas-covered frame could guide the ship through the open leads in
the ice, much as our helicopters assist our icebreakers today. On the
small island of Vealos, outside Horten, Martin Rønne trained daily and
made numerous assents during the summer of 1909. As a special attraction
at the exposition at Aarhus, Denmark, he was sent down with the numerous
box-kites and demonstrated his aerial exploits before thousands of
wide-eyed visitors. Amundsen hoped this would be a strong boost to their
quest for the North Pole, and the experiment received acclaim all over
Europe before the expedition sailed. Some 50 years later, in the Jubilee
issue of the History of Norwegian Aviation, Rønne is mentioned among the
expedition intended to sail around Cape Horn, South America, proceed north
to San Francisco, enter the North Polar basin through the Bearing Strait
and start their drift with the current that would carry them over the
North Pole to the waters east of Greenland. Amundsen's plan was based on
Fridjof Nansen's original idea, but fate intervened.
summer of 1909, world headlines announced that Robert E. Peary had
succeeded in his final attempt to reach the North Pole. Secretly,
Amundsen altered his plan and decided instead to be the first to reach the
South Pole. The English explorer, Ernest Shackleton, had come within 97
miles of it the year before (1909); and now in the summer of 1910, another
Englishmen, Robert Falcon Scott was on his way to New Zealand, ready to
head south and establish his wintering quarters at McMurdo Sound in the
Ross Sea. When the FRAM reached its last port of call at Funschal on the
island of Madeira, Amundsen broke his self-imposed silence, announced his
change in plans, and sent a cable-message to Scott, “Am heading south,”
thus informing him that he had a competitor in the race for the South
On the deck
of the FRAM, Amundsen called his 18 men individually by name and offered
each a chance to reject the change in plans and a free passage back home.
Along with every other man, Martin Rønne accepted the new challenge. They
broke contact with civilization and set a course for the south-polar
continent, whose outline was still 90% unknown.
wintering party of nine men was established in the Bay of Whales, a small
indentation in the Ross Ice Shelf that was first seen by Ernest Shackleton
three years earlier. FRAM then returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for
the winter. The 10 men onboard, including Martin Rønne, made an
oceanographic cruise of several months duration in the South Atlantic
Ocean. Their enthusiasm was boundless when they learned that Amundsen and
four sledging companions, using dogs as pulling power, had reached the
South Pole on December 14-17, 1911.
silk tent which Amundsen raised to mark man's first attainment of the spot
designated on maps as the South Pole was made by Martin Rønne. He had
foreseen that the pole party would reach their goal and was the first to
congratulate the five men as they stood in the center of the 9,800 foot
high desolated KING HAAKON VII PLATEAU which surrounds the South Pole.
Amundsen wrote his account of the incident, “. . . the tent was made by
our excellent sailmaker Rønne and was made of very light material. When
everything was arranged inside the tent, we made, one at a time, a trip
inside to write our names on a tablet that was fastened to the tent pole.
On this occasion we received our comrades wishes and congratulations with
our good results, because on some of the yellow leather straps that were
sewed to the tent under the supporting lines was written: ‘A lucky journey
and welcome to 90 degrees south.’ These good wishes that we suddenly
discovered, pleased us very much. It was signed by Beck and Rønne. They
had good faith in us . . . ” On the leather straps were also inscribed the
names of Martin Rønne's family in Horten. Beck was the ship's ice-pilot
and a very close shipmate of Rønne.
and his four companions found this tent one month later, in January 1912,
but unfortunately, on their disastrous return journey, all five of these
gallant Englishmen perished within 11 miles of their largest food cache.
News of the tragedy did not reach Amundsen until the FRAM arrived in
Argentina many months later.
expedition members returned to Norway where many honors were bestowed upon
them; and a well earned rest was enjoyed during the summer of 1912. But,
as Amundsen had pointed out, only the first half of the plan had been
completed. Most of the men who had been on the South Pole venture decided
to remain at home, but Martin Rønne, along with three other veterans,
volunteered to continue with Amundsen on his original objective - a drift
by ship across the North Polar basin.
they returned to Buenos Aires and rejoined the FRAM, which had remained
docked there. Rather than proceed around Cape Horn, the FRAM, which had
sailed further north (under Nansen) and further south than any other ship
afloat, was offered the honor of being the first ship to sail through the
Panama Canal, scheduled to open for shipping in the Spring of 1914.
in the canal delayed its opening, so after many months of idleness in
Colon, Panama, the FRAM’s course was again set for Buenos Aires. Amundsen
decided to sail the FRAM around the “horn” anyway. During their return
voyage to Buenos Aires, Martin Rønne was grief-stricken by the death and
burial at sea of his close friend Andreas Beck.
As he was
restoring equipment in a locker room one day, Rønne also discovered that
the thick sides of the ships hull-planking had started to rot. With his
bare hands, he was able to force his arm through heavy wood above the
waterline where the planking had disintegrated. After a thorough ship's
inspection in Buenos Aires, it was determined the FRAM was no longer
second phase of Amundsen's original plan had to be postponed indefinitely
until a new ship could be built. It took the FRAM 99 days to sail from
Argentina to Martin Rønne's hometown of Horten, Norway, where they arrived
just as the First World War began (during the first days of August 1914).
The outlook for a new ship of the type that Amundsen had in mind did not
The achievements of those gallant men who
stood on the deck of the FRAM in the harbor of Funschal and unanimously
gave their loyalty to their leader, will live forever in the annals of
polar exploration. In their honor, no more fitting monument could be
erected by the Norwegian people, through the generosity of Lars
Christensen (a shipowner whose whaling factories often plied Antarctic
waters), than the restoration of “polarskibet” FRAM as a museum with their
names and deeds inscribed as an inspiration to those who follow. Martin
Rønne's name is among them.
blockade and German submarine warfare limited all shipping, particularly
that of neutral nations in northern Europe. In spite of the hazardous
situation, Amundsen proceeded to build a new ship, the MAUD, named for the
late Queen Maud of Norway, who along with King Haakon and Crown Prince
Olav V, had supported Amundsen in all of this polar expeditions. Most of
Amundsen's equipment and outfittings were obtained from the United States,
including food, which was strictly rationed in Europe.
the shipyard in July 1918, the MAUD sailed northward along the Norwegian
inland waterway of the rugged island-studded coast, then eastward across
the Kara Sea. Amundsen planned to follow Nansen's 1893 route by steaming
east along the coast of Siberia to the New Siberia Islands, and beyond,
hoping to enter the North Polar current. This current enters the polar
basin through the Bearing Strait, crosses the North Pole area and
continues south until it enters the North Atlantic Ocean. MAUD had rough
and slow going through the ice choked waters. By the time Cape
Tscheljuskin, the northernmost mainland point in the world, was reached,
the oncoming winter weather slowed the ship's progress. Newly frozen ice
soon had the MAUD encased in its grip. Here, the ten men spent their
first winter. It was a bleak and lonely area where the nearest
inhabitants were more than a thousand miles away. Upon the sun's return
in April, sledge journeys were made northward and new geographical
discoveries were added to the scanty map coverage of this area. It was
seen only once before, in 1897, when the Swedish explorer Otto
Nordenskjold passed here on his first discovery of the North-East Passage.
leads started to form in the pack-ice, the MAUD moved slowly eastward
where further attempts to enter the transpolar current proved futile.
Martin Rønne recorded in his diary that the situation looked hopeless,
when, instead of going north, the current was carrying the ship south to
the Siberian coast.
the oncoming winter storms and darkness was found in the lea of Ajon
Island in the Lena River delta, where the MAUD again was frozen into the
ice. In contrast to the first winter, the men had a more enjoyable time.
They were a closely knit group. Five of the eleven had been on the South
Pole expedition. Now they were trying their skills at the opposite end of
the earth, where unrelenting forces of nature had prevented them from
reaching their objective. The Siberian natives, called the “Shucksers”,
were living nearby and were frequent visitors to the ship. Dr. Harold
Sverdrup, the expedition scientist, spent nine months traveling and living
with them in the high mountains, studying their primitive living
conditions and behavior.
When the sun returned the following
Spring, the ice pressures on their ship slackened and new attempts were
made to get into the ocean current to drift northward. However, the
current continued to drift the MAUD southward, in the opposite direction
of their heading. After two and a half years of struggle, Amundsen
decided to return to civilization to replenish his supplies and
equipment. Nome, Alaska was reached in the fall of 1920, at which time
three of the veterans, including Martin Rønne, abandoned any further
attempts to cross the polar basin.
After one month, Martin got an answer for
the three to get on the Victoria from Nome to Seattle. From Seattle he
traveled by Pullman train across the U.S. to N. Y. By this time, aviation
had made tremendous advances, and during their homeward journey across the
continent, conversation centered around the possible use of airplanes in
the “far north. Martin took the Norwegian-American Line to Norway,
reaching Norway in August or September 1920.
Meanwhile, with a new crew, the MAUD spent
three additional years in the ice after Martin left, studying the
complicated ocean currents in those northern waters. In 1924, the Maud
came back to Nome and onto Seattle, where she was sold for a fishing
vessel, because Amundsen had no money. Wisting and Sverdrup were still
head of the MAUD until she was sold.
who had been on leave from the Norwegian Navy all these years, now went on
the retired list. Over the years, Martin's light humor and congenial
personality had been a great asset in the confined quarters aboard ship
and in the isolation of the polar regions. The small house in Horten
over-flowed with his many friends. A humorous prank, an after-dinner
drink, and a good cigar on special occasions were his chief source of
contentment. He was a good conversationalist and his many
interesting stories were sprinkled with experiences told with a phenomenal
memory for the smallest detail. In such fashion, Martin expected to
enjoy many future years of leisure. Again, fate decreed it otherwise
. . .
Amundsen was completely convinced that further exploration of the polar
regions would be accomplished from the air.
When Amundsen was in New York while
lecturing in the U.S., he stopped at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. When the
telephone rang, he answered it in a sour voice. On the other end was
Lincoln Ellsworth, a privately wealthy man. Lincoln Ellsworth who asked
to speak to him of his interest in Arctic and Antarctic exploration.
Amundsen asked him to come up to his room and in the ensuing conversation,
Ellsworth expressed his great interest in Amundsen, and his work in the
Arctic and Antarctic. Ellsworth offered Amundsen money for a future
expedition so long as he could accompany him. Amundsen had the ideas and
experience and Ellsworth had the money, a most perfect combination. To
Amundsen, Ellsworth was a God send!
several years for Amundsen and Ellsworth to plan their expedition which
called for flying two planes to the North Pole and landing there, one to
be headed by Amundsen, the other by Ellsworth.
when they headed for Spitsbergen with two amphibious airplanes, Martin
Rønne once more was a member of the staff. At Kings Bay, 600 miles from
the North Pole, weeks were spent preparing the two planes, and additional
weeks in waiting for suitable weather to begin the dangerous flight over
the polar ice-pack. He should have gone along, but age prevented Martin
Rønne from being included in the crew and he proved to be too heavy for
the allowable weight to be carried by the plane. But his qualifications
were utilized in making certain the equipment was the best and that
nothing was missing from their essential requirements. He made a small
collapsible canvas-covered boat that he later patented for the two planes
which proved extremely valuable later in the flight-crew’s struggle to
save their lives, as they went back and forth between the icefloes
carrying gas, oil, and food between the downed planes.
days waiting for good weather dragged on with little for the men to do,
Rønne decided to make a gift for his friend of many years. Taking the
bayonet from a rifle, he fashioned a beautiful knife with a sheath and
carrying strap and proudly presented it to Amundsen during a cozy hour in
their wardroom at Kings Bay. Amundsen was most appreciative and mentioned
that it may come in handy on his flight. At the latter's suggestion,
Rønne placed the knife in Amundsen's flight bag and thought no more about
it. Later, when it became necessary to reduce the weight load in the two
planes, Rønne noticed that Amundsen had put the knife among the things
that were to be left behind. Without his knowing it, Rønne put the knife
back in the bottom of Amundsen’s flight bag, hoping it would not be
discovered until after they had taken off.
knife fortuitously proved to be the one implement that saved the lives of
the men from certain death in the Arctic sea.
the last man to give Amundsen a handshake before he stepped into the plane
on the Amundsen-Ellsworth expedition when the weather cleared and on May
21, 1925, the two planes, with three men in each, took off from Kings Bay
and headed for the North Pole. Believing they had reached the pole, both
planes independently decided to land in a wide open water lead in the pack
ice. Floating pieces of ice damaged both planes in the landing. In
dragging one of the planes onto the ice-floes, it was wrecked beyond
repair. Although they landed only three miles apart, neither knew where
the other was. They had no radio communication. However, both parties
soon learned they were 147 miles short of their goal. Strong head-winds
had prevented them from attaining the anticipated ground speed. While
surveying the surrounding area, the two crews found one another and
planned to return in the one remaining plane. First they would have to
carve out a runway from the uneven sastrugi strewn surface. Their
leveling equipment, shovels and ice-axes, proved disastrously inadequate,
until a thorough search of the plane revealed the knife Martin Rønne had
made and stowed away in his leader's flight bag.
labored almost a month to get the runway in shape. By securing the knife
to a ski pole, it became the most efficient ice-cutting tool they had.
Later, Amundsen stated that without it, it would have been doubtful if
they could have readied the strip in time. By now the world was convinced
all six men in both planes had been swallowed by the mysterious, unknown
polar sea. One of the two tents Martin made for the expedition was left
at their camp site at 88 degrees North. With the improved runway, the six
men finally were able to take off in one plane and return to Kings Bay,
where they received a tumultuous welcome. It had been a very close call.
Amundsen was crowding his luck, as yet, it had not forsaken him.
Ellsworth’s father, James W. Ellsworth, a multi-millionaire from coal
mining in Pennsylvania, died thinking his son had perished in the Arctic
and left all of his money to Lincoln’s sister, Claire. Fortunately, the
two were close so she willingly shared the fortune and adhered to what she
knew would have been her father’s wishes.
not the man to give up easily. He acquired a small dirigible, named NORGE,
and set up camp at Kings Bay again the following year (1926). Martin
Rønne again was an integral part of the supporting force. A few days
later, the NORGE became the first lighter-than-air craft to cover the
entire polar basin from one end to the other. With Amundsen, Lincoln
Ellsworth, and Umberto Nobile on board (the latter being the NORGE'S
original designer and engineer), they crossed over the North Pole, headed
toward Point Barrow, and after a hazardous journey eventually landed at
Teller, Alaska - to world acclaim.
Amundsen's luck had finally given out. In 1928, he hurriedly took off
from Northern Norway in a French plane and headed for Spitsbergen in
search of Nobile (a man of whom he was not fond), who had crashed his
airship ITALIA (the renamed NORGE) in the polar sea. Nobile was rescued
some weeks later, unharmed, but Amundsen was never heard from again. Some
years later, a float and other debris were found off the coast indicating
the plane must have dived into the water, killing all three onboard
instantly. Aviation had pioneered its way through polar skies, but one of
its meteor's had made his last descent.
was greatly saddened by the tragic death of the great explorer with whom
he had been a friend and associate for 20 years. He was now getting along
in years himself and definitely decided this time he would enjoy his
retirement. Already too much of his life had been spent in the polar
vastness, far away from his family and home. But, once again this was not
Amundsen had departed on his fateful mission, American Commander Richard
Byrd had requested him to recommend a Norwegian he would like to have as
an advisor on his forthcoming Antarctic expedition. Amundsen and Byrd had
met in Spitsbergen in 1926, when Byrd, on his ship the CHANTICLIER,
arrived to make a flight toward the North Pole with his pilot Floyd
Bennett. Amundsen immediately responded that if he were fortunate to
secure the services of Martin Rønne, he would have an excellent man.
Rønne turned down the offers Byrd made in the first two cables Byrd send
him, although the second had considerably increased the remuneration. The
third cable proved too great a temptation. Martin thought it over for
some time, discussed it with his long suffering wife, and as he said
later, “My gosh! With a salary like that, I would be a fool not to take
it!" Rønne crossed the Atlantic on the Norwegian whaling ship, C.A.
LARSEN, to Norfolk, Virginia, where other members of the expedition came
onboard. For the voyage to New Zealand, they were joined by two other
ships and from Wellington, the expedition headed south. Byrd's camp,
named “Little America,” was set up four miles from FRAMHEIM, Amundsen's
old winter quarters in the Bay of Whales.
eighteen years, Rønne, who was a very sentimental man, had returned to an
environment which brought back countless memories. He recognized Mt.
Neilson and Mt. Ronniken, but the buildings Amundsen set up could not be
located. Heavy snow-drifts over the years had buried FRAMHEIM deep in
the barrier. Martin Rønne spent his 68th birthday while wintering at
Little America and was the only man on the First Byrd Expedition who had
ever been to the Antarctic before, including Byrd. Living and working
along with 42 other men, he completed the sledging equipment, tents,
sleeping bags, and clothing that the field parties required for their
sledge trips into the unknown.
night passed quickly and in his spare time he made a model of their
flagship, the CITY OF NEW YORK, which he presented to Byrd as a memento
from an old sailor whose devotion to duty was something out of the
ordinary. In 1933, this model was exhibited onboard the "CITY" at the
Century of Progress exhibition in Chicago. At the time Byrd, was offered
three thousand dollars for it but rejected the offer. Byrd valued
work and in the years that followed often exhibited the model with great
pride, expressing his admiration in the most glowing terms.
and Richard Byrd were good friends. Rønne had no enemies. The old
Norwegian contributed all he could to the younger and less experienced
Americans. In his book, Little America, Byrd stated, “. . . the
oldest and most experienced man in the party is Martin Rønne, a Norwegian
68 years old, whom I can see from my desk as I write. He is a veteran of
several of Amundsen's expeditions. It was a silken tent he made, left
behind by Amundsen, that Scott found at the South Pole and of him Amundsen
wrote, ‘he was one of those men whose ambition was to get as much work as
possible done in the shortest possible time.’ I have begun to understand
why Amundsen recommended him. I doubt if I will ever come across another
man like Rønne where work is concerned. He goes at it with great
concentration all day long for fear he may waste time by a false move. He
is probably the greatest craftsman in polar clothing to be found
anywhere. I hope the rest of his countrymen shape up as well as he does.
There are seven of them, all splendid men, it seems to me . . . ”
On August 16, 1929, Finn received a
radiogram from Byrd stating:
“If you are half as much a man as your
daddy I will be glad to take you on my next expedition.”
Upon his return to Norway in 1930, Martin
enjoyed the life he had dreamed of for many years. Model ship-building
had been his hobby since he first went to sea. He acquired an artistic
touch for that ancient Mariners handicraft that occupied much of his spare
time. Today, his ship models can be found in many private collections
throughout the world. One of Martin Rønne's proudest moments was when he
presented King Haakon with a replica of the silken tent that Amundsen left
behind to mark the exact spot of the South Pole. He continued traveling
through the Scandinavian countries visiting his children and grandchildren
until his death in May 1932, at the age of 71 years. He lays buried in a
small cemetery in Horten, the town he called home. His wife, Maren
Gulicksen, died four years later.
lived, Martin Rønne probably would have been persuaded to return to the
Antarctic on the Second Byrd Expedition, 1933-35. Already Byrd had asked
him to begin the required preparations and Martin appeared to be
interested in assisting and going, as evidenced by the following letters:
On Lecture Tour
April 15, 1931
Mr. Martin Rønne
My dear Martin:
absolutely confidential. I am willing to write you concerning it,
because I know I can trust you.
contemplating another Expedition which will leave this country either the
first of next October, or October 1932. This expedition will not last
more than five months, tho I can make no promises about that. This I want
to make clear.
The idea would
be to have a powerful icebreaker of about 8000 tons horsepower, instead of
200 as we had in the CITY OF NEW YORK. We can then get thru to the
Antarctic Continent early in the season and would not have to spend the
winter night. We could remain until late in the season. The ship would
be of three or four thousand tons, and comfortable.
I want to find
out if you will want to go with me again. If I can possibly avoid it,
there will not be volunteers this time. The pay will perhaps not be much
but it will be fair, I hope, and of course, you would be getting your
board and lodging the whole time you are with me.
Please let me
hear from you at once. Mark your reply to me ‘personal and confidential’.
Very sincerely yours,
(signed) R E Byrd
Please do not
discuss or write anyone about this - with no one - without exception.
Horten, May 6th 1931.
Dear Mr. Byrd,-
I thank you very
much for your kind letter of the 15. April which I have received. I am
very glad to hear that we are going south again next year and that the
expedition only will last 5 months. For me it is the same if we were
going to overwinter over again as I was very content with the last trip.
I am at your service at any time you may need me. Is there anything I can
do in U.S.A. for the next espedition I am willing to join you at once.-
The very best
regard to The Admiral and his family from my wife and myself.
Always at your
disposal, I am, Dear Sir,
Yours very truly
My dear Rønne:
Please make up from the Burberry
Garbardi cloth (the kind that Amundsen used) a wind proof parka and pants
and send them over to me so I can decide whether or not to use the kind of
cloth you suggest. Please do this as soon as you can.
After you have done this, will you
please make up one of the tents that you made for Gould for his use on the
trail? Make it out of the same cloth. But please make the parka and
We will probably not leave until next
September and you could perhaps come over on one of the whalers. But we
will see how things turn out. We may want you sooner than that. If the
tents and parkas you make are O.K. you could be working on them during the
I note what you say about the shoes
and will let you know about this later on. I believe I would have
reindeer skin sleeping bags. They are warmer than dog skin.
I also note what you say about Hans
Bull. Give my regards to him. I have seen a good deal of Johansen,
Strom, Balchen and Petersen and they send their regards.
With my warmest regards, I am
(signed) R E
Mr. Martin Rønne
My dear Rønne:
I have your letter and the suit which
I think our meterial over here is better
for reasons which I can explain to you when I see you. I will attempt to
send some of this material over to you. You could make up some parkas
provided it is not too expensive. Please let me know what you would
charge for making parkas.
We have collected about forty tons of
different materials and hope to get off next October. I will not put the
personnel on ship until several weeks before departure.
Do not do anything about the tent. That
can also wait until we get the material in this country. It is the same
as we used before. I think the Norweigian (sic) material from which you
made the parka is a little too heavy.
Many thanks for what you have done.
(signed) R E
“written” I’m enclosing a check for
Among Rønne's mementos were found a couple
of testimonials from the two polar leaders under whom he had served. Byrd
“The quality of his contribution to the
expedition was extraordinary. In all of my experience I have never seen a
greater devotion to duty. He also possessed unusual efficiency. He is
perhaps the greatest expert among the white race in the designing and
making of polar clothing.
But above all this, he gave to the leader
of the expedition an unswerving loyalty. His character was above
question. He was the pleasantest possible comrade. I can not speak too
highly of Martin Rønne. His contribution to the expedition was very
25 February, 1931
(Signed) Richard E. Byrd
Amundsen's appreciation of his trustworthy
companion was of particular interest. He wrote:
“I know him so well that I can recommend
him heartily. He was one of the teeth that drove the machinery ahead
towards the goal. I dare safely say -- that had his tooth been missing the
result could have been in doubt.”
11 November, 1926
(Signed) Roald Amundsen
Some men possess a sixth sense, the
ability to predict future events with a certain degree of accuracy.
Martin Rønne had such a talent. He had known that Amundsen would achieve
the South Pole and find his message of congratulations, and he had
foreseen that the knife he had presented Amundsen at Spitsbergen would
come in handy on the North Pole venture. In his twilight years, he made
his final long range prediction about a son following in his footsteps,
which astounded his son Finn for the rest of his life.
died suddenly in 1932, Byrd offered Martin's son, Finn, the vacancy his
father had left. Finn who had emigrated to the United States and was an
engineer with Westinghouse, accepted Byrd's offer as a dog driver and ski
expert, thus launching his own long and illustrious polar career.
in Little America, they dug their way into Byrd's old Administration
Building at Little America. Finn sought his father's former bunk. When
Byrd showed it to him, they were both amazed to see Finn's name carved
into the wood. “I never saw it before,” Byrd said. “It must have been the
last thing he did before he left.”
sons, why had Martin written Finn's name in preference to one of the
others who, at the time, might have been more likely to follow in his
footsteps as an explorer? “The old man must have known I would come,"
Martin’s old bunk became Finn's, but to
his chagrin, Finn soon found out it was the coldest spot in the entire
settlement. At night when the door was kept open for ventilation, the
cold raw air, at times in the lower sixties below zero, blew right into
Martin had predicted well! Finn continued
in his father’s polar path. He made nine expeditions to the Antarctic.
Four of them were wintering ventures for more than a year's duration,
including his own 1946-48 scientific and geographic expedition, RARE. On
it, I became the first American woman to set foot on the shores of the
Antarctic continent and the third member of the Rønne/Ronne family to spend a
year there. Such was the legacy of Martin Richard Rønne.
Tent made by Martin Rønne, replica of the one
Rønne made for the expedition that was left at the South Pole by Roald
Amundsen in 1911.
More about the Tent at the South Pole:
Ronne Entrance (72°30′S
74°0′W) is a broad southwest entrance of the
George VI Sound where it opens on
Bellingshausen Sea at the southwest side of
Alexander Island. It was discovered on a sledge journey through the
sound in December 1940 by
Carl Eklund of the
US Antarctic Service (USAS), 1939-41, and named "Ronne Bay". Since
1940, the head of the bay has receded eastward into George VI Sound,
altering the relationships on which the name was based. The name was
therefore changed to Ronne Entrance, in keeping with the physical
characteristics of the feature. Named after the Ronne family, of which the
Martin Rønne, was a member of the Norwegian expedition under Amundsen,
1910-12, and the
Byrd Antarctic Expedition 1928-30; the son, Finn Ronne (d.1980), was a
member of the Byrd II Antarctic Expedition, 1933-35, and the USAS, 1939-41
and the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition, 1946-48.