On 24 August, 1870, Nicolai Hanson, zoologist and Antarctic explorer, was born at Kristiansund, Norway. He studied zoology at the University of Kristiania and, in the late 1890s, undertook field work for the British Museum and for the Zoological Museum in Christiania.
He was a crewmember of Carsten Borchgrevink’s British Antarctic Expedition, 1898–1900, aboard Southern Cross. Hanson was an experienced skier and was in charge of vital supplies for the expedition— fuel, lighting, guns and ammunition. Nicolai got married not long before the departure of Southern Cross and his wife had a child not long after he had left for the south.
During the Antarctic winter season of 1899, Hanson, biologist of the expedition, over-wintered at Cape Adare, part of the first expedition to intentionally do so. Hanson was active among the crew—he made scientific observations and collected many biological specimens.
Hanson had grown very sick during the journey south whilst aboard the Southern Cross. His condition continued to deteriorate, but he survived the Antarctic winter and witnessed the first return of penguins to Cape Adare for the new breeding season. Nicolai Hanson died on 14 October, 1899, the first recorded human to die and be buried on the Antarctic continent. Hanson wished to be buried at the top of the cape so his comrades used dynamite to create a grave space and Hanson was interred in the lee of a large erratic boulder on top of the Adare Peninsula.
His grave was marked with a simple iron cross and an inscribed brass plaque that were secured to a large rock. William Colbeck, a British seamen of the expedition said: ‘I feel sure we will miss him more and more as the days go by and we no longer see his cheery face and hear his hearty jokes he was so fond of playing on us all…’ Hanson Peak (1,255m) on the Adare Peninsula commemorates Nicolai Hanson.
Bernacchi, L. To the Polar Regions: Expedition of 1898-1900. London, 1901.
Borchgrevink, C. E. First on the Antarctic Continent: Being an Account of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1898-1900. London, 1901.
David L. Harrowfield, South Latitude Research Ltd., ‘The Southern Cross Expedition (1898-1900)’.
Wikipedia entries for ‘Southern Cross Expedition’ and ‘Nicolai Hanson’.
Cape Adare, Antarctic Heritage Trust website.