Born on the 15th of May, 1867, Norwegian
Hjalmar Johansen was no role model
for any moral young man to imitate.
To the contrary, Johansen was not only an alcoholic,
but a physically-abusive husband to his wife.
A thug, a bully, a self-assertive and immensely
competent Antarctic explorer,
Johansen was about to receive a dose
of his own medicine.
No ‘man’ who threatens (much less harms)
any animal, child, or peaceful adult
is anything but a thug and a coward
who preys upon those whom he is confidant
are weaker than himself.
Johansen was both a tough man and a bully.
But he was soon to be the victim of another
(and, perhaps, more prevalent) type of bully.
Whatever his reprehensible qualities,
it must be noted that Johansen was a
seasoned arctic explorer …
… who was about to discover that fame
rarely goes to those who truly deserve it.
Hjalmar Johansen was not a happy man.
The weather was cold and due to get colder very soon.
Johansen looked across at Roald Amundsen,
and could barely contain the growing resentment
at Amundsen’s highly evident concern for personal glory.
Seasoned in Arctic exploration and superbly fit
former Norwegian gymnastics champion,
Johansen knew that Amundsen’s desire to push out
early in order to ‘beat’ the approaching cold front,
Despite Johansen’s past northern experience,
his southern protestations to the expedition leader,
now fell on deaf ears as Amundsen disregarded
the protestations of Johansen, and ordered the
South Pole party to set out from Framheim
It was only when their predicament had
so deteriorated that expedition member
Kristian Prestud succumbed to severely
frost-bitten feet, that Amundsen
gave any indication that he and his men
were in more trouble than he had expected.
Even realising that he had been wrong
in ignoring the warnings given him, humility
played no part in Amundsen’s character.
In a fit of temper, the “leader” leapt aboard
the best sled, and immediately began his retreat
leaving the others – without food or supplies –
to make their own way back.
Fairly fuming, Johansen made it known
that – under no circumstances – would he
leave Prestrud to die in the Antarctic wilderness.
So it was, in temperatures of minus fifty degrees,
that Hjalmar Johansen began the arduous struggle
back to base with the (essentially) dying man.
Following an ordeal of sheer physical determination,
Johansen arrived back with Prestud after midnight –
some eight-and-a-half hours after Amundsen’s return.
The following morning, Amundsen wanted to know
why it had taken them so long.
It was more than Johansen could endure.
In sight of the other men, Johansen made it
very evident what he thought about his “leader’s”
obsession, skill, and contempt for the lives
of the men under his command.
Like arrogant narcissists the world over,
being confronted with his own selfishness
and error only served to enrage Amundsen.
Even knowing that his conceit and impetuous
foolishness had nearly cost a man’s life
was not enough to quiet Amundsen’s ego.
Upon Prestrud’s recovery from the ordeal,
Amundsen told Johansen that he would not
be part of the South Pole Party
and ordered Johansen to take a sled
and make an (essentially) aimless slog to “explore”
a portion of ice known as Edward VII Land.
Amundsen then added the ultimate indignity: Johansen
would be under the command of Kristian Prestud
– the man whose life he had just saved.
Following this announcement, Amundsen demanded
that each of the remaining men sign a declaration of loyalty,
and give all rights to reporting the expedition
over to Amundsen alone.
History records that Amundsen succeeded
in “beating” Scott to the South Pole …
… what is not recorded is the disgraceful display
of the “hero’s” vanity and utter lack of character.
After leaving Antarctica, Amundsen stopped the ship
in Tasmania and there, ordered Johansen to disembark,
and find his own way back home to Norway.
His arrogance evidently continued unabated as Johansen,
coincidently, found himself unable to gain any work
during the subsequent few months following his return.
It was as if he had been ‘blacklisted’ –
his name and reputation somehow destroyed.
Amundsen, upon his return, had made a point
of declaring to the Geographical Society in Norway
that Johansen had committed mutiny.
In all subsequent matters relating to the South Pole
journey, Amundsen’s vindictiveness made certain
that Johansen was given no credit whatsoever
for his participation – including (almost certainly)
saving the life of Prestrud – in the expedition.
Hjalmar Johansen was transformed from seasoned
explorer … to belligerent mutineer.
His reputation utterly ruined by the lies of the
celebrated Amundsen, Hjalmar Johansen
had been effectively reduced … to Nothing.
Finding no relief in liquor, Hjalmar Johansen
checked in to an hotel room in Oslo, and,
on the 3rd of January, 1913,
took out a pistol
and shot himself in the head.
Having ended his life at 45 years of age,
Hjalmar was buried at Johannes Cemetery in
his Norwegian home of Skien.
Ironically, Prestud –
the man whose life Johansen saved,
would later himself commit suicide on his family’s farm.
Hjalmar’s long-suffering wife, Hilda,
was able to obtain work at the National Bank in Norway,
thanks to the efforts of Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen,
on whose previous expeditions, Hjalmar Johansen
had been a valued member.