#apetravel – Travelling and Expeditions across the world

Archives Portal Europe celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Magellan-Elcano expedition with an exhibition dedicated to travelling and expeditions across the world, with documents and curiosities from its network.

All on board!

The first stop on our journey will be NORWAY.


The Titanic disaster: 110th anniversary

RMS Titanic, a British passenger liner operated by the White Star Line, was the largest ship afloat at the time. It had departed from Southampton on 10 April 1912, stopping at Cherbourg ( France) and Queenstown (Ireland), before heading west towards New York.

On the 15th April 1912, after striking an iceberg RMS Titanic broke apart and sank south of Newfoundland, in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was thought that the huge ship with 16 watertight bulkheads could not sink and the disaster shocked the world for the huge loss of lives, as well as for the regulatory and operational failures that led to it.

Of the approximately 1,339 passengers on board and its 885 crew members, of which 23 were women, only 710 survived. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people at that time, emigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and other places across Europe.

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912.

The National Archives of Norway holds some documents related to the Titanic disaster as part of the collection of the White Star Line shipping company. In fact, the RMS Titanic had an office in Oslo for processing all those Norwegian passengers who wanted to travel to the UK or sail for America. In particular, the book in the picture below records the list of some of the emigrants that boarded the Titanic on 10th April 1912.

Emigrants list,

 White Star-linjen, Emigrants, 1906-1915, The National Archives of Norway

The three names registered under “TITANIC” are Arne Johan Fahlstrøm (18 years old) , Carl Midtsjø (22) and Olaf Pedersen (29). Of these, only one survived the disaster. In a letter to his brother dated 19 April 1912 sent from an hospital in New York, among other details on the tragedy of that night, Carl Midtsjø wrote how lucky he was to be alive and how he was allowed by the First Officer to board lifeboat 15.

The National Archives of Norway also preserves a few other documents related to legislations, hearings and conferences mostly held in the US and UK about security on ocean traffic following the Titanic disaster. You can find the full list available on Archives Portal Europe here.

The Kon-Tiki expedition

On 28 April 1947, a crew of six sailed from South America, across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft, reaching the Tuamotu Islands, in Polynesia, on 7 August of the same year.

During the 101 days of navigation, the crew manned a raft built with the materials and technologies available to South American seafarers of pre-Columbian times.

The raft was named Kon-Tiki after the Inca god Viracocha, for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name. The expedition’s goal was indeed to demonstrate that people from South America could have reached Polynesia during pre-Columbian times, making a long sea voyage that might have created contacts between different cultures.

The Kon-Tiki expedition, 1947 – The Kon-Tiki Museum; 1983-013

The expedition was led by the Norwegian explorer and ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002), who had a background in zoology, botany, and geography. For Heyerdahl, the Kon-Tiki expedition was not an isolated experiment: He made four others oceanic trips in primitive vessels to demonstrate his theories that ancient civilisations may have spread from a common source through sea voyages.

His expeditions on primitive rafts and boats were documented in books, films, and television programs, generating large public interest in the possibility of travelling vast distances at sea in primitive vessels, and what this may represent for cultural exchanges and interconnections.

Heyerdahl received numerous praises for his work and was appointed a government scholar in 1984. But while he became more popular than any contemporary anthropologists, the scholarly reception of his ideas has been controversial, and the scientific community has rejected some of his theories.

An Attack Submarine

Since the Middle Ages, concepts for submarines or submersible boats have been designed without ever going further than a sketch. Only in the 17th century started to appear drawing and projects for functioning submarines such as those designed by Cornelius Van Drebbel, a Dutchman in the service of James I of England.

In the 18th century over a dozen patents for submarines had been granted mainly for military purposes in England, and some of them reached the planning and construction stage such as the famous Nautilus by Robert Fulton.

In Norway, during the Denmark-Norway war when Norway was under blockade by English ships, Mikkel Hallsteinsson Lofthus (1782-1850), a mechanic from Ullensvang submitted to the City Council of Bergen in 1808 drawing and plans for a submarine. He also made a model of the boat that he proposed to build.

Drawings and model of the attack submarine – National Archives of Norway – Regional State Archive in Bergen

The submarine was to be driven forward by three pairs of oars, and it would move up and down in the water by moving the weight inside the boat back and forth. The submarine would include air intakes and hooks that could seize enemy ships in order to drill holes.

While many appeared to be eager for the plan to be implemented, after advice from military experts, it was decided that the plan was unrealistic.

Nevertheless, Mikkel Hallsteinsson Lofthus was nominated Knight of the Dannebrog Order, a Danish Order of Knight, for his initiative and plans for the attack submarine.

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