Roald Amundsen’s Belgica Diary: The first Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic.

This first English publication of Amundsen’s daybook from the Belgica trip, together with connective commentary by the editor about each segment of the trip, is a surprising volume for a number of reasons. It presents a rather different picture of Amundsen than the more affectless hero of his later works. Here is the second mate, concerned about the welfare of ship and crew, even-headed except when learning of Gerlache’s deceit excluding him of the potential captaincy of the expedition. Much of the book goes along monotonously with routine weather reports that are interspersed with moments of real excitement and danger. His friendship with Doctor Cook comes across very clearly, but his rather frequent acknowledgment of God and his benign guidance is unexpected. There appears to be nothing about any reading he may have done during the trip, but he does describe briefly the pinup contest that Gerlache makes much of. The book gives some excerpts from diaries of other officers, including this from Henryk Arctowski:

p. 123: Sunday, 10th July [1898] I feel tired and ill the whole time. The observations during the night wore me out very quickly. At present I do the meteorological observations between 4 o’clock in the afternoon and 3 o’clock in the morning and Dobrowolski does the rest. Twelve meteorological observations, that is all I am able to do. I would like to read and study but I do not have the strength. I do read some English: articles from ‘Popular Science Monthly’ some copies of which Cook brought with him. I would never have believed that circumstances could have caused me to be in such a state that my greatest desire is for fresh meat, eggs and milk. No doubt when the sun returns my condition will return to normal. At present I do not feel like thinking about anything.

p. 124: Thursday, 14th July …What appeals to me is the pursuit of an idea, creative work, not this life in prison, in a snail shell. Fatigue and boredom. But this is hardly surprising. I went to bed at four o’clock in the morning, read for a whole hour in order to fall asleep, put out the candle and twisted and turned in my bed until 7 o’clock….