Martin Rønne (1861-1932)

Rønne participated on four of Roald Amundsen’s expeditions, and he sewed the tent which Amundsen left at the South Pole in December 1911.
Martin Rønne (1861-1932)

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.



Amundsen expedition literature

Hans-Christian Oset: Martin Rønnes gate. In: Gjengangeren 14.12.1996