Nils Adolf Erik, Baron Nordenskiold - Encyclopedia

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NILS ADOLF ERIK NORDENSKIOLD, Baron (1832-1901), geographer and Arctic explorer, was born at Helsingfors, 18th November 1832. His ancestors came originally from Sweden, but for some generations had been settled in Finland. His father, Nils Gustav Nordenskidld, was both a mineralogist and a traveller. Nordenskidld entered the university of Helsingfors in 1849, and applied himself specially to chemistry and mineralogy. In 1853 he accompanied his father to the Ural Mountains and studied the iron and copper mines at Tagilsk. On his return he received minor appointments both at the university and the mining office, but an unguarded speech at a convivial entertainment in 1855 drew the attention of the Russian authorities to his political views, and led to his dismissal. He then visited Berlin, continuing his mineralogical studies, and in 1856 obtained the Alexander travelling stipend at the university of Helsingfors and planned to expend it in geological research in Siberia and Kamchatka. Before starting he took his master's and doctor's degrees (1857), but he again aroused the suspicion of the authorities, so that he was forced to leave the country and was deprived of the right of ever holding office in the university. Settling at Stockholm he thenceforward became practically a Swedish citizen. He soon received an offer from Otto Torell, the geologist, to accompany him on an expedition to Spitsbergen. To the observations of Torell on glacial phenomena Nordenskidld added the discovery at Bell Sound of remains of Tertiary plants, and on the return of the expedition he received the appointment of professor and curator of the mineralogical department of the Swedish State Museum. In 1861 he took part in Torell's second Spitsbergen expedition, which yielded even more important geological results. Of the further expedition to the same quarter promoted by the Swedish academy of science in 1864, Nordenskidld was the leader. Three years later, chiefly through the support of the Swedish government and Oscar Dickson, who contributed largely towards the later expeditions of 1872 and 1875, he headed a well-organized expedition in the iron steamer "Sofia," and reached the highest northern latitude (8, 0 42') then attained in the eastern hemisphere. Arctic exploration had now become his all-absorbing object in life, and in 1870, with three young naturalists, he visited the vast inland ice-sheet of Greenland. His next expedition in 1872 did not answer expectation, for the tenders were caught in the ice, and the crews of the three vessels were forced to winter in Spitsbergen. In 1875-1876, however, a successful voyage eastwards, including the ascent of the Yenisei, led him to attempt the discovery of the long-sought North-East Passage. This he accomplished in the voyage of the "Vega," navigating for the first time the northern coasts of Europe and Asia. Starting from Karlskrona on the 22nd of June 1878, the "Vega" doubled Cape Chelyuskin in the following August, and after being frozen in at the end of September near Bering Strait, completed the voyage successfully in the following summer. He edited a monumental record of the expedition in five octavo volumes, and himself wrote a more popular summary in two volumes.

On his return to Sweden he received an enthusiastic welcome, and in April 1880 was made a baron and a commander of the Order of the Nordstjerna. In 1883 he again visited the east coast of Greenland, and succeeded in taking his ship through the great ice barrier, a feat attempted in vain during more than three centuries. Baron Nordenskidld also made a notable reputation in the field of historical geography by his Facsimile Atlas (1889) and Periplus (1897). The former contains reproductions of the most important geographical documents printed during the 15th and 16th centuries, and the latter, a work of far greater research, deals with the history of early cartography and the sailing charts in use among mariners during the middle ages. He died at Stockholm on the 12th of August 1901.

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