The man with an iceberg grave stone.

In a sleepy churchyard in a Berkshire church in the South of England, there is a man with an iceberg for a gravestone. Or a stone representation of one.

Should I say, there was a man? He is no more, and has been no more for 75 years. It is strange, when you see his picture. So vital. So full of energy.

Image via Wikipedia

Image via Wikipedia

Strange to think that though he is there, sleeping under that stone, he exchanged ice for earth in the long run, and the wild wastes of the Arctic for the Shires. Remember, man.

His name is Frederick George Jackson, and he is inextricably tied up in the strange history of the Arctic, and the scramble for the North Pole. He is the punchline in the story of Fridtjof Nansen.

Nansen: a likeable chap, fair-minded and cerebral and drawn inextricably towards the polar lands. He it was who inspired Amundsen, the man who beat Scott of the Antarctic. Nansen developed a crazy theory about how one might reach the North Pole. What if, he said, one built a sturdy boat and used the natural drift of polar ice to take one far, far North to within travelling distance of the pole?

He built a tough boat which could withstand the jostling of an iceberg or two, and set out, proving his theory correct. But the final stretch across land defeated the expedition, and they turned back without reaching their goal.

Just as with Scott, later, the return journey became a rather desperate affair.Their chronometers gave out, and it was impossible to calculate their position. They travelled towards Franz Joseph Land  across the ice, which was becoming unstable with the Summer months. Finally, they spotted land. They made it to the edge of the ice and took two kayaks, making for land, and they reached it safely. And there, they spent the winter.

But by the following June, things were rather bad: they were on the very last of their supplies, and  had shot the last husky. It was a grim pass.

So just when things seemed rather hopeless, Nansen heard voices.

Real ones, as it turned out. He went to investigate and found a British man wandering towards them.

Neither really knew what to say. Astonished,  Jackson managed to stammer: “You’re Nansen, aren’t you?”

And the explorer replied, “Yes, I am Nansen.”

In the weeks afterwards, Nansen said he could scarcely grasp his good fortune. And in time, he named that island which he had discovered: Jackson island.

And now the two of them are consigned to earth. But they lived long and fully.

And their adventures live vividly after them.

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21 thoughts on “The man with an iceberg grave stone.

  1. Quel bon chance! Lucky (frozen) stiff! 😀

    In case anyone else is having a tough time reading the gravestone:

    In memory of
    Frederick George Jackson
    Major. East Surrey Regiment
    Commander of the Jackson-Harmsworth
    polar expedition. 1894-1897.
    He discovered. mapped. and named
    the greater part of Franz Joseph Land
    and rescued Dr Nansen.
    Died 13 March 1938 aged 78 years
    Sans Peur et Sans Reproche
    His memorial is in St Pauls Cathedral.
    His grave is in this churchyard.
    R.I.P.

  2. He was a tough man and had many great adventures. There is a plaque in St Pauls crypt near Nelsons burial place,
    Although he was my grandfather’s brother I’m not much like him

    1. Philip, thank you so much for calling in to read and leave a comment here today. You will know the spot I speak of well. What an adventurer your grand-uncle (is that the term?) was.

    1. It is a lovely patch of a grim-ish new town 🙂 But it has many surprises. I have yet to get inside the church where William Morris had his wicked way, I believe. Well, his way. More florid than maybe some members of the congregation would have approved of in the second half of the nineteenth century. But that’s another story for another day…

  3. It’s been a long time but I thought I’d read about all the old arctic and antarctic expeditions and explorations. I don’t recall these, however. Thanks for yet another tale of the bravery of our early polar explorers. Such bravery and such hardship.

  4. This post prompted me to further research Nansen. Apparently, his wife, Eva, was a women’s skiing pioneer. They really appreciated freezing cold weather and winter sports. The one and only time I went skiing I could not wait to return to the lodge and a steaming mug of hot cocoa (I could still do dairy back then).

  5. So very interesting a story, Kate.
    Have I ever mentioned an explorer we know? A modern one? A long and dear friend’s brother, Alvah Simon, wintered in his small boat in and on the north arctic, and lived to tell his tale in the book “North to the Night”. It is a rather thrilling, and chilling tale.

  6. what an interesting story – I love the quote about seeking out the places labeled unknown. It reminds me of how, before everything was mapped out, they marked the borders of their knowledge with “here there be dragons”.

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