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Roald Amundsen - Explorer & Westley Richards Client

In July 1916, Capt. Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) ordered a pair of guns from Westley Richards & Co.’s Bond Street shop: “2 Best W.R. Explora 12 g ‘Explora’ Guns, H.D [i.e. hand detachable] locks & O.S Ejectors” as well as  “500 18/1 Metal cov cartridges” and “500 12 g Explora Ball” which were to be packed into tins of 25 each “& those must be well sealed down for use in Arctic Regions” - all to be collected in September of that year. Capt. Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer, had already, in 1910-1912, led the first expedition to the South Pole. He was also the first man to reach both South and North Poles.

He was world famous for his careful and meticulous planning for expeditions and he would have carefully researched the best place to go for a gun that could be used in such adverse conditions. The Explora gun was celebrated in the 1912 catalogue thus: “The basis is a Shot Gun having the weight and general handiness of a Shot Gun, but in addition capable of shooting a bullet accurately and effectively to 300 yards.”

Amundsen the explorer seen in the cabin of his ship the Gjøa in 1906 naivgating the North West passage. On his first voyage of 1897-99 he had learnt to value the importance of a good firearm

Capt. Amundsen’s first Antartic expedition was as part of a Belgian team under Adrien de Gerlache in 1897-99, the ship of which was locked in the ice for a long winter. Interestingly, during this time the American physician Frederick Cook saved many of the men from scurvy, because he had brought with him a gun for shooting animals and birds for fresh meat. In My Life as An Explorer (1927) he recounts how the two of them: “spent many weary hours, after the hard day’s work was done, travelling for miles over ice in search of seals and penguins and with great labour had killed and brought to the ship a great number of each”.

At first the commander had fiercely opposed the eating of this meat and actually forbade his men from doing so, until the whole crew, including himself, were so ill and raving that Amundsen was obliged to take command and ordered the men eat the meat, after which they recovered (Dr Cook had also turned the skins of the penguins into mats which protected the sides of the boat from the impact of icebergs). Thus he illustrated the value of a good quality gun on a voyage. 

The entry for Amundsen’s order for a pair of Explora guns in the 1916 order book at Westley Richards

In 1903-06 Capt. Amundsen led the first successful traversing of the Northwest Passage and in 1916, when he bought his Westley Richards Explora guns, he was preparing for his traversing of the Northeast Passage, although things were delayed by the First World War. His memoirs for this period do not discuss the Westley Richards Explora guns per se, but they do include an account of his being attacked by a ferocious polar bear which nearly killed him – in which he ruefully refers to being “unarmed” at the moment of attack. How different things might have been if this explorer had had his Explora to hand.

In his 1927 memoir, he did, however, muse on the error of some in thinking that you could live off game in the Arctic regions: “In my opinion, based on long experience and careful study, even a good marksman cannot ‘live off the country’. It is conceivable, I suppose, that a very skilful and experienced explorer, in extraordinarily favourable circumstances, with weather and game conditions just right, and close to solid land, might for a very short time ‘live off the country’, but I would not try it myself. I would consider it suicide.” Capt. Amundsen later disappeared, presumed dead, on a rescue mission to recover some stranded Italian explorers in 1928, and was never found. One of his Westley Richards Explora guns turned up in Russia and was offered for sale in the 1980s. 

Amundsen in polar gear. From his earliest experiences as an explorer he knew the value of a good quality gun even in the Antarctic
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