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Crew members fighting a polar bear, 12 June 1596


Crew members fighting a polar bear, 12 June 1596

Veer, Gerrit de

On 12 June, anchored off an island, the expedition members saw a swimming polar bear. They gave chase with their launches to kill the animal. After protracted efforts, they succeeded in smashing in the animal’s skull. As a result, the island was called Bereneiland (Bear Island, or in Norwegian, Bjørnøya), and still carries that name today.

The image combines various episodes from the expedition. In the foreground, the crew of the two sloops if fighting the polar bear. In the back of the animal, an axe is protruding, which the journal mentions as not apparently hurting the animal much. In the background we see crewmembers climbing a mountain on Bear Island itself. On the top left Spitsbergen is also depicted, with the brent geese roosting there.

From the Wahrhafftige Relation, the German version of Gerrit de Veer’s journal, published in 1598. (See under ‘documentation’ for details.)

Please contact Rijksmuseum Amsterdam for reuse and copyrights.

Sources and literature

Veer, Gerrit de, Om de Noord: de tochten van Willem Barentsz en Jacob van Heemskerck en de overwintering op Nova Zembla, zoals opgetekend door Gerrit de Veer (1598)

Veer, Gerrit de, Warhafftige Relation. Der dreyen newen unerhörten seltzamen Schiffart so die Holländischen und Seeländischen Schiff....Anno 1594, 1595 und 1596 verricht (NG-1979-564) (1598)