From Thor-Glimt Nr.18 – Juni 1966


Consul Lars Christensen

in memoriam


by lektor Joh.N.Tønnesen in the «Norske Hvalfangst-Tidende»


Consul Lars Christensen died on December 10, 1965 during a stay in New York . On December 30 his urn was laid in the family vault in Sandar churchyard near Sandefjord. With him one of «the great men» in the history of whaling has passed away. He had followed it from its start in the Ant­arctic, through its period of greatness - the romance of Norwegian industry - and he lived long enough to see its gradual decline. But if he passed away just when this story of adventure ended, the history has acquired not merely one, but several new chapters, which carry on the narrative.

Lars Christensen's life, rich in events, falls into three parts: the ship owner and business man, the polar explorer, and the donator.


It cannot be said of Lars Christensen that he was entirely a self-made-man; he was both born and mar­ried into whaling. He was born on April 6, 1884 at Framnæs near Sandefjord as the third youngest of Commander Chr. Christensen's large flock of child­ren. As a boy he had seen his father, who was a works owner and ship owner, build bottlenose and seal hunting vessels, which were later to become fa­mous in the history of polar exploration. He had felt the excitement when his father sent the first ships in 1892-94 to almost unknown Antarctic seas to search for the legendary Right whale. It is true that they did not find it, but they found that there were huge stocks of Fin whales. And the excite­ment was, if possible, still greater when «Admira­len» in 1905 was sent southwards in order to catch these. «It is clear that Lars Christensen on the basis of the family tradition, environment, adven­turous spirit and great ability to seize things practically, was bound to feel called to participate in this undeniably hazardous, but equally alluring enterprise», write his biographer as introduction to his start as whaling ship owner.

It was, however, not as such that he took his first independent step into business life. It was as ship­ owner. And for that he had received a sound train­ing. After passing the Secondary School examina­tion in 1899 he commenced in the office of his brother-in-law, Ship owner Consul Johan Bryde. In the following year he was at a commercial school in Germany , and then in a shipbroker's office in Newcastle on Tyne , until in the autumn 1901 he commenced studies at the Christiania Commercial College , passing out from there with examination in 1903. Then he spent another two years in shipbroker firms in Germany and England , before beginning to assist his father and another brother-in-law, who was also a ship owner, in their offices. Then he felt he knew enough to start his own firm and shipping business in 1907, only 23 years old. It was «Aktiesel­skabet Dampskibet Kamfjord», formed for opera­tion of a new, small cargo ship in coal traffic with Canada . But the years 1907-10 were poor years for Norwegian shipping, and already in 1910 the ship was sold. In the same years Lars Christensen managed also the steamer «Varden», engaged in cargo and passenger traffic Sandefjord-Christia­nia, and from 1912-15 the sailing vessel «Forth». In 1911 Lars Christensen tried to realize a strange project with the Belgian polar explorer de Gerlache. They contracted with Framnæs mek. Værksted for the building of a timber sailing ship with auxiliary engine, «Polaris», designed for cruises with tourists to East Greenland and Spitzbergen. But as de Gerlache was unable to pay his share the vessel was sold to Sir Ernest Shackleton, and under the name «Endurance» it was screwed down by the ice in the Weddel Sea in 1915. After his participation 1908-09 in a small coaling company there was provisionally an end of this branch of Lars Chris­tensen's business activity.


In the years it had been in existence Norwegian whaling was passing through a world-wide expan­sion, in which much unsound speculation and completition seemed likely to put an end to the play. In the second place fat hardening had created new possibilities for the part of whale oil in the world's fat market. In the third place the increas­ingly strong consolidation of the fat industry had made necessary a corresponding consolidation of the whale oil producers. In all three fields Lars Christensen took part. What characterize this first period, 1909-14, of his whaling activity are the efforts to find new fields outside the current large areas, Antarctic and Africa . In the Antarctic all licenses and concessions were taken up; in Africa the companies stood in a queue in order to get a chance.


In the spring 1907 Lars Christensen made a journey to U.S.A. and Canada in order to study the whaling conditions, whilst another of Chr. Chris­tensen's sons, August Fredrik Christensen, only 20 years old, was sent on the sailing ship «Vesterlide» on an experimental voyage to South America . He came to anchor at last in Chili, where a third of the brothers, Søren L. Christensen, were also on a «voyage of discovery». The two expeditions resulted in two companies, Sociedad Ballenera Christensen y Cia., formed in the autumn 1908, and A/S Pacific, formed 1910, for whaling with floating factory and from land stations on Chiloë Island and the town Corral a little to the north of this. Lars Christensen became manager of both companies. However, as neither of them was the success which had been hoped, they were after a couple of years sold and dissolved.

More fortunate was the company A/S Condor, which was meant also to try something new, namely buy flensed carcasses in Grytviken, boil out the oil and produce guano an the sailing ship «Nor». It proved to be a good business. The same was also Lars Christensen's participation in A/S Hvalen, which in 1910 took over the factory ship of same name and its license for hunting whales off South Shetland. It was sold in 1914 with a good profit. A new attempt in South America , along the coast of Brazil , in 1911-12 was a total failure. On the other hand the results were excellent when the vessel and equipment were transferred to French Congo in 1913-14, unlike A/S Alfa and Beta's operations in the same locality in the same years. The last attempt at whaling off America was the largest planned enterprise, but it became also the greatest disappointment. Alaska Whaling Co. was formed in 1917. on the initiative of some Norwegian-Ameri­cans, with Lars Christensen as manager, and a share capital of $ 315.000,- chiefly American. Whaling was undertaken both with the famous factory ship « Admiralen» and from a land station on Akutan Island , one of the easterly Aleutian Islands . A whole romance could be told about the troubled history of the company (it has in fact already been written in part). With a Norwegian-­American pastor as whaling manager - he had never seen a whale before - the end was bound to be a total fiasco. Lars Christensen refused to have anything to do with the company, which i 1914 was taken over by an entirely American board of directors.


Before Lars Christensen was 30 years old he had helped to start and to manage four, it is true small, shipping companies, a coaling business and seven whaling companies. From same he got pleasure and profit, from others only loss, but all had given him valuable experience. He has himself told me that especially from his connection with Alaska Whaling Co. he had learnt a great deal as to how whaling should not be carried on - an experience he was able to built on when in the beginning of the 1920 decade, he resumed this part of his business activity.


Norway produced the main portion of the world's whale oil, an important raw material for the fat industry. To secure also the refinement of the oil for Norway was one of Chr. Christensen's many fruitful ideas. He sent Lars Christensen to Vienna , where he bought for kr. 300,000. - the rights to a hardening patent, and for utilization of this there was formed in 191.3 A/S Vera Fedtrafineri at San­defjord. It was in many respects a family enter­prise: Chr. Christensen, his two sons, two sons-in-­law, and Lars Christensen's father-in-law, Thor Dahl. Only 29 years old Lars Christensen became managing director, and in spite of the difficulties caused by the war - England blockaded Norway for whale oil -- he administered the company cautiously and safely so that it gave fine business surpluses, until the whole affair was upset by a group of share speculators and the economic de­pression in 1921-22.


About 1912 a change was made in the sale of whale oil, so that it was no longer vended to oil dealers, but directly to the consumers, the fat industry. Faced by the tendency in these to stand together in a whale-oil pool, the Norwegian whaling companies sought strength in cohesion. It resulted in the formation of two basic organizations: Hval­fangernes Assuranceforening Gjensidig in 1911 and Den Norske Hvalfangerforening in 1912. In both these Lars Christensen played a prominent

part. He was on of the founders of the first ­mentioned association and until his death the sole remaining member of the first board of directors. In Hvalfangerforeningen he became a prominent member from 1923 onwards, when he was elected vice-chairman, after he had again taken up whaling as one of its most important ship owners.


What led him to this was that he took over a large part of his father's and his father-in-law's extensive businesses, when they died in 1923 and 1920 respectively. In 1910 Lars Christensen had married Ingrid Dahl, daughter of wholesale mer­chant and ship owner Thor Dahl, Sandefjord's wealthiest citizen. He became still more so later and his wealth emerged undiminished through the crisis in the beginning of the 1920 decade. In 1917 Lars Christensen bought the large, handsome estate Ranvik near Sandefjord, where the family has since had its Norwegian home. His private life here, with a family of six children and a splendid hospitality has been interrupted by innumerable and prolonged journeys to practically all parts of the world. On October 22, 1960 Lars Christensen and his wife were able to celebrate their golden wedding at Ranvik.


The firm, A/S Thor Dahl, which Thor Dahl left behind at his death, was a purely family affair, which carried on a large ship chandler business. The same was also the case with Bryde og Dahls Hvalfangerselskap A/S (after World War 2 changed to Thor Dahls Hvalfangerselskap A/S). The firm A/S Thor Dahl is an administration firm, which has in the course of time taken over the manage­ment of a number of companies, first and foremost of Bryde og Dahls Hvalfangerselskap, which is still a 100 % family company. Until 1928 it operated with floating factory from Godthul Harbor on South Georgia , from 1929 onwards pelagic ally. In 1924 the firm was appointed manager of the whaling company A/S Odd, Sandefjord. This com­pany was formed in 1913 for whaling on licence round South Shetland, and in 1921 was merged with the whaling companies A/S Dominion Whaling Ltd. and The South Pacific Whaling Co. A/S Odd in 1930 again incorporated the large new company Atlas A/S, Larvik. Aktieselskabet «Ørnen», Chr. Christensen's old company of 1903, the pioneer of whaling with floating factory round Spitzbergen and in the Antarctic, agreed in 1931 to entrust the management to A/S Thor Dahl. It is these three companies: Bryde og Dahl, Odd and Ørnen, which are associated with Thor Dahl's or Lars Chris­tensen's subsequent whaling activity. They repre­sent one of the largest concentration in the hands of a single company or a single person in the whole history of whaling.


A/S Thor Dahl also administered The Norwegian Bay Whaling Co. , a private enterprise within the Christensen family, in the four years 1925-28. It operated from the land station Norwegian Bay at Point Cloates and the north-west tip of Australia and did very good business. At the time of liquida­tion in 1928 it had given the shareholders 150 % and their investment money back. In 1930 Lars Christensen through his company Bryde og Dahl took over the share majority in Hvalfangerselskapet Frango A/S, Sandefjord. Already in the same year the floating factory was sold to the American com­pany The American Whaling Co. , but with Lars Christensen as manager. The purpose of the trans­action was to enable the whale oil, as American produced oil, to be imported into U.S.A. free from duty, and «Frango» was the only Norwegian floating factory which was built in U.S.A. , and therefore the only one which according to American law could be registered there. But the crisis in U.S.A. and the collapse of the whale oil market brought on the company heavy losses.

After cautious attempts in 1925-27 whaling en­tered from 1928 into its pelagic epoch and greatest period of expansion. Norwegian and Norwegian-Brit­ish companies were started one after another, and Norwegian companies were sold and transferred to British flag. There was a bitter strife between the «concession holders» and the «pelagians», and Eng­land threatened to refuse to renew the concessions on its Antarctic possessions unless the Norwegians ceased their pelagic operations. Norway was on ,the point of losing its hegemony as whaling nation. Lars Christensen saw with great anxiety the way things were going. He kept all his companies as purely Norwegian, and from the field in the Ant­arctic he sent warning letters to the effect that the whaling stocks would not bear such taxation. But since it was found impossible to stay the expansion he had no other choice than to proceed to a radical renewal of his whaling material, if he was going to continue whaling and not be knocked out in the hard competition. In the course of 1929-30 the four small, old factory ships were replaced by four large rebuilt ships, and the fleet of catching boats was almost wholly replaced. The total effectivity of Lars Christensen's whaling fleet was more than trebled.

Lars Christensen had to endure much spiteful criticism because he « protested toward the whole world, but followed the general course». Another whaling ship owner wrote: «Lars Christensen's influence is great; he must therefore be extremely careful what he puts his name under». Lars Chris­tensen replied, among other things, that in 1928 he had received offers of foreign capital far the starting of new companies, but that he had re­fused to take part in this. Although he did not build any of his new special ships for whaling, it was a fully competitive fleet with which he met the difficult 1930 decade.

We cannot recapitulate here the stormy history of whaling in these years: over-production and price-fall, a constantly more stringent national and international regulation of whaling, the lay up of the Norwegian whaling fleet in season 1931-32, the relations with the new whaling nations Germany and Japan, the strife about quotas, the English-German conflict about the Norwegian whale oil, the increasing power and demands of the trade unions, and many other problems. Only one point will be mentioned, because there was nothing else which exposed Lars Christensen to such strong criticism. There was much to be said for laying up the whaling fleet also in season 1934-35 and it came therefore as a shock on the whaling com­panies that Lars Christensen, without informing his colleagues of the fact beforehand, had con­cluded a contract with Unilever to operate with all his companies for this firm for two seasons at a guaranteed minimum price, although it was he who had put forward the proposal for a lay-up. Whilst on the one hand it was ~greeted with joy that the sale was assured of 660,000 barrels Norwegian­ produced oil, it is true at a very low price, another whaling ship owner stated, no doubt on-behalf half of all the others: «This is a stab in the back for Norwegian whaling!»

At their instigation the Government intervened and limited by statue the hunting period so greatly that it became impossible for Lars Christensen to fulfill the contract. A lawsuit was threatened on Unilewer's part but the case was settled amicably to the advantage of both parties. There are as a matter of fact on record statements from Lars Christensen at his time - and he was not alone in them - expressing such a pessimistic view of the future of Norwegian whaling that he enter­tained the thought of ceasing entirely from it. Fortunately he did not do so.

During the whole war Lars Christensen resided in U.S.A. , and labored there untiringly for the cause of Norway and our Allies. For six years he was attached to the Norwegian Embassy in Washington as financial counselor, and advocated strongly that Norway should during the war main­tain payment of interest and installments on its state loans, as the merchant fleet would earn sufficient sum in dollars to enable Norway to fulfill its obligations. He has the chief honor for estab­lishment of a Norwegian seamen's hotel in New York ; he was chairman of Nortraship's Whaling Committee, member of the Shipping Director's Board, of the Government's so-called Relief Com­mittee. He took part as adviser for the Norwegian delegation at the constitutive meeting of the United Nations in San Francisco . Concerning his work the first Secretary-General of the United Nations, Trygve Lie, has stated: «Their home, whether he and his wife were in New York , in Washington or in San Francisco , was always open for Norwegians who during the war had had to find refuge in U.S.A. I personally had the pleasure of being able to listen to Lars Christensen in the years I was the United Nation's secretary-general. His wise words, also on political matters, were of great service to me». Lars Christensen himself defrayed all ,his expenses for residence and Journeys in U.S.A. during the war. In 1941 he donated to the Norwegian Seamen's Mission a rather large house in San Pedro for use as seamen's church. At the initiation he expressed the desire that at some place in the church the words he himself had taken as motto for his life's work: Ora et labora (Pray and Work) might be set up.

By war casualties A/S Thor Dahl's companies lost nearly 60 % of their tonnage. Of the factory ships only one was left, «Thorshammer». Lars Christensen came home with a fully prepared pro­gram for the restoration, not only of his firm, but also of Norwegian industry as a whole. Already in 1941 he had worked out a very exhaustive plan for Norway 's recovery (An outline for Norwegian post­war reconstruction, 197 pp., printed in Washington, January 1942). He states here how important it is that there exist in good time beforehand thoroughly discussed plans, which can enter into force as soon as the war ends. It has undoubtedly served as guide to the Marshall aid program. The important matter was not the help Norway could get from outside, but what we ourselves would do -- that must take the precedence of everything else. «Our interest is solely in reconstruction; and the immediate importance of sound recovery outweighs all other factors .... Reconstruction will require the best efforts of every Norwegian; it should not be a period where any one group, labor, manage­ment or the state, seeks to take advantage for its own advancement of the need for co-operation».

Based on this view Lars Christensen put all his efforts into the work of reconstruction, and it was given to few to see greater fruits from his labor than to him. In 1947 and 1948 two large new floating factories, «Thorshavet» and «Thorshøvdi», were pro­cured, which together with the good, old «Thors­hammer», hunted in all seasons 1948/49-1961/62. They produced altogether in these 14 seasons 4.5 mill. barrels (750,000 tons) whale and sperm oil. Since the war the companies have acquired 42 new catching boats, and on the whole nothing has been spared to keep the ships and the catch tip-top. But since 1961/62 «Thorshammer» has been withdrawn from the operations and broken up, and in the present season «Thorshavet» is the only Thor Dahl factory ship in the field. In a retrospect of his whaling Lars Christensen wrote in a letter to me two years ago: «Let us agree that we pioneers have been great fools that we did not hold fast to the point where we began. But it is always easy to be wise after the event. We have at any rate satisfied our hunger for adventure and on the whole we ought not to complain».


That Norwegian whaling might reach the end that it now seems to be approaching Lars Christen­sen had already viewed as a possibility at the end of the 1920 decade, and therefore he rested his firm in good time on two legs. The other leg was shipping trade. It developed naturally from the need for tankers for transport of fuel oil to the factory ships in the field and of whale oil in return. On this foundation Lars Christensen built up the large shipping companies for which Thor Dahl today stand as manager. It is as a matter of fact a conversion which a number of whaling companies have long since effected, and without it the firms would hardly have existed today. It would be an interesting inquiry to find how much the whaling industry has earned of the capital which is now invested in the expansion of Norwegian shipping.

The shipping trade comprises both tank traffic, fruit traffic and line traffic, and in recent years also tramp traffic with large bulk carriers. The preparations for line traffic Lars Christensen carried out during his long sojourns in America before and after the war, and the lines are to a considerable extent based on the carrying of goods to and from America . Pacific Islands Transport Line, formed in 1938, carries on route traffic between the west coast of North America and the south Pacific Islands, Christensen Canadian African Lines (1948) between Canada and South-East Africa, Norse Oriental Line (1955) between Australia and Indonesia-Malaysia. In the years 1932-35 and 1937 A/S Thor Dahl sent a rather large expedition to East Greenland to catch halibut, but the fishery was unremunerative and had to be abandoned. Equally unsuccessful was also an attempt in the 1950 decade at ocean fishing with catching boats rebuilt as trawlers. Always awake for new ideas and with the will and financial means to try anything new Lars Christensen has in recent years also engaged in sealing, nylon spinning, oil drilling and rearing of silk-worms with a view to the production of natural silk. The American interests are collected in the firm Christensen Canadian Enterprises. The last shoot on the trunk which he lived to see was A/S Thor Dahl - Plastindustri, Sandefjord.

Lars Christensen's activity in Antarctic polar exploration had not merely scientific aim; it was primarily a link in his whaling -operations. A commencement to extend whaling eastwards from the South Shetlands vicinity was made in season 1927/28. For the further extension and discovery of new fields the industry can thank Lars Christen­sen almost entirely. The 9 expeditions («Odd 1», «Norvegia» and «Thorshavn» expeditions) which he sent out from 1926 in a period of 10 years at own expense had the double purpose: to discover new or rediscover old land and, when found, to occupy it for Norway , and in the second place to find whales. Lars Christensen writes himself in his book «Such is the Antarctic» ( London , 1935) p. 214: «Every step we have taken has been based on one special motive: we were out to get whales. The main object of all my expeditions was to investigate as thoroughly and conscientiously as possible anything that could in any way add to the information respecting whales». The exploration of the Antarc­tic is indissolubly connected with whaling, but the latter has never made greater contribution to the former than through Lars Christensen's expedi­tions.


Both his aims were realized in ample degree. The Bouvet field proved to be a gold mine for whaling. Huge areas of the Antarctic were discovered and in part charted; Bouvet Island , Peter 1st Island , Queen Maud's Land became Norwegian dependencies, and the scientific exploration attained great results. These are published in: Scientific Results of the Norwegian Antarctic Expeditions 1927-38 et sqq. Instituted and financed by Consul Lars Christen­sen, I-III, Oslo , 1935--61. In addition to the said book Lars Christensen has published several other accounts of his expeditions. He continued here the work his father and C. A. Larsen had commenced in the Weddel Sea in the «Jason» expeditions 1892-­94, and he brought the name of Norway into the foremost ranks of the great exploration nations in the Antarctic. In this connection must also be mentioned his visit to and interest in the inhabit­ants of Tristan da Cunha, which became the occasion for the Norwegian scientific expedition thither in 1937-38, supported with usual gen­erosity by Lars Christensen.

Lars Christensen's affection for his native town has found a fuller and finer expression than has befallen any other Norwegian town from a single man. One of the motives was his great respect for tradition and for the value which lay in preserving it. During his visit to America in 1907 he had stayed at New Bedford and had admired its fine whaling museum. Already on the 10th anniversary of his start as business man, in 1917, he could hand over as gift to Sandefjord Municipality «Kommandør Chr. Christensens Hvalfangstmuseum» with fully mounted collections. It has since been extended by an annex for the library, the copious literature and unprinted material of which constitute a unique workshop in Norway for those who are occupied with the history of ice hunting, whaling and polar exploration. Lars Christensen was con­stantly on the look-out for old, rare and costly antiquarian literature, at the same time as he kept the collection up-to-date with everything new which appeared. 40 years later, on the 50th anni­versary of his start as business man, he donated to the Municipality a newly equipped Shipping Museum , with interesting collections and a large sum for its upkeep. This too has been increased by an annex. On Midsummer's Eve Sandefjord re­ceived a new magnificent gift from Lars Christen­sen and his companies: the splendid, unique whaling monument, which perhaps more than anything else has become the town's tourist attrac­tion. Lars Christensen himself then delivered a speech in which he stressed that the monument was intended not only to remind the coming gen­erations of the hazardous toil whaling was, but also of the fact that it was the foundation of the town's and of Vestfold's good economic conditions. The instruments on which Sandefjord Boy's Band played on the occasion were a gift from Lars Christensen.

But he wanted to remind people that mankind does not live by bread alone. This he expressed by his donation to Sandar Parish of the Olav Chapel, a pearl in new Norwegian sacred architecture. Those of the inhabitants who found time to spend a few quiet moments in the Chapel would in recent months often find Lars Christensen there in silent meditation in front of the beautiful frescoes. As C. F. Garman in Alexander Kielland's «Garman & Worse» became the old consul in Stavanger , so Lars Christensen became «the consul» in Sande­fjord. But he became also something more - not a passive, representative gallion figure, but an active well-doer. «Richesse oblige» was for him no more fine phrase, but a living reality. What he and his wife have performed quietly for the town's inhabitants has probably no parallel in any other Norwegian town. I personally have had the pleasure of meeting Lars Christensen a couple of times in recent years, and I retain the impression of an extremely balanced, harmonious and peaceful per­sonality, a man of good-will.

Lars Christensen was in the course of the years the recipient of many high official decorations. He was among other things, since 1934, one of the four honorary members of Det Norske Videnskaps­Aikademi in Oslo , honorary member of Det Konge­lige Norske Videnskabernes Selskab in Trondheim and of Det Norske Geografiske Selskap, honorary doctor of St. Olaf College in Minnesota , honorary citizen of Granby in Canada . He was Commander with star of St. Olav's Order, Commander of the Vasa Order, the Dannebrogs Order and of the Legion of Honour, holder of Haakon VII's Frihets­kors, of the Gunnerus Medal and of The American Geographical Society's Livingstone Medal.