1896-1968 from Norway

ship’s master and whaling manager, spent World War II at Grytviken, South Georgia and enabled important supplies of whale oil to be made available to the allies in the United States and Europe.

Søren Fagerli junior was born on 13 June 1896 at Sandefjord, Norway, the youngest of five children of bottlenose whaling and sealing Captain Søren Fagerli (1854-1924) and his wife Inga Elise née Børnich (1856-1906). He was baptized on 3 August 1896, and family friends including the polar expedition and whaling pioneer Captain C A LARSEN and his wife Andrine were present. Søren spent his formative years in a whaling community in Norway. His confirmation on 2 April 1911 was expedited so that two days later he could set sail on his first whaling voyage to the North Atlantic and Arctic seas in his father’s bottlenose whaling ship Elida, constructed in Germany in 1878.


Captain Soren Fagerli

When, after 1912, bottlenose whaling became less lucrative, Søren’s father was engaged in 1913 as first mate on the whale factory ship Imo (5,043 tons/constructed 1889) owned by the South Pacific Whaling Co. A/S (Richard Osmundsen) for a whaling expedition off the coast of West Africa. Young Søren was also engaged as a sailor on the same expedition serving on board the catcher Sprøit.

In 1915 Søren senior was also engaged by The Southern Whaling & Sealing Company, North Shields as second mate on the company’s factory ship Restitution (3,290/1885), whose master Nils Andersen was another Sandefjord born former bottlenose whaling master whom Fagerli knew well. In the austral winter of 1916 Fagerli senior, with the support of a crew of seven men, was assigned as boatswain to the company’s whaling fleet of four catchers which was laid up at Husvik, South Georgia with responsibility for slipping them for annual overhaul at Leith Harbour. When Ernest SHACKLETON arrived at Stromness in May 1916, one of these catchers, the Southern Sky was despatched in a forlorn attempt to rescue his men from Elephant Island, but it is not known if Fagerli was one of the crew. Fagerli senior died in 1924.


Hjordis Fagerli at Stromness c.1925

Søren Fagerli junior served in the Royal Norwegian Navy during the First World War (when Norway was neutral) and obtained further experience in the merchant fleet. He was sent to a navigation school in Sandefjord in 1916 where he obtained his mate’s certificate and in 1918 his master’s certificate. At the end of the war, he was employed as first and second officer on board the steamships Jomfruland (1,618/1916) and Solborg (2,727/1892) owned by A F Borch & Sönner, of Drammen. The company was partly owned by Søren senior’s brother-in-law Anthon Christian Borch. 

In 1921 Søren junior signed on as captain of the chartered catcher Almirante Goni which was one of four vessels which comprised the fleet of A/S Odd’s factory ship Pythia (4,401/1897) (manager Olaf Wegger) for a whaling expedition to the South Shetland Islands with the support of a Falkland Islands Government license.


Blue whale on flensing plan 1926...

In 1922 Søren married Hjørdis Risting (1897-1975) the daughter of the well-respected whaling historian Sigurd Risting (1870-1935) and Ellevine Risting (1874-1960) at Sandar, Sandefjord. Sigurd Risting at that time was the editor of the Norsk Hvalfangst Tidende (The Norwegian Whaling Gazette) published by Den Norske Hvalfangerforening (The Norwegian Association of Whaling Companies). In 1930 Risting created the International Whaling Statistics which incorporated data from world-wide whaling dating back to 1868.

Søren Fagerli junior’s first appointment to a whale factory ship was in the season 1922/23 when he was appointed second officer on the factory ship Roald Amundsen (4,479/1904)(manager Leif  Andersen) owned by A/S Laboremus, Oslo, a company in which his father-in-law had an interest. The expedition was to the South Shetland Islands but was later diverted to South Georgia to complete its catch. At the end of the season, at the invitation of Captain Andersen, the vessel carried to Norway the South Georgia magistrate Edward BINNIE where he met his future Norwegian born wife Margrethe.


Factory ship Ernesto Tornquist

From 1923 to 1926 Fagerli worked as a foreman on the whaling station at Stromness, South Georgia for the company A/S Vestfold (Johan Rasmussen & Alex Lange), Sandefjord. In 1925 he was appointed winter manager and was joined by his wife Hjørdis.

In 1926 Fagerli was appointed second officer on board the factory ship Kommandøren I (6,547/1897) owned by the Sandefjord company A/S Vega (H. A Christensen, manager) for a voyage in search of whales to Mexico. The expedition was not a success, and the company was liquidated. The vessel was sold in 1927 to the Argentine registered whaling Compañia Argentina de Pesca of Buenos Aires and renamed Ernesto Tornquist (after the company’s founder), and Fagerli went with her as second officer. Under her whaling manager Thorstein Andersen, she was sent to whale with four catchers off the coast of Patagonia during which time Fagerli was promoted to first officer following a fatality. The following season 1928/29 he was further promoted to master and whaling manager for an expedition from Sandefjord to the Antarctic via Buenos Aires. The vessel carried with her to Buenos Aires, at the company’s invitation, Andrine Larsen, the widow of the pioneer Antarctic whaling and expedition leader Captain Carl Anton Larsen. She commented ‘that Captain Fagerli was a ruggedly handsome man, a true sailor…and the strange thing is that father (my husband) and I were his godparents. We certainly were at his home on the day of his baptism. He was so small and weak that no-one thought he would survive’.


A self addressed envelope to Fagerli

The arrangements for deploying the Ernesto Tornquist as a factory ship in the Antarctic continued until 1931, when they ceased following an economic crisis triggered by the massive overproduction of Antarctic derived whale oil. The Ernesto Tornquist was then deployed solely as a transport ship with Fagerli serving as master. The vessel provided a crucial service to the whaling station at Grytviken, transporting station crews to and from Norway and carrying fuel oil, goods and materials to the station and whale oil from South Georgia to destinations in Europe.

In 1938 Fagerli was asked to become manager of the Grytviken whaling station following the retirement of A M (Mitgård) Abrahamsen. When war broke out in 1939 and Norway was occupied by the Germans in 1940, there were doubts whether the station could carry on working, but Fagerli was able to recruit crews who remained in Liverpool off-season or from Buenos Aires. Under Fagerli’s leadership the company provided the allies with valuable supplies of whale and seal oil delivered to ports in Europe or the United States.

In 1945, after the war, Fagerli brought his family, his wife Hjørdis their sons Erling Risting (1926-2011) and Søren (b 1930) and a daughter Kari (b 1932) to Grytviken. After a well-earned break in Norway, he returned as station manager until the end of the 1947/48 season when he was appointed to serve as a director at the company’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.

From 1950 he served at the Norges Hvalfangstforbund (The Norwegian Whaling Association) based in Sandefjord, until he retired in 1963. Although he was now retired, in 1963/64 he acted as a whaling inspector and control officer on the Norwegian Sir James Clark Ross (14,362/1930) expedition to the Antarctic and later on Japanese whaling expeditions to the same area.

As part of his work at Norges Hvalfangstforbund he assisted the author Johan N Tønnessen in the seminal work Den moderne hvalfangsts historie (The History of Modern Whaling). Fagerli continued with this support after his retirement and as a member of the book Committee. Tønnessen gave Fagerli special thanks and appreciation for his support as an individual ‘who has critically reviewed the entire manuscript and put at my disposal a knowledge that embraced all aspects of whaling’.  

Captain Søren Fagerli junior died on 8 May 1968. He was one of Norway’s highly respected whaling veterans, and served the South Georgia based Compañia Argentina de Pesca for some 22 years. He is remembered by the name Mount Fagerli, a mountain rising to some 1,880 metres (6,170 feet) in the Allardyce Range of South Georgia at 54.20S, 36.43W. It was surveyed by the South Georgia Survey team led by Duncan CARSE in the period 1951-57 and named by the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee.


Torkel Fagerli and Ian Hart


See DFB biography for Dr Helmuth KRAUSS



June 2023 Biography first added to Dictionary