1892-1957 from Norway (also England)

skipper and whaler, was born in the village of Ramnes, near the coastal whaling port of Tønsberg, Norway on 11 November 1892, one of five children of Kristoffer Hansen and his wife Kristiane Hansen. Little is known of his formative years, but a 1910 census described him as a stoker at sea in American waters. The first record of him having served at South Georgia was in the season 1935/36 when he was employed by Chr. Salvesen & Co, at Leith Harbour. In 1937 he was engaged by the same company as a foreman at their Hawkes Harbour whaling station in Labrador. From 1937 he was employed as a foreman at Leith Harbour and boatswain on Salvesens whale factory ship Salvestria until it struck a mine in the Firth of Forth on 27 July 1940 which sank. In the season 1940/41 Kristoffersen was employed as bosun on board the British registered factory ship Svend Foyn, whaling in the South Atlantic and Antarctic waters with the support and protection of the British armed merchant cruiser Queen of Bermuda.


Hans Kristian Kristoffersen receives...

Like many whalers in war-time conditions, Kristoffersen experienced numerous hazards, as whaling factory ships and transports were seconded as carriers for supplies and munitions across the North Atlantic and because of their size and slow speed were considered the ‘lame ducks’ of the Atlantic convoys. Salvesens had also been forced to close their whaling station at South Georgia in November 1941 leaving only a skeleton crew. In 1941 Kristoffersen joined the factory ship Southern Empress as 4th officer until she was torpedoed and sunk off Newfoundland in October 1942. He was one of 77 survivors picked up by HMS Potentilla. He spent some time thereafter recuperating at Bangour Hospital, Uphall, West Lothian. It appears that during this period he became acquainted with a Scottish woman, Edith May McMurray, and came to live at Bathgate, just west of Edinburgh and Leith Docks where Salvesens main office was located. He married Miss McMurray on 7 July 1945. In 1943 he served as bosun’s mate on Salvesens transport ship Coronda, and at the end of the war he transferred to Salvesens Saluta, serving as 3rd officer.

When Salvesens resumed whaling operations at South Georgia and pelagically in the Antarctic in September 1945, he joined the whale catcher Southern Chief as 2nd officer for the voyage south, having been offered the post as foreman at the whaling station under manager Anton Tørgersen. He was appointed 3rd officer on a whale catcher working from Leith Harbour in 1945-47 and overwintered in both 1946 and 1947.


Krstoffersen meeting HRH Duke of...

In 1947 Hans Kristoffersen obtained his coastal skipper’s certificate to add to his mate’s certificate. He became the master of a small service boat the Sabra, a redundant whale catcher constructed in 1930, which served as a communications boat between the various communities on South Georgia. Kristoffersen relished this role, and in time he became highly regarded and many bonds of friendship were established, especially with the non-whaling community at King Edward Point which he also dutifully served.

It appears that Kristoffersen had a special rapport with the British for he had served on British ships from 1935 (and perhaps prior to this date, unfortunately his discharge books were lost when he was torpedoed). In March 1941 he had applied to the magistrate at South Georgia to become a naturalized British subject. Although the British could not entertain his application at that time because of the war, he re-submitted it in 1947. He was asked to sign an Oath of Allegiance before the magistrate at South Georgia, Arthur FLEURET, and on 10 September 1947 his wish was granted. It is not known if he was aware that in so doing, he joined an exclusive club of Norwegian whalers who had previously become Naturalized British Subjects, including the polar whaler and Grytviken manager Captain C A LARSEN.


July 1947 Cover from Leith Harbour,...

In the New Year Honours List for 1956, Hans Kristian Kristoffersen was awarded the MBE for his ‘services to the whaling industry at South Georgia’. He was officially invested with this award at a ceremony, undertaken on the steps of the magistrate’s house at King Edward Point, by the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Sir Oswald Raynor ARTHUR, on 12 January 1957, with the magistrate Robert Edward SPIVEY and the Governor’s aide-de-camp in attendance. This event coincided with the visit of the Duke of EDINBURGH to South Georgia, which formed part of his Royal Tour of the minor colonies, in the Royal Yacht Britannia and afterwards Hans was introduced to the Duke on the jetty at King Edward Point.

Kristoffersen became a very popular and well-respected character at South Georgia. In the period after the Second World War, he served as skipper on Salvesens service boat Sabra, which provided communication between Leith Harbour, King Edward Point and the other whaling communities at Grytviken, Stromness and Husvik.Several tales were told of Hans Kristian ‘Båsen’(trans:’boxes’) Kristoffersen. It appears that his small service boat, like many old whaling ships, had an open bridge. But during one winter at Leith Harbour, he constructed a wooden wheelhouse to provide some shelter when negotiating what occasionally was a stormy environment. This was the reason he was nicknamed ‘Båsen’, after the box-like structure he had created on his ship. It was said that he used to navigate from Leith Harbour to King Edward Point by placing an alarm clock adjacent to the steering wheel on his ship. He would set off, sitting in an armchair behind his wheel on one course and after a period of time set by the alarm would change course. This he continued to do until he arrived at his destination. Apparently, it was very useful in inclement or foggy weather, but Nan Brown, the wife of the radio officer at King Edward Point and the author of Antarctic Housewife, wrote ‘that Hans clock was a standing joke on the island. Everyone said that he used it instead of a compass.’

Hans was a well-built, jovial and sociable character with a round ruddy face and bright eyes. He was always pleased to take passengers on his boat and with his intimate knowledge of the island’s coastline would describe all the geographic features as they sailed along. One of his special tasks at Christmas each year was to dress up as Santa Claus and set a course for King Edward Point, with his manager and other whalers aboard, with gifts for the children. He would arrive at the jetty with his sack and walk ashore to the accompaniment of carols from the Point residents before moving on to Grytviken church. The children had conveyed their wish lists through the radio telegrapher at the Point.

Hans Kristoffersen died at Uphall, West Lothian, Scotland on the 1 December 1957 aged 65 years. His wife Edith died on 11July 1979. They are both buried at Boghead Cemetery, Bathgate, West Lothian.


Ian Hart



March 2024 Biography first added to Dictionary