Bjørn Øien from Bjørnøya


Bjørnøya has almost everything. It has surgery with no doctor and a hospital with no nurse. It also has a cinema without no projectionist, a bakery with no baker, big engineering workshops with no workers, and an “Ocean Boulevard” lined with houses, but with no residents.

By: Ann Kristin Balto // Norwegian Polar Institute

These are the words Fritz Øien used when trying to convince his future wife that Bjørnøya would be a great place to spend the winter. Bjørnøya is a precipitous, almost inaccessible island located at a latitude of 74° North between Norway and Spitsbergen. The weather is essentially always bad, and the island is often shrouded in fog. In 1930 it was home to a manned meteorological station, an abandoned mining town, and tens of thousands of seabirds that flew south to warmer regions every winter. The reason Øien wanted to go to Bjørnøya was that the foreman at the meteorological station had fallen seriously ill and needed to go to the mainland for medical treatment. Consequently a new manager was required immediately. Fritz Øien, who had experience from several previous winters on Jan Mayen, was asked to go and was given an entire two hours to think about it. Fritz was tempted, but thought it would be preferable if he had a wife along for company. He was very busy for the next couple of hours.

Women banned from Bjørnøya

First, Fritz needed to overturn a provision laid down by Bjørnøen AS which stated: “Women are not permitted to stay on the island”. This provision applied to spending the winter there and was prompted by a brawl that had broken out a few years earlier. With the help of an acquaintance who was also a businessman in Tromsø, and a little white lie about already being married, Fritz persuaded Director Roaldkvam of Bjørnøen AS to let him take his “wife” along and spend the winter there. Fritz had Margareth Dalsbø in mind, so he dropped by to visit her. What a fantastic start for a marriage – a honeymoon on Bjørnøya, adventure just waiting for them. Fritz agreed to serve as manager at the weather station and the wedding took place in a great rush.

In October 1930 the newlywed couple boarded the ship Tromsø. They had a rough crossing, but after 13 days they arrived at the little polar ocean harbourage of Herwighamna on the northern side of the island. Their honeymoon soon produced results. Margareth was pregnant and the baby was due in May. Fritz spent a lot of time studying a large medical book he had found in the hospital with no doctor or nurse and learned (in theory) how to cut the umbilical cord. However, the parents-to-be were delighted when the vessel Sotra appeared on the horizon and Thor Iversen from the Directorate of Fisheries came ashore shortly afterwards. Margareth made it to Tromsø in time and gave birth to a son – who was naturally named Bjørn Øien.

Source: Fritz Øien: “Honeymoon on Bjørnøya”, Polarboken, 1958