Christmas Day 2013 is the centenary of the consecration of The Whalers Church at Grytviken. The church was built at the initiative of Carl Anton Larsen, the founder and first manager of the whaling station.
Carl Anton Larsen was one of the most remarkable men in Antarctic history. Having established himself as a successful sealer and whaler in the North Atlantic, he led two pioneering whaling expeditions to Antarctic regions and was captain of Antarctic, the ship of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition. He was also interested in science and geographical discovery. When the Swedish expedition visited South Georgia, Larsen saw the potential of Grytviken as a whaling station, and in establishing the Compañia Argentina de Pesca and its whaling station at Grytviken, he proved to be a very good businessman. Larsen was manager of Grytviken from 1904 to 1914, where he was sometimes accompanied by members of his large family.
Larsen was interested in the social and mental welfare of his employees who were working in harsh conditions far from home and civilisation. He wrote that ‘it is a lot to expect to get good people to live for year after year down here in such a desolate place away from civilisation without anything good and useful to divert their minds'. In 1909 he discussed the welfare situation with Ivar Welle, the priest at the Norwegian Seamen's Mission in Buenos Aires, and in 1911 advertised in Norway for a 'priest and lecturer'. A newly-ordained Lutheran pastor, Kristen Løken, was appointed and arrived at Grytviken on 1 April 1912. He and Larsen discussed the possibility of building a church. Money was donated by some of the whaling companies and by individual whalers, but Larsen provided the largest donation and also guaranteed the balance of 15,000 kroner.
The wooden church was designed by the architect Adalbert Kielland, Larsen’s son-in-law, and pre-fabricated by Traevaerfabrik in Strømmen, Norway. It would have room for a congregation of 200 and had a room for reading and writing. The erection of the church started on 25 November 1913 and was carried out voluntarily by the station workers in their very limited free time. While the church was being built, he wrote in a letter to his wife: 'When I leave South Georgia I will have left a reminder behind me, hoping by the help of the Lord that the Church will be a blessing to someone.'
The church was ready for consecration at Christmas and the two bells that had been cast in Tønsberg, Norway, were rung at midnight on Christmas Eve. Kristen Løken officiated at the consecration of the church on Christmas Day. At the same time, he baptised Solveig Gunbjorg, the daughter of station manager Fridthjof Jacobsen, Larsen's nephew. The church was packed with men from all the whaling stations on South Georgia. In later years, Christmas and Easter were the only times when there was a good congregation. If whales had been brought in, work at the whaling station continued even on Sundays.
After Løken returned to Norway in 1914, there was sporadic attendance by pastors for short periods until 1931. For much of the time the church was rarely used for services. It was more often used for film shows and concerts, until a cinema was built in 1930 next to the church. It was also used as a carpenter's workshop and as a potato store. Funerals were an exception. The church had to be cleared out for the funeral of Sir Ernest Shackleton who died at Grytviken in 1922 and is buried in the cemetery. During the whaling years there were four weddings and it is now used for weddings of passengers from cruise ships.
After the Grytviken whaling station closed in 1964, the church remained empty and started to deteriorate. The British Antarctic Survey occupied King Edward Point in 1970 and personnel were able to carry out some maintenance to the church fabric. However, the building continued to worsen as water penetrated the roof and timbers rotted. In 1995 collapse of the building seemed imminent. The Commissioner for South Georgia, David Tatham, directed that it should be made sound and waterproof. Over the next few years there was a complete restoration that included strengthening the main frame, replacing the roof. The cross on the steeple was removed by a helicopter of the Royal Navy for repainting.
The church is now one of the attractions of a visit to Grytviken. It is the only building that has retained its original function. It is decorated for Christmas when passengers from cruise ships and crews of naval vessels hold carol services.
In 1988, the 75th anniversary of the church was celebrated with the installation of a bronze bust of C.A. Larsen by his grandson Hans-Kjell. In 1999, members of Øyas Venner (Friends of the Island) visited South Georgia on a cruise ship and held a service in the church which was conducted by the Acting Bishop of Tønsberg, Magnus Storli. The members of Øyas Venner are mainly men who had worked at South Georgia or are relatives of them. Another members’ cruise in 2013 will celebrate the centenary of the consecration with services, in Norwegian and English, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Text provided by Robert Burton, South Georgia Association.
Layout Bee Design
Printer BDT International
Perforation 14 per 2cms
Stamp size 36 x 36mm
Sheet Layout 10
Release date 24 December, 2013
Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
30p/65p The Whaling Museum, Sandefjord Norway
50p T. E. Binnie (photographed by E.B. Binnie)
75p Sarah Lurcock
£1 Robert Burton
£1.20 Dr Samantha Crimmin
FDC Bust and Blue Print: Antarctic Quest projects
We acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Hans-Kjell Larsen