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Historical perspective   Denmark has a long tradition for voyages of discovery and expeditions. From Jens Munk and Carsten Niebuhr to Galathea 1, Galathea 2 - and now Galathea 3.

Scientific research and exploration

Denmark has a long tradition for voyages of discovery and expeditions. The desire to venture out and gain new knowledge lies deeply rooted in most people...

In 1619, King Christian IV sent out Jens Munk and 63 men on three ships on a dangerous expedition to discover the North West Passage, the route North around America to the Pacific. Only one of the ships, with Jens Munk and two of his men, returned to Denmark a year later, without having completed their assignment.

Later, several marine expeditions were sent out on voyages to remote and unknown places in order to discover new land. The voyages went to the West Indies, Africa and Asia, where Denmark founded colonies.

In 1761, King Frederik V sent out six men on "The Arabian Journey", the first voyage of discovery to what is now known as Yemen. Only the geodesist Carsten Niebuhr returned home in 1767 as the sole survivor, and his discoveries gave a new impetus to the interest in the world beyond Denmark’s borders.

During the 1800s and 1900s, Danish expeditions explored Greenland and the Polar Region, while the interest in Asia driving Ole Olufsen’s and Henning Haslund-Christensen’s expeditions to Central Asia brought new knowledge and rich collections of artefacts to Denmark.

At the National Museum, the Museums of Natural History, Moesgård, the National Archive, the Royal Library, etc., we find today unique treasures which Danish expeditions have brought back to Denmark in the course of centuries.

The Galathea expeditions

In the long line of great Danish expeditions, the first two Galathea expeditions stand out with particular clarity. Partly because of their scope and findings, and partly because they had several destinations in common, which enabled scientists to observe the development stretching over an entire century.

Especially within scientific marine research, Denmark was in the vanguard among the European countries. The reasons for this included the fact that Denmark has always been a seafaring nation, as well as the fact that at a very early stage Denmark developed a tradition for close cooperation between science and the navy.

The corvette Galathea 1 sailed the oceans from 1845 to 1847 on the orders of King Christian VIII. The purpose of the expedition was, besides the exploration of the Nicobar Islands, the task of handing over the Danish colonies of Tranquebar and Frederiksnagore in India to the British East India Company, the expansion of the trade with China, and negotiation and conclusion of new trading contracts.

A little more than 100 years later, from 1950 to 1952, Galathea 2 went on an expedition to explore the deep sea, and the scientific results produced by this voyage in many ways exceeded the expectations. The activities on Galathea 2 also included ethnographic surveys.

The expedition became hugely popular among the Danish population, and more than 20,000 Danes went to the Langelinie quay in Copenhagen to welcome the frigate when she returned on 29 June 1952.

As the new millennium was approaching, and thus also the 50th anniversary of the departure of Galathea 2 from Copenhagen in 1950, the idea of launching a third a Galathea expedition was suggested from a number of quarters. It was the daily newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten that picked up the baton and developed a concept of Galathea 3 as a floating platform on which to gather and combine research activities, exploration and dissemination of scientific research information.  

The project was presented to the Government, and has since developed into a national project with the participation of some of Denmark’s strongest research environments and actors in the field of dissemination of scientific research.

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Carsten NiebuhrDressed in the splendid Arabian clothes that he had received as a gift from the imam of Sana.
Carsten Niebuhr
Dressed in the splendid Arabian clothes that he had received as a gift from the imam of Sana.
Illustration: I. F. Clemens



Marine expeditions

1619-20   Jens Munk’s expedition to discover the North West Passage
1761-67   The Arabian Voyage, the Middle East 
1840-41   Voyage with the frigate Bellona, South America 
1845-47   Galatea 1, voyage circumnavigating the Earth 
1884   Voyage with the cruiser Fylla, Greenland 
1886   Voyage with the cruiser Fylla, Greenland 
1895-96   The Ingolf Expedition, the Atlantic Ocean 
1908-10   The Thor Expeditionen, the Mediterranean
1913   Voyage with the scooner Margrethe, the Atlantic Ocean
1921-22   Dana Expedition 1, the Atlantic Ocean   
1928   The Godthaab Expedition, the Davis Strait 
1928-30   Dana Expedition 2, voyage circumnavigating the Earth 
1931-34   The Three-Year Expedition, Greenland 
1945-46   The Danish Atlantide Expedition, West Africa 
1947-49   Pearyland Expedition 1, Greenland 
1950-52   Galatea 2, voyage circumnavigating the Earth 
1961-62   The Noona Dan Expedition, the tropics 
1964   Pearyland Expedition 3, Greenland
1966   Pearyland Expedition 4, Greenland
1966   The Fifth Danish-Thai Expedition, Thailand 

Source: Torben Wolff: “Danske ekspeditioner på verdenshavene"