Two Young Polar Explorers

16 Apr

Of the Polar explorers I have described previously many returned, sometimes repeatedly, to the places that had excited, exhausted and frustrated them to an extent that made return to civilization seem dull.

But today I am going to write about two young men,Thomas Bagshawe and Maxime Lester who went to Antarctica almost on an impulse and who never contemplated a return to Antarctic exploration.

Robert Burton, the well known Polar Expert wrote about these young men in Nimrod in 2018[1]  and he has given me permission to refer to his paper.

The British Imperial Antarctic Expedition (BIAE) of 1920-1922, is mostly forgotten nowadays, but was planned originally as a fantastically ambitious venture.  John Lachlan Cope, a surgeon and biologist, had been a member of the Ross Sea section of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition. He had been disappointed in the amount of microbiological work achieved on the Ross Sea party and wanted to return to Antarctica. He planned the expedition for the ‘glory of the British Empire’.   

Cope planned to sail in Scott’s old ship, the Terra Nova, on a 54 man, five year expedition, that would circumnavigate Antarctica, establish a base in the Ross Sea, make the first flight over the South Pole, explore for mineral deposits, obtain information about whales and encourage the creation of a British whale trade industry, investigate meteorological and magnetic conditions and continue exploration along the western edge of the Weddell Sea.

He failed to get funding! It is hard to avoid the impression that his  grandiose plans lacked detail and careful planning, The Royal Geographic Society announced in that it was not able to approve the plans or the leadership of the expedition, or to give it in any way its countenance or support. Unsurprisingly ‘The Grand Plan’ shriveled to ‘An expedition to Graham Land’ (the Antarctic Peninsula) –  many of the initial ambitions were achieved later during the Antarctic explorations of the American, Rear Admiral Richard Byrd.

Four men, rather than 54, set out in 1922 – 1) the leader, John Lachlan Cope, 2) an Australian, George Hubert Wilkins, a meteorologist who also had experience of aerial photography and who would later pioneer aeroplane flights in Antarctica. 3) nineteen year old Thomas Bagshawe, a 2nd-year Cambridge geology student, who gave up his studies to join the expedition and 4) Maxime Charles Lester aged twenty-nine, who had served in the British and Canadian navies in World War 1. He was the navigator and surveyor.  

Lack of transport to Antarctica was solved by an offer from Lars Christensen – a Norwegian ship owner and whaling magnet who was greatly interested in the Antarctic – to take the party, which included eight sheepdogs, to Snow Hill Island in the Antarctic.   Snow Hill, which was discovered by James Ross in the1840s, lies off the northeast tip of the Antarctic Peninsula (see map). It had been used as a base by Otto Nordenskjöld, the Swedish explorer in the early1900s and it was thought that the old hut could be used as a base.

From Snow Hill, Cope planned a sledge journey southwards along the Weddell coast. It was hoped that a connection could be made  between their starting point and that part of the Weddell coast line that had been discovered by Wilhelm Filchner in 1912 when he reached the Weddell Sea’s southernmost limit. This would significantly enlarge knowledge of the Western Weddell Sea coastline (see map).

This was an expedition where events rarely went to plan. Heavy sea ice ruled out access to Snow Hill Island – so it was decided that the party would be landed on the opposite side of the peninsula (abutting the South Atlantic Ocean) where a safe landing could be guaranteed. The party would then cross the mountainous spine of the peninsula to get to the shoreline of the Weddell Sea and explore the coast southwards as planned.

The party was landed at Paradise Bay (see Map). The four men with their supplies, dogs and coal given by the whalers, arrived via different whaling ships on the shore of Paradise Harbour on the peninsula west coast, on the 12th January 1921.

Paradise Bay (recent image)

The Antarctic Peninsula showing Snow Hill Island and Water Boat Point Island.

They landed on a small rocky island  with an extension they named ‘Water-boat Point’(64°49’S, 62°52’E), because of an abandoned water-boat there[2]. The island was almost entirely colonized by Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. From here Cope planned (as described above), to cross the mountains, reach the eastern side of the peninsula and explore south – this  route would have the advantage of being a shorter journey south than that previously planned from Snow Hill Island

The boat: height 3 feet 9 inches (1.4m)!!  length 27 feet (8.3 m), maximum width 10 feet,  (3.2 m), was their base. The four men slept in the stern of the boat and to start with, they lived in the hull. But more space (and standing room) was needed and they built an extension out of packing cases called ‘The Hut’. It was over the middle part of the boat and projected off one side. Their accommodation eventually included a sitting area, a kitchen and the outer hut on the side of the boat. Coal was stored beside the outer hut, wood near the kitchen.  A worry that the boat was on a slope and might tip into the sea was dealt with by blocking up the end with rubble.

The accommodation

PROBLEMS  WITH THE ACCOMMODATION

There was a shortage in domestic items, for example Bagshawe wrote that they only had one fork (from a picnic set) and that he had to make a second from a piece of packing-case wood.  

The ‘slatey’ coal, left by the whalers made for persistent problems.

The whale boat leaked water and Bagshawe wrote that as the water seeped into their sleeping bags, its temperature gradually increased to body temperature with the result that they lay in luke-warm baths.

Cope and Wilkins stayed for six weeks to help build the hut. But when it was realized that it was impossible, even with the dogs, to find a practical route across the 6,000feet mountains, they left, leaving Bagshawe and Lester to pursue the planned scientific programme in addition to the challenges of a winter in Antarctica.

Cope said that he would return the following year, pick them up, and try again for Snow Hill Island (In the event he completely failed to do this). Wilkins, returning with him, gave up on the expedition all together

                           Lester, Bagshawe and Cope

Bagshawe and Lester were to be the only two-man party ever to overwinter in Antarctica.

Why did they stay? They probably decided that, having arrived in Antarctica and planned to stay for the winter, this was what they were going to do, come what may. Bagshawe’s father wrote ‘… my son particularly did not want to come back to England in disgrace with his tail between his legs’.[3]

In remaining they also ignored the Norwegian whalers advice; but Bagshawe wrote that that Captain Anderson was like a father to them. He (the captain), promised, that if Cope did not return the following year, he would come himself.  This he did.

But how did they manage for the three hundred  and sixty-six days that they were on that desolate island?

DOMESTIC ROUTINES

Breakfast was at 8 am, Lunch (tea and biscuits) was at 1pm, supper at 6.30, bed at 8pm.   

Each Saturday there was a general clear up: sweeping up: hairs from bunks, floors and rugs etc throughout the boat; washing up in the kitchen; clearing the outer hut and chipping ice off the floor. They replenished the coal, dried the firewood, dug out the dog meat, seal meat and more coal from the snow, cleared the dog boxes, emptied the ash-box and the slop pail.

DIET

Malnutrition was not a problem on the whale boat –there was penguin and seal meat, but the monotony of the diet must have been very trying. Breakfast was always the same: hot pemmican (dried powdered meat mixed with an equal amount of melted fat), was followed by jam and biscuits, with tea to drink. There was a break mid afternoon with tea/sardines/ baked beans or biscuits with jam or marmalade. 
Pemmican was also eaten at supper, supplemented with seal and penguin meat. To achieve variety, flavourings were added –they had four tins of curry powder, two of ground celery seed and seven bottles of Worcester Sauce. These were cherished. The baked beans, sardines, jam and marmalade were rationed most carefully: Bagshawe wrote that every baked bean was eaten individually, every morsel was savoured!

One popular innovation was fried liver dotted with delicious cubes of fried blubber. Seal’s brain was like soft roe and ‘Spotted dick’ – suet pudding (using seal oil for suet) and with added raisins, was so solid that it kept them satisfied for days. They avoided alcohol which seemed to leave them feeling cold. They craved for fresh fruit. The absence of variety for a year was extremely monotonous.

When the penguins laid their eggs, the two resisted sampling any until it was absolutely certain there would be enough for the scientific observations

Their one luxury was a large box of crème de menthe (mint  sweets flavoured with alcohol). They allowed themselves one per night, with two on special occasions.

SCIENCE

Eminent Antarctic specialists such as Professors Frank Debenham and ‘Tony’ Fogg. have praised the amount of data that these two men, with no specific scientific training or knowledge of Antarctic work and with very few specialized pieces of equipment, managed to collect.

The carpenter of the whaling ship had built a meteorological screen (a shelter for the meteorological instruments), which held  a thermometer, hygrometer (water vapour) and a barometer (air pressure). On top, there was a home made wind vane. The screen was on a small hill which they climbed every two or four hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.(the times varied), throughout the whole year to make their observations.

                                  The Weather Station

View of the mountains in the distance, In the foreground is the water boat hut. On the small hill to the right is the weather station.

In addition, they made  a ‘cloud log’, noting visibility and precipitation details and they recorded the movement of icebergs and floes in the bay,

Work increased when the Gentoo Penguins returned in late August  having spent the winter north of the sea ice. They were followed by the Chinstraps in November. To identify individual nests and penguins during the incubation period, boulders were painted and coloured pebbles used and the birds themselves identified by Indian ink markings applied via a long bamboo. The young birds were also marked and their progress followed, sketched, and carefully documented. Later penguin embryos, and blown eggs were preserved.

                               Gentoo penguin with chick

It was found that males penguins always returned to their established  bases.

The two also made a record all kinds of life on the island, They sketched birds, seals, whales. They dredged specimens from the bay and preserved them in formalin and alcohol.

They made a tide gauge. This was a barrel filled with boulders, in the center which a pole was secured. The pole was calibrated with bands painted at three -inch intervals and the barrel was placed offshore so that tidal movements could be accurately charted.  Readings were made at one- or two-hourly intervals throughout the day for 46 days – a heroic undertaking. It was noted noted that the tides were getting less by mid November.

Lester made a panoramic photographic survey of the area. All their finding were carefully written up in their logbook.

They had a large supply of records which helped to while away their short periods of rest.

THE RETURN

They were picked up after a year and a day, by the Norwegian Whaling Captain. After their homecoming Bagshawe didn’t return  to Cambridge, but joined the family engineering firm. He wrote up his experiences in Two Men in the Antarctic. Later, he wrote a children’s’ book children’s book Pompey was a Penguin, The Bagshawe Glacier, was named after him

Lester returned to the Merchant Navy. He returned to Antarctica on the Discovery Expeditions, 1926 – 1927 which made surveys of the whaling grounds off South Georgia.

WHAT HAD THEY ACHIEVED?

Firstly, their scientific observations supplemented and enlarged those of earlier expeditions to the peninsula. Secondly, the study of the Gentoo and Ghinstrap penguins complimented the observations that had been made on Adélie penguins and added to knowledge on Antarctic penguins in general. In addition the men’s records of tides, sea ice, glaciers, botany and geology were of considerable value. All the specimens collected provided new information.

Lester’s panoramic view and photographic record of the region included images of whales, animals as well as the men’s activities. The images were fully annotated – an important aim of the records was to improve information for whalers in the area. Lester had to wait until his return before seeing the images as the men had no way of printing them on the island. Although the quality was not brilliant the photographs made a most useful addition to knowledge of the area. 

As Professor Fogg wrote…….  these two young man collected more data per man than any other expedition, until the advent of computers and satellites.

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[1] Burton, R. Nimrod 12: 13-24. 2018

[2] A Water Boat transports fresh water to ships

[3] Burton, R. Nimrod 12: 13-24. 2018

ADMIRAL ALBERT MARKHAM PART 4

24 Feb

Albert Markham’s life was so packed with incident that it is impossible to cover all his activities in a blog.  For example, he visited Novaya Zemlya (the Russian Arctic), reported on the ice conditions in the Hudson Bay, and served for years on the Royal Geographical Council, so in this final piece I shall concentrate on an event that was, very nearly, his nemesis.

In August 1891, Markham was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral,  and in March 1892 he was appointed Second-in-Command of the Mediterranean Fleet. The fleet consisted of two sections that covered the Mediterranean – the First Division  was  led by Vice-Admiral  Sir George Tryon, KGB.  Markham led the Second Division. For part of the year the First Division, under Sir George, toured the eastern Mediterranean, whilst the Second (Markham), patrolled the west. For the remainder of the year the two divisions combined operations.

The Mediterranean was vital to British interests It was  the main sea route between Britain and India. The Fleet protected these sea lanes.

In June 1893, the whole fleet was operating together for the annual training exercises.  The fleet was off the coast of North Africa. Sir George’s plan was that two lines of battleships should proceed in  columns towards Tripoli- one led by himself in his flagship, HMS Victoria, the second led by Markham, in HMS Camperdown.  There were six ships in total in Sir George’s column; five in Rear Admiral Markham’s.

HMS VICTORIA

Sir George Tryon was renowned as a daring and proficient tactician. It was said also that he could be obstinate, overbearing, taciturn and unapproachable. He believed that the best way to keep his crews up to the mark was by continual, new challenges.  

It has to be remembered  that 1893 was before the invention of wireless. Orders and messages  were transmitted by signal flags, semaphore and signal lamp.  By 1893 Tryon has developed  a new system of signaling  called  the T.A. system in which  complex manoeuvres could be handled with only a few simple signals. It was a system that required his ships’ captains to use their initiative and in this exercise, Sir George planned to test the system

On this disastrous occasion it was not the T.A. system that failed. It was his orders.

On the 21st June, 1893, the night before the manoeuvre, Tryon, unusually, discussed his plans with some of his officers on the Victoria. The  two columns would be 1,200 yards (1097.3 meters), apart and his plan was that the battleships should turn inwards in succession by 180°, reversing their directions at a distance of 400 yards. After this manoeuvre, the fleet would travel a few miles, slow down, and simultaneously turn 90° to port (left), and drop their anchors for the night.

It was absolutely contrary to naval tradition (and required courage)  to question the quick tempered Tryon, but Victoria’s Staff Commander did this, suggesting  that 1,200 yards was much too close, and that the columns should start at least 1,600 yards apart (though even this distance could leave an insufficient margin of safety – the normal turning circles of the ships involved apparently required a gap of 2,000 yards between the two columns –this would leave a space of only 400 yards on completion of the manoeuvre). Tryon had actually agreed with the objection. But his later signal reverted to his original plan. He confirmed his instructions when confirmation was sought.

As there was no pre-determined code in the signal book for this manoeuvre, Tryon sent separate orders to the two divisions. They were:

“Second division alter course in succession 16 points (a point is 11,25 degrees),to starboard  (right), preserving the order of the fleet.” “First division (led by Victoria), alter course in succession 16 points to port preserving the order of the fleet.”

But what of Markham?  He did not attended the briefing on HMS Victoria.  This was because he was recovering from a bout of Mediterranean fever. He had a high temperature. He thought it wisest to rest, so as to be best prepared for the manoeuvre. But it was clearly most unfortunate that he, as Second in Command did not contribute to the discussion – he would have raised concerns.

When the instructions were actually signaled, Markham immediately grasped the dangers. He delayed sending his acceptance to the order and actually prepared a semaphore signal – Am I  to understand that it is your wish for the columns to turn as indicated by signal now flying?

This signal was not sent. This was to haunt Markham for the remainder of his life. He had received another signal from the Tryon. What are you waiting for? He had an enormous admiration for the Vice–Admiral who was a personal friend. None of the other nine Captains had raised objections. At the subsequent court martial, in which he appeared as a witness, he stated that he thought that Tryon (who often devised plans which were difficult to understand at first, but which subsequently became clear), had a plan that would result in Victoria wheel around Camperdown, rather than turning inwards.

He would not refuse to comply with a direct order, He followed instructions.

It was too late when it became obvious to Sir George that a collision was inevitable. Victoria made a tight turn, while Markham executed a slower standard starboard turn with the unavoidable result. But so ingrained was naval discipline that the Captain  of Victoria, who asked Tryon three times for permission to order the engines astern (backwards), only acted when he had received that permission. It was only at the last moment that Tryon shouted across to Markham, “Go astern! Go astern!”

Camperdown rammed Victoria.  A ram is a fearsome underwater prolongation from the bow of a ship, designed to damage any opposition and Camperdown left a gaping hole below the waterline in Victoria’s hull.  When Camperdown did reverse, more water poured in as Victoria’s watertight doors had not been closed. The whole scenario only lasted  minutes.

Initially Tryon had no conception that the damage was ‘mortal’ – the damage was forward in the ship and the engine room was still functioning. He  ordered his ship to head for the shore and actually ordered rescue boats, sent by the surrounding ships, to turn back.

 

But five minutes after the collision, Victoria’s  bow had sunk 15 feet, and she was listing  Water came through the gun ports. The forecastle (forward part of a ship below the deck) became submerged. The hydraulic power failed meaning the ship could not be turned, there was no power to launch the lifeboats. Eight minutes after the collision,  the stern (rear), of the ship had risen out of the water.

In the forward section of the ship, men were still struggling to secure bulkheads (partitions) as water washed in around them. Some of the men were washed away, some were  trapped.

Orders were given to abandon ship, but  too late. Victoria  healed over  and capsized just 13 minutes after the collision. She slipped into the water, bow first, stern upended, her propellers still rotating.  A terrible event and terrible for the onlookers –  some men were sucked down with the sinking ship, some cut to pieces by the propellers. Three hundred and fifty eight of Victoria’s complement died.

Those who survived and those who watched  this terrible and awful scene would never recover from the experience.

Sir George Tryon, in time-honoured  fashion went down with his ship. He stood on the top of the chart-house as the ship sank. He is said by  two surviving officers to have admitted, before Victoria sank, that the disaster was his fault.

The stricken Camperdown, despite being damaged, somehow managed to keep going. None of her crew died. 

Markham’s telegraph from Malta wrote of  the irreparable loss of  Sir George, twenty two officers and three hundred and thirty six men. His shock, sorrow and grief were overwhelming.

A court martial was opened  in Malta in July1893. Reporters were allowed to witness some of the proceedings. Surviving senior officers confirmed that Tryon had given the fatal orders.  Markham appeared as a witness, as previously mentioned. He was in a difficult position – he did not want to imply criticism of his chief. He confirmed that he had had an idea  that the Admiral planned to have Victoria wheel around Camperdown.

The court exonerated Victoria’s survivors and found Tryon responsible for the disaster, but Markham was criticized. Although he had obeyed orders,  a conclusion was that he should have followed his first instinct and aborted the manoeuvre. He should have sent the telegram  that questioned Tryon’s orders. Clearly this was a retrospective conclusion – had he not obeyed orders, had there been no collision, he would undoubtedly have been court-martialed for insubordination.  Tryon gave his orders in person; ignoring them was virtually impossible in the naval hierarchy of the time.

But Markham was to suffer. The Admiralty  subsequently supported the Court’s findings and questioned Markham’s judgment. He was put on half pay for over seven years and for this time he was without a commission  – a deep humiliation for a man who thought ‘idleness the enemy of the soul’.

But there were some compensations. Aged fifty two, in 1893, he unexpectedly married. His bride was Theodora Gervaise, aged nineteen! the sister of one of his midshipmen. The marriage seems to have been happy.  He had a daughter who gave him great joy. He was promoted to Vice Admiral in 1897. But he became depressed.

                                              Theodora and Albert

Theodora offered strong support. Witnessing her husband’s unhappiness and sadness, she wrote (with some trepidation and without her husband’s knowledge), to The Prince of Wales, the future George V. The Prince was Markham’s friend and Godfather to his daughter. Theadora pleaded for help. The appeal succeeded. In 1901 Markham  was appointed Commander in Chief, the Nore. The Nore is a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames Estuary at the seaward limit of the Port of London Authority  – it is a major hazard for shipping coming in and out of London. This was his first appointment for over seven years and he relished in it.

He was made Admiral in 1903 and later in the same year he was knighted. He retired in 1906. He had an active retirement: working for the Minesweepers’ Fund,he wrote, he entertained officers of the Canadian Expeditionary force.

He died of a chest infection in October 1918 .Letters of sympathy poured in. Many of his comrades wrote of the effect he had had on their lives. At he funeral colleagues eulogised him as a capable, hard working , conscientious officer, a courageous explorer and a loyal friend.

The Victoria was not mentioned.

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Admiral Albert Markam Part 3

20 Jan

                    

Some men seem destined to a life of action and exploration and Albert Markham definitely falls into this category – but in addition, he was always keen to contribute to advances in science and had a life-long interest in the natural world. These interests were combined in his next adventure. 

He did not return to Australia after the Enquiry (see Albert Markham part 2). His enthusiasms deviated towards the renewal of interest in the Arctic. Exploration in the Arctic had ceased after the loss of Sir John Franklin’s ill- fated northern (sailing) expedition of 1845. Sir John, his ships Erebus and Terror, their entire crews, who had set out to find a route through the Northwest Passage, had disappeared without trace. A number of expensive searches to find clues as to the cause of the disaster had been unsuccessful and because of this, government enthusiasm for northern adventure had diminished. But, by the 1870’s the Royal Geographical Society had begun to push for a renewed thrust north. Albert’s cousin, Clements Markham was one of the Society’s officials who called for government support for Arctic exploration. There was a concern that the prolonged peace that the country had experienced had ‘softened’ its naval officers in a detrimental way. The Society’s officials opined that exploration would provide a much needed stimulus.

The government needed to be convinced. Although today, the Arctic is a source of international interest and conflicting ambitions, official support for a reduction in global warming is likely to be balanced by the desire to take advantage of both reduced shipping times as the ice melts and the possibilities of oil and mineral extraction – this was not the case  in the 1870s.  Information about Arctic conditions was sparse. It was uncertain what, or indeed if any, benefits would result from further knowledge. A recce by an intelligent naval officer was required. Markham volunteered and was appointed in 1873. Remarkably he relinquished his previous naval status (Commander) and sailed as a Second Mate crew member on a whaling steamer going to Baffin Bay. His aim, apart from studying whaling, was: to report on how steamers could manage the icy conditions of the Davis Strait and the Baffin Sea (see map), to assess the best route for steam vessels and to consider the best location from which to make an attempt on the North Pole.

When he was on this whaling excursion Markham had the opportunity to question survivors of an ill-fated American ship, the USS Polaris, which had been caught in the ice on her return from her northern voyage and eventually crushed. These men advised Markham about the conditions in Smith Sound, the passage between Greenland and Ellesmere Island (see map), which links Baffin Bay with the Lincoln Sea. They considered that Smith Sound would be the best place from which to approach the North Pole – they told Markham that they had experienced a ‘mild’ temperature in the area  and there had been little snow. This was encouraging news for Markham. When he returned to England he published, A Whaling Cruise to Baffin’s Bay and the Gulf of Boothia, and an Account of the Rescue of the Crew of the Polaris. He gave lectures. He  concluded  that Ellesmere Island would be the best place for a base from which to attempt to reach the North Pole. However  clearly, no one, at that time, fully appreciated the dramatic change in conditions that can occur between seasons.

Map of Sir George Nares’ progress north

Support for the northern expedition was given by the Royal Geographical Society and by Prime Minister, Disraeli. Her Majesty’s Government accepted and financed the proposal which would ‘advance scientific knowledge and encourage the spirit of maritime enterprise’.

The British Arctic Expedition (1875-76), was led by Sir George Nares. There were two ships, the Alert, captained by Sir George and the Discovery. captained by Henry Stephenson. Markham was  second-in-command on Alert. Sir George’s brief was to advance along the west coast of Greenland via Smith Sound(see map). From here, it was believed, there would be open water as far as the pole over which the expedition would sail. In essence Nares was to get as far as possible to the North Pole and to explore whatever coasts the travelling parties could reach.

After a departure in May 1875, progress was slow. The Arctic Circle was crossed on the 4th July followed by slow progress up the west coast of Greenland towards Smith Sound. The entry to Smith Sound was obstructed by thick masses of ice. Nares, had to wait patiently for lanes to open before progressing, often at less than a mile per day. The conditions were far, far worse than expected from the descriptions Markham had been given by the Americans but Nares was the first to take his ships all the way north to the Lincoln Sea.  The assumption that this would then open to an ice-free region that surrounded the pole was completely false – Nares found that the reality was a wasteland of ice – the polar sea was a myth.The ships progressed north with caution, sometimes waiting for lanes to open up, sometimes boring through ice floes, until they reached Lady Franklin Bay at 81°4’N. Here there was a good supply of fresh meat (musk).Fresh meat was thought to be helpful in the fight against scurvy because of its vitamin C content (in fact it contains virtually none) and here Nares decided that Discovery  should set up winter quarters. Discovery would act as a secondary base should some disaster befall Alert.

Alert continued  her northward progress around the tip of Grant Land (the northern part of  Ellesmere Island) and in early September 1875 Nares reached 82°24’N. Fifteen days later he  reached 82°27’N, and made his base in a bay safe enough to winter in.

Map of Islands around North Pole showing Lincoln Sea between Lincoln Sea and Ellesmere Island

                                      Alert in the Arctic ice

From this base teams were sent out to explore the region and collect as much scientific data as possible. Markham led one of these sorties. The men were totally unprepared for the dreadful conditions, their sealskin suits and wool guernseys did not give adequate protection, they got soaked and then iced up. Markham turned back  after only four days.   A second sortie was attempted. This time the team had to battle with big ice ridges – they had to unload all the items from the sledge, carry them over the ridges and then repack the sledges Markham decided to halt the advance in early October. He left the site as the expeditions newest northernmost depot. No more expeditions were attempted before the winter.

                                                    

Manhauling

The achievements of the 1875 expedition were: the British flag had been taken further north than had previously been reached, and unknown regions had been explored and charted.

Both Nares and Markham were concerned for, and considerate of, the welfare of their men. The winter months passed surprisingly smoothly considering the conditions. Entertainment was provided: an ice rink, firework displays, boxing matches, and most importantly, evening classes. ‘The Royal Arctic Theatre’ featured the officers’ attempts to entertain the crew.

The sun appeared after 142 days and the early part of 1876 was spent continuing to collet data and specimens and in charting Ellesmere Island.

In April, Albert Markham and Lieutenant Alfred Parr led a Pole Party of fifteen men, pulling two sledges, boats and three support sledges. Leaving their base at 82°27’N the Markham party initially  travelled with another group led by a Lieutenant Aldridge, from whom they separated after two weeks. The men battled again through the most atrocious conditions – deep snow and more large hummocks (mounds), through which they had to cut a path with shovels and pick axes Some days they covered seven miles, some days very few and on other days they had to just had to wait for storms to pass. Their clothes froze solid, their sleeping bags became encrusted in ice from breath and sweat  and increased in weight.  They were exhausted, but what was to finally incapacitate them was the onset of scurvy, the dread of all long expeditions and voyages.

It is now known that scurvy is due to a deficiency of vitamin C. However the concept of vitamins had not been considered in the 1870s, although it was known from the seminal work of James Lind in the 1740s, that a mixture of oranges and lemons resulted in a rapid improvement in symptoms. Unfortunately, in  1870, the Navy was issuing lime juice to its personnel. The juice, sourced in the West Indies, had less antiscorbutic qualities than lemon.[1]

Markham seems to have taken time to realize that the problem was  scurvy – he knew that they had eaten meat, which was thought to be helpful against scurvy.[2]  He thought his men were simply suffering from swollen knees and ankles due to their exertions (he clearly did not think of examining their gums), but as progress became slower and slower and more men became incapacitated, the diagnosis became obvious. He was to be criticized in the subsequent enquiry for not taking a sufficiency of lime juice on his sortie. Eventually the sick men had to be hauled on sledges by their already weakened companions.

Further Manhauling

With what seems in retrospect to be unbelievable determination, Markham continued north until he reached 83° 20’N. in May (see  map of Progress North and map below). This region was 400 miles from the Pole, the furthest north that had been achieved.

By this time only a few men were still able to function adequately and he had to turn back. Even then his courage did not desert him and he arranged a flag raising ceremony (and some more observations)

 

Markham’s most northern camp

Painted by Richard Brydges Beachey

The return journey was yet another a battle to survive, the pack ice was melting, it was important to get to firm land before being cut off on ice floes (and having to man those boats). The team deteriorated to an extent that, forty miles from base, there were only two officers and two men fit enough to work, a potentially disastrous situation. Here  Lieutenant Alfred Parr, Markham’s second in command, showed his sterling qualities. He volunteered to make a solo sortie to get help. This risky, brave journey – he did not stop for twenty four hours – brought rescue teams to Markham’s desolate group. There was one death. It is said that when they reached Alert, of the over fifty men on board, only three men could actually walk.

Nares decided to return to England a year earlier than planned. His two ships reached Portsmouth in November 1876. He could claim that the expedition had explored an area that was previously unknown, they had reached a record northern latitude, had mapped a considerable portion of the north Greenland coast and collected  much significant scientific data.

The reception in England was mixed. Predictably questions and criticism soon surfaced. Although Queen Victoria applauded the expedition’s achievements and Nares was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Medal and Markham was given a gold watch by the society, the press and public opinion was critical. It was said that the expedition had failed in its goal of reaching the Pole, there had been much illness due to scurvy, and a death. An official inquiry blamed Nares for failing to carry out orders correctly   The expedition was (unbelievably), dubbed ‘The Polar Failure’.  Markham was blamed for not taking a sufficiency of lime juice for his crew on his north pole sortie – although, as mentioned above, it is doubtful even if the lime juice had been issued, this would have improved the outcome to any significant extent.

This expedition extinguished the Admiralty’s interest in Arctic exploration and Albert Markham was criticized, particularly over the  lime juice deficiency. But his record of determination, his sense of duty and his achievements were obvious.  This was officially recognized when he was promoted to Captain.

TO BE CONTINUED


[1] The lime juice from the West Indies contained less vitamin C than lemon juice and was transported across the Atlantic in containers that further  damaged its potency. i.e. it was relatively inefficient

[2] Meat contains little vitamin C. Heating causes further damage

Short film on Sir Clements Markham

11 Dec

I am preparing a formal presentation on Sir Clements Markham. In the meantime, I have made this short version as an introduction to the subject.

I hope you will find this of interest.

Admiral Albert Hastings Markham -continued

4 Dec

On his return to England in 1864, Markham passed the examinations to become a Lieutenant. He was assigned to HMS Victoria, the Mediterranean flagship – the Royal Navy had an extraordinary reach and size at this time – where he was to spend three interesting years. The posting gave him the opportunity to indulge his interest in countries and cultures and he was able to visit Turkey, Egypt, the Holy Land, Greece and the Aegean islands. 

In 1868  he was appointed First Lieutenant of HMS Blanche. Blanche was sent to the Australia Station. Her first assignment was in New Zealand where her Captain’s orders were to protect English settlements and the local colonial government against guerilla attacks led by local Maori leaders who had attacked the local militia and constabulary.   The visible presence of the Royal Navy was such that no action was  actually needed – the sight of warships had a markedly restraining effect on the rebels and was reassuring to those loyal to the crown. The Colonial Secretary expressed his sincere appreciation of the ship’s powerful message.

Whilst he was on this posting,  Markham submitted a design for the New Zealand national ensign – a royal blue background, a Union Jack and four pointed white stars surrounding four pointed red stars- signifying New Zealand’s place in the South Pacific. The submission was approved and the flag remains to this day..

Blanche  then sailed from New Zealand to the Solomon Islands following reports of an attack on an English vessel. The response was immediate. Markham was present when a party of sailors destroyed a local village and killed a chief. This response must have been a significant deterrent against further attacks.

In 1871, aged 30,  Markham was appointed temporary commander  of HMS Rosario. This was an important assignment. Markham’s  instructions were to investigate the alleged kidnapping of thousands of native peoples from the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and the Solomon Islands and their transport to Australia.  Men were wanted for work on Australian plantations because after the American Civil War, the Union had blocked the activities of the cotton producing Southern States. This had led to an increase in the price of cotton and establishment of new cotton plantations, in this case in Australia. 

Robert Towns instigated this profitable practice of recruitment in conjunction with a local trader Henry Lewin, who organized a regular flow of workers. Soon other plantation owners saw the benefits of such a scheme and followed the practice.  These man profited greatly from the  trade which grew rapidly. Slavery had been abolished  throughout the Empire in 1833 and concerns grew as to whether the men were being  transported legally, or by prohibited methods. Humanitarian organizations were appalled at this possibility and Christian missionaries claimed that the trade was a form of slavery. A group of missionaries approached the Queensland authorities to demand an investigation into the activities; Queen Victoria herself successfully urged the British Parliament to pass a bill outlawing the kidnapping of men in the South Pacific.

Enter Albert Markham! He was ordered to board and inspect all ships flying the Union Jack to check if local people were being transported and if so, to check that the ships were acting within the law with regards to their transportation.  This was a most difficult and delicate assignment.  Markham knew well that the ships involved in the transport were often owned by men of great local influence who, moreover, were reaping big profits.   He knew that previous attempts at prosecution had been unsuccessful  –  when one transport ship had been confiscated, her crew were acquitted at the subsequent trial and the officer making the arrest was sent a bill for damages to the impounded ship. Markham decided to proceed with caution – rather than preemptive action, he would issue warnings to ships under suspicion (unless he intercepted a ship actually in the act of kidnapping).  He had to obey orders, but his Christian beliefs would have dictated that he acted in moderation.

In October 1872 Markham set out to consult with Bishop John Patteson about recent murders in the region. Sadly he  was informed that the Bishop (a man of sympathy and respect for the native communities), had been murdered on the island of Nukapu along with three of his companions,   The local missionaries urged Markham not to take revenge on the islanders but to concentrate on stamping out the terrible, illegal trade and he agreed. As Rosario  toured the Southern Islands on her way to Nukapu, suspicious ships were stopped and searched.

It transpired that the murder of the Bishop was an act of retaliation against the kidnapping of five Nukapu inhabitants by a visiting ship. It is thought that the men of Nukapu had decided to kill the first white man who came into their domain. This man was, unfortunately, the Bishop, who, along with his companions, suffered a terrible death.  

But these appalling murders served to strengthen the movement against illegal kidnapping. The bishop’s death highlighted the terrifying situation of the local peoples.

En route to Nukapu, Markham detoured to investigate an attack on a British ship that had been made by the inhabitants of another island, Nguna. The inhabitants had resisted an attempt to abduct their men as labourers.  Local missionaries informed Markham as to the villages that had taken part in the attack, an attack that injured the captain and mate. Rosario reached Nguna in November 1872. Here Markham stressed to his men the importance of not firing on the local people (as was emphasized in the subsequent enquiry).  He sent a message to the Chief asking to meet him, but receiving no reply, advanced, with his men into the island. As they reached the village, musket shots could be heard and the villages were rallied to resistance by the sound of concha shells being blown.  Attacks by the villagers continued (with no counter attack) and Markham eventually ordered that half the village should be destroyed. Subsequently he sent a message offering to meet the chief but again, receiving no reply, he ordered the destruction of the other half of the village. A second village involved in the attack was also destroyed. As Rosario sailed around the island Markham ordered that warning shots be fired at a beach, but again ordered that the shot should avoid the inhabitants

Rosario reached Nukapu some three weeks after this episode. Again, Markham stressed that there should be no firing on the local peoples. The British advance was met this time with repeated hails of arrows.  Markham decided to burn the village as he had done in Nguna, but sent warning shots beforehand to allow the villagers to escape and, it is thought, most did though some defiant men stood their ground, continuing  to loose off arrows. It is unknown as to whether there were casualties. No further information concerning  Bishop Patteson’s murder was obtained.

Markham was  then informed of the disappearance of a trading ship, The Wild Duck. Arriving at the village where the ship had last been seen, he ascertained that the crew had been killed and eaten by the villagers because they (the crew), had attempted to kidnap some of the locals. Remarkably, Markham  simply imposed a fine of twenty-five pigs. But when the fine was not paid, he repeated the punishment of setting fire to the village.

When Rosario returned to Australia after a tour of  sixteen weeks Markham had inspected sixteen ships who were transporting native people and were flying the Union Jack.

He retained his sympathy towards the islanders, concluding that they had a widespread distrust of traders in general and this resulted in attacks on local ships, not necessarily involved in transportation of labourers. He opined that many traders were kidnapping the islanders in a way that amounted to virtual slavery and that this activity was immoral. In his report he suggested that, as the trade was so widespread, it could only be curtailed by Royal Naval ships regularly visiting and inspecting the various islands.

He must have been unprepared for the criticism that followed. His actions in  Nguna and Nukapu were attacked in the press, particularly relating to his indiscriminate firing of guns. It was suggested that he had gone to Nukapa solely to avenge Bishop Patteson’s murder. He  was described as a vengeful bully. Missionaries joined in in some of the criticism –he should not have gone to the islands without an interpreter, but they resisted the concept that he had acted out of revenge and said he had always attempted to act with moderation towards the local people.

He was subjected to an Admiralty enquiry. During this ordeal he was supported by testamonials from his officers who stated that Markham’s orders had always been to fire at objects (trees, rocks), to avoid attacking the native people. The officers also stated that they could not confirm any local deaths.  

Markham finally was exonerated. The Admiralty eventually accepted, having heard all the evidence, that his actions had probably not resulted in  loss of life in Nguna or Nukapu

He had clearly been right to be wary of his brief from the start. He was placed in the difficult position of balancing justice with mercy. He was a representative of the British Crown – if there had been no retaliation against the attacks, the Union Jack’s authority would have been diminished, dismissed. The attacks would have continued. His actions were a powerful warning to the islanders against further violence.

He never returned to the Australia station. But his career was not irretrievably damaged by the enquiry. He was promoted to Commander. 

TO BE CONTINUED

Mac Gabriel

27 Nov

Dutch actor Mac Gabriel is a keen admirer of Edgar Evans.

Introduction to Shackleton film

14 Nov

Hello,

Nearly all my talks were cancelled this year so I am making synopses of some.

I hope that these will be of interest to those of you who were not able to see the full presentation.

Here is one on Shackleton!

Isobel

Admiral Albert Markham 1841-1914 Part 1

7 Nov

Of the numerous families that can be included in the description ‘the backbone of Victorian England’, the Markham family have an indisputable claim. 

The family’s roots can be  traced as far back as the Norman Conquest, the family tree documented from the time of Edward the Confessor and in the 1800s the Markhams made notable contributions. The navy and the church are heavily represented in the Reverend David Frederick Markham’s 1854 proud record of his relations and ancestors. Descriptions of Lieutenants, Captains, Vice Admirals, Admirals, along with Reverends, Canons, Deans, Archdeacons, Archbishops are listed. In addition there are Sheriffs, Knights, County Lieutenants, military men and Members of Parliament. Archbishop William Markham (1719-1807), was chaplain to George II and an instructor to his sons, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.  Sir Clements Markham (Albert Markham’s cousin), born in 1830, was Secretary and subsequently President of the Royal Geographical Society for many years.  Throughout, a keen intellect, a curiosity and an enthusiasm for learning seems to have been a persistent family trait.

In 1841 Albert Hastings Markham  was born into this impressive family. His birthplace was  Bagnères-de-Bigorre,  a commune situated at the base of the Pyrenees.  Albert was the fifth surviving son of John Markham a naval officer who had retired from the navy on health grounds at the age of twenty seven. Money was tight and aged thirteen, Albert was sent to London to live with his father’s sister in law, Catherine Markham. the widow of his paternal uncle, David Markham, Canon of Windsor. This uncle was the father of Clements Markham. Catherine was a woman of faith and she encouraged Albert in his religious beliefs. She and her family gave Albert every possible support. Her home became his home.

Clements Markham was eleven years older than Albert and he had a profound influence over the young man. A lifelong friendship was established as Clements became Albert’s confidant and mentor – by this time Clements had spent four years on the Pacific Station, had travelled in Peru and had been to the Arctic on one of the attempts to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition. He would have been a glamorous role model to the young Albert.

Although Albert was destined to have a notable career, its beginning was inauspicious.  His impoverished father’s attempts to find  sponsorship for his son’s entry to the Navy were initially unsuccessful. Also the entry age was fourteen. Albert was fifteen by the time the arrangements were finalized. Fortunately the Navy changed its policy and decided to take ‘older’ cadets – a sponsor, an uncle (a member of Parliament), nominated Albert and after intense tuition organized by his aunt Catherine, Albert met the qualifications required by the Lords Commissioners. He was accepted as a cadet in Her Majesty’s Navy. He  was delighted.  He got fitted for his uniform immediately and, brandishing his  sword (and, as he said, his newly acquired dignity), he paraded with glee in front of his school friends.

He recognized the opportunities offered by the Navy would allow him to follow his particular interests – learning about new cultures, reading and seeing the world. In this way he greatly resembled his cousin Clements, but unlike Clements he was never a social animal. He was perceived as being awkward and uninterested when he had to attend the relentless social engagements that were an unavoidable part of peace time naval life.  

But once in the Navy he made steady progress through the ranks, retiring  aged sixty-five in 1906.  Progress was as follows;

1856: Cadet /   1857: Midshipman /   1862: Lieutenant/   1872: Commander/   1876: Captain/   1889-1889: Portsmouth Dockyard Reserve /  1889: Commodore  Training Station/   1891: Rear Admiral /   1897: Vice Admiral    /1903: Admiral

His first years were on the China Station. This experience would transform a fifteen-year old cadet into a veteran officer.  Between 1856 and1864 he was posted to: Camilla, Niger, Retribution, Coromandel and Centaur.  Throughout, he demonstrated his family characteristics of courage and determination in full.

At that time China was ruled by the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Intrigue was rife.

 .

IMPERIAL SEAL OF THE QING DYNASTY

HMS Camilla arrived at Hong King in 1857 after a tortuous journey of 156 days. Hong Kong had  been a British colony for some 15 years and by this time trade, namely the export of opium, cotton and wool and imports of tea and silk, had become an important part of the Empire’s economy. Foreigners were regularly attacked. The Royal Navy was inextricably embroiled with pirate raids on the harbour.

Within months of arrival at Hong Kong, Albert showed he possessed the family ‘spunk’. The fifteen year old cadet was instructed to lead six sailors, and two marines against a Chinese pirate junk that had about thirty men on board. In spite of the odds against them, Albert, flourishing his pistol and sword, charged with his men onto the junk. The pirates fled. The junk was destroyed on the orders of Camilla’s Captain. The pirate’s stronghold (about 500 pirates), was destroyed later.

Following the attack on the stronghold, nearly fifty of the pirates were handed over to the local authorities. The British were however appalled, when the order was given that these unfortunates were to be beheaded in a particularly gruesome way – forced to kneel in two lines and decapitated sequentially (one young boy was spared). This was an awful spectacle that affected the English spectators deeply and an unforgettable introduction to the horrors of war for a fifteen year old boy.

When he was seventeen Markham was transferred to Niger.  Here, as throughout the deployment in China, further expeditions to hunt down pirates were made. Pirates were chased, captured, killed. Bases were destroyed.

Following his service on Niger  Markham was reassigned to Retribution in the Indian Ocean. Retribution was initially employed in laying underwater telegraph cables in the Indian Ocean but her duties changed when news arrived of the repulse of an Anglo-French fleet that had attacked the Taku Forts in northern China. These forts were originally built to protect Tianjin, the largest port in North China and the main sea gateway to Peking (Beijing). The fleet had been sent to attack the Taku Forts because the Qing rulers refused to recognize agreements made in a Treaty of 1858 (the treaty included allowing the British to continue the opium trade in China).

Markham was transferred to Coromandel  for a second, return attack in 1860. This was an Anglo French assault of about 18,000 men, against the heavily defended forts. The attack was made primarily against the walls of the forts.  Many Qing were wounded, one hundred were killed. The British, on this occasion, had relatively few casualties and following the successful attack, seven Victoria Crosses were awarded. The Chinese authority’s eventual capitulation allowed for the allied occupation of Peking in October 1860.

ATTACK ON THE TAKU FORTS

This illustrates what must have been the awfulness of the situation.

Markham was aged eighteen.

In Peking the allied forces, learning that a detachment of Chinese cavalry had withdrawn to the Summer Palace advanced and looted the Palace. Many precious objects were sent back to Europe, many fabulous riches destroyed.  The event was recorded by Charles George Gordon (later Gordon of Khartoum), as a ‘scene of utter destruction that defied description’.

                                 LOOTING OF THE SUMMER PALACE 1860

Politics continued to ensnare the Navy. The ruling Qing dynasty had to face a rebellion in the form of the ‘Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’ lead by the self – proclaimed ‘second son of God and younger brother of Jesus’, Hong Xiuquan. The problem for the British was that the rebels advanced on ports including Shanghai. The second son of God’s aim was to cut off the Qing’s supply route, but inevitably, any blockade affected British interests. Markham was thus involved in the defense of Shanghai– a thirty mile buffer zone. He had just passed his exams to become a sub-lieutenant and  was transferred to Centaur  where he was involved in a remarkably brave encounter with the insurgents. He was sent on a ‘pirate ambush’ on a junk (so designed to confuse the insurgents), that was manned by Chinese, but with British sailors on board. He himself, wearing a Chinese fur coat, sat on deck close to a howitzer (gun), that was hidden by a sail. When a  rebel boat came to attack the seemingly defenceless junk, Markham threw off his disguise, stood up in his British uniform, summoned the British support from below deck and fired the howitzer. The battle continued for hours. The pirates were captured. Markham was victorious. He was promoted to the rank of Acting Lieutenant.

Centaur was posted to Japan where further problems manifested themselves. A party of English was brutally attacked for refusing to give way an Imperial caravan –a serious insult. One of the British party, personally known to Markham, had his abdomen slit open, his arm ‘virtually ‘ severed, plus over twenty wounds. Others in the party had serious injuries. Markham led a successful detachment to reclaim the body. But vengeance for the attack was denied, to his chagrin. It was considered that in the event of retribution, or the Prince  being taken prisoner, the Samurai would counter attack and the British would be unable to protect their many settlements.

But to be on the safe side, the British are said to have prepared for any contingency this by ostensibly playing a game of cricket! – a rouse for having men and guns on shore.  There was no attack.  Markham’s team won. It was Japan’s first cricket match.!

Centaur returned to England with the twenty two year old naval veteran.  Markham had not only occupied these years in military engagements. He  had developed  what was to be a lifelong interest in birds, he appreciated the charm of  mainland China, its temples and historic sites. He read, he studied amongst other things Greek and Latin. A truly impressive record.

TO BE CONTINUED

With thanks to Frederick Markham a senior member of the Markham family who has encouraged this piece on Albert Markham

BANZARE

9 Oct

It is impossible to leave Mawson’s many achievements without saluting the British, Australian (and) New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition  -BANZARE,  of 1929 to 1931. Mawson led these expeditions.

The 1926 Imperial Conference proposed that Great Britain  should claim control of  the Antarctic quadrant 45° – 160° E

BANZARE EXPEDITIONS 1929 and 1931

Mawson led two summer expeditions to the continent. These expeditions, funded by all three countries were both geopolitical and scientific. The stated reason for the expeditions was to carry out further exploration and scientific activities in land claimed by Britain – but this  work would, of course, underline British territorial claims.  Mawson planed  to use air transport as well as his ship ‘Discovery’, to make geological and biological investigations rather than setting up land bases.

Extensive investigations were made along the 1550 mile coast line between 40 -160°E. Much of the coast line was mapped for the first time and it was confirmed that the coast  between Ross Island and Enderby Island was continuous

In the first season (1929-1930)  the aerial survey  discovered a previously unknown coast and land;  this Mawson named Mac.Robertson Land, in honour of Sir Macpherson Robertson, a keen supporter of Australia’s role in Antarctica who had donated a large sum to the expedition.

 On 13 January 1930 a party landed on  a small island lying west of the most northerly cape of Enderby Land. This island Mawson named Proclamation Island and here land  was claimed extending from 45 – 160°E, (excluding Adelie Land), for the British crown. A cairn and plaque commemorated the event.

PROCLAMATION LAND

Another Union Jack was dropped from the air onto the Antarctic on 25 January 1930 and a proclamation read claiming further territory.

Mawson wanted to continue the exploration, but his Captain (John King Davis), concerned about the remaining supply of coal,  insisted on returning north. ‘Discovery’ reached Australia in March 1st. 1930

In November 1930 ‘Discovery’ sailed from Hobart for a second season. On 4 January 1931 Discovery visited Cape Denison, allowing Mawson to revisit his  Australasian Antarctic Expedition  base of  twenty years previously . Magnetic readings were taken and it was discovered that the Magnetic South Pole had moved considerably since their last readings taken in 1914. The ship then sailed along the coastlines, using flights and landings to reinforce surveys taken from ‘Discovery’. The expedition returned in March 1931.

The  mass of scientific work  that was recorded  was vast. It took years to organize and report  and some results may still be unpublished! But much of the data was used by the British Council to claim sovereignty of the area  which was subsequently passed to Australia.

Mawson eventually retired from academic life aged seventy. he was made an emeritus professor of the University of Adelaide. But his active, varied life and interests continued-  these included farming forestry, regulation of whaling. He was much admired – a geology building and an ‘Institute for Australian Research’ were named for him in Adelaide

He died at his Brighton (Australia) home on 14 October 1958 aged 76. At the time of his death he had still not completed the editorial work on the papers  from his expedition. These were completed by his eldest daughter, Patricia – in 1975.  He is buried in the cemetery of St Jude’s ChurchBrighton, South Australia.

During his life he achieved numerous awards and honours, amongst these must be mentioned his Fellowship of the Royal Society and his  Founder Membership of the Australian Academy of Science.

DOUGLAS MAWSON AUSTRALIAN EXPLORER –continued

12 Sep

After his emotional return to Australia in 1909, Mawson returned to academia. But he had been bitten by the magnificence of Antarctica and, as a scientist, he was aware of the huge potential of the continent. Most of the land nearest to Australia was uncharted and unknown and he wanted to lead an expedition dedicated to scientific discovery and exploration. He wrote ‘The geographical position of this land privileges Australians in taking advantage of its products and renders the collection of scientific data obligatory upon us’.

He started planning almost immediately. In London, at this time, Scott was planning his second (1910-13) expedition and Mawson visited him to ask for passage on the ‘Terra Nova’ for himself and three others. Mawson’s plan was that he and his companions would be part of the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition, but would be landed separately to the main party on the coast west of Cape Adare. He explained the potential scientific value of the proposed work to Scott and suggested that the results of the sorties should be presented together. Scott was not persuaded, instead he invited Mawson to join his South Pole sledging party. This did not interest Mawson; he thought that Scott was far to focused on a Polar success. He refused the offer.

Mawson, as an experienced and distinguished scientist with practical experience of the Antarctic, was well equipped to lead his own scientific expedition. But in Australia he did not begin his fundraising effort until Captain Scott – who visited Australia en route to Antarctica on the ‘Terra Nova’, had raised his funds before he (Mawson) opened his appeal for ‘The Australasian Antarctic Expedition’ in early 1911. Its aim – to explore the unknown sector south of Australia. Although some of the coastline had been seen in 1840 by the French explorer D’Urville, no-one had set foot on the land.

This was the expedition that, in just under three years, charted the Antarctic coastline, explored thousands of kilometres of previously unexplored regions, collected geological and botanical samples, and made meteorological, magnetic, geological and geographic advances, in addition to making a base on Macquarie Island in order to erect a radio transmitter that could transmit messages between the Antarctic and Australia.

His fundraising crusade was outstandingly successful. Through unceasing, exhausting, work and appeals – as he says in his correspondence – and with the support of the University of Sydney, and the scientific communities, he raised about £10m. in today’s money in little over a year. The Australian federal government gave £5,000, the state governments £18,500, in addition there were private donations and British money. His appeal was to the national interest – the many potential benefits to the Australian economy, the advantages to the farming community of knowing when droughts could be anticipated, the importance of keeping other countries out of a land mass so relatively near to Australia.
In addition to the anxieties of fundraising, Mawson had to recruit his team and organize equipment and supplies, but he still found time to visit Paquita Delprat. When the expedition was on a secure footing he proposed marriage. Paquita accepted immediately.

PAQUITA DELPRAT

Mawson was ahead of his time in that he planned to survey the continent by plane and to this end he purchased a Vickers R.E.P. Type Monoplane. This excellent plan failed (it was to be comprehensively achieved by Admiral Richard Byrd in 1929). The Monoplane was damaged in Australia and in Antarctica it was used initially as a tractor on skis. But the cold was too severe for the engine to function and it was eventually abandoned as a mode of transport.

SY Aurora, Commander Captain John King Davis, left Hobart Tasmania, on 2 December 1911. Aurora was cheered on her way by thousands of well wishers and arrived at Macquarie Island in eleven days after a passage during which rough seas nearly drowned the dogs, washed away part of the bridge and damaged the cargo.

Macquarie Island is half way to Antarctica. Mawson had decided that the island was to serve as a scientific base and radio relay station. He chose Wireless Hill, 300 feet high, to locate his station and his work huts. Here, two masts were eventually erected. They would be the relay station for messages between Australia and Antarctica.

On the 24th December Aurora sailed south. Captain Davis planned to follow a course along the 157th Meridian until land was sighted. It was hoped to find a site on land that would be an excellent starting point for a return visit to the South Magnetic Pole. But impenetrable ice pack and high ice cliffs made Mawson fear it would be impossible to find anywhere to land as they searched southeasterly along the coastline. But finally, on 8 January 1912, a perfect natural harbour was located. The berth was Commonwealth Bay and Mawson named his base Cape Denison (Denison was a major financial backer). This was to be his Main Base for eighteen of the team -a second camp was to be located to the west on the ice shelf in Queen Mary Land.

TRACK OF THE ‘AURORA’

Cape Denison was to reveal itself as one of the windiest places in the world – the average wind speed for the entire year was about 50 mph (80 km/h), sometimes winds approached 200 mph (320 km/h). Mawson described a typical foray outside the hut as ‘a plunge into the writhing storm-whirl’…in… ‘a void; grisly, fierce and appalling’, with… ‘stabs, buffets and freezes’.


CAPE DENISON

ATTEMPTS TO MOVE FORWARD AGAINST THE WIND!

Many of the men assumed that this was typical Antarctic weather

The MAIN BASE

The Antarctic summer of 1912 (Christmas months in the Northern Hemisphere), was spent on scientific work and in short excursions close to the base. Even when they were close to the hut the men had to wear crampons and tie everything down. By March/April (the beginning of the winter), the wind often gusted at over 100 miles per hour; occasionally more than 200 miles per hour.


THE METEOROLOGISTS RETURN FROM WORK

Mawson realised that outside work would have to start whenever the wind fell to less than thirty miles per hour. In these ‘lulls’ they built a Magnetograph House and a hanger for the air tractor, but the conditions were too much for erection of the wireless masts (this was completed in September 1912, later, signals were sent to Aurora and Macquarie Island). In August Mawson and two others did manage to get five and a half miles from their base where they dug an ice shelter that was to be used as a supply depot. They called this Aladdin’s Cave.

Mawson planned exploration parties from both the Main Base and the Western Base. In October he announced plans for the sledging season from the Main Base: a Southern Part (led by Eric Webb), an East Coast Party (Cecil Madigan), a Near Eastern Party (Frank Stillwell), a Western Party using the tractor ((Frank Bickerton) and finally a Far Eastern Party which Mawson would lead himself. He wanted to reach Oates Land which was roughly 350 miles along the coast towards Cape Adare; an area that had been seen by the Terra Nova crew. The plan was for all the parties to be back by15h January 1913 when Aurora was expected to return.

In this account I am going to concentrate on the Far Eastern Party, a three-man sledging team with dogs. Mawson chose Xavier Mertz, a Swiss citizen, Olympic skier and experienced mountaineer and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, an officer in the Royal Fusiliers, as his co-explorers


XAVIER MERTZ – – DOUGLAS MAWSON- – BELGRADE SUTTON NINNIS

The aim was to survey King George V Land, map the unexplored coastline if possible as far as Oates Land and to collect geological samples. The party left on 10th November 1912 with dogs and two sledges carrying a total load of 1723 pounds. They made good progress in both mapping and specimen collection, in spite of snow blindness, capsized sledges and difficult ice surfaces. When they reached the plateau Mawson could see the huge glacier jutting out to sea that Aurora had passed (see map). This he later named the Mertz Glacier. They crossed almost vertical slopes and the deep valley carved out by the Glacier. They then had a nightmare four days crossing over a second glacier, sledges capsizing, dogs pulling down unmercifully on the steep slopes, gales and bad light. This glacier would be called the Ninnis Glacier

MAP OF THE EXPEDITION

They finally reached more than 300 miles east of their base at Cape Denison.

MERTZ IN A RAVINE: 13 December 1912, ‘Spirits high’

The first horror occurred on 14th December 1912. The party was traversing an area that was both lumpy and riddled with snow – covered crevasses. Xavier Mertz leading on skis, crossed one of these crevasses via a snow bridge that was similar in every way to the hundreds they had crossed before. Mawson, on the lighter of the two sledges, followed Xavier’s tracks, his weight evenly dispersed over the sledge. Belgrave Ninnis was behind, jogging beside the second, heavier sledge. As he crossed the snow bridge it gave way completely and he, the dogs and the sledge fell into the underlying crevasse. The catastrophe was so sudden and so silent that Mawson and Mertz were only made aware of a potential calamity when they looked back for Ninnis when he did not catch up with them. They sped back, and, to their horror found the gaping chasm. Two sets of sledge runners ran up to the chasm edge, one set from it. Desperately they peered into the endless abyss shouting Ninnis’ name. Two dogs, one dead, one injured, could be seen on a ledge about 160 feet below them. There was no sign of Ninnis. Their rope was not even long enough to reach the ledge. They called and called for hours, there was no response. There was nothing more to do save offering a heartfelt prayer for their dear friend.
As can be imagined the scenario has been rehearsed/thought about, repeatedly. Ninnis was with the heavier sledge. Also, since he was not on skis or a (sledge his weight would have been transmitted straight down through his boots to the fragile snow bridge rather than being distributed more widely over skis (Mertz), or the sledge (Mawson). This focused concentration of weight is likely to have caused the bridge to give way and result in his tragic demise.
Apart from the devastating psychological trauma of the disaster, Mawson and Mertz had lost the six best dogs, the dog food, most of their rations, their tent, their Burberry trousers and other essential supplies. They had 10 days’ food for their 315 mile journey back to Cape Denison, a journey that would take at least a month and no food for the six dogs. All they had was a spare tent cover, but no inner tent or poles, the cooker with some fuel, sleeping bags, and the six weakest dogs.

They had to keep going. It was a race against death.

The two men hoisted the Union Jack at their furthest East and turned back. They thought that if they fed the dogs with old boots, mitts and rawhide straps and killed and ate them sequentially, they (the two men) might last out to their Base. The weakest dog was killed on December 15th – food for the other famished canines and for the men. This routine was continued over the next 10 days until the final dog collapsed. No part of the animals was wasted: the stringy muscle, the paws – stewed to a jelly-like consistency- the thyroids, the brains. The animals’ bones and skin were fed to the surviving dogs. The two kept the ‘best’ bits, for themselves – this included the dogs’ livers. A makeshift tent was constructed from shovel supports over a piece of canvas under the spare cover. By Christmas Day they still had 160 miles to go. They travelled slowly managing a few miles each day still existing on dog meat – saving the sledging rations for as long as possible.

On December 31st Mertz asked to eat some of their sledging rations which Mawson had kept in reserve. It did not help him. He suffered stomach cramps and pains and was physically weak. But both man suffered from dizziness, nausea and abdominal pain. Sores did not heal, nails blackened, their eyes and skin became yellow, their skin peeled and shed off in handfuls denuding their arms, legs and genitalia. Mawson wrote that a ‘cast’ of the base of one of his feet sloughed off completely – he smeared it with lanolin and bound it back on.

The men were confined to the tent on the 2nd January when their evening meal was two ounces of chocolate . The makeshift tent, caked with ice, dripped continuously. And Mertz deteriorated rapidly. He seemed to lose the will to move and remained in his sleeping bag. He became so weak that he lay on the sledge whilst Mawson, famished and weak himself, pulled him along. Mertz, the Olympic skier, friendly, popular and cooperative was reduced to a withdrawn, uncommunicative shadow of his former self, refusing food and suffering from explosive diarrhoea. The climax was reached on 7 January, a hundred miles southeast of the Main Base, when Mertz fitted, became delirious, raved and thrashed around. Mawson had to hold him down until finally Mertz became calm. He died that night.

It is suggested that the reason for the deterioration was that the two were made ill by the dog’s livers which, unbeknown to them, were highly dangerous to humans. Dog’s livers contain high levels of vitamin A which causes, amongst other symptoms, abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, blurred vision, irritability and desquamation of the skin. Both had symptoms suggestive of this, Mertz was clearly the worst.

But any retrospective diagnosis is tentative. Mertz was a vegetarian. He must have struggled with the dog meat diet. What is indisputable is that both men suffered from severe calorific and vitamin deficiencies (in addition to Vitamin A), continual cold and damp conditions and probably hypothermia.

The psychological as well as the physical trauma for Mawson must have been terrible – there seemed little chance of him getting back to base. But he remembered lines written by Robert Service –‘Buck up, do your damndest and fight. It is plugging away that will win you the day’ . Also he must have been determined to save his findings for posterity and Paquita must have been forever in his mind. He had eight days to get to Base if he was to reach Aurora.
He cut the sledge into two and used one half for his sleeping bag, food etc. He used Mertz’ jacket and a clothes bag to construct a sail. With amazing stamina he struggled on – he had to erect the tent each evening by himself, an enormous struggle with his painful hands and in blizzard conditions. He had to navigate, he had to eat. But his trials had not finished. On January 17th he fell down a crevasse. He was saved by his manhaul harness which was attached to the loaded sledge which caught on the edge of the opening. But he was left dangling over the bottomless abyss. His hands were raw, his clothes were weighed down with pounds of snow. He was weak and exhausted. By a superhuman effort he hauled himself up as far as the crevasse lip, only to fall down again. For a while he thought that the odds were simply too great, that he should just give up, loose his harness and drop into oblivion – leaving pain and toil behind. But again he must have thought of Paquita. Almost unbelievably, he summoned the strength for another climb and this time he succeeded. He lay panting, dizzy, weak on the snow.

By January 29th, fourteen days after he should have departed with Aurora, he was virtually foodless. But finally help was at hand, he came across a snow cairn built that very day by a search party. It had food in it. Also a note informed him that the Aurora was still waiting and ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ was only 23 miles away. It took him three days to reach the cave. And here he was trapped by a blizzard for a further week before he could set off for Cape Denison. The Main Base team must have lost all hope for the Far Eastern Party’s survival

When he finally reached Cape Denison a departing speck on the horizon proclaimed that Aurora had left. But six loyal companions had remained behind to continue the search for their leader’s party. When he reached them it was as if he had returned from the dead. The painful news of his companions’ deaths had to be told. The conditions were too bad for Aurora to return and the seven men resigned themselves to another winter of blizzards and confinement.

On December 12th 1913 Aurora returned. The two-year expedition was over. On February 26th, 1914 Aurora arrived in Australia. Mawson was a hero.

Mawson and his fiancée Paquita were married on March 14th 1914, in the Holy Trinity Church, Melbourne. Captain Davis was the best man, Mawson’s brother, Professor David, the Delprat family and members of the expedition were present. Mawson apparently grinned like a Cheshire cat throughout the ceremony.


DOUGLAS AND PAPQUITA’S WEDDING

The couple went on a working honeymoon. Mawson began his account of the expedition, The Home of the Blizzard. He hoped would help with his considerable expenses.
He was knighted and was awarded both the Polar Medal and the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society..

In the first World War he served as a major in the British Ministry of Munitions afterwards returning to the University of Adelaide in 1919. He became a professor in the university in 1921, continuing his work on Australian geology.
His interest in Antarctica never lessened He completely understood its importance politically, geologically and financially and he campaigned tirelessly for a further claim on the section closest to Australia. And he was to return in 1929 as the leader of the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, BANZARE, which led to a territorial claim, the Australian Antarctic Territory.

But that is another story.

ADDENDUM Geology: studies of the earth’s physical structure and substance and investigation of their histories and influences.