31 Oct

I will not be writing a blog regularly for some time.

This is because I am engaged in writing a biography of Sir Clements Markham

Sir Clements lived an event= packed, full, life and lived to be well over eighty

The work will occupy most of my time!


24 Sep

                                                    Finding the Polar Party

Antarctic Bases

Scott sent Atkinson back  from the Polar Party to Cape Evans (Scott’s Base for the Terra Nova expedition), on the 22nd December 1911 – He arrived at the Base on the 28th January  1912. As the senior naval officer he became Leader at the Base. One of his priorities was Scott’s instructions that One Ton Depot (the food supply depot on the barrier, 130 miles south of Cape Evans), should be stocked with food for the men and dogs of the returning  Polar Party (the man-hauling group that had set out with supplies earlier in December 1911, had been unable pull enough weight for a sufficiency of dog food).

Scott’s orders had been that after their return to Cape Evans, Atkinson and dog-driver Cecil Meares should make a second dog-team expedition South in early January 1912, carrying both rations and dog food. A third journey was to be made to the barrier in February. This third journey would be a ‘support’ mission rather than a ‘relief’ mission – to supply One Ton Depot –- and so give the returning Polar Party a sufficiency of supplies for them to catch the Terra Nova and so sail home. But extra instructions were also apparently given to Atkinson when he turned back at the top of the Beardmore Glacier. These were for the dogs to “come as far as they can” – this message, which perhaps suggests that Scott had concerns about his plans, seem to have been mislaid in the consequent change of plans.

Mears dog team had taken much longer to return to base than Scott had anticipated (they took twenty five days), and the team was no longer available to go back to One Ton – Mears was returning to England with eight other men, on the Terra Nova,  which had arrived in early February 1912.  Further delay in going south was occasioned by Terra Nova being short handed and Atkinson, obeyed Scott’s instruction that assistance should be given – though not using the dogs – in landing the stores. This meant that valuable time was lost before a team set off to meet the returning Polar Party. Atkinson wrote to his parents that he planned to go south himself, probably on the 10th February.  He did attempt the journey, but was defeated by appalling conditions and returned to Hut Point (Scott’s base on the Discovery expedition of 1901 which lies south of Cape Evans by 20 km. -see map). He reached Hut Point on the 13th February 1912.

He was at Hut Point when, on the 19th February Tom Crean arrived from the Barrier after a treacherous solo, 35 mile trek, to report that Scott’s second in command, Teddy Evans (who had been sent back from the plateau with Tom and Chief Stoker William Lashly), was lying, immobilized by scurvy and in urgent need of medical attention. He was in a tent 35 miles to the south of Hut Point, being cared for by Lashly.

Scott’s careful plan was beginning to unravel.

Atkinson felt his primary duty was to the sick man. When the weather relented, he set out with the dogs. He found that Teddy was dangerously ill and stayed with him –  feeding him lemons and onions – and, when he was sufficiently recovered, taking him back to Hut Point prior to transfer to the Terra Nova  to return to England along with the eight other returnees. This delay meant that it was the 26th before the journey to One Ton was started.  

There were thirteen men at Cape Evans. At this time there was no particular concern about either the Polar Party or another expedition, the Northern Party, commanded by Lieutenant Victor Campbell which was exploring the coast, west and south of Cape Adare.  The group was out on the icy terrain and their actual whereabouts uncertain. The plan had been for the group to be picked up by the Terra Nova, but gales and ice had prevented the ship from reaching them. (They were eventually to make the 200 mile journey to Cape Evans by sledge, not reaching base until November 1912).

Atkinson was  now faced with the unexpected  dilemma of whom to send south, to 82°, in early February 1912 as had been suggested by Scott to meet the returning party – Atkinson could not go – he was fully occupied looking after Teddy Evans. George Simpson, the meteorologist was busy with his scientific work and anyway would be returning to England on the ship along with the other crew members. Atkinson sent a note back to Cape Evans suggesting that either the physicist, Charles Wright or Apsley Cherry-Garrard – Edward Wilson’s assistant zoologist – should go.  Simpson was unwilling to release Wright from the scientific work, so Atkinson ordered Cherry-Garrard (short-sighted, relatively inexperienced with dogs and navigation and probably tired, having man-hauled a sledge to the top of the Beardmore glacier and back, and helped unload the Terra Nova), to set out with Demitri Gerov, the dog driver.

At this point the sortie was not thought of as a ‘relief mission’. Cherry-Garrard’s was told  to ‘use his judgment as to what to do’, if he did not meet up with the Polar Party.

The two men set out on 26 February 1912. They reached One Ton Depot, which they found poorly supplied with dog food, on 4 March and they replenished it. Then they waited – for seven days. Cherry had six days dog food in reserve and could have reached the next depot without killing the dogs for dog meat. But the men were reported to be engulfed in blizzards (although others have commented that no blizzard was recorded by Scott 100 miles further south until some days later) and Cherry’s concern was that he could pass Scott’s party between depots. He was conscious that Scott had ordered that the dogs were not to be risked –  they were to be saved for scientific outings in the following year. In addition  temperatures were below minus 38°C making further progress south difficult. He was not unduly concerned about the Polar Party as he understood that his mission was ‘supply and assist’.

They did not go further south. They turned back on 10 March reaching Hut Point on 16 March. They were exhausted – Cherry Garrard collapsed after his return. But the lack of any positive information about Scott’s returning party focused concerns about their fate ( Scott, Wilson and Bowers were to finally reach eleven miles SOUTH of One Ton Depot, where they perished sometime around the end of March).

Atkinson set out again on 30 March (the beginning of the Antarctic winter), to try and reach Scott. The conditions were impossible. He turned back.

Throughout the Antarctic winter (March to September 1912), the men at the base waited and hoped. By July 1912 Atkinson wrote, in a letter to be sent to his parents later, that by this time and with no news, Scott’s party must have perished – in fact, by this time they had been dead for over three months.

The dilemma  Atkinson faced in 1912 was which of the two absent  parties should be prioritised. In April he was one of  a group of four who aimed to sledge up the Western Coast to make contact with Campbell and the Northern Party. They had to turn back. They left messages and some supplies for Campbell.

The remainder of the winter brought no respite. Atkinson went over the awful situation with all the men at the base. It was considered that the Northern Party would be able to survive. Attention would be focussed on the Polar Party. Although Atkinson was sure they had perished, he felt it was essential to know what had actually happened -he wrote a letter to the Admiralty telling of these anxieties.  The winter was spent preparing for a search party as well as continuing with the usual routines – chores, lectures, exercise, but mainly listening hopefully, but in vain, for Scott’s return.

The spring of 1912 was spent setting up supply depots.  Sufficient supplies were taken to cover the eventuality of needing to go up  the Beardmore Glacier, as well as replenishing the other depots.

On the 30th October  1912 the first six men of the search party set out.  Atkinson and Demitri Gerof rode a dog team as did Cherry Garrard. Frank Debenham, the geologist, was left in charge at Cape Evans. 

The tent was found on the 12 November 1912,  eleven miles south of One Ton Depot  (Lat. 79°29S).   Ski sticks were in front of it. Atkinson crawled into the tent accompanied by William Lashly. He wrote that Scott, Bowers and Wilson had died in their sleep.  He examined the bodies but did not specifically comment on signs of scurvy –for which he was to be criticised later. He read enough of their dairies and effects to understand what had happened to the party. When the two men left the tent, tears were streaming down Lashly’s face

Atkinson read the burial service and an extract from Corinthians. A record of the proceedings was signed by all the members of the search party. The men erected a twelve foot cairn over the tent surmounted by a cross made of the skis. They searched for Oates’s body with no success but did find his sleeping bag and they erected another cairn and cross close to the place where he had left his companions. They returned somberly to Base Hut on the 25th of November.  Here they found, with relief, that the Northern Party had managed to reach Cape Evans on the 5th November (1912), independently.

Terra Nova, now commanded by the physically recovered Teddy Evans, returned to Cape Evans having called at Cape Royds (Shackleton’s base of 1908). Scientific equipment and scientific collections were loaded onto the ship.  She left Antarctica finally on the 26 January 1913.

Atkinson faced two major criticisms- firstly the activities of the dog teams and secondly, the presence or absence, of scurvy on the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers.

As recorded, Scott had ordered that after their return, the dogs should make two further journeys to One Ton Camp  to leave both rations and dog food by the12 January 1912.   A third journey was to be made in early February to help the return of the Polar Party, so that they could catch the ship. Later instructions meant to be sent with Atkinson changed this – the dogs were to come as far as possible.

Because Scott had taken the dogs much further south than had been originally planned, Atkinson and the dogs did not get back to base until 5 January (the time he had instructed a third journey to the barrier), the dogs’ second barrier journey was never made – although rations  for the men were deposited by a man-hauling party, dog food was not left. This meant that any significant progress by the dogs south of One Ton for any reason, would be virtually impossible.

Clearly more priority should have been placed on the polar party earlier, but at this time there was no anxiety about their progress.

In relation to scurvy, Atkinson was the only doctor to examine the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in November 1912. No medical report was published, but Atkinson is said to have told Cherry-Garrard that there was no evidence of scurvy.

I do not know whether the stigmata of scurvy would persist for eight months in sub zero temperatures. Scurvy appears about three months after vitamin C has been absent from the diet. The men had been away from base for four months before they died. They must have suffered from some deficiency of the vitamin, perhaps sub –clinical or, possibly, the stigmata had faded.

The Terra Nova sailed from the Antarctic on the 26 January 1913 under the command of Teddy Evans. Before the sail, a 9 foot cross was erected, inscribed with the names of the Polar Party. The news of the deaths was published to the world from New Zealand.  Here Atkinson met with Kathleen Scott and spent a night reading Scotts diaries to her –she wrote he was quiet tactful and reverent.

He was in London by April 1913 and subsequently posted to China. During World War 1 he served on  the warship HMS Vincent . After the war he returned to his Royal Naval duties in the Royal Naval Medical School. He was promoted to the rank of Surgeon Commander, served on a number of ships and did stints in the Mediterranean. He retired in 1928.

He died at sea in February 1929 whilst travelling from Calcutta to Britain, It was recorded that he had died of heart failure.

Atkinson’s life was both active and adventurous throughout, but probably the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910 was his most significant period of service. His contributions were recognized as is illustrated by the awards he received: The Distinguished Service Order, The British Empire 1913-1915 Star, The British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. He was also mentioned in Dispatches and held the Polar Medal and the Royal Geographical Medal.

The fate of the Polar Party is a story  of geographic and scientific advance but also a story of heroic failure. During the expedition Atkinson was burdened with unexpected and immense responsibilities. Throughout, he showed calm decisiveness and leadership. He was a remarkable man. 


30 Jul



Atkinson was the naval surgeon who had a pivotal role to play in the Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. Michael Tarver has written Atkinson’s biography: The Man who Found Captain Scott, Antarctic Explorer and War Hero, Surgeon Captain Edward Leicester Atkinson. but he is referred to less frequently than other heroes of the expedition. He deserves to be remembered.

Atkinson came from a family of military and professional men. He was one of seven children – the only boy. His mother Jenny Anne Hazel, was a member of a long -established Creole family and the family lived in in the Caribbean – St. Vincent initially, subsequently the Port of Spain.

In October 1895, Edward was sent to a boarding school in England. Forest School in Essex is an Anglican, independent boarding school for boys. Here Edward (pupil number 1653), excelled in sport, but was also academically precocious.  He decided on a medical career, leaving Forest School in 1900. 

Medical training was at  St Thomas Hospital, London.  Edward did well. By1906 he was  a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England  and a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London. He also won the hospital boxing championship. Two years after qualification, in 1908, he joined the Royal Naval Medical Service becoming a Surgeon to His Majesties Fleet.

Work from 1908-1909 was at the Royal Naval Hospital  Haslar. in Gosport Hampshire. Here experience was gained in helminthology and parasitology.  But Edward wanted more- he  wanted adventure, excitement, action. He had hoped that he might be be appointed to an Antarctic Patrol Ship, but he did better! Aged twenty eight, he was appointed as parasiitologist and bacteriologist to the Terra Nova Expedition, Scott’s second expedition to Antarctica.

When the Terra Nova reached Antarctica, a base was established at Cape Evans on Ross Island. Atkinson spent the winter working at base camp before taking part in Scott’s 1911, South Polar Journey.

Surgeon RN Edward L. Atkinson 1911 Parasitologist

On this expedition he was to be involved in two controversies: The first related to Scott’s orders concerning the use of dogs, The second related to the possibility of scurvy  affecting the polar party. 

The assault on the Pole began on 24th October 1911. The motor parties started first. They were followed by the pony parties (Atkinson was a lead driver). The ponies were followed by the dog teams driven by Cecil Meares (who had purchased the dogs), assisted by Demitri Gerof, an experienced dog driver.

By the time the expedition had crossed the Barrier and began the ascent proper of the Beardmore Glacier, the motor party had abandoned their vehicles after fifty miles and were man-hauling, The ponies had been slaughtered. Importantly Scott was so impressed by the dogs’ performance that he kept them with the advance party for longer than planned – they were to go as far as the Lower Glacier Depot and only turned back on 11 Dec 1911. This decision was to have long- term consequences.

Twelve men in three man-hauling teams, ascending the mighty Beardmore Glacier leading to the Plateau and the Pole. Atkinson hauled with Charles  Wright (a Canadian physicist), William Lashly (a Chief Stoker in the Royal Navy), and ‘Teddy’ Evans (Edward Ratcliffe Evans, Scott’s second in Command). On the ascent Scott was constantly deliberating on the best team for the final plateau stretch to the pole.  He  eventually sent seven men back before choosing the final, five -man assault team for the Pole. Atkinson was sent back to base on 22nd December from the Upper Glacier Depot, along with Charles Wright, Apsley Cherry- Garrard (the Assistant Zoologist) and Patrick Keohane (one of the Petty Officers.  Wright paid tribute to Atkinson’ calm leadership as the team lost their way on the return. They got back to base in late January.

At base Atkinson assumed command of the station.  He learnt that Meares had resigned from the expedition and was waiting for the relief ship (due in early February, 1912) to go home. Simpson, the meteorologist, was also returning to England. Atkinson himself,  as instructed, planned to go south again with the dogs on the support mission. But a dramatic intervention threw all plans into disarray.  The depots were never replenished.

The relief ship the Terra Nova, arrived in early February. Criticism of Atkinson’s leadership at this time has been levied.  Scott’s instructions has been for three journeys to be made to the south with further supplies – the third journey to leave with the dogs by early February and Atkinson could have  done this but instead of  going south, he lost time directing the unloading of supplies, mules, dogs etc. from the Terra Nova. In Atkinson’s defense Cherry Garrard wrote in his book, The Worst Journey in the World, that Atkinson’ group had not reached Cape Evans until January 28 and that Atkinson would not have been fit enough to take the dogs our in early February.

The British team – Robert Scott, Edward Wilson, ‘Titus’ Oates,  ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Petty Officer Edgar Evans reached the pole on 18th January 1912, thirty four days after the Norwegians. All the British team died on the return from the Pole

The controversy over whether Scott’s  man -hauling team could have made a successful return if they had married up  with the supplies for the men and dogs, that Scott had intended to be left for them on their return, continues to this day

As I understand it the orders ré the dogs were varied in relation to the circumstanced that Scott found himself.

  1. The original instructions given to Meares at Cape Evans dated 20 October 1911 i.e. before the teams set out were that…. the first week of February (1912). I should like you to start your third journey to the South…… to hasten the return of the  Southern unit [the polar party] .…..
  2. A number of instructions were sent back from the expedition, including the provision of emergency stores at Hut Point and a second journey to One Ton Camp with rations, biscuits and oil to be completed by the 19th January 2012. This was to be followed by the third journey to assist the returning explorers and hopefully catch the relief ship
  3. Further (final) written instructions, relating to the dogs were apparently meant to go back with Atkinson and were forgotten /mislaid. Cherry Garrard wrote later that Scott had intended to tell Atkinson to bring the dogs as far south as he could.

In the event all these plans were thwarted. Other problems crowded in. Teddy Evans, Scott’s Second in Command was sent back to base, on the 3rd January 1912 with two Petty Officers, William Lashly and Thomas Crean. On the return Teddy fell seriously ill with scurvy.-so ill that he thought he would die and ordered his companions to leave him, they refused (he wrote later that this was the first time that his orders had ever been disobeyed). Tom Crean made a treacherous 18 hour, 35 mile  journey back to base to seek medical assistance.  Dr. Atkinson priorities immediately focused on Teddy, who would die without medical help. He abandoned his plans to go south in favour of going to attend to the seriously ill Teddy. He stayed with his patient until the Terra Nova had arrived and Evans was safely on her.

This left the question as to who was to take out the relief supplies. At the base, Simpson (meteorologist), was returning to England on the relief ship. Wright was needed to continue  the scientific work. Atkinson therefore instructed Apsley Cherry-Garrard (poor sighted and inexperienced in charting), to leave with Demitri Gerof for One Ton Camp .

The outing was not considered to be a relief mission – it was assumed that the polar party would be in good shape on their return. Cherry was to ‘use his judgment’ as to what to do if he did not meet up with  the returnees at One Ton Depot.

He and Gerov left with the dogs on 26 February carrying rations for the polar party and 24 days’ of dog food. They arrived at One Ton on 4 March with enough dog food to reach the next depot but no further. Cherry knew that saving the dogs for possible further polar work was a priority –

In the event the weather was so bad that he felt unable to proceed — he reasoned he could easily miss Scott anyway in the prevailing conditions.

The two men waited for Scott for several days, mostly, it is recorded, in blizzard conditions (although no blizzard was recorded by Scott some 100 miles further south until 10 March) and they returned to Hut Point on 16 March, in poor physical condition and without news of the polar party.

The Polar Winter was approaching Atkinson could do no more

As is well known of the five returnees, Edgar Evans died on the 18 February 1916, Titus Oates about a month later — well before the anticipated meeting with the dog teams.  Apart from malnutrition, difficulty in finding the food caches and a poor oil supply the British were caught by the coldest conditions ever experienced on the Barrier. This appears to have been the final blow



‘Footsteps In The Snow’

5 Jul

My co-author on William Speirs Bruce has just written his autobiography

                                        ‘Footsteps In The Snow’

A most interesting read that recalls his Antarctic experiences. Here is the flyer that you may find of interest.

Sir Clements Markham, Saint or Sinner?

27 May

I think that writing the biography of Sir Clements is going to take months – so I will probably not be adding much to my blog, which has concentrated on some of the lesser known Polar Heroes  -though I will probably get round eventually to John Ray and Edward Atkinson.

I remain surprised that Clements Markham has not caught the attention of other authors over the one hundred and six years since he died. Of course his cousin Admiral Albert Markham wrote a ‘life’  dedicated to Sir Clements’ widow Minna. This was written soon after Clements’ death, but the work was not, in any sense, an objective biography. Albert had had close ties with Clements’ family. When he was studying to get into the navy, he lived with Clements widowed mother Catherine. Catherine had already lost two of her sons,  and, with her remaining son, Clements travelling widely, she welcomed Albert as another ‘son’ and a ‘brother’ for her three daughters.

Clements as a young man

Clements was eleven years older than Albert and he created a  profound impact. Albert was overwhelmed by Clements’ success in smuggling quinine out of Peru and transporting the medication to India. He also shared Clements’ passion for knowledge – reading, travel and exploration. He would never write a critical paragraph about a man who was his cousin, Catherine’s son and Minna’s husband.

In fact Clements seems to have had a very loving relationship with his friends and family. The same however cannot be said about anyone who disagreed or criticized him. Such a person became a permanent enemy. Thus seems to have been a life-long characteristic, but his reputation was unequivocally damaged by his behaviour after, at the age of 63, he became President of The Royal Geographical Society  (R.G.S.) and announced his ambitions for Antarctic exploration.

His facility for acerbic observation was apparent quite early on -as a young boy for example, he described one of his father’s friends and  neighbour, as having  a ‘long neck, an eager little face and a voice like a cockatoo’. Aged fifteen, when a midshipman sailing on the ‘Collingwood’ Pacific Tour, he described the Governor of Tahiti (governed by the French). as ‘short, stumpy, ugly, fiendish and crafty looking’. The Captain of a French ship was also short, ugly, fiendish,  but also ‘a little man’ – with red hair and whiskers.

When, as a successful member and officer of the R.G.S he was made its President in 1893, Sir Clements made his announcement that his primary ambition was to support the resurgence of Polar exploration -this had lapsed following the tragic death of Sir John Franklin, who had been lost in the Arctic along with his two ships and entire crew in the 1840s during an attempt to find a sailing route from the Antarctic to the Pacific – the North West Passage.- Clements had, as a midshipman, been on one of the many ships attempting to discover the fate of the doomed expedition.

In the early part of the 1900s it was not  actually certain that the Antarctic existed as a continent and Sir Clements focused his attention on the South.   A number of land areas had been seen, but not landed on –  they could have been islands. One area, Cape Adare had been landed on and its coordinates recorded. but no significant penetration southwards had been made.  Sir Clements ambitions were  to penetrate into and discover as much as possible about this mysterious area and to collect geographic, meteorological  oceanographic information. He also wished to enthuse naval personnel with this great venture,  he felt the navy would benefit from the challenge.

His two great problems were –firstly, funds to support the expedition, and secondly, agreement over the actual aims of the expedition. To get enough sufficient funds, he had to combine with the Royal Society (R.S.), (against his better judgment), in an appeal to the government for the £45.000 still needed to launch the expedition.  He himself (on behalf of the R.G.S), had already raised  about £40,000 in three years after the appeal was launched (£25,00 had been given by an individual R.G.S. member). The R.S supplied no monies.

Balfour, the First Lord of the Treasury eventually allocated the funds applied for, but an unbridgeable chasm between the Learned Societies, as to the aims, purposes and priorities of the expedition, became apparent all too soon.

The predominant schism related to the relative leadership roles of naval personal (R.G.S. supported) and the R.S. civilian scientists.  The R.G.S. views and Markham’s vision for the expedition, was that the venture was naval, both on land (geographic discoveries and scientific work) and on sea. The R.S. plan, in complete contrast, aimed to appoint a scientific director who would have absolute control of all research on land suggesting, this implied, that the naval scientist would be answerable to a civilian scientist director. The R.S. plans also implied that the navy would provide transport to and from Antarctica and, having offloaded the scientists, would leave for warmer climes.

The Navy of course would never agree to this plan; the suggestion that naval men should report to a civilian scientist was unthinkable.  It is hardly surprising that increasingly vituperative tensions and disputes over the aims and ambitions of the expedition developed. Clements became increasingly distrustful that certain members of the R.S. were scheming against him. He wrote that one man (presumably himself), if he was capable at all, was always more capable than a number of equally capable men working together – and there undoubtedly was an unpleasant confusion of ambitions in the Antarctic deliberations.  

Bust of Sir Clements in the Royal Geographical Society

It required a diplomat as well as an administrator to steer the negotiations. Sir Clements was not a diplomat –  he was a fighter; opposition roused his pugnacious spirit and he undoubtedly became outspokenly critical, intolerant of opposition and  increasingly unpopular. It was said that he felt he had the absolute right to a priority in the Antarctic. He appears to have made as many enemies as friends.  

But it actually took him some time to fully comprehend the dramatically different aims for the expedition between the two societies, but as discussions continued, he became increasingly aware that some members of the R.S. were uniting to scheme against his plans. He described several representatives of  the R.S. with uninhibited venom in his book ‘Antarctic Obsession’.  Professor Tizard, the Assistant Hydrographer and a member of the Royal Society Joint Executive Committee, was ‘a man of some ability, but narrow minded – a man who set himself up as an authority on Antarctica because he had been on the ‘Challenger’ expedition and seen the edge of the ice’. Professor Poulton of Oxford was described as an expert on butterflies, a dull and stupid man with a genius for blundering and a total ignorance on any subject addressed by the Antarctic Committee.  Lord Lister  the President was always courteous, never taking a decided line and caring nothing.  Professor Foster FRS, the Secretary of the R.S. was plausible and agreeable but an inveterate intriguer  who cared nothing for the expedition but only what he could get out of it for the R.S.

Many of these opinions would hardly have been discreet .  They may have even been publically expressed with predictable consequences. Planning became fractious and divisive. Markham was said to behave like a dictator – that he had an unrivalled capacity for misrepresentation, slander & vindictiveness..

Markham eventually managed to alter and weaken the R.S. plans  It should be said that R.G.S. members resented the idea that the man appointed as the Scientific Director, Professor John Walter Gregory was promoting himself as leader of the whole expedition through his allies in the R.S.     R.G.S. members were resistant to his predominantly scientific plan, one that subverted the original ambitions of geographic and magnetic observation (albeit with science making an important contribution), in an expedition led by this shadowy figure, who they had hardly heard of. Furthermore members were aware that the R.G.S. had conceived and considerably funded the expedition. The R.S, had not made a financial contribution.

When Markham finally succeeded in outwitting the R.S. – and causing much resentment and bitterness Professor Gregory resigned, The eventual instructions were in a form very similar to his original proposals of 1897.

The Discovery expedition lasted from 1901-1903. The newspaper ‘The Times’ praised the many achievements of the expedition. The expedition had an enthusiastic reception in England, but no government minister was present to welcome the returning heroes.  Significant  financial problem had again arisen. These related to freeing the ship ‘Discovery’ from  its suffocating icy embrace in Antarctica. Concern that this would prove impossible led to the need for two relief ships to be available to rescue the men, the equipment, the  scientific results, paintings, photographs. Neither the RGS or the RS had the funds for a rescue mission.

 The Government was furious- this was ‘a betrayal of trust’. It had always assumed that the societies would be in perfect control of their finances. But it had no choice. It had to take over the rescue operation Their naval men were trapped in the south. Sir Clements was forced to cede ownership of the relief vessel “Morning? to the government. He also fell out with his own council over the matter and resigned as president shortly after.

He died in 1916 in dramatic circumstances. He was reading in bed by candle light  – though his room actually had electricity. The candle slipped, the bed clothes caught fire. He was engulfed in flames and died.

Although Lady Markham received many expressions of condolence (and Admiral Markham’s eulogy), he had sadly  became so unpopular that negative reservations about his achievements were expressed remarkably early. Frank Debenham the first Director of the Scott Polar Institute called him ‘a dangerous old man’. The Scottish geographer Professor Rudmose Brown called him an ‘Old Fool and Humbug’. The accuracy of his many publications was questioned.

But these comments miss an important point. Sir Clements was a man  of vision. He could claim any number number of achievements:      

Firstly, his courageous expedition to Peru to smuggle quinine out of the country and transport the medication to India, saved thousands and thousands of lives.

The ‘Discovery’ expedition would never have happened without his single -minded determination, grit, and courage. He raised a good proportion of the cash virtually single handedly, the R.S. gave no cash. 

He developed the R.G.S. –the library, research, map facilities. The membership of the society increased significantly.

He wrote some fifty books – on historical figures and events, as well as on the Polar regions, plus  many papers and reports.

He was loving and loyal to his friends and family who appreciated him.

 His overriding aim was to serve his country and geography.


Herkomer– again!

17 Apr

I am delighted to say that this little book (76 pages) has, at last, appeared. I am pleased with it, though some of the illustrations could perhaps have been a little larger.

As I have mentioned I wrote it simply to draw attention to this versatile, incredibly talented man who, although a nationalised Englishman and living in England for over fifty years, became ostracised during the lead-up to the first World War primarily because of his lingering loyalty to Germany, the country of his birth. He created resentment amongst his fellow Royal Academicians and rejection by the public. He died just before the war.

He achieved some positive reassessment during the second part of the 1900s. and he is admired and valued by a select few. But generally he is forgotten, and this is a loss.

I hope this little work will rekindle interest.

On a different subject the organisers of the Antarctic SouthPole-sium are hoping to hold their fifth conference in San Francisco 22-24 June this year. the details are on

It is always a good meeting


Piece on Hubert von Herkomer

30 Mar

I am delighted to say this piece on Herkomer has just about finished its prolonged journey through the publishers– mostly covid problems

I am told it has reached the Austin Macauley website

Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1849-1914 ISBN 9781398401884

I became interested in Herkomer through my research on Dr Edward Wilson.

Wilson lived in Bushey Hertfordshire and I went there to learn more about him. I went to Bushey Museum only to find they were not much interested in my subject but VERY interested in their hero Herkomer, who had lived in Bushey for forty years. Here he had started an art school and a theatre, whilst meanwhile becoming one of the best known artist of the Victorian/Edwardian period- he painted Queen Victoria an her death bed—- apparently Edward VII did not like death masks.

I was fascinated to understand why I had never heard of him and decided to research his life. I found that from a humble beginning he rose to fame and riches and then fell completely from public interest. This little piece is the result of my researches.


11 Mar

I have not written a blog for some months, but I have not been idle. I have made some presentations both on Zoom and in person, but my main focus, during lockdown, has been writing.

I have completed an account of the life of Sir Hubert von Herkomer, the Bavarian born Victorian/ Edwardian artist who became a British national. Herkomer was a multi talented man who achieved such artistic heights in Great Britain, that he was commissioned by Edward VII, to paint Queen Victoria on her death bed – but who, through his persistent loyalty to his country of origin (as well as to Great Britain his adopted country), fell into personal and artistic disfavour and is now virtually forgotten.

I am also preparing, with co-author John Dudeney, a book on the life of Sir Clements Markham, who, as a young man, not only smuggled quinine (in the bark of the cinchona tree), out of Peru and transported it to India where it grew successfully, thus saving the lives of thousands and thousands of people, but also, as President of the Royal Geographical Society masterminded the ‘Discovery’ expedition. ‘Discovery’ was the first expedition ever, to penetrate significantly into the Antarctic. This is a big venture. We are lucky enough to have the wholehearted support of the Markham family and so access to private papers.

But the big news is the location of ‘Endurance’. I was doubtful if this would ever be achieved because of the problems of getting through the ice in the Weddell Sea. However the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust have supported the team that has successfully cleared through the ice (less dense this year) and discovered ‘Endurance’ at 10,000 feet. They were helped by the remarkable detailed records of ‘Endurance’s’ skipper Frank Worsley. We will be hearing much more.

Sir George Nares

14 Nov

I understand some of circulated blogs on Sir George had one image of ‘Manhauling’ repeated twice

I knew I had made this mistake but thought that I had corrected it

The image that should have been inserted was ‘Further Manhauling’-which I think is a very nice image

If you look at the blog on my website you will find it


11 Nov

George Nares was withdrawn from the  ‘Challenger Expedition’  to take charge of an important Arctic expedition, theBritish Arctic Expedition, because of his previous experience in the Arctic -he had been on one of the searches for Sir John Franklin from 1852- 54, in addition he had much surveying experience.

The British Arctic Expedition aimed to reach the North Pole.

There were two ships, the Alert, captained by Sir George and the Discovery. captained by Henry Stephenson.  Albert Markham (Clements Markham’s cousin) 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 North Pole, over which the expedition would sail. In essence Nares was to get as close as possible to the North Pole and to explore whatever coasts the travelling parties could reach.

After the ships’ 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 awful but Nares was the first to take his ships all the way north to the Lincoln Sea. (see map)

The assumption that this would then open to an ice-free region that surrounded the pole was ABSOLUTELY wrong – Nares found that a wasteland of ice obstructed any further progress  – unfortunately  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 (see map), 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 over-winter.




From the north of Ellesmere Island teams were sent out to explore the region and collect as much scientific data as possible. Markham led one of these sorties.  But the men were totally unprepared for the dreadful conditions they encountered – they were issued with sealskin suits and wool Guernsey jackets these provided totally inadequate protection, the suits got soaked and then iced up- it is easy to imagine the horrors of these conditions. 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 at 83°20’ N. This was the expedition’s furthest northern depot. No more expeditions were attempted before the winter.


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 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 1876, 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 Markham party 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 less and on other days they were completely incapacitated by storms. Their clothes froze solid, their sleeping bags became encrusted in ice from their breathing and their sweat and increased in weight.  They were exhausted, but what would 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 and transported across the Atlantic in big vats, had considerably less antiscorbutic qualities than lemon although this was unknown at the time. In addition doubts had been raised  generally about its efficiency, on one expedition lime juice (almost certainly ineffective secondary to its transport) had been doled out daily and the man still developed scurvy.  In any event little lime juice was taken on this sortie.

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 the disease. 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. The virtual absence of lime juice in this sortie was to be bitterly criticized in the subsequent enquiry. 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 1876(see image below). This region was  over 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 further observations).


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 the 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 more than 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, public opinion, armchair experts were critical. It was said that the expedition had failed in its goal of reaching the Pole, (true, but for very good reasons) and 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.

Nares was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1876, He was awarded the Founder’s Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1877 and the Gold medal from the Société de Géographie in 1879. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1876.

He continued in command of Alert, initially surveying the Strait of Magellan. From 1879 to 1896 was employed in the Harbour Department of the Board of Trade. He retired from the Royal Navy in 1886. He was promoted on the retired list twice, firstly in 1887 to rear-admiral, and secondly in 1892 to vice-admiral.

He died in 1915 in  England, in Kingston Upon Thames