Notes on Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

23 Nov

Bill Alp, a New Zealander, a project manager in information technology and a man with a passion for researching the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, has written a critique of the paper. I agree with his comments and give them in full

I have appended some general comments of my own at the end of his critique

Bill’s comments
General – the importance of verifiable facts in research articles
Professor Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ has recently been published by Polar Record. It may be viewed at
Whilst the article draws upon many historic documents, it is rather light on verifiable facts. There are plenty of conjectures, insinuations and rumours. However, statements such as: “before sending Atkinson and his team back, Scott repeated that the dogs were not to be risked” and “Whilst no orders were apparently written by Scott for the Last Supporting party, it does seem they were issued on the journey” and “Atkinson remained convinced the orders as he understood them had not been rescinded” would be more acceptable if supported by verifiable citations.
A significant proportion of the article reiterates the opinions of individuals back in England ( Lord Curzon, K Scott, O Wilson etc.), who could not possibly have witnessed Evans’ alleged transgressions in Antarctica. The article would have more substance if it included eye-witness accounts of Evans’ alleged transgressions.
Turney has worked hard to depict Teddy Evans as being a bad person, using a technique of presenting multiple adverse opinions and innuendo. This approach is not a trusted alternative to straightforward assembly and presentation of verifiable facts. In short, Turney’s article falls well-short of the standard normally associated with scholarly research.
Alleged theft of food by Evans
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition maintains that the energy content of Scott’s man-food rations fell well-short of what was required. For example, Fiennes assessed Scott’s summit ration at 4500 calories per day and stated that energy consumption would exceed 7000 calories per day when man-hauling in polar conditions (Fiennes, 2003, pp. 283-285). The Polar Party was close to a ‘starvation diet’ for 77 days, from commencement of man-hauling up the Glacier until arriving back on the Barrier on 24 February, and thence onto the even lower energy Barrier ration, until their deaths. It is surprising that Turney’s article makes no mention of the energy shortfall in the diet planned and organised by Scott, writing only about possible food shortages allegedly caused by Evans. For the article to be perceived as being well-reasoned and balanced, a distinction between problems caused by inadequate ration content versus alleged food theft would add credibility. A more balanced approach to analysis of food-related problems could have avoided press headlines such as “Captain Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed 1911 expedition to the South Pole was ‘sabotaged’ by his second in command who stole vital rations and rebelled against orders, expert claims” (Daily Mail (Australia), 12 October 2017).
The article provides no evidence that the Polar Party was forced to go onto short rations whilst returning across the Barrier. It may be noted that Scott’s Message to Public stated every detail of their food supplies worked out to perfection (obviously, Scott was silent about the adequacy of their fuel oil supplies}. Scott’s statement may be evaluated by investigating when the returning Polar Party was able to consume full rations and when it was obliged to go onto short rations. Based upon Shackleton’s average speed in his Nimrod expedition, Scott had decided upon a 144 day southern journey and took an appropriate number of ration packs (albeit with insufficient daily energy content). With a start date of 1 November 1911, 144 days’ worth of food would last until 22 March 1912, which is very close to when the Polar Party came off their full ration in the death tent. Scott’s journal shows he dared not cut back on food rations whilst returning across the Barrier. The evidence suggests the Polar Party enjoyed full rations until about 21 March 1912.
It is therefore apparent that even if 80 ounces of biscuit (5 man-days of summit ration, as highlighted by Turney) plus an unknown quantity of pemmican had been under-provisioned by Bowers, or had been misappropriated by any of the returning parties (be it the Dog Party, the First Return Party or Evans’ Second Return Party), this alone did not cause the Polar Party to go onto short rations.
Whilst Turney’s article puts up a convincing case that a few people in far-off England had fussed over possible shortages of biscuit or pemmican, no evidence is presented to demonstrate that such shortages, if they existed, had any adverse impact on the Polar Party at all.
In order to attain a better standard of proof about alleged food shortages, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against the well-established facts. If that analysis comes out in favour of the new theories then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans took food beyond his entitlement, to the detriment of the Polar Party, is unproven.
Alleged failure of Evans to convey orders
Turney’s article bases its case about Evans’ alleged failure to convey Scott’s revised orders upon a single thread, originating in Gran’s 1961 book Kampen om Sydpolen (not available in English). One is left wondering why such a pivotal piece of evidence is not quoted in full, in English and the original Norwegian, to allay any concern about biased or selective translation. I wrote to Professor Turney on 15 October 2017 requesting a copy of Gran’s text, but as at 22 November 2017 had received no response.
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition contains a lot of widely accepted information about Atkinson’s actions when he became responsible for the third dog journey. For example, Mike Tarver’s biography of Atkinson (Tarver, 2015, pp. 53-54) tells of the letters Atkinson wrote to his parents about responsibilities assigned to him by Scott. Independent journal entries by Wright, Simpson and Cherry-Garrard (all available from SPRI archives), plus a letter from Demetri to Meares and Evans’ book itself, all paint a consistent picture of how the events of the third dog journey evolved during Atkinson’s watch. There is so much primary evidence available that independent verification of Atkinson’s account is straightforward.
However, the new theory about the orders allegedly given by Scott to Evans is not independently verified in Turney’s article, at all. The article would be more believable if Gran’s 1961 account could be verified to a similar level of confidence as Atkinson’s account. Without verifiable evidence, the charge that Evans failed to convey orders is based solely on hearsay and conjecture.
In assessing Turney’s new theory, several points come to mind:
• Gran was not present at the time the alleged instructions were given to Evans; he was not even present on the southern journey. He was therefore not an eye-witness.
• He did not enjoy Scott’s confidence. It seems highly unlikely that Scott would have shared information about his plans and instructions with Gran that he did not share with others.
• All we have is Gran’s belated recollection of Evans alleged admission, made at an unspecified place on an unknown date, recorded for the first time in 1961.
• His book Kampen om Sydpolen, from which the new material is apparently drawn, was published almost 50 years after the event. It is surprising that the story of Evans’ alleged instructions does not appear in Gran’s published diary, covering the period from 29 November 1910 until 12 February 1913 (Gran, 1984).
• Perhaps Gran created the story from memory, almost 50 years after the event. Without seeing Gran’s text one cannot be sure, but it seems as though Gran’s story could be a jumbling together of Scott’s written orders to Meares (Evans, 1961, pp. 162-163) plus Atkinson’s verbal instructions from Scott (Atkinson, 2011, p. 665) with names changed (Evans instead of Atkinson) and destination changed (83° 00’ instead of 82° 30’).
Hypothetically, Gran’s account could be true. As with the charge of food theft, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against well-established facts. If the analysis comes out in favour of the new theory then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
The article does not address the need to provide adequate dog food for the extended journey. From surviving records, such as Wilson’s sketchbook, we can see that Scott’s food-planning was thorough and it would have been out of character for him to issue instructions for the Dog Party to travel beyond their maximum (food determined) range, with fatal consequences for men and animals. The article would be more credible if it included an analysis of dog food planned for the extended journey.
Another concern is the vagueness arising from the absence of any timeline. Turney’s article provides no evidence about when Scott expected Evans to meet the Dog Party, in order to pass on the revised instructions, or when the dogs should meet up with the Polar Party. This is an important omission because the Dog Party would need to receive the revised instructions before departed south, in order to alter their payload to suit Scott’s revised instructions. The article would have more substance if it included a clear timeline analysis.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans failed to convey Scott’s revised orders, based solely upon Gran’s unverified story, is unproven. Verifiable facts would strengthen Turney’s charge that Evans failed to comply with Scott’s orders.
Atkinson, E.L. (2011). The last Year at Cape Evans, In: Scott, R.F. Scott’s Last Expedition. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Evans, E.R.G.R. (1961). South With Scott. London, England: Collins
Fiennes, R. (2003). Captain Scott. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton
Geroff, D. (1913). Letter to Cecil Meares 2 January 1913 (written by F. Debenham), Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum MS0455
Gran, J.T.H. (1984). The Norwegian with Scott: Tryggve Gran’s Antarctic Diary 1910-1913. G. Hattersley-Smith (Ed.). London, England: HMSO
Tarver, M.C. (2015). The Man Who Found Captain Scott. Antarctic Explorer and War Hero. Surgeon Captain Edward Leicester Atkinson. Brixham, Devon UK: Pendragon Maritime Publications

Bill Alp
Wellington, New Zealand
22 November 2017

GENERAL COMMENTS; Isobel P. Williams

1) In relation to food:
Scott recorded in his journal on the evening of 10th December that ‘Evans’ party could not keep up …they took nearly half an hour to come up a few hundred yards’ (Robert Falcon Scott Journals, p 344).- this is hardly surprising as two of the men had been man-hauling for the previous 40 days on Barrier Rations. The Summit Rations for the assault on the Pole had been re-calculated (4,500 calories) after Edward Wilson’s winter expedition to Cape Crozier (27 June -1 August 1911). In the 1990s Mike Stroud calculated the calories needed for man-hauling to be 7,000 calories per day (Fiennes, ‘Captain Scott’, p. 284/5). Teddy Evans started to man-haul on the 1st November 1911, as did P.O.William Lashly (Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries. p.120). 65 days later they started the Return Journey, with Thomas Crean, on 4th.January 1912 (Lashly’s Diaries, p.135). By this time both Teddy Evans and P.O. Lashly would have already expended over 150,000 calories more than they had taken in (this deficit was less than it could have been, as they were held up by blizzards for 9 days). They would have lost more weight (muscle and fat) than their peers who had only started to man-haul from the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on 10 December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.127).
In relation to the five men on Scott’s return party from the Pole – by the time they reached the Barrier, each man would have built up a deficit of 301,000 calories although they did not realize this, having man-hauled for 72 days.

2) On page 498, ‘Introduction’, Professor Turney states that C.P.O. EDGAR Evans, (as apposed to Teddy), died ‘apparently from the effects of concussion’. In my biography of Edgar Evans, ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans’, I go into the possible causes of Edgar’s death in considerable depth. My conclusion is that he probably died of a Staphylococcus Aureus bacteraemia that developed secondarily to his cutting his hand whilst shortening a sledge on 31st. December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.133). I am unconvinced by the ‘concussion’ theory, for the reasons mentioned in the relevant chapter.

3) On page 501, in relation to vitamin C, Professor Turney states that ‘it would be twenty years before its importance of the prevention of scurvy was fully realized’. Here I must put in a plug for Shackleton. In his preparation for his Trans Antarctic Expedition he was fully cognizant of the dangers of scurvy, having suffered severely from the disease himself and was determined to do all he could to prevent this problem. This is explained in an article he wrote in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ July 1914, p. 5 ‘The Antarctic’—Considerations of Diet. In his preparations he consulted carefully with Colonel Beveridge of the Royal Army Medical College’ (each man was allocated a pack daily containing 5,452 cals).

4)The cause of scurvy was demonstrated in 1907 by the Norwegians Axel Holst and Theodor Frolich, when guinea pigs were shown to be the only mammals at that time (other than humans) that could not manufacture an ascorbic factor. The guinea pigs developed scurvy when fed a deficient diet and recovered when fed a diet that included vegetables (much later the factor was isolated as hexuronic acid, later re named Ascorbic Acid, commonly known as Vitamin C).

5) Undoubtedly Teddy Evans was a brave man- – on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition he did sterling work when the ‘Terra Nova’ was in danger of sinking in the Southern Ocean after the suction pumps choked, Teddy, sometimes submerged in filthy oily water, squeezed through a hole in the engine room bulkhead and ‘wriggled over the coal, found his way to the pump shaft and down it. He soon cleared the suction of the coal balls which choked it’ (Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Max Jones p.19). In WW1, on HMS Broke, he deliberately rammed a G42′, almost breaking it in two. This action gained him immediate promotion to the rank of Captain, and the award of the DSO

Ranolph Fiennes, 2003 Captain Scott, London, Hodder and Stoughton
A.R.Ellis, 1969 Under Scott’s Command, Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries, London, Victor Gollancz
Max Jones, 2005 Robert Falcon Scott Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Oxford University Press UK
Isobel Williams, 2012 Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans, The History Press, Gloucestershire UK


Lieutenant Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans—Teddy Evans

21 Nov


That the ‘Terra Nova’ sailed from Cardiff was due to Teddy Evans’ valuable connections with local
business men, commercial organisations and the enthusiastic support of the ‘Western Mail’. Evans had
originally planned to lead his own expedition, but after a London meeting with Scott in July 1909, the
men agreed to cooperate, rather than compete in their efforts to reach the South Pole – Scott would lead
the expedition, Evans would sail as second in command. The considerable resources from Wales were
put at the disposal of the ‘Terra Nova’.

Many months later, in late 1911, Scott and Evans were on at the final assault on the Pole. At this stage
there were twelve men man-hauling three sledges. Two of these groups were relatively rested, but on
Evans’ team, he and Petty Officer William Lashly had been man-hauling since 1 November 1911.
The strain showed and Scott became impatient with Evans’ perceived carelessness and
disorganisation. On 20 December 1911, the first supporting party of four turned back, leaving eight
men to go on. Evans’ team was reorganised with himself, Lieutenant Bowers, Lashly, and Able Seaman Thomas Crean. But on 3 January 1912, Scott decided that he would incorporate Bowers into his on-
going team and that Evans should return with a THREE-man team, ‘the Last Supporting Party’. So on
4 January 1912, Evans, Lashly and Crean turned back.

Reducing the pulling power to three slowed Evans’ party. On the glacier Evans began to suffer physical problems, initially snow-blindness (painful and limiting his vision), and later, signs of scurvy. The scurvy symptoms and signs increased rapidly causing significant physical deterioration. Soon he had to be carried on the sledge by Lashly and Crean.

By 13 February 1912 Evans had deteriorated to such a stage that he ordered his companions to leave him to his fate and return to base. They refused, ‘the first and last time my orders as a naval officer were disobeyed’. A blizzard finally halted the three men’s progress on 17 February. They were only thirty-five miles from the base camp at Hut Point, but it was clear that Lashly and Crean could not continue with the sledge pulling. Lashly remained with Evans whilst Crean headed north to seek aid. When he managed to return with help and supplies, Evans was thought to be near to death. The men carefully transported him back to the main camp, arriving a few days before the relief ship the ‘Terra Nova’. He gradually regained his physical health, though he remained bedridden until April, by which time ‘Terra Nova’ had arrived in New Zealand.

Now a recent article by Professor Chris Turney ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ has been published in the
Polar Record (Vol. 53, Issue 5, Sept. 2017, pp. 498-511). The piece throws doubts on Evans’
behaviour during the expedition and suggests that Evans’ actions on the return journey played into
the deaths of Scott and his men. The work focuses on the shortage of food at key depots, the apparently
deliberate obfuscation of when Evans actually fell ill with scurvy (by suggesting that the illness developed
earlier on the return than had been understood in London) and that Evans had taken pemmican
and other food supplies from the food caches before he succumbed to scurvy, thus prejudicing Scott’s return march. Finally he failed to pass on orders given by Scott regarding the dogs.

Professor Turney concludes that Evans’actions on and off the ice can at best be described as
ineffectual, at worst deliberate sabotage. He wonders why Evans was not questioned more about these
events on his return to England.

I do not agree with these comments – more will follow later.

Further comments on Scott’s ‘suicide’

5 Nov

Some years ago, on this blog, we had an animated correspondence on the subject of Scott’s ‘suicide’ – this was mostly centered on Professor Sienicki’s assertions in his paper ‘The Weather and its Role in Captain F. Scott and his Companions’ Deaths’, that Scott, having realised that there was no hope of him returning alive, decided on ‘a slow suicide’. Having reached this decision he was fearful that critics in Britain (who had previously slandered him and Lt.Royds, over the latter’s meteorological records from the ‘Discovery’ expedition), would pounce again, so, to gain public sympathy for himself and his own and his companions’ families, he and Bowers falsified their meteorological data and recorded abnormally low temperatures.
Professor Sienicki repeated these assertions in his book on the subject and was critical of other expert conclusions, mentioning particularly, Susan Solomon, the award winning atmospheric chemist.
As would be expected there was much argument about this conclusion and on this blog Bill Alp, an I.T. and software expert, persistently asked for details that would support Professor Sienicki’s data.
Now the American Meteorological Society has published a paper, which, without mentioning Sienicki,appears to refute his thesis.(http;//

The paper shows that whilst several studies have focussed on the exceptionally cold conditions that Scott and his party suffered in the end of the Antarctic summer of 1912, both Scott and Amundsen experienced exceptional meteorological conditions – there were unusually WARM conditions in the interior of the Ross Ice Shelf and Amundsen’s party also experienced unusually high temperatures on the plateau as they approached the South Pole. At the same time Scott (well behind Amundsen) experienced these warmer than average temperatures on the Barrier. Scott also had higher-than-usual temperatures as his party descended the Beardmore Glacier. This warm period was followed by a colder than average temperature on the Ross Ice Shelf in early March. It is suggested, amongst other things, that the period of warmth may have lulled Scott into a sense of security before the temperatures dropped unusually and dramatically, sharply. There was no manipulation of the data — Scott’s cold weather observations were no more extreme than the high temperature observations.

Bill Alp has written the following:

It is great to see that a new research article, An Exceptional Summer during the South Pole Race of 1911-1912, has been published by the prestigious American Meteorological Society. It may be viewed at:
I like the article and recommend it to others because:
1. It provides an even-handed non-partisan analysis, including Amundsen’s meteorological observations, and it addresses the exceptionally warm period that Amundsen experienced in December 1911.
2. It does not propose any bizarre theories about Scott falsifying his temperature records in order to pave the way for his own suicide. Fogt et al simply show that most of the extreme temperature and pressure observations during this exceptional season are about two standard deviations above or below the mean value in the climatology model they used, called ERA-Int. Scott’s cold March temperature observations are no more extreme that Amundsen’s high December temperature observations. [Noting that observations of under-sledge temperatures were excluded because pooled cold air could cause a cold bias].
3. With a lifetime of experience in IT and software project management, I have wide personal experience in reviewing and probing the adequacy of testing that has been carried out in development of complex systems. Fogt’s article rings true for me.
4. The article has been through the peer review process of a respectable research institution.

So there we are. There will probably be more to follow

The Ben Nevis Observatory

24 Oct

I have always been interested in the history of the Ben Nevis Observatory. I have written about it before but I think this remarkable development deserves further comment.
The observatory was opened on the summit of Ben Nevis (4,406 feet), in October 1893; and enlarged in 1894, but observations (as distinct to the actual Observatory) started in 1881, when a determined meteorologist Clement Wragge climbed Ben Nevis to make recordings. He got to the summit virtually every day between early June and mid October and used pigeons to transport his readings to Fort William where his wife took the low level readings and telegraphed the results to London! Wragge hoped that after his considerable efforts, he would be the first Supervisor when the observatory was built, but he was passed over in favour of the experienced meteorologist, Robert Omond.
William Speirs Bruce applied to join the Observatory in1894, he needed experience in recording detailed meteorological data in relation to his plans to lead an expedition to Antarctica. Initially his appointment was a locum post, but he was appointed to a substantive position on the summit, under the leadership of Robert Omond, in1895. His aim to achieve meteorological experience was achieved; in his year on the summit was given the most rigorous training.
In 1896 a Low Level Observatory was built at Fort William and manned by Robert Mossman, who would become closely associated with Bruce and went on the Scotia expedition as Meteorologist. The recordings from these two levels were synchronised, this was a first in Britain and led to increased understanding of weather conditions in mountainous regions.
Bruce’s duties were onerous. Observations were made, every hour whenever possible, in rapidly changing and often challenging, conditions. In winter, when snow made the station isolated enough even for Bruce, the snowdrifts were sometimes so high that the men had to get to their instruments via snow tunnels, or exit the observatory via the tower. This experience plus the changes in wind and fog, was an excellent training for Antarctic meteorology.
It was found that fog was present on the summit for 80% of the time in November, December and January 1895/6 – it was common for the summit to be capped in fog when surrounding summits were clear (later Bruce was to tell his companions in Antarctica that they did not know what fog was unless they had experienced it on Ben Nevis). Temperature comparisons between the high and low stations showed that the average fall in temperature between Fort William and the Summit was 15.3°F, with a mean annual temperature at the summit of 31.5° F, compared with 46.8°F. at the base station. Annual rainfall at the summit was approximately double that at Fort William.
Distinguished scientists visited the summit to observe its activities. Amongst these was C.T.R.Wilson, a Scottish physicist. One morning Wilson noted that the rays of the sun cast his shadow, enormously magnified and surmounted by a coloured halo, onto the surface of a fog cloud on the opposite mountain top (this phenomenon had been described by Johann Silberschlag in 1780 and was called the Brocken Spectre).
Wilson recognised that this phenomenon was due to supersaturated water droplets, in the form of fog, which fragmented the sun’s rays into its component parts.
In subsequent laboratory experiments he used sealed glass containers of supersaturated water droplets, (which he called the Cloud Chamber), to demonstrate images of the tracks of charged particles released by X-rays and radioactive materials. Different sized particles with different speeds created different trail patterns – for example an alpha particle track is thick and straight, others are wispy.
The Cloud Chamber was the first tool to be able to follow the path of otherwise invisible particles and show the variety of their size and speed. Wilson was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927 for this work.
Bruce spent a year on Ben Nevis. Sadly recurring shortfalls in funds led to the observatory being closed in 1904, nine years after he had left it.

The cloud chamber is described as follows: a sealed environment containing a supersaturated vapour of water or alcohol. An energetic charged particle (for example, an alpha or beta particle) interacts with the gaseous mixture by knocking electrons off gas molecules via electrostatic forces during collisions, resulting in a trail of ionised gas particles. The resulting ions act as condensation centres, around which a mist-like trail of small droplets form if the gas mixture is at the point of condensation. These droplets are visible as a “cloud” track that persist for several seconds while the droplets fall through the vapour. These tracks have characteristic shapes. For example, an alpha particle track is thick and straight, while an electron track is wispy and shows more evidence of deflections by collisions.
Cloud chambers played a prominent role in the experimental particle physics from the 1920s to the 1950s, until the advent of the bubble chamber. In particular, the discoveries of the positron in 1932 and the muon in 1936, both by Carl Anderson (awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936), used cloud chambers. Discovery of the kaon by George Rochester and Clifford Charles Butler in 1947, also was made using a cloud chamber as the detector. In each case, cosmic rays were the source of ionising radiation.

caption: Ben Nevis Observatory after Ice storm
(photo facing page 64 N.Rudmose Brown’s’Naturalist at the Poles’)


12 Oct

It is all to easy to forget the ‘other’ man who contributed to the success of the expeditions. On the ‘Scotia’ expedition Captain Robertson was pivotal to its success.

He was one man with whom Bruce never fell out; Bruce admired the Captain’s superb ice navigation skills and his ‘miraculous’ ability to anticipate and avoid the numerous potential emergencies that ‘Scotia’ encountered on her exploration to the South in 1903.
Thomas Robertson was born in Peterhead in 1855. His father and both his grandfathers were whaling captains, and from childhood he had a close association with the sea. His apprenticeship was served on a Peterhead merchant vessel trading with Australia and China but, on his return to England he decided to join the whaling and sealing industry. In this work he went to the Arctic, first as Mate on the ‘Jan Mayen’ of Dundee and then, at the age of twenty-four, as Master of the ‘Polar Star’, in which role he made voyages to the seal and fishery grounds off East Greenland and the Davis Straits. These voyages gave valuable experience; the ships were sail driven – this was before steam was in general use on whaling ships- and the knowledge he gained in handling these sailing vessels through the iceberg- laden north, was an invaluable asset when later he commanded ships with steam auxiliary power.

Bruce first encountered Robertson on the Dundee Whaling Expedition to the Antarctic of 1892-1893 when he (Bruce), sailed as Surgeon/Naturalist on ‘Balaena’, one of the five whalers going South in search of Right Whales. Robertson was Captain of one of the smaller ships, the ‘Active’. Bruce was accompanied on the expedition by his friend and fellow student Burn Murdoch. When Burn Murdoch wrote a book, ‘From Edinburgh to the Antarctic’, criticising the captain for the few opportunities allowed for scientific work on the expedition, Robertson wrote a defence. He said that it was difficult for the ‘passengers’ to be aware of the petty tyrannies imposed on a whaling captain.

The two men met again in the summer of 1897. Bruce was a scientist on the Franz Josef expedition when Captain Robertson, now Captain of ‘Balaena’ and on a whaling sortie, visited the archipelago. The meeting led to Robertson being later appointed as Captain of the ‘Scotia’ in 1902 when his skill in avoiding getting trapped in the Polar ice was pivotal. His plan to avoid the ice that swept up from the southeast of the Weddell Sea by sailing above it, became a benchmark for later expeditions. His contribution to the success of the ‘Scotia’ expedition was readily acknowledged by Bruce.

Robertson was naturally ambitious to further his career. At this time Shackleton was Secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and Robertson wrote to him in October 1904:
Lieutenant Shackleton RNR
Dear Sir
As I was in command of the ship of the Scottish Antarctic expedition I would esteem it as a great honour if your society would make one a fellow. I did some work in the Antarctic some years ago and I think that an FRGS would help one in getting charge of some expedition where I would have a chance of doing some geographical work in the future.
Trusting you will lay my request before your council I am yours faithfully Thomas Robertson.

The council approved Robertson’s Fellowship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and at their meeting on Thursday 20th October 1904, the council awarded the society’s silver medal to Captain Robertson. Bruce was awarded the Gold Medal.

Following the Antarctic expedition it was planned that ‘Scotia’ would see further use by the Universities of Scotland as a research vessel: however it became necessary to sell her, to recoup some of the expedition costs and she and Robertson were reunited as Robertson sailed her as a sealer and whaler off the Greenland coast. On the 15th February 1913 she was requisitioned, (still under Robertson’s command,) by the Board of Trade for use as a weathership on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland in order to give iceberg warnings to shipping; for this a Marconi wireless was fitted so allowing communications with stations on the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland.

When members of Shackleton’s ‘Nimrod’ expedition were awarded the Polar Medal, Bruce submitted a request for the crew of ‘Scotia’ to be awarded the award. This was refused by Edward VII. Bruce reapplied in 1913 but the request was refused again by George V. Bruce wrote to Charles Price, Edinburgh MP and Bruce supporter, in August 1917, that ‘Robertson was dying without his well won white ribbon! The Mate is dead! The Second Mate is dead!! the Chief Engineer is dead!!! everyone as good men as have ever served on any Polar Expedition yet they did not receive the white ribbon. Surely it can merely be treated as an omission by the King, the public need never know that King Edward ever considered the matter’.
The medal was not awarded.

But Robertson’s reputation as an outstanding seaman is assured. He had a remarkable record; in nearly forty years of Polar work he neither lost a ship, nor a man. He was a man to ride the waters with. In numerous emergencies, when a moment’s hesitation could have resulted in disaster, his natural gifts as an ice pilot were complimented by an intuition that on occasions seemed miraculous.

Taking sightings On Scotia Captain Robertson with Mr. Fitchie

Addison’s Disease and Deaths on Franklin’s North West Passage Expedition of the 1840s

12 Sep

I was interested to read that Professor Russell Taichman of the University of Michigan, an expert on the Franklin expedition and the North West Passage, has developed a new theory to help explain deaths amongst the Franklin naval crew -a mystery that continues to intrigue. As is well known there were no survivors amongst the 129 crew on this expedition. Malnutrition, scurvy, lead poisoning, tuberculosis and even botulism have been considered.
Professor Taichman and his colleagues now propose that tuberculosis, a very common disease at the time, could have damaged the adrenal glands and resulted in Addison’s disease an endocrine disorder, which causes a reduction of steroid hormone output. This condition, Professor Taichman suggests, may well have been the cause of some of the deaths. Their findings were published in the journal ‘Arctic’ earlier this year.
When, in 1846, the ships ‘Erebus’ and ‘Terror’ became trapped near King William Island (northern Canada), they were well stocked with canned food and the crew spent two years on and around the island hoping that the ice would melt and their ships escape.
Inuit accounts described emaciated crewmembers with “hard, dry and black” mouths and Professor Taichman, decided to study the various cause-of-death theories and consider how each condition affects the oral cavity.
Taichman and Mark MacEachern, a librarian at the University of Michigan Taubman Health Sciences Library, cross-referenced the crew’s physical symptoms with known diseases. They analysed 1,718 medical citations and were interested to find that the suggestion of Addison’s disease kept appearing during the analysis. In the 1840s the most common cause of the disease was tuberculosis. Potential supporting evidence for tuberculosis was discovered when autopsies of three sailors who had died and were buried on a nearby island,revealed evidence of tuberculosis.
Addison’s disease was not described until 1855 and all of Addison’s six original patients had tuberculosis of the adrenal glands. Nowadays however, the diagnosis of Addison’s disease does not imply any particular underlying diagnosis (of which there are several). Sufferers have poor regulation of sodium, low blood pressure, a curious pigmentation of the mouth and skin creases of the hands; they become dehydrated, and cannot maintain their weight even when food is available. The diagnosis is easy to arrive at nowadays as long as the symptoms are recognised as being possibly due to Addison’s. I vividly remember one young lady who was reduced to literally crawling up stairs in her home before the diagnosis was finally considered.
TB causing Addison’s disease seems a very possible cause of death in some of these poor crewmembers in their terrible situation.


Autism and Bruce

30 Aug

A colleague has sent me an excerpt from an article in ‘The Times’ written by Kathy Lette regarding autism. Kathy’s son has autism, which she summarises as an inability to socialise, a chronic obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, linked often, with a high I.Q. Kathy makes the point that autistic people often have abilities which may not be apparent and her advice is ‘feed their passions, as you never know where it might lead’.

A friend of mine also has a son with autistic characteristics. She comments that autistic people seem to think differently from the norm – it is certainly well known that they often speak without a filter, saying precisely what they are thinking, with little insight into the effects of their comments,so making social situations a minefield. Poor communication can result in misunderstandings and irascibility on both sides

In relation to Bruce; socialisation was not his forte. His friend Rudmose Brown, a loyal friend of many years, admitted this in his book on Bruce that aimed to bring Bruce to the attention of the wider world. Rudmose Brown wrote that even he, with all his loyalty and sympathy could not truly penetrate Bruce’s reticence and reserve. Bruce never fully confided in him and that: ‘there seemed to be a barrier that no man and certainly no woman ever crossed. He seldom if ever spoke of his family and childhood, rarely of his private concerns, and never of his philosophy of life’. This seems to me very suggestive of an autistic trait. Bruce never invited friends to his home, his wife Jessie, became increasingly isolated, separated from family and friends and with insufficient funds. When Bruce actually was at home, his granddaughter understands that he would bury himself in his study, ignoring trays of food left outside his door, compulsively immersed in his work. He was with his family, but not in it.

He was certainly obsessive, perhaps he needed to be, the work of his Scottish Oceanograpghical Laboratory was overwhelming, Thousands of specimens from his voyage to the Weddell Sea had to be sorted, described, reported, sent to experts in the United Kingdom and Europe and amalgamated into seven hefty volumes (six scientific). His laboratory became his home as he laboured for years with his magnum opus. He had no time for anything but his work.

He could well have been anxious He certainly could be irritable. His friend and admirer the meteorologist Mossman wrote, ‘I hear Bruce has had a row with Keltie. I do not know what about but I think it is a great pity that he should “fall out” with so many people’. Neither was Bruce reserved about recording his irritation in print without pause for consideration of the effects of his comments – as a young naturalist his anger was aroused by a review of his friend, Burn Murdoch’s account of a whaling voyage to the Antarctic. Bruce wrote provocatively and to no less a person than the Editor of ‘Natural Science’, saying that he agreed with Burn Murdoch that science should be for everyone and he supported his friend’s comment that it was a hideous marvel that though Dundonians had shown enterprise in sending four ships to the Antarctic, they had shown a total disregard for the scientific possibilities of such a cruise, (this, predictably, met with an ‘anything but a friendly reception in Dundee seafaring circles’).

Again, on reviewing Admiralty maps of an Arctic island he published–‘I find more or less a definite map of the island but, on inspection I found this to be, as I expected, little more than a conglomeration of a series of indefinite sketches, all inaccurate but each one less inaccurate than the resulting conglomerate’.

Commenting on ‘rivalry’ between the Royal Geographic Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society he wrote ‘I did not know that there was this rivalry between the London and Scottish Societies, which caused them either to try or prevent the other getting geographical information. It is scarcely in the scientific spirit’.

Such comments must have been counter productive, antagonising those he wished to influence, but Bruce could not see this – he lacked insight. His situation was made worse because he was looking for support at the same time as Scott and Shackleton, both men of charm and persuasion and both moreover, able to contact people of influence. These were lines of approach not open to Bruce.

It is always difficult to make a diagnosis retrospectively but I think the evidence suggests that Bruce displayed a strong autistic tendency that prejudiced his reputation and reduced recognition with regard to his considerable achievements. He might have achieved more if he had not had these traits and had been able to get on better with other people – alternatively, there is a fine line between being single minded and being obsessive and it can be argued that he might not have achieved anything without an autistic streak which lead to his obsession, and his scientific successes.

William Speirs Bruce and Autism

7 Aug

I have now spent some years reading, writing and thinking about Bruce. Bruce led an important Scottish expedition to Antarctica on his ship ‘Scotia’. Subsequently he spent years building up the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in Edinburgh, which, he hoped would be a permanent national establishment. In addition he started the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate. The syndicate aimed to prospect for minerals in the Arctic and in this work he became thoroughly enmeshed in geopolitics as he petitioned the British Government to annex Spitsbergen

I have come to the conclusion that his (considerable) financial and logistical problems were exacerbated by the fact that he exhibited characteristics that today would be considered as part of the autistic spectrum. These characteristics significantly complicated his dealings with other people.

Autism is of course a wide field, but reasons for considering Bruce belonged in this field are:

Bruce’s loyal friend R.N Rudmose Brown (who wrote a biography of Bruce after his death, an appreciation of his many talents), wrote that even with him (Rudmose Brown), there was never a complete confidence: ‘There seemed to be a barrier that no man and certainly no woman ever crossed. He seldom if ever spoke of his family and childhood, rarely of his private concerns & never of his philosophy of life’.

Bruce clearly did have problems with social communications. His letter to his supporter, the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, Dr. Hugh Robert Mill, illustrates this. ‘I was intending to tell Mrs. Mill and yourself the other day that I was intending to marry, but when the time came it seemed even more difficult to say so than to reach the South Pole. Such is the case however andI should not like the event to take place without having told you’.

His poor communication skills would have made him irascible – he had quarrels through out his career and seems to have been unaware of the effect that his outspoken comments made on recipients. These quarrels could go on for years. A colleague from student days wrote that he was ‘as Prickly as the Scottish thistle itself’. Another long term associate and supporter (who regularly sent money to help the Bruce family out), wrote ‘I hear Bruce has had a row with Keltie. I do not know what about but I think it is a great pity that he should “fall out” with so many people. Even when one is slighted it is just as well to keep quiet. If a man is doing good work and he is respected he is bound to come out on top sooner than later’.

During his work he had ongoing problems with the British Government, which must have been worsened by his regular outspoken and written criticism of the government’s lack of support for his Scottish demands when compared with its comparative generosity to the English explorers Scott and Shackleton. The government’s refusal to annex Spitsbergen again promoted his public criticism. This, and his (politically unwise) harnessing of his demands to Scottish nationalist sympathies must have alienated the authorities and affected their response to his regular demands for financial backing.

He had scant insight into the demands of family life – even when he was ‘with’ the family he was not ‘in’ it. When he was at home he remained doggedly immersed in his current project, totally ignoring other demands on his time. He would spend days in his study, immersed in his work, ignoring the trays of food left outside the door. He was prepared to sail on his Antarctic expedition the ‘Scotia’ with no pay, apparently without thought of the effect on his wife, struggling to make ends meet, isolated from friends and family, and with a small baby. Although concerned about his children he spent little time with them. The marriage did not last.

Finally, he had a collecting mania. Apparently every scrap of paper he had ever received was in his office after his death!


21 Jul

It is interesting that the frozen Arctic, long considered to be of no commercial or strategic importance, is now increasingly significant in world geopolitics. It was a prescient move when Russia claimed Franz Joseph Land in 1919. The potential benefits of the region seem to multiply. Currently an Eastern Arctic oil strike has boosted Russia’s aim to turn the region into an important source of energy.
Oil has been found in a field below the LAPTEV Sea. This sea lies on the northern coast of Siberia. To the west is the Taymyr Peninsula which is topped by Severnaya Zemlya and to the east are the New Siberian Islands, an archipelago in the extreme north of Russia on the North of the East Siberian coast
To say the least, this is a challenging area for oil extraction. The climate is one of the most severe of the Arctic seas. The air temperature is below 0 °С for 11 months a year on the north, and 9 months on the south. The average temperature in January, the coldest month, varies across the sea between −31 °C (−24 °F) and −34 °C (−29 °F) with a minimum of −50 °C (−58 °F). In July, the temperature rises to 0 °С (maximum 4 °С) in the north and to 5 °С (maximum 10 °С) in the south. Strong winds, plus blizzards and snowstorms are common and snow can fall in the summer The sea is characterized by a temperatures, which ranges from −1.8 °C (28.8 °F) in the north to −0.8 °C (30.6 °F) in the south-eastern parts). The distance to Moscow is over 4.000 km.

But the point is that successful extraction will reduce Russian dependence on her current oil sources such as the oil fields in Siberia, and reduce the effect of Western sanctions after the Ukraine crisis – apparently cooperation with America fell through, secondarily to sanctions after the military intervention in the Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

To facilitate transport, a nuclear- powered icebreaker is being built in St Petersburg. This will be the biggest and most powerful of its kind in the world.

There are airfields and bases on the offshore Arctic areas and President Putin is quoted as saying that the Arctic is an extremely important region that will ensure the future of his country. Russian capabilities will increase as she develops the Arctic Region

William Speirs Bruce campaigned energetically for the annexation of Spitsbergen. The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, would have no part in this, writing in 1917 that there was no sound reason to consider annexation – this would require an armed force to safeguard the claim, a claim that, by itself would not prevent the island being used by enemies of Britain. In fact in 1918, in the post W.W.1 Versailles Treaty, the dawning international consensus was that Denmark would ’get’ Schleswig (southern Jutland), Sweden, the Baltic Islands, and Spitsbergen would become part of the Kingdom of Norway, i.e. given away without any consideration of its mineral wealth or strategic value. In world politics British interests were focused on the East, in Mesopotamia and elsewhere.
How times change!

Norman Einstein-ownwork


25 Jun

At Cape Adare in Antarctica, a New Zealand Antarctic Conservationist has unexpectedly found a watercolour, painted by Edward Wilson nearly 120 years ago.
Wilson came from an artistic family; he was an instinctive artist from early childhood. His mother Mary Agnes, who taught her son the rudiments of drawing, was a cousin of the artist Frederick William Yeames (A.R.A.), known particularly for the painting ‘And When Did You Last See Your Father? the painting depicting a small Royalist boy being interrogated by Cromwellians in the reign of Charles I,
As a child Wilson wanted to be a naturalist. A dayboy in Cheltenham College, he spent hours and hours at a farm leased by his mother, observing, recording and sketching its teeming profusion of wildlife – he had a famously quick eye for spotting the small inhabitants of hedgerows and became a remarkable field naturalist.
He studied medicine; initially at Cambridge for preclinical work, followed by clinical training at St George’s Hospital London. Throughout, his interest in art continued. He was a follower of Ruskin, England’s greatest art critic and later he greatly admired Turner who, Ruskin wrote, represented nature with an accuracy that made him unique.
His artistic ability was recognised and appreciated when he was in St George’s; he drew hospital pathological specimens for publication in ‘The Lancet’, he was given the rare privilege of unrestricted entry to the Zoological Society grounds, his drawings of fellow students were cherished.
He was always a keen ornithologist–it was said that he could not only recognise each bird song, but identify what that bird was doing as it sang! He received advice from established bird artists and illustrated ornithological publications, here his aim was to make his bird pictures lifelike – he hated paintings of stuffed birds. ‘No one would think of painting preserved flowers –why on earth do they paint preserved birds?’
Near the end of his medical training he became ill with a chest complaint thought to be tuberculosis. Amazingly, in those days patients were not necessarily isolated and initially he went to a house party in Norway where he continued painting. His symptoms persisted and he was sent to a Spa in Davos (where patients without a temperature sat at communal tables, no doubt passing their germs nicely around)! and it is here in 1899, that it is thought that he painted the image found at Cape Adare, a dead Tree Creeper (a European woodland bird). The painting had the initial T on it.
Josefin Bergmark-Jimenez the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust conservationist, who found the painting, was reported as being unable to stop looking at it, she was thrilled by its vibrancy. But the provenance of the painting was not immediately clear until Bergmark-Jimenez attended a lecture on Wilson in Canterbury University, when she immediately recognised Wilson’s authorship. This may well have been the lecture I gave at Canterbury University on the 8th March 2017! I do hope so!
Apart from naturalist subjects, Wilson was an ‘exploration’ artist. ’The Discovery’ expedition of 1901 was probably the last expedition where artistry was the main method of producing accurate records of the previously unknown continent and Wilson made extensive drawings and paintings of the Antarctic interior He had accurate colour recall, never using a colour grid and when Scott checked the distances shown in his paintings, he found them to be astonishingly accurate. When ‘Discovery’ reached England Wilson’s exhibited paintings were viewed by thousands of visitors fascinated to learn about the unknown continent.
Wilson was, undoubtedly, one of the most outstanding artists to have worked in the Antarctic.

New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust