Edgar Evans

15 Jul

Some years ago I wrote the biography of Edgar Evans. Edgar was a Petty Officer with Scott on ‘Discovery’ and a Chief Petty Officer on the ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition. He was the first to die on the ill-fated return from The South Pole and in some circles, was blamed, most unfairly in my opinion, for the deaths of the whole party.

The book is entitled ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable  Assistant, Edgar Evans’. Details can be found in the book section of this blog.

Now, I am delighted to say, a documentary and film are planned on Edgar.  The reason  for this, is that Edgar’s great grandson, Tyler Ford, aged 11, is a  World Champion Kick Boxer and a film focussing on Edgar’s family is apparently to be made this year. Ross O’Hennesy (from Game of Thrones), is to play the adult Edgar, whilst Tyler plays Edgar as a boy. Tom Delmar is the Producer.

I hope it all works out!.  A film will certainly revive interest and pride in Edgar in South Wales and, perhaps, money will be available finally for the much planned statute of Edgar in his Antarctic kit ( the maquette is excellent), which, it is hoped, will be erected in front of the Swansea Museum.

This is a clip from the ‘Swansea Sound’ related to the film ‘Terra Nova’. Here Ross O’Hennessy describes the current position.

https://www.swanseasound.co.uk/news/local/game-of-thrones-star-visits-school-of-swansea-explorer/?fbclid=IwAR1KX1eEebAoOWM__xQORAj8v6qHrToadp3jHZ3M2y8ZBcdrD_Euo1I78VU

Apsley Cherry –Garrard (Cherry)

5 Jul

In a blog some weeks ago I wrote about Apsley Cherry- Garrard’s  devotion to Edward Wilson both in person and after Wilson’s death.

I think Cherry deserves further attention – he paid a pivotal role in Scott’s attempted return from the South Pole in 1912, and he wrote a book about a search for Emperor Penguin eggs (The Worst Journey in the World, published in 1922), that is one of the most popular Antarctic books ever published. An excellent biography, ‘Cherry, A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’ was published by Sara Wheeler in 2001.

Family photo album: Acc 6030: Apsley Cherry -Garrard with Ada: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

Cherry was wealthy, but shy and uncertain of himself, his social isolation exacerbated by extremely poor eyesight – he could hardly recognize friends across the room (his father, General Cherry-Garrard, who was influenced by the army’s refusal to allow soldiers to wear glasses which were thought to be a sign of weakness, only allowed him to wear wire framed pebble-lense glasses when he was fifteen).

But General Cherry-Garrard is said to have been the central presence of Cherry’s life and as a young man he was enamoured by stories of his father’s achievements in India and China where he (Cherry’s father), had fought with merit in the army. Cherry wanted to live up to his father’s example.

Family photo album: Acc 6030: Family Group, 1894: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

But the General died in 1907 at the age of seventy-four, when Cherry was only twenty-one and in his final year at Christ Church, Oxford (his father’s college).   When he ‘came down’ (with a Third Class degree), Cherry came into an inheritance that included a large estate in Hertfordshire, an estate in Berkshire, land in Wales, a large income, his mother, five younger sisters, plus all the attendant responsibilities and worries. He felt unequal to the challenge. uncertain what to do with his life, at loose end, – he knew he was unsuited to follow his father into the army, he certainly didn’t want to settle down to the life of a country gentleman. He decided to see the world and set off on extensive travels in 1909.

LAMER PARK In HERTFORDSHIRE

Clutterbuck Vol VII, p494c   Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

 

 

Family photo album: Acc 6030: Apsley Cherry- Garrard on ship: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

But by chance, before he set out,i n 1908, he visited his much older cousin,Reginald Smith. Smith, a brilliant barrister, had abandoned the law to lead the publishing company Smith Elder and Co (the company published Trollope,Thackeray and Browning among others). Smith and his wife had a shooting lodge in the Highlands which their close friends Edward and Oriana Wilson visited regularly and when Cherry visited his cousin he met the couple.

The visit took place when Cherry’s father had been dead for less than a year. He was vulnerable, uncertain, without motivation. The meeting with Edward Wilson was a wonderful panacea — Cherry had lost his faith some years before and he found Wilson’s belief in a divine purpose attractive and reassuring. It gave him a purpose in life and a meaning to life. He came to admire Wilson greatly; a guide and a father figure.

When he was on his travels and in Brisbane, he heard the official news that Robert Falcon Scott was planning a second expedition to Antarctica. Cherry knew immediately that this was the opportunity he wanted. Wilson had been appointed Chief of Scientific Staff and Cherry wrote to Wilson and Reginald Smith (who knew Scott), suggesting he cut short his travels and apply for a position on the Terra Nova expedition.

He knew that his chances were slim – 8,000 men applied to join Scott. But Wilson, via Reginald Smith, suggested that, to help the shaky finances of the expedition, Cherry should offer £1,000 pounds (Captain Titus Oates gave this amount also). Cherry had absolutely no scruples about this and promptly forwarded the money. His application was refused.

He decided to leave the cash in Discovery’s coffers anyway. Scott was impressed, met him, and offered him a place as a member on the scientific team. Cherry was delighted, (though he almost failed the medical examination because of his eyesight–it was decided to accept him if he accepted the additional risks). By this time, he wrote, he ‘would have accepted anything’.

Preparations started immediately: He learnt to type. His sister sewed a special sledging flag –she visited the Kensington School of Art to learn special stitching that looked identical on both sides of the cloth. Cherry got to know his fellow officers and the crew.

His Antarctic experience had begun!

To be continued

 

 

 

 

Audiobook on William Speirs Bruce

14 Jun

The book has been made into an audiobook and here is the link to the retail sample on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/dennis-kleinman/william-speirs-bruce-forgotten-antarctic-explorer

I hope you find it interesting!!

Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson and Apsley Cherry Garrard

28 Apr

Apsley Cherry Garrard  went on a famous, and awful, expedition with Edward Wilson in search of very young specimens of Emperor penguin eggs.  Wilson wanted to investigate Darwin’s theory of evolution through penguin embryology.  During the journey to the Emperors breeding ground Wilson, Cherry Garrard and ‘Birdie’ Bowers endured virtually continuous darkness, snow with a surface like sand, temperatures that at one point dropped to minus 76 degrees fahrenheit, crevasses. They returned with three precious eggs.

Cherry Garrard wrote the book ‘The Worst Journey In The World’, as a record of this sortie. It was a best seller

Cherry Garrard thought of Wilson as a father figure He wrote that if you knew Wilson you could not like him, you simply had to love him

I have a short film on Wilson on my cruise details which I have decided to post here.

‘DISCOVERY’, CONTINUED

19 Apr

DISCOVERY: FULL SAIL

 

In my blog of 7 February, I wrote about the remarkable adventures of the ship Discovery, from her build in 1901 until the end of World War 1. Today, I continue her story from 1919 as she proceeded on her venerable and memorable history.

In 1919 she sailed to the Black Sea to exchange goods with groups supporting the dwindling numbers of the White Army – Discovery’s official log has one of the last signs of the old regime’s sway. The log pages show the Imperial Two-Headed Eagle, stamped by port authorities in Novorossiysk.

Discovery sailed to South Georgia and the Falklands in 1925. She had a second season in the Antarctic from 1926-1927. But probably her most important ventures were related to the protection of the Great Whales and the two BANZARE (British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition) expeditions, which ran between 1929 and 1931.

 

THE GREAT WHALES: 1925 -1927

A British committee considered the plight of the Great Whales before W.W.1.

Northern seas were, by this time, almost depleted of whales because of overexploitation and the attention of the whalers had turned south. Here the ‘Dependencies of the Falklands’ held sway and monies paid by Norway to the Dependencies for the use of shore whaling stations, contributed to the research fund that refitted Discovery as a research vessel in1923.

The brief was – a) to contribute to oceanographic research, b) to mark whales, c) to make exploratory trawls off the Falklands – Basically, to give a scientific base for whale regulation. Two Vessels were employed. Discovery carried an echo sounder that could chart the ocean bed both when the vessel was moving as well as stationary. Vertical stations, taking up to six hours, provided information on sea contents and plankton at known levels, from the surface to the seabed.

Discovery reached South Georgia in February 1926. Her scientists examined more than seven hundred whales – their size (over 80 feet), eating habits, breeding times, gestation periods, calves growth rate and age at maturity were recorded. Also Elephant Seals and birds were examined. Discovery stayed in South Georgia for two months, carrying out the first hydrographic and biological survey of the whaling grounds.

In 1926 Discovery with the ship the William Scoresby returned to South Georgia. On this occasion a remarkable survey of the whaling grounds was completed. With South Georgia at the centre, seven lines were stretched out, like spokes on a wheel, and twenty nine stations, which covered over 10.000 square miles were completed – currents were measured, there were 370 water samples and 307 plankton net hauls were recorded. This record was unique[i]

 

BANZARE: The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-1930

BANZARE was a British Commonwealth initiative, driven by geopolitics and science. It was funded by the United KingdomAustralia and New Zealand

TRACK OF DISCOVERY 1929-1930 (dotted black line)

 

The Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, was in charge of the expedition; (Mawson, in 1912, had made a horrendous sortie along that arc of Antarctica facing Australia, during which his two companions died separately in horrible circumstances). But Mawson understood the geographical and scientific potential of Antarctica. He wrote that more than half the circumference of the globe remained to be charted in high southern latitudes. In addition the British Government were concerned about rival nation’s increasing activities in the continent, particularly Norway and Russia.   These points underlined the importance of establishing sovereignty over the continent

On BANZARE 1, land bases were not used, but Antarctica was investigated inland from a seaplane, the Gipsy Moth.

The expedition sailed from Cape Town in October 1929. Throughout Discovery’s journey to Antarctica, careful investigation into the marine life was made as Discovery called on sub-Antarctic Iles Crozet, Iles Kerguelen, and Heard Island (thousands of penguins and Elephant Seals ‘like logs’ along the beach).

The expedition aimed at Enderby Land. In January 1930, Kemp Land was confirmed and Gipsy Moth was used to record the vast panorama of Antarctic new land that spread out below her. Heavy blizzards were encountered, but Mawson discovered new land east to Kemp Land which he named MacRobertson Land (after the benefactor of the expedition). Enderby land was seen at last on 12 January 1930. Conditions prevented landing but a flag was raised on nearby Proclamation Island – which was given the name ‘Proclamation’ following the reading – on 13 January 1930. This claimed the area for the British Crown in the name of George V. The areas claimed were Enderby Land, Kemp Land and MacRobertson Land, together with the off lying Islands. (See map)

Flights were made from open water from around Proclamation Land. Moving pictures and many still photographs were taken. A flag we as dropped from 3,000 feet, two miles inland confirming the Proclamation. Mountain peaks were discovered. Discovery turned north on 26 January 1930.

 

 

THE SECOND BANZARE 1930-1931

 

 

2nd BANZARE EXPEDITION: (red line)

 

This voyage was primarily an acquisitive exploratory expedition. Mawson made proclamations of British sovereignty over Antarctic lands at each of the five landfalls—on the understanding that the territory would later be handed to Australia. One such proclamation was made on 5 January 1931 at Cape Denison. A hand-written copy of the proclamation was left at the site, enclosed in a container made of food tins and buried beneath a cairn.

BANZARE was also a scientific exploration. Work was successfully completed on voyages along much of the Antarctic coastline, and Mawson’s team were the first to chart much of the coast. Their exploration covered over 6437 km: Adélie Land, King George V Land and Queen Mary Land. Also new land, Princess Elizabeth Land was identified. A plaque was left on Mac Robertson Land. The claims provided a foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Thirteen volumes of reports were produced relating to the expeditions between 1937 and 1975: geology, oceanography, meteorology, terrestrial magnetism, zoology and botany.

 

SEA SCOUTS AND AFTER: 1932 0NWARDS

Discovery returned to quieter waters. She was moored in the River Thames, alongside the Embankment. Funds were eventually raised to ensure her proper upkeep and she was handed over to the Sea Scouts for forty years (1932-1986). She was a training ship and hostel

 

                                                                 DISCOVERY MOORED ON THE EMBANKMENT

 

In spite of being in the heart of London Discovery survived the World War 11 blitz. She was designated headquarters of the River Emergency Services. This was an ambulance service with twenty-two stations The Scouts worked in eight-hour shifts and despite air raids, building rubble and sleepless nights, it is recorded that no Sea Scout failed to report for his duties.

In 1941 the Navy took on these duties and for the rest of the war Discovery was a Parachute Mine Station. The Sea Scout’s duties were to be on constant look out for parachute mines, locate them and telephone a compass bearing through to the Royal Naval Headquarters.

SEA SCOUTS AT WORK

 

From 1945 to 1951 Discovery was a Training Ship for the Sea Scouts – the first Queen’s Scout Presentations were made on the ship. For Over twenty years from 1955 she was utilised as a Drill Ship for recruits beginning navel service.

In 1979 Discovery was handed over to the Marine Trust, a trust established, in the words of the Duke of Edinburgh, ‘to do for historic ships what the National Trust does for buildings’[ii] She was moved to St Katharine’s Dock near the Tower of London and during this time she was extensively restored.

Her future (she was a star attraction) was carefully considered. When an offer came from Scotland to take over her care and maintenance, this was a wonderful opportunity for her to return to Dundee where she had been built, 85 years earlier. Discovery was transported, in a floating dock ship from Tower Bridge to Dundee in 1986. This was a great occasion –cheering crowds, a Royal Air Force Fly Past. Her arrival was dramatic as she became jammed in the hold of the floating dock ship and eventually arrived at Victoria Dock at midnight 3rd/4th January, where a few romantics were still lingering to greet her as she was piped in.

She is now at Discovery Point, Dundee, close to the new V&A Dundee – Scotland’s first design museum. Excellent tours describe the experience of the heroes of the early 1900s, the history of WW1, an account of scientific and geographical advances, details of BANZARE.  It’s a great place to visit.

 

                                                                          118 years old and many more to go!

 

127th.Psalm

 

 

[i] Sir Alister Hardy, quoted in The Voyages of the Discovery, 2001, Ann Savours Chatham Publishing , p 125

[ii] The Voyages of the Discovery, 2001, Ann Savours Chatham Publishing p 153

 

Video

Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’

24 Mar

 

There has been so much interest recently in the search for Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ in the Weddell Sea, that I thought I would give a summary of this  remarkable, heroic expedition.

 

6/3/19 I have just received this comment a which I think sums the expedition up:Comment: Extremely interesting and very informative. It gives a vivid picture of the extreme hardship and conditions suffered by Shackleton and his courageous team. What determination and extreme courage they possessed.

The story of the ship ‘Discovery’

7 Feb

Paintings and stories of ships can be exciting and romantic: paintings such as Nelson’s Victory, The Mayflower, The Fighting Temeraire rank with the remarkable story of Franklin’s attempt to find the North West Passage in the book Erebus, written by Michael Palin.

Many ships have remarkable histories, but the story of Discovery must rank high on that list. Built in 1900/01 for Captain Scott’s voyage to the Antarctic and subsequently, used as a trading ship in the service of the Hudson Bay Company (H.B.C.), Discovery made important contributions in both world wars and more recently. She is now a tourist attraction for visitors to Dundee where she was built nearly 120 years ago

I am going to record her remarkable history in two blogs. I have quoted, with her permission, details from Mrs. Ann Savours’ excellent book, The Voyages of the DISCOVERY –any mistakes are mine!

The ship was built by ‘The Dundee Shipbuilders’ specifically for Antarctic exploration. Her wooden hull was especially designed to withstand the Antarctic ice. This British expedition, The National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904, (known familiarly as the Discovery expedition), was the first expedition ever to open up Antarctica. Four countries sent explorations to the Antarctic region in the early 1900s. The Discovery expedition was the one to make significant advances in knowledge about Antarctica’s interior.

Robert Falcon Scott led the expedition that left Cowes in August 1901, having been ‘blessed’ by King Edward VII and Queen, Alexandra. Scott sailed to the Antarctic via Madeira, South Trinidad, Cape Town, Macquarie Island and Lyttelton New Zealand. During the voyage as much information as possible was obtained about the location of the Magnetic South Pole, vital information for shipping, (before this expedition few records had been made beyond 40°S) and she was the second ship, after Ross, to steam along the mysterious Ice Barrier. New land was identified at the end of the icy shelf, named by Scott for King Edward.

‘Discovery’ locked in sea ice at Hut Point, Ross Island  with Discovery Hut on land in the foreground

At her base in McMurdo Bay Discovery was incarcerated in ice for 21 months – Morning, the relief ship of 1903, was initially separated from her by twenty miles of sea ice and never got closer than five. When, in the Antarctic Summer of 1904, Discovery finally escaped from the sea’s icy grip, she sailed victoriously to Lyttelton.

But her history had only just begun.

On Discovery’s return, hopes that she would continue as an exploring ship, or in the service of the government, were dashed when the Joint Committee of the Expedition sold her to the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), for £10,000. Her scientific instruments were sold and she was converted to a cargo vessel. The HBC controlled vast lands in Canada; the largest landowner in North America and Discovery was one of the last of the wooden sailing ships to be employed in trading, primarily for fur, withNorth American Indians. She sailed to the Hudson Bay, having journeyed south of Iceland and Greenland, through the treacherous 700 mile Davis Strait, across the Hudson Strait (pack ice), past Coats Island, to reach Charlton Island on the Hudson Bay. The furs, mostly beaver (for hats), were taken on board in exchange for textiles, tools, mirrors, beads, knives and alcohol. Her crew made hazardous journeys by canoe from ship to shore to trade with the indigenous population based around the Hudson Bay.

North American Indians in canoes

In 1912 Discovery was replaced by a steamer and she was laid up. But further duties called. In the First World War she was to make hazardous journeys to Russia, America and France. James Monet, a brandy merchant (and later the architect of the European Common Market), had traded with the HBC for years. Early in the war he suggested to its directors that they should become purchasers for the French Government, and France and Great Britain co-operated with shipping and supplies throughout the war. Contracts were signed also with Rumania, Russia and Belgium. Discovery was one of three hundred ships, financed by HBC that transported munitions, food, raw materials and manufactured goods. The fleet was to play a critical role in Allied Shipping during the war.

The dangers were great. In early 1915 the seas around Great Britain and Northern Ireland were designated a war zone by Germany and German submarines attacked the HBC’s fleet of ships – Germany stated that the safety of passengers on enemy merchant ships could not be guaranteed.

In the autumn of 1915 Discovery sailed for Archangel. The voyages to Archangel rank with the most courageous voyages of WWI (my grandfather was an engineer on one of the ships, sailing from the U.K.). At this time Russia was almost sealed off from the world. The Bosporus was blocked by Turkey, the Baltic Sea by Germany. Her most accessible entry was Archangel on the White Sea. To reach their destination and deliver munitions, ships sailed round the North Cape of Norway and through the Barents Sea to the White Sea and the Gulf of Archangel. Wheat, timber, oil and other essentials were taken back to the French ports.

The entrance to the White Sea was mined by Germany but in spite of this, nearly all munitions from France to Russia were transported via this route. The ships faced many dangers. Germany laid nearly 300 mines in the area. Discovery was Steamer 141. Between June and September 1915, ten of the fleet were lost. In all the HBC lost 110 ships from the fleet of three hundred.

A distraction occurred in 1916; the explorer Ernest Shackleton, having failed in his attempt at a Trans-Antarctic crossing, had been trapped in the Weddell Sea. Despite the anxieties of the war a committee, The Shackleton Relief Advisory Committee was formed and a rescue planned. Advisors to the committee included the Scottish explorer William Speirs Bruce (who had previously spent nearly two years in the Weddell Sea) and the Australian explorer Sir Douglas Morton. However Shackleton reached South America before the relief ship set out, but as no ship was available to bring him back to England, Discovery was loaned for this purpose by the HBC, Due to the sensitivities of war, directions were given that no bodies were to be brought home and how the graves should be marked, also how the rescued men should be treated. In fact, as is well known, no men in Shackleton’ s party died.

For the remainder of the war Discovery served by transporting goods from ocean liners to ports in France, also visiting Madeira and the Hudson Bay. In France the company worked using a system of convoys to try to avoid German submarines and wheat, zinc plates, sugar and other goods were distributed at ports on the French coast between Brest and Bayonne. There was a voyage to Madeira in 1917 to discharge coal and pick up heavy guns for French defense.

The 1918 voyage to Hudson Bay was Discovery’s last wartime voyage. She carried coal, pork, fat and canoes to Charlton Island and had a difficult and dangerous sail – her captain sailed too far south of Resolution Island and north, instead of south of Salisbury Island but eventually struggled through only to have some of the crew felled by the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Peace was declared on 11 November 1918.

TO BE CONTINUED

The Discovery Center Dundee next to the new V & A Art Museum Dundee

 

THE WEDDELL SEA AGAIN

2 Jan

Happy New Year!!

This January, Professor Julian Dowdeswell of the Scott Polar Research Institute will lead an international research team in the long planned expedition to the Weddell Sea. This expedition aims to investigate ice shelves around the Weddell Sea, particularly the Larsen C Ice Shelf. It also hopes to locate the wreck of Shackleton’s ship Endurance, which sank in the area in 1915.

The expedition’s progress and achievements will be followed internationally – in addition the Royal Geographical Society has created an educational programme aimed at engaging the interest of children from primary level upwards.

The Weddell Sea was discovered in 1823 by James Weddell, the British sea captain/ sealer, who sailed as far south as 74°15´S. It is a vitally important ecosystem – penguins, seals, whales, krill, corals and sponges thrive there. It is shaped as a huge bay; Coats Land (discovered by William Speirs Bruce in 1904) is at one extremity, the Antarctic Peninsula is on the other. It has been described as ‘the most treacherous and dismal region on earth’.[i]

An important aim will be to investigate the shapes of the ice shelf bases. Ice shelves stop ice from flowing outwards from the continent. Thinning of the ice shelves results in increased flow from the interior, which, in turn, causes a rising global sea level. The sea floor will be examined to assess the stability of the ice shelf.

Although the general circulation of oceans is determined by wind driven currents, the Weddell is one of few locations where deep and bottom water masses contribute to global thermohaline circulation. Bottom water is the lowest water mass with distinct characteristics in terms of physics, chemistry, and ecology and a temperature of -0.7 °C or colder. The thermohaline circulation is the motor of deep ocean currents and is driven by density gradients influenced by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The description relates to thermo- temperature-and –haline, salt content.

The Larsen Ice Shelf, in the northwest part of the Weddell Sea, is named after Captain Carl Anton Larsen, master of a Norwegian whaling vessel who sailed along the ice front as far as 68°10′ S. in 1893. From north to south segments of the shelf are called Larsen A, B, and C (the largest), and Larsen D, E, F and G.

The 2019 expedition is focused on the Larsen C ice shelf from which a giant ice berg calved off in July 2017 (twice the area of Luxembourg), reducing the size of the iceshelf by approximately12%.

 

 

 

Dowdeswell and Shears[ii] explain in the ‘Geographical’ that measurements will be taken of salinity and temperature of the sea adjacent to the shelves, samples of marine life will be obtained and the sea ice thickness will be measured by aerial drones. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles will make echo soundings of the underwater shape of the ice shelf base, the roughness of which is a vital parameter in numerical modelling of future ice shelf stability. Ernest Shackleton’s Ship will be searched for.

Whether the team will be able to achieve these aims is uncertain — the conditions are so unpredictable that attempts to navigate south could be unsuccessful, but this expedition is of pivotal importance in attempting to obtain long-term prognostic information relating to global warming. I hope this important analysis of the Weddell Sea will be successfully accomplished.

[i] Henry, T.R.,1950,The White Continent

[ii] Dowdeswell, J. Shears, J. 2019, Geographical, p.10

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Achievements in Antarctica

3 Dec

As is well known it is difficult to get funding for scientific research that has no known tangible outcome. William Bruce was no exception to this when he started looking for funding for pure scientific research (rather that exciting feats of exploration), for his expedition to the Antarctic

 

Eventually he obtained funding; the greater part (about £30,000), came from the Coats family of Paisley), funding also came from Scottish Scientific Societies, from individuals and from ‘little orphans who had saved up their pennies to help the expedition’.[i]

 

Bruce’s original ambition for his ‘Scotia’ Expedition (1902-4), was to travel far south into the Weddell Sea and make a base on the mainland, but insufficient funds for the wintering station prevented this. The icy conditions Bruce encountered were such that he and his Captain, Thomas Robertson, decided to make their winter base on Laurie Island, a small island in the South Atlantic. Here he built his scientific laboratories and here, he and his team continued their careful scientific records (which had started immediately on Scotia’s voyage to the Antarctic) throughout the winter: The observations included meteorology, oceanography, magnetic observations, plus collection of flora and fauna.

 

All the Polar expeditions were very costly. Bruce’s privately funded expedition was planned for one year only. But during his winter on Laurie Island he became determined that his pivotal work should not stop when he returned to the UK – his dream was the development of a series of stations that covered the South Atlantic (as was to be achieved).

 

When he sailed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for refuelling and re-provisioning, he approached the Argentine authorities to ask them to take over his observatories (he knew that the British authorities would not be interested in a small island in the South Atlantis of no commercial or strategic significance). The Argentinian authorities, responded with remarkable promptitude accepting Dr. Bruce’s offer within a few days and agreeing to Bruce’s suggestion that Argentinian scientists would man the stations with, originally, Bruce’s meteorologist, Robert Mossman, in charge. The Argentine authorities immediately understood the benefits of being in control of an island in the South Atlantic, whilst the British apparently had no such interest. One of the Argentine scientists was designated ‘Postmaster’ which was a statement of territorial intent. Stamps were issued that showed Laurie Island as a suburb of Buenos Aires.

 

The meteorological observations started by Bruce are an invaluable record. They have now been made continuously for 114 years (in 2018). This is the longest-running observatory in the entire Atlantic by well over forty years. Very important results have been achieved. Mossman’s observations resulted in the conclusion that conditions in one area – in this case the Weddell Sea, are coupled to far-off meteorological conditions, namely rainfall in South America. Mossman concluded that when there was a low pressure in the Weddell Sea and the South Orkneys, the winter rainfall over the lower part of Chile and the greater part of the Argentine Republic would be below average; whereas there was high pressure in the Weddell Sea and the South Orkneys, the rainfall in America would be above average. This was shown by the height of the River Parana in central South America, which rose and fell with the barometric pressure recorded in the South Orkneys in the previous months. This was the first time that prognostic information about weather conditions could be made.

 

Temperature records have been made continuously on Laurie Island throughout this period. The inexorable rise in temperature for over a century is charted. Records show a steady rise in temperature that has all too important consequences to-day. – both the North East and the North West Passages have been opened up to transport; sea level may rise by several meters over the next few centuries, affecting low-lying communities.

 

Bruce could not have anticipated these changes, but his determined insistence on collecting an unrivalled number of meteorological and oceanographic records, indeed recording all aspects of science for posterity and his success in this, makes his contributions equal or more important than any of his better-known contemporaries, Scott and Shackleton, of the early 1990s.

 

[1] Isobel P. Williams and John Dudeney; William Speirs Bruce Forgotten Polar Her, p 76

Paper on Sir Hubert von Herkomer R.A.

29 Nov

I have just submitted an article

 

Sir Hubert von Herkomer R.A. 1849-1914.

? Time to remember.

to The Journal of Visual Culture.

Herkomer had a fascinating, varied life–literally from rags to riches. He died in 1914 but had fallen from great popularity (probably akin to Watts) from just before WW1 and his star continued to descend thereafter. This was because of his German origins (which he celebrated), his overenthusiastic pleasure in his success, and the fact that his work was a reflection of a society that was destroyed by the war.

I hope the piece is accepted.