24 Mar

I write to wish anyone who reads this blog my best wishes over the coronavirus storm.

In the UK the virus numbers and deaths are mounting steadily and we are told to expect many more. The advice is that by self-isolating now, we can avoid a ‘peak’ in cases, and flatten the ‘peak’ into a ‘curve’. In this way it is hoped to avoid an overwhelming number of patients requiring ventilation – as is happening in Italy and Spain; such a demand could overstretch the National Health facilities.

It is incredible to me that so many people simply flout this advice, on Sunday 22nd March (Mothers’ Day here), London traffic was at a third of normal, the parks were busy, scores headed for beauty spots in Wales and to the seaside.

In response to this we are now at the stage where Boris Johnson has imposed draconian measures. People are banned from leaving home except for food or medical treatment, plus we are advised that we can go out for exercise once a day –keeping away from each other. ‘Essential’ workers continue their work.

We get regular updates from the Prime Minister, the health advisers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (financial support) and others, on progress and on-going advice. We are fortunate that the National Health system IS national, as this facilitates cooperation between hospitals throughout the regions. But a major problem for health professionals and other front-line workers has been a shortage of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment – this is being addressed urgently), and insufficient testing kits for diagnosis and for virus antibody.

I was, some years ago, a Consultant in the National Health and vividly recall the numbers of patients needing assessment in the Accident and Emergency department when I was on emergency duty. The thought of what it must be like now is truly alarming.

For myself I am going for walks (but not seeing anyone!), watching TV, listening to the radio and trying to get to grips with all those books I have been looking at for years. Also writing a blog (Sir Clements Markham). I am trying to do an exercise programme, this is MUCH more difficult at home, than in the gym!

I hope you are keeping occupied, safe and well.  Bon chance!


9 Mar

When William Speirs Bruce planned his 1902-1904 expedition to Antarctica his primary ambition was science, as opposed to exploration.

In 1903 he built two scientific observatories on Laurie Island on the northern edge of the Weddell Sea. This was the start of a collection of scientific records that was continued, when Bruce left the Weddell Sea, by the Argentine. Recordings have now been made for 116 years. They continue today providing unique information about meteorological, magnetic and oceanographic conditions in Antarctica.

In relation to meteorology, this graph running from 1903 to 2020 shows the trend and variance in the mean annual temperature on Laurie Island. It is by far the longest recording of temperature in the region (the second longest being from Argentine Islands off the Antarctic peninsula which runs from the early 1950s). As can be seen there is a trend in temperature from – 5°C to -3°C. The graph also illustrates clearly the variability in the annual records, but it is clear that the twenty-first century recordings approximate to the upper recordings in the early 1900s.

This graph would never be available save for William Speirs Bruce’s foresight in encouraging a network of weather stations to be run continuously in the South Atlantic.


World temperature is rising, controversy persists, though not amongst the scientists, as to how much man is contributing to the problem.

The reason there is life on our planet relates to infra-red active gases (carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour that are in the stratosphere). The lack of these gases would result in a significantly colder climate, a permanent ice age. Conversely, a rise in infra-red gases would result in a rise in temperature, though there is a complex, non linear relationship between small changes in carbon-dioxide, methane and other trace gases, and the consequent temperature rise. The global climate system is complex which makes it difficult to simply ascribe cause and effect.

But carbon dioxide levels do have a strong correlation to mean global temperatures. Fascinating ice core records were first recovered from the Russian station Vostok which provided records covering 450,000 years. More recently a record of 800,000 years has been recovered from “Dome C” in Antarctica (part of The European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica). This shows, very clearly, the link between temperature and carbon dioxide levels over cycles of glacial and interglacial periods of around 100,000 years. This is a natural process linked to long term small variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis of rotation. The level of CO2 in the stratosphere has varied naturally between around 180 ppm during glaciations to 280ppm in the warm interglacials, as shown in the records.

                        It has now passed 408 ppm.

Carbon is ubiquitous, in fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), in organic matter in soil and in rock, in the sea. Carbon dioxide is emitted when we exhale, When fossil fuels, are burned carbon dioxide is produced. In 2019 the global emission was 33 gigatons (a gigaton is one billion ).

In the oceans it is estimated that there are billions of metric tons of carbon and further billions of metric tons in sediments on the sea bed. The latter comes from the shells of marine creatures that have absorbed carbon from the water, sunk to the ocean floor and later formed sedimentary rocks.

A raised carbon dioxide level relates to a rise atmospheric temperature which in turn is associated with a rise in ocean temperature, seawater expansion and a rise in water level. The increased water levels are also contributed to by melting land ice and erosion of ice shelf bases. Ice shelves hold ice from flowing outwards and thinning of these shelves increases the flow of ice seawards. An estimated ice loss across the entire Antarctic continent was 43 gigatons each year on average from 1992 to 2002. The loss has accelerated between 2012 to 2017.

Potential results of sea-level rise are coastal erosion and damage. Subsequently, inland areas would become affected and the soil contaminated. If the rise continues toward one metre, some of the world’s major cities will come under threat and even low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, will be threatened.

Ocean acidification, due to dissolved carbon dioxide, has serious consequences.

Acidification affects the southern Krill population. Krill, an essential primary food source, are small crustaceans that feed on zooplankton and convert this into a form suitable for larger animals such as whales, seals, penguins, squid, and fish to eat. All Antarctic wildlife ether depends on krill or depends on something that eats krill for survival. Without this stable base, the food chain linking upwards would deteriorate and eventually collapse. In addition, cold-water corals, which have calcium carbonate in their shells, become less able to build their shells and breeding grounds for both fishes and mammals would be lost.

But some do not subscribe to the concept of global warming, for example: Donald Trump cast doubt on a U.S government report warning of the devastating effects of climate change. When he was asked if unchecked global warming would wreak havoc on the US economy, he said: “I don’t believe it.” The administration has pursued a pro-fossil fuels agenda.

But if conclusions such as this from the U.S. President are wrong, the price to pay is huge. Given the persistence time of CO2 in the stratosphere of 100 years, even if the world were to stop all emission now there is still that legacy which is likely to take the planet past the 1.5 degrees C warming, which scientists say we should not pass. Currently carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning are steadily rising, rather than decreasing. Scientists warn that we are playing dice with the future of humanity.

A final point – global human population increase. This is approximately 83 million annually, or 1.1% per year. Population numbers have grown from a billion in 1800 to approximately 7.616 billion in 2018. Improved medical care and reduced child mortality would be a powerful incentive for families to have the confidence to limit the size of their families.

Policies now direct to keeping carbon emissions flat until 2050. But so far there is little sign of sufficient practical action on this. Scientists are now increasingly coming to the conclusion that we need to go “carbon negative”, which raises the possibility of large scale “geo-engineering”. – Geo-engineering is defined by as the large-scale manipulation of a specific process central to controlling earth’s climate, for the purpose of obtaining a specific benefit (Britannica .com).

Millions now do understand the dangers of global warming and the urgency to contain it. Humanity is at a crossroads, for the sake of our grand-children we need to make the right turn.


With grateful acknowledgement for the comments by John Dudeney O B E.-  my co-author of ‘William Speirs Bruce, Forgotten Polar Hero’



24 Jan

Have you heard of the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School? If not you should look it up and consider a visit. The School is held annually in the Athy Heritage -Centre Museum in County Kildare, Ireland. It pulls all strands of Polar experiences together – it could be described as the Polar event of the year! Shackleton was born in Kilkea House, near Athy in 1874 and lived in the area with his large family until the age of ten. The school started in 2001 with the aim of celebrating Shackleton’s achievements and establishing him as a role model in the locality.

I have now attended this event on three occasions and spoken, with John Dudeney my co-author, in one. The meeting is relaxed and convivial with a very a warm welcome offered to delegates, who come from all over the world. But the scholarship of the speakers is world class and the talks are always both fascinating and thought provoking.



The Athy Heritage Centre Museum was opened in 1997, four years before the Shackleton Autumn School. Its aim was to celebrate the history of an area which dates back for hundreds of years from an Anglo -Norman settlement in the 12th century; monasteries were founded a century later, a Charter was granted by Henry VIII in 1515 (who subsequently ordered the dissolution of its monasteries in the 1530s). Athy supported the Catholic/Royalist cause in the Irish Confederate Wars, which ended when  Oliver Cromwell‘s New Model Army defeated the Irish Catholic and Royalists in the 1650s.

In the 1900s the town remained loyal to the crown in World War1. Two thousand volunteers from the area joined the British Army –one of them, John Vincent Holland, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour and courage in in the Battle of the Somme.

The museum is the home to the only permanent exhibition dedicated to Shackleton. Numerous artifacts include Shackleton’s sledge and harness from his Antarctic expeditions, a model of his ship ‘Endurance’’, family photographs and Frank Hurley’s film footage of the ‘Endurance’ expedition. A statute of Shackleton is outside the museum.



It occurs to me that not every reader will be familiar with some of the details of Shackleton’s story and the reasons he is so celebrated, so here is a brief summary of his most noteworthy expeditions.

He went to the Antarctic on four occasions –his two most famous expeditions were the ‘Nimrod Expedition’, (official name the ‘British Antarctic Expedition’) 1907 -1909, and the ‘Endurance Expedition’, (the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition) of 1914-1917.

On the ‘Nimrod Expedition’ Shackleton and his three companions pioneered the route up the huge Beardmore Glacier to discover the Antarctic Plateau. The route up the glacier covered 120 miles, riddled with crevasses and rising from a few hundred feet to a height of over 9,000 feet. The team reached within 100 nautical miles of the South Pole. This was an outstanding success, the first expedition to get anywhere near the Pole and was a major source of inspiration for Amundsen’s and Scott’s later expeditions. The achievement is largely overshadowed now by Shackleton’s later exploits, but at the time it was internationally recognized.   Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII, awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, also the Polar medal; an appreciation both of his achievements and of the geographical discoveries that members of his expedition had made.

Five years later on the ‘Endurance Expedition’ , Shackleton aimed to take a twenty-eight man team to the Weddell Sea in the Antarctic and then, with a small team cross the continent via the South Pole to reach the Ross Sea. He did not succeed, in fact he did not actually get onto the continent, but this is the expedition that became the stuff of legend for its courage, endurance and shining example of leadership. ‘Endurance’ was caught and subsequently crushed by sea ice in the Weddell Sea. As the sea poured into the ship Shackleton and his crew had to decamp onto ice floes. Here they existed for four months (little food and low temperatures). Their final ‘home’, the ice floe Patience Camp was eroded by the sea so the twenty eight men had to abandon the ice and crowd onto three small lifeboats in an attempt to get to safety. They made landfall on Elephant Island – this was a journey that lasted for seven days – the 9th to the 16th April 1916. It was characterized by tumultuous seas, fog, tortuous thirst, gastroenteritis and the proximity of killer wales. Shackleton and the leaders of the other two boats showed outstanding skills in keeping those small boats together.

Elephant Island was out of the shipping routes so Shackleton had to effect a rescue for his men. In an era prior to wireless communications, his only realistic option was to attempt to reach the peri-Antarctic island of South Georgia, (which he had left at the start of his expedition). He took five men with him, leaving his remaining crew of twenty –two living under upturned boats on a beach on Elephant Island. The voyage, made in a twenty-two foot boat, the James Caird took them across Drake’s Passage and via eight hundred miles of the wild, sometimes snowy and icy, Scotia Sea. The sail is said to be the most remarkable example of small-boat seafaring ever achieved. But even the arrival at South Georgia was not the end of Shackleton’s trials. He and two others, Captain Worsley and Petty Officer Crean had to cross South Georgia’s unknown and uncharted snowy mountains to reach the whaling station that he had left sixteen months before. He returned then to Elephant Island (with great difficulty) and rescued the twenty two men who had been marooned on the island for four months waiting and hoping, sometimes despairingly for his return. All Shackleton’s crew survived.

Throughout these ‘Trials of Job’, Shackleton showed his remarkable qualities of leadership, positivity and optimism. As a true leader, he knew when to alter his plans as circumstances changed. It is wonderful that he is so celebrated in the county of his birth.


In the meeting that I attended diverse matters were covered: a workshop by sculptor Mark Richards, who has sculpted the statute of Shackleton that stands outside the museum, a book launch (Shane McCorristine’s The Spectral Arctic: A History of Ghosts and Dreams in Polar exploration, a talk on Amundsen, a discussion on what the sea floor can tell us about ice sheets, shipwreck mysteries, Jose Manuel Moneta in the Antarctic, the Patriot Sailor and Adventurer, Conor O’Brien, Icebreakers Kathleen Shackleton, a lecture on Isolation when wintering and working in Antarctica, William Speirs Bruce, the Forgotten Polar Hero, a film Ice in the Sky and, a bus tour through Shackleton country.

A fascinating selection of topics the likes of which are repeated annually


A wonderful acquisition for the museum will be Shackleton’s ‘Sea Bedroom’, the cabin on The Quest in which Shackleton died on his fourth expedition south in 1922. The Quest was bought by the Norwegian shipyard owner, John Drage. Drage for use as a sealing ship, but he kept the cabin, which he transported to his farm in Norway. Now Drage’s great grandson, Ulfe Bakke, has donated this precious artifact to the Athy Heritage Centre. Joe O’Farrell a committee member of The Shackleton Autumn School accompanied the cabin, which was transported by the shipping company DFDS from Norway to Ireland.

The cabin measures seven feet by six feet, contains a bunk, wash basin, chair, enamel cabinet, a mirror and an oil lamp. Restoration is underway. It is planned the work will be completed by 2022 in time for the centenary of Shackleton’s death. This will coincide with the reopening of the redesigned ‘Shackleton Museum’ which will tell the story of the man, his family, and Ireland’s contribution to exploration.

Finally I must mention an unusual event that is celebrated in the museum – a motor race around Athy that took place in 1903. James Gordon Bennett, the flamboyant publisher of the New York Herald presented the Gordon Bennett Cup to be given to the winner of the race which was held on a racing circuit around Athy (Gordon Bennett is probably best known for his sponsorship of Stanley’s successful expedition to Africa to find David Livingstone). The race, over 527km (327.5 miles), was won by Camille Jenatzy, for Germany, in a time of 6 hours, 39 minutes.

The Shackleton Autumn School should be noted by everyone with an interest in Polar events.











23 Dec

I have just sent my short account of Hubert Herkomer’s life to the publishers– I don’t know how long it will take to appear in its final form – but writing it has caused me to think again about the roller-coaster that is fame.

Herkomer would have reached the pinnacle of his fame when he painted QueenVictoria in 1901 on her deathbed in Osborne House. This beautiful picture depicts Victoria swathed in tulle, a cross in her hand, surrounded by the lilies symbolizing the return of her soul to its innocent state.

But even by 1901 Herkomer’s popularity was beginning to wane –some of his portraits were described as vulgar, richly-painted photographs!  By the early1900s artistic tastes were changing. They were to alter dramatically before and during World War 1.

I think in Herkomer’s case his fall from grace can be explained in a number of ways:

1) He was born in Bavaria. Although he became a naturalized British Citizen, he neither lost, nor hid, his affection and loyalty to Germany and visited Bavaria regularly. Throughout the early 1900s he hoped that Germany and England would continue a close association and he naively chose to ignore the indications of German aggression highlighted by the British press. He suggested that these reports were journalistic ploys and seemed oblivious to the steadily increasing British resentment towards Germany. He died in 1914 just before the beginning of the war. By 1918 Germany and all German associations were ostracized.

2) He was an extremely successful artist. Unusually, he was able to support himself and later his family by his art from the age of nineteen. ‘Social Realism’ was the vehicle of his early success (Van Gogh wrote enthusiastically to his brother Theo about him), but his move to portrait painting and the huge financial rewards in this genre (£500 for a portrait, at a time when a labourer earned approximately £40 a year), must have caused resentment amongst his less successful colleagues. His unabashed, boastful enthusiasm over his achievements must have added to this resentment, it was so un- English.

3) This resentment was made public when his fellow Royal Academicians questioned his right to British Citizenship. Humiliatingly he was forced to post his re-naturalization papers in the Academy. A further example of resentment became apparent when his name was advanced as a candidate for the Presidency of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1897 (he had been Vice President for several years). When he was beaten in the election he was bitterly disappointed. He rationalised that the defeat had come about because he was ‘a forriner’.

4) He was a polymath, his enthusiasms moved quickly through many aspects of ‘the arts’: painter, zither player, actor, banjo player, carpenter, enameler, film maker, composer, art director in his art school in Bushey. This vast array of interests, all of which he entered into with passion, inevitably meant that the quality of his paintings sometimes suffered; a fact seized upon by the critics.

5) However the most important reason that Herkomer’s artistic legacy is largely forgotten is that his work was a reflection of a society that was destroyed by the First World War – in fact even before the war, art enthusiasms had moved from ‘Realism’, as artists were drawn into a vortex of permanent revolution. Artists such as Christopher Nevinson, Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, Mark Gertler vividly portrayed the horrors of the war and after the devastation, many artists decided that the war must be used as a catalyst for change, an opportunity to embrace new advances, to experiment. Herkomer, a ‘Realist’, having died just before the war, had no opportunity to defend his work or (ironically, since he was always avid to investigate new ideas), to modify his oeuvre in relation to post war realities.

Such was the continued strength of feeling against him, that ‘Lululaund’, his Gothic-type house in Bushey, the only building in Britain designed by the renowned American architect Henry Hobson Richardson of Boston, was demolished stone by stone before the Second World War and the rubble used in the construction of an airstrip for American planes in nearby Bovingdon.

These are powerful reasons that explain in part why this amazingly talented, versatile, intelligent man fell from grace. There may be similar reasons for other artists.  But I think that it is now time for Herkomer’s contributions to late Victorian art to be re-evaluated.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard (final instalment)

26 Nov

I have spent some weeks writing a piece on the artist Sit Hubert von Herkomer RA – this has taken hours! Now, at last, I can return to Cherry Garrard’s experiences after the Terra Nova—the last comment on a man whose name is rarely recognized now, but a man who brought more clarity to life in Antarctica than virtually any other writer.

As previously, I acknowledge my indebtedness to Sarah Wheeler and her book Cherry: A life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard


There are several strands to the post Terra Nova narrative:

His book The Worst Journey in the World was published and republished. Written with the invaluable help of his  neighbour, George Bernard Shaw. It was to become a best seller (and, as Scott’s work had been distributed in the first world war, The Worst Journey became suggested reading for troops in the second).

Cherry’s general disillusionment with the government and the country post war – unemployment, poverty and industrial stagnation prevailed. As a member of the landowning class he felt that unfair taxes were levied to an extent that he could not continue to maintain his estates. He started to sell his properties.

He married

His physical and psychological health continued to give intermittent problems. Colitis, variably( and seriously) flared, he suffered from arthritis, but depression was always lurking. There was probably a familial trait to depression – his cousin, the publisher Reginald Smith committed suicide in 1916, and several other members of his family suffered from the illness.



The Worst Journey in the World had a long gestation. First published in 1922 when Cherry was 36, it was his eulogy to Edward Wilson and Birdie Bowers as well as a thoughtful appraisal of the Terra Nova expedition. The ‘Winter Journey’ was at the soul of the narrative. This expedition was organized by Wilson – it was a search to collect early specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs in order to investigate the theory that birds were descended from dinosaurs. Emperor Penguins were thought (wrongly), to be the most primitive of birds which is why Wilson wanted recently laid eggs (to see if these had teeth or scales). Wilson chose Lieutenant ‘Birdie’ Bowers along with Cherry, his protégée. The expedition was made in the dark, in temperatures that went down to -76° F. on a snow surface that resulted in progress of only a mile a day. At one point the three men were caught in a blizzard for many hours. They lay in their sleeping bags, without nourishment. They sang hymns. Cherry resigned himself to dying.

It was originally planned that Teddy Evans, Scott’s second in command on the Terra Nova (who Cherry and others distrusted), would write the account of the whole expedition, but Teddy became too busy to undertake the commission and Cherry was delighted to be asked take on the task. He originally planned a conventional account – stores, personnel, ship’s details, science etc. but gradually his vision changed and when he was given free licence over the work he moved from an ‘official’ account of the expedition to a personal, unique interpretation of the aims of Antarctic exploration, the hopes and the fears of the expedition, his personal assessment of his companions, psychological analyses. The work was not deferential. It was to evolve into a unique account of Polar exploration.

The help he received from Bernard Shaw was invaluable. Shaw could turn a poorly articulated concept into a beautifully crafted sentence and it was Shaw who suggested the eventual title, The Worst Journey in the World. Shaw ruled on punctuation, phrasing, typescript. Cherry appreciated Shaw’s help so much that he offered him co-authorship but Shaw refused saying that as his whole knowledge of ice dated from the great frost of 1878, his intrusion into the Antarctic Circle would be ridiculous! Shaw advised Cherry in relation to publishing and Cherry decided to retain editorial control by paying to have the work (original title Never Again: Scott, Penguins and the Pole), published. Emery Walker produced the illustrations for Never Again.

The book was first published in 1922- two volume boxed-sets, produced either with an expensive, or a cloth binding. The reviews were mainly excellent (‘A Glorious Narrative’ :…. ‘Impelling and Authentic’). One detractor was Kathleen (Scott) who objected to Cherry’s portrayal of her first husband and never forgave him for revealing Scott’s defects as well as his strengths.

The work was republished in 1927, again in 1929. In 1937, a two volume Penguin edition (the ninety-ninth and one hundredth in their series) was advertised by a penguin wielding a cricket bat and bowing – to celebrate the firm’s centenary.

The Worst Journey was hugely popular during the war. A film Scott of the Antarctic was produced in 1948. The book was adapted for television by Mark Gatiss—who also portrays Cherry-Garrard—in The Worst Journey in the World (2007). In 2017, Kat Eschner wrote in the that ‘This Catastrophic Polar Journey Resulted in One of the Best Adventure Books Ever Written’. The work remains in print.



Dissatisfaction with the government:

Along with many others before the war, Cherry had thought of war as a noble enterprise. Reality destroyed this myth brutally. The Versailles Treaty of 1919 brought peace but no return to the pre -war ways of life and Cherry felt under attack. He had been brought up in and assimilated the ‘patriarchal’ ways of life, where a landowner had responsibilities towards his tenants and land. Increases in his tax burden threatened this – he was opposed to the national claim for increased wages by workers. What he considered to be punitive duties on land owners resulted in him beginning to sell his lands and properties. As he wrote his book The Worst Journey in the World, he became increasingly disaffected with the bondage of possessions. In time he was to sell all his land assets including his family home Lamer.




Cherry married when he was 50. He met Angela Turner on a cruise in1937. She was 20 when he proposed in 1939, just before the abyss of the Second World War. They were married immediately. Both families, untroubled by the age difference, were pleased. Angela was a happy choice –it was said that her name was her nature. She was positive, good natured. She put up with Cherry’s oddities cheerfully. In contrast to Cherry she devoted time to the local village, Wheathampstead. The villagers responded warmly – many were christened ‘Angela’. Later in their marriage they were to leave Lamer, which she had grown to love, to move, uncomplainingly, into a service flat in London. She was to support Cherry through several mental breakdowns. She was a truly supportive partner.




Cherry clearly became seriously, though intermittently, incapacitated by a depressive psychoses. Unlike his wife he had never had a ‘half-full’, happy outlook. He was self absorbed, often unhappy and disinterested in events that did not relate to himself. In addition, as in all illnesses, the experiences he had gone through (the harrowing events of the Terra Nova expedition), provided an external trigger.

Over the years he had severe psychotic breakdowns. In 1941 he suffered from delusions –Germans were hiding in Lamer – this delusional phase might well have passed had not his brother–in -law employed the services of an eminent London psychiatrist. Incarceration in a mental hospital was advised.

Angela was appalled – she was sure that Cherry would recover given time. She immediately cycled to her near neighbours, Bernard Shaw and his wife Charlotte for help and advice. Shaw’s robust, sharp letter, which Angela copied, told the psychiatrist to keep away from her husband. Cherry recovered though he had memory loss for the whole period. He was amazed to hear of Pearl Harbour.

Although he had good and bad periods, depression was always a cloud on the horizon. In 1946, when living in his flat in London, he had what was described as a “complete nervous breakdown”. an incapacitating depression which immobilised him for a year. Angela with help from a day nurse, and a night nurse cared for him. Cherry, immersed in dread could hardly move, his arthritic pains aggravated. He lost stones in weight. He wanted Angela to be with him continuously; she took over all the administrative duties.


Later years

Lamer was sold in 1947. Cherry had shed his final responsibility, but his fluctuating psychological state was such that his doctor recommended a break in Eastbourne and in Eastbourne his psychological balance and peace of mind gradually returned. A further reprint of The Worst Journey sold over 165,000 copies. He and Angela went on cruises. He wrote a postscript to a new edition of The Worst Journey suggesting, amongst other things, that vitamin deficiency had been the cause of the disastrous return from the Pole.

Cherry returned to Eastbourne regularly throughout the early 1950s. He was thrilled when Churchill returned to power in 1951 He and Angela escaped from London by going to the Mediterranean. But through the 1950s he lost ground physically and mentally. He developed ‘lung congestion’, probably a symptom of heart failure. Seven years after the 1946 breakdown he was incapacitated for months by a further mental collapse. He suffered from skin rashes as well as arthritis. He became so obsessed by noise that he and Angela moved into the Berkeley Hotel. In May 1959 he slipped in The Berkeley and broke his arm. He died of pneumonia on the 18th May. 1959.

He was buried in Wheathampstead cemetery next to his father, Major General Apsley Cherry-Garrard. His life was illuminated and dominated by his experiences in Antarctica and his writing. The Worst Journey gave a unique insight into the fascination and the lure of the Antarctic and Antarctic exploration. He was blessed in his marriage to Angela who supported him throughout.

Neil Olivers programme on Bruce

2 Oct

Neil Oliver has made an excellent film on Bruce

It was one of his ‘ Last Explorers’ series and  was on BBC 4 on Tuesday 24th Sept. You can get it on catch-up.

Obviously It will not be there for too long, but we have downloaded it.

It makes an excellent pair of bookends with my book on Bruce and, of course, the Audiobook.!!



28 Aug

These images have now been added.

The map image contains Scott’s route from the South Pole to his final camp 15 miles from ‘One Ton Depot’ and an insert of the resupply of ‘One Ton Depot’ by Cherry-Garrard and  Dimitri Gerof.

Apsley Cherry Garrard, (Cherry), Part 3

20 Aug

I have covered Cherry’s early life and his experiences on the Terra Nova expedition in my blogs of the 5th and 25th July.


This blog covers some of his experiences after the expedition.



The resupply of food and fuel to ‘One Ton Depot’ by Cherry-Garrard & Dimitri Gerof


Cherry died in 1958, forty-four years after the Terra Nova had returned to Cardiff, but his experiences on the expedition and the aftermath of these experiences, became a permanent scar. The expedition was reported in the press as an example of ‘gallantry in the face of catastrophe’ and as ‘a moral and spiritual expedition’, but Cherry did not see it like this. He had lost the two people he most admired in the world – Edward Wilson and ‘Birdie’ Bowers and he was haunted by their loss and by the thought (and suggestion) that when he was sent to replenish One Ton camp, he could have advanced further south of One Ton and possibly saved the explorers. One report claimed that the dog handler, Dimitri, stated that he (Dimitri) had wanted to take the dogs on alone from One Ton. An armchair specialist claimed that ‘all that could have been done was not done’.


Cherry had been a member of the party that found the tent where the bodies of his dead companions lay. He had seen Scott’s arm laid across Wilson. He had searched for Wilson’s watch to give to Oriana, Wilson’s widow. He had found the notes that Wilson had left. How could he forget? How could he not go over and over the events and question himself about his and Dmitri’s return?

When he finally arrived at base camp from One Ton he collapsed from physical and mental strain, hardly able to get out of his bed for weeks. He suffered from headaches, fainting fits and serious, profound depression. As he slowly recovered over the months, Dr. Atkinson the base doctor became a friend as well as an adviser and confidant. The two men became united in their distrust of Lieutenant Teddy Evans, who went home with the relief ship (see below). They (and others) lacked confidence in Teddy.[i]

On Cherry’s return to England he returned to ‘Lamer’, his Hertfordshire home. He found it was remarkably unchanged; he went over the estate affairs with his adviser- his income from his estates had increased – he met up with his tenants. He visited his Antarctic colleagues and their relatives. He lived the social life of a wealthy landowner, but his underlying melancholy and anxiety remained.

Scott’s Last Expedition, Scott’s diary was published in October 1913. It was well received, but Cherry had reservations about it. He felt that Scott had changed the story into an allegory of the Christian Story [ii]. But he mainly felt threatened (in the light of criticism of his activities), that the account failed to make the point that was so important to him personally. This was, that on the outward southern trek, Scott had taken the dogs further south than originally planned. As he read the report Cherry suspected that the committee responsible for the book, had produced a cover-up that aimed to enhance Scott’s reputation.

The story of the dogs and the dog food is complex to unravel. The dogs were supposed to turn back at the base of the Beardmore Glacier but Scott, realising their worth, decided to take them onto the glacier where they continued on the southbound journey as far as the Lower Glacier Depot. This decision, though it helped the British party on the glacier, was to have far reaching effects. Scott had not left enough dog food in the depots on his outward journey for the return and clearly more food was used when the dogs continued to the Lower Glacier Depot. When Mears turned back he carried a message from Scott that said that after Mears and the dogs had got back to camp and had rested, they should return to the Ice Barrier as far as One Ton camp carrying fuel and supplies. Scott wanted this to be done by March 1912. He wrote that in the event of Mears returning too late to do this in the necessary time frame, it was absolutely essential that, somehow or other, the supplies should be delivered to One Ton.

Mears and Dimitri turned back from the Lower Glacier Depot on December 11, 1912, 360 miles from the Pole. They had a very difficult journey to Base. Subsequently Mears did not take the dogs back onto the Barrier for the essential run to One Ton as demanded by Scott. This was mainly because he, with a number of colleagues, was booked to return home on the relief ship. Ranulph Fiennes suggests that Mears could actually have completed the run to One Ton and back and still have been on the relief ship[iii] and this may be true, but Mears did not do this; he needed to get home to sort out family affairs, his father had died- he would not run the risk of missing the ship. Someone else would have to do it.

The whole sorry saga is complicated by the fact that Teddy Evans collapsed with scurvy on HIS return from the Plateau. Lieutenant Evans had been sent back with two companions in early February. Scott entrusted him with pivotal instructions, a final message intended to OVERRIDE all previous instructions. Scott stated that the dogs were to come further south than One Ton. Mears was to take the dogs to 82-83°S, allowing Scott to meet the dogs in early March.

Lieutenant Teddy Evans became desperately ill with scurvy on the return journey. He was so ill he was unable to advance and had to be rescued from the Barrier where he lay helpless, looked after by Stoker Lashly, apparently anticipating death. Dr. Atkinson travelled onto the Barrier and carefully nursed him back to health.

Whatever happened to Scott’s last pivotal instructions that the dogs should go further south then One Ton, they did not get to Cherry.

It was clearly understood that food had to be got as far as One Ton, but the decision as to who to send with the relief dog team was difficult. It was considered that Wright, as a scientist, had to remain at Base to make the meteorological and other scientific observations. Dr. Atkinson was needed to care for Teddy Evans. Cherry was the only possibility; so, burdened by poor eyesight, limited basic skills in navigation, and a lack of dog driving experience, Cherry set out with Dimitri, the dog handler, to the depot, 150 miles away on the featureless Barrier.

Navigation was difficult. Cherry had to rely on Dimitri to spot the cairns. At One Ton Camp they were held down by weather conditions for four days. The dog food and fuel was running out. Cherry knew that the only way that further progress south could be made was by killing the dogs, but he knew also that Scott’s instructions had been that the dogs were not to be risked. He had no information about Scott’s final instructions. In addition Dimitri apparently developed a right-sided weakness and was unable to cooperate. But probably the most important factor was that Cherry had no reason to suppose that the polar party were in trouble. He had absolutely no way of knowing that of the five returnees, one had already died, Oates was die soon and the remaining three were in a battle against death which they were to lose at the end on March.

On the10 March 1912, Cherry, leaving a message for Scott, turned back to make the return journey to Base.

After his slow medical improvement and his return to England Cherry, at home in Lamer brooded. He went over and over the dog scenario. His distrust of Teddy Evans festered, particularly when Teddy was made part of the committee writing an official, formal account of the expedition. Cherry was against this; he thought it would be a permanent shame if the story was told by Evans who had been ‘the one blot on what I believe is the best expedition which has ever sailed’.[iv]

It was therefore music to his ears when the Secretary of the committee approached him to ask him to take over the account, as Teddy was too busy.

Cherry accepted immediately.


To be continued



[i] Wheeler, S. Cherry, A life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 2001, Jonathan Cape, p. 79,96,138.

[ii] Wheeler, S. Cherry, A life of Apsley Cherry Garrard, 2001, Jonathan Cape, p 161.

[iii] Fiennes, R. Captain Scott, 2003, Hodder and Stoughton, p. 360.

[iv] Wheeler, S. Cherry, A life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 2001, Jonathan Cape P. 138.

Apsley Cherry Garrard (CHERRY), CONTINUED

25 Jul

I wrote about Cherry’s childhood and his appointment to the ‘Terra Nova’ on 5th July.           This is part 2


The TERRA NOVA expedition, 1910-1914.


Cherry loved the life on the ‘Terra Nova’, but the expedition, which started so well, was to leave an indelible scar. Cherry was Wilson’s assistant zoologist, he became expert at skinning birds and animals. He enjoyed the on–board camaraderie and joined enthusiastically in any work that needed to be done. He was able to laugh at himself. Wilson wrote that Cherry ‘really is splendid’.


Scott’s brief was to continue the exploratory, scientific and geographic work begun on the Discovery expedition and to get to the South Pole (Wilson wrote, we must get to the Pole). In addition, Wilson had a personal aim – to investigate a possible link between dinosaurs and birds by investigating penguin embryology. A German zoologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel, had promoted and popularised Charles Darwin‘s work and developed the theory “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” which suggested that an individual organism’s biological development, (ontogeny), parallels its species’ evolutionary development (phylogeny) i.e. if Wilson could obtain early specimens of Emperor Penguin eggs he might find scales to back up this theory i.e. that the birds had descended from dinosaurs.


Wilson chose Emperor Penguins for his investigation because they were flightless and he thought (wrongly), that they were amongst the most primitive of birds. Apart from Wilson’s scientific enthusiasm, there was the added incentive that if the theory of development could be substantiated it was entirely possible that the connection would earn the expedition the highly influential Darwinian Prize.


Wilson picked Cherry and his friend ‘Birdie’ Bowers for the 60 mile trek to the Emperor Penguin colony; a round trip of 5 weeks. The trip was to be Cherry’s first serious trial on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition.


Emperor Penguin chicks had been found on the Discovery expedition and Wilson, thinking that the eggs would be laid towards the end of June, set out at the end of that month. Cherry embarked on a potentially suicidal journey, enduring almost continuous darkness, freezing temperatures – at one point down to -77°F, ice surfaces like sand, progress of about a mile per day, lurking crevasses and permanent fatigue. He developed blisters on his fingers that leaked puss by night and froze by day.

On the trip meteorological information on the Antarctic Ice Barrier was recorded. Cherry gave up hope of survival. His hope was to die without much pain.

I don’t believe minus seventy temperatures would be bad in daylight, not comparatively bad, when you could see where you were going, where you were stepping, where the sledge straps were, the cooker, the primus, the food….when it would not take you five minutes to lash the door of your tent and five hours to get going in the morning.



The Winter Journey around Ross Island to obtain Emperor Penguin eggs


The three men reached the penguin colony in nineteen days. In order to investigate the eggs in situ three precious days were spent building a stone igloo on a high ridge below the top of a hill (the remains of the hut were discovered by Sir Edmund Hillary on his journey to the Antarctic in the 1950s).


Penguin Colony


Finally the men collected five eggs, but Cherry’s eyesight was so bad that he fell repeatedly on the return to the hut and smashed the two he had been given to carry. Later the three endured another ghastly complication -with the wind was blowing ‘as though the world was having a fit of hysterics’ the canvas roof of their ‘hut’ was blown away and the three lay exposed to the raging elements, mummified in snow, in darkness and with no food or drink. They sang songs and hymns. Cherry’s admiration for his two older companions was without bounds.

They had also carried a tent. This was blown away by the storm, this loss made a successful return virtually impossible. When the storm abated, the tent was found. It was weighted down by ice and had dropped out of the sky like a closed umbrella. Wilson insisted they returned to their base.


Cherry, Wilson and Birdie Bowers after the journey to the penguin colony. Cherry’s fingers are stiff and swollen with puss. The trio were voraciously hungry and, when they warmed up, smelt horribly.


Cherry had contributed to the collection of meteorological records that would not be repeated for seventy years (and then by machines which malfunctioned). Despite this heroic journey for scientific advance when the eggs were finally examined, years later, the three eggs that Cherry left in the Natural History Museum did not prove the connection between dinosaurs and birds.


Cherry, aided by his friend and Hertfordshire neighbour George Bernard Shaw, later wrote The Worst Journey in the World, about the expedition. It is a best seller.


Cherry’s next big experience was the assault on the Pole. Scott divided the advance into three distinct sections: the Ice Barrier, the Glacier and the Plateau. The expedition set out with motor sledges, pony sledges (the ponies were to be sacrificed when they had got their loads to the glacier) and dog sledges. Cherry was a pony handler. His pony ‘gallant little Michael’, black eyes dulled with fatigue, was shot in early December. The next day Michael was eaten.


Cherry was one of the twelve men who strained and struggled to haul three laden sledges up the Beardmore Glacier — 120 miles long, 25 feet wide, riddled with crevasses and rising from 300 feet to 9000 feet. Scott whittled the advancing party down to eventually, five men. Cherry was sent back on the 20th December with three others. Characteristically he asked Scott if he had disappointed him—‘No, no, no’.


The assault on the South Pole


Scott sent the last party of three back on the 3 January 1912. The returnees, the Last Supporting Party, were led by Scott’s Second in Command, Teddy Evans who was to become seriously ill on the return.


Cherry’s personal trials were to evolve.


As is well known, Scott and his four companions all died on their attempted return from the Pole, but in February 1912, anticipation of a successful return was high. Scott had instructed that a sledge should be sent with supplies to ‘One Ton Camp’, a depot one hundred and fifty miles away on the Barrier. As arrangements were being finalized for this journey, news reached base that Teddy Evans had collapsed and was thought to be dying from scurvy, thirty –five miles out on the Barrier.


Dr. Atkinson, who had been going on the supply mission, clearly had to abandon these plans to go out and rescue Teddy Evans. There were few people at the Base – a decision had to be reached as to who should accompany Dimitri, the dog handler, on the supply mission. Of the men available, Wright, an oceanographer, was needed to continue scientific work. Cherry had to go; he was not a navigator, he had never driven dogs, he had awful eyesight, but with trepidation (‘I’m right in it’), he set out with Dimitri to find a depot 150 miles distant in a featureless barrier. His goggles misted, he struggled with the navigation; Dimitri had to pick out the cairns.


Scott had initially issued instructions that the dogs were to be saved at any cost (for a further attempt), but had apparently subsequently issued further verbal instructions, via Teddy Evans when he sent Teddy back, that the dogs should come further south to meet him (Scott) on his return. These orders were not transmitted to Cherry, probably in the confusion around Teddy’s collapse. Cherry, who would of course never disobey an order from Scott, thought his priorities were to save the dogs. In any case, as he set out for ‘One Ton Camp’ he had no reason to suppose the Polar party were in need of food.


But tragically, when Cherry was waiting in ‘One Ton Camp,’ Scott’s party were in desperate trouble, hoping against hope that the supply sledge HAD gone further south with the supplies that could have saved them.


At ‘One Ton’ Cherry and Dimitri were caught in a storm that made further progress pointless. The dog food was running out. Dimitri developed a paralysis of his right arm and side. Cherry had no idea that his leader was in desperate straits. On the 10th March, with just enough food for the return journey Cherry laid a small depot of food and turned north towards his base.


Dear Sir, We leave this morning with the dogs for ‘Hut Point’ (the base). We have made no depots on the way in being off course all the way, and so I have not been able to leave you a note before. Yours sincerely, Apsley Cherry Garrard.

(quoted in Sara Wheeler’s ‘A Life of Apsley Cherry Garrard’).


Scott Wilson and Bowers were to die later that month, just twelve and a half miles to the south of “One Ton Camp”


To be continued





Easy link to buy my new audiobook

25 Jul

To buy my new audiobook ‘William Speirs Bruce Forgotten Polar Hero’ click here