Tag Archives: Discovery

Clements Markham 1830-1916

8 Apr

How we will be remembered -– over the years will our reputation be lauded, forgotten or debated?

An example of the latter possibility is Sir Clements Robert Markham, KCB. FRGS. FRS.

Markham was a geographer, explorer, writer, a Member of the Royal Geographical Society, its Secretary for twenty five years and, subsequently, its President. He achieved much in his long life, but his personality was such that he also aroused enmity, resentment an hostility. The Royal Geographical Librarian (Hugh Robert Mill) wrote that as President, Markham functioned more as a dictator than a President. David Crane, in his biography of Robert Falcon Scott, writes that Markham had an unrivaled capacity for misrepresentation. scurrilities, slanders and vindictiveness. But he qualifies this by stating that for every flaw, Markham had an opposite quality in good measure – for example a hatred of cruelty, a largeness of imagination and a wonderful capacity for loyalty and friendship.

Markham when he was elected to the Royal Geographical Society

Markham is mostly remembered for his presidency of the Royal Geographical Society to which he was unexpectedly elected, in 1893, when in his early sixties. His election followed a dispute over the question of admission of women members, a clash of opinions that Markham had kept out of (the dispute split the society – at a Special General Meeting the council voted against admitting women members, this differed from the results of the postal ballot where members had been strongly in favour). Following his election to the Presidency, Markham became a Knight Commander of the British Empire (KCB), and so became Sir Clements Markham. He was the society’s president for twelve years.

President of the Royal Geographical Society; 1893-1904

For years Sir Clements’ overriding passion had been the revival of British Antarctic Exploration and as president he was in the position and had the contacts and energy to pursue this vision – without him there would have been no British Antarctic expedition. In London in 1895 he chaired the Sixth International Geographical Congress, this was attended by deputations from all the major European countries. The focus was on Antarctica- at that time the actual presence of a Southern Continent was uncertain- and at the end of the congress a statement was issued: ’Exploration of the Antarctic is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken. That in view of the addition to knowledge in almost every branch of science that would result from such a scientific exploration, the Committee recommended that scientific societies throughout the world should urge, in whatever way seems most effective, that this work should be undertaken before the end of the century’.

Sir Clements aimed to achieve this lofty goal in Britain’s name.

Support and enthusiasm was certain, political and financial backing, less so.
The 1899 International Geographical Congress (the seventh), this time at Berlin, emphasized international cooperation, particularly with Germany, who were already financing their own Antarctic expedition, as well as scientific work. Sir Clements suggested dividing the Antarctic into sectors: Britain would cover the Ross Sea area. Germany’s sphere of activity would be the Weddell (north west) and Enderby (north east) sectors.
Sir Clements was to spend years fighting to achieve his goal; years in which he appears to have made as many enemies as friends. He needed to raise £90,000 and to get finance from the Treasury he needed the full support of two Specialist Societies – the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society. To this end he formed the Joint Antarctic Committee which consisted of twelve representatives from each of these august bodies. But far from achieving a coordinated plan the committee almost immediately fell apart. Whereas the Royal Society emphasised science, in particular terrestrial magnetism and oceanography, Sir Clements’ priority was geographical discovery. Endless sub-committee meetings and the diametrically differing aims of the societies resulted in frustration. Hugh Robert Mill, the geographer and meteorologist, who acted as Secretary for the Joint Committee reported on its deliberations and wrote that the work resulted in a confusion of jealousies, arguments and misunderstandings. Sir Clements also clashed with the Royal Society on the overall leader of the expedition. He was determined that his protégée, Lieutenant Robert Falcon Scott, should be both Captain and in overall command. By contrast the Royal Society assumed that a scientist would lead the work in Antarctica and backed a Professor John W. Gregory. It was not until May 1901, that Gregory was informed that Scott had been appointed Expedition Commander, Sir Clements out- manouvered the Royal Society, Professor Gregory, very publicly, resigned.
In three years of fund raising, only £10,000 of the £90,000 had been raised. But, by a welcome ‘munificent gift’ of £25,000 from a wealthy London business man, Sir Clements’ vision was saved. Mr. Longstaff wrote that he wished to contribute to the advancement of our knowledge of the planet in which we live. With this gift the tide was turned.. The government, after consultation with the Learned Societies, advanced £45,000. Interestingly, Arthur Balfour, (later to be Prime Minister) represented the government in meetings with the societies. He would have given the deputations a sympathetic ear, being much interested in science and actually a member of the Royal Society. He was also possibly influenced by the fact that German Government had voted £60,000 to Antarctic exploration (in addition to the £30,000 that had been raised in Germany by private subscription). The government gave £45,000 to the expedition, the Royal Geographical Society another £5,000. In April 1899, Queen Victoria wished the expedition success. The Prince of Wales agreed to become Patron.

Sir Clements’ capacity for loyalty and friendship was apparent in his support of Scott. During the months after Scott’s appointment he bombarded his protégée with advice and instructions. One of Sir Clements’ prejudices was against dogs – though even at this time the famous Norwegian explorer Nansen, supported dog transport. Sir Clements favoured manhauling which he had observed some fifty years previously when, as a midshipman, he had been on an expedition to the Arctic. On the expedition a lieutenant, Leopold McClintock, had mastered the technique of travelling over the ice with sledges. This expertise influenced Sir Clements absolutely in favour of manhauling, He was to become a major, and, it transpired dangerous, advocate of the technique -it could be said that he thought of Polar exploration in terms of heroism for heroism’s sake. Scott followed his mentor’s advice.

Sir Clements’ wife, Lady Markham, was to launch Discovery the expedition ship, on the 21st March 1901.

Sir Clements was fully involved in appointing Discovery’s crew members -he wrote comments on all of them. He thought the First Lieutenant, Charles Royds, was a ‘first class seaman’, and deserved to be ‘one of the Antarctic heroes’. Second Lieutenant Michael Barnes, was ‘a charming young fellow… ‘and a relation of mine which is also in his favour’. Ernest Shackleton, the future famous Antarctic explorer, was included with Sir Clements blessing as requested by Llewellyn Longstaff the ‘munificent donor’. Sir Clements thought Shackleton steady, high principled, full of zeal, hard working, good tempered and well informed. He wrote that the senior doctor of the expedition (Koettlitz) was zealous and persevering but that his mind perhaps works rather slowly.

Sir Clements decided that Discovery, a three-masted, sail and steam wooden ship, should be built in Dundee. In spite of all efforts she leaked heavily on her outward sail, the leak became all too newsworthy, the sight of water pouring from the ship in the New Zealand dry dock was well advertised and Sir Clements had to assure the press that such leaking was normal in a wooden ship.

SS Discovery

Once in the Antarctic, the expedition made the first significant penetration ever onto the continent in addition to important geographical and scientific advances: At different times and locations the expedition discovered: King Edward VII Land; the only snow-free Antarctic Dry Valleys: an unexpected Emperor Penguin colony Cape Crozier (until this time it was considered impossible that any creature could breed in the caterwauling gloom of Antarctica). Scott, with the junior doctor Wilson and Shackleton reached 82°17’ S. in a sortie towards the South Pole. All suffered from scurvy.

The Dry Valleys in the western mountains of Victoria Land

Discovery was originally meant to return to England in a year, but when the Antarctic summer arrived, she was still firmly ice bound. Sir Clements therefore had a legitimate excuse for disregarding the official orders for the ship to return to England; in fact it is claimed that Sir Clements had anticipated this and that the relief ship (Morning, which carried stores and personnel), transmitted secret instructions to Scott authorizing a further year of work.

During the second Antarctic season a major ascent into the Antarctic mountains discovered the Polar Plateau. Scientific observations were made throughout the ascent and throughout the season.

Scott had hoped that by the second Antarctic summer, Discovery would be freed from the ice, but she remained held fast. This was to be Sir Clements’ nemesis. Money was needed to get the crew home. Sir Clements’ expedition’s coffers were empty. In London he was accused of mismanagement. The Royal Geographical Society withdrew its support.
The Treasury initially refused to pay for a second rescue. The realisation that the Royal Geographical Society had made no financial provision for a relief expedition caused serious anger. Arthur Balfour (now the Prime Minister) declared this as a betrayal of trust. But Balfour really had no choice, apart from anything else thirty of the 37 officers and men on Discovery were on the Navy’s active list. The crew had to be rescued.
The Treasury funded the rescue operation on the proviso that the Admiralty took over the whole responsibility for the relief expedition. i.e. out of Sir Clements’ hands. The two Societies were told, on 20 June 1903, that the Government would assume ‘the whole responsibility for the further relief expedition which has unfortunately been rendered necessary’. Discovery was to be abandoned if she could not be freed from the ice, and her complement brought back on two relief ships. Morning and Terra Nova . The costs of repairs and victualing would be the first charge on the sale of Discovery (if she could be extricated from the ice). Morning which Sir Clements had chartered was to be transferred to the government ‘absolutely and at once’.
A furious Sir Clements claimed that Morning has been bought in his name, but the eventual threat of legal action prevailed. Sir Clements’ authority over the expedition was finished. He was out of the country when The Council of the Royal Geographical Society saw the writing on the wall and elected an Acting President who, ignoring Markham’s written instructions, acquiesced to the Treasury’s demands.
Ironically, as is the way in Antarctica, the ice suddenly began to break up. Discovery was released. The three ships returned to New Zealand together.

Sir Clements met the ship in Portsmouth on 10 September 1904, but no dignitaries greeted the party when it arrived in London a few days later. There was however, considerable public enthusiasm for the expedition. A cable from the king was sent to congratulate Scott and his men on their splendid achievements and criticism was muted in the face of royal recognition. Sir Clements advertised the achievements of the expedition and he wrote also that ‘sledge journeys without dogs are quite unequalled’. But some critics spoke out: Sir Jackie Fisher, soon to be in charge of the navy, said that money would have been better spent building up the navy writing that it wass worse than a crime, it was a blunder’

Sir Clements’ authority over Antarctic Exploration was irrevocably diminished.

To be continued


19 Apr



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.






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.



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.



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!





[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



4 Sep

One of my talks is on ‘The Voyages of Discovery’. ‘Discovery’ was built for Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1901-1904. She was sold on after the expedition returned to England.

It was a surprise to find how many reincarnations she has had – she became a cargo vessel for the Hudson Bay Company of Canada, carrying textiles, tools & mirrors to barter for furs, she was involved in the Whaling Industry, became an oceanographic and research vessel, returned to the Antarctic with Douglas Mawson, was a training ship on the Thames and is now enjoying honourable (and relative), retirement at Dundee Point, where she is visited by thousands.

In WW1 in 1915, she was involved in supplying Archangel. Archangel was the only Russian port available to the West for the transport of supplies to Russia (the Germans controlled the Baltic, the Turkish Navy controlled access to the Black Sea via the Mediterranean). Discovery travelled in convoy via the North Sea to the Barents Sea and Archangel The approach to the White Sea was littered with German minefields. As ‘Steamer 141’ she went to Archangel between June and September 1915. Ten ships in the convoys were lost in these months. In the whole heroic strategy, 110 ships were lost, a third of the total. The courage of the seamen was phenomenal.

This transit was to be repeated in WW2. Winston Churchill called the journey the Worst Journey in the World. (a homage to Cherry Garrard’s book of this name). British and American ships supplied Archangel between 1941 and 1945. As in the WW1 the risks were terrible. The convoys sailed round German occupied Norway; the men endured freezing temperatures (minus 40°C), U boat attacks, and bombardments. The first of these convoys reached Archangel in September seventy-five 75 years ago. They provided supplies, moral support and eventually airplanes to the Soviet Union, as Hitler attacked.

These heroic men were celebrated recently in Archangel in events to mark the anniversary. Eight veterans were feted. The Princess Royal attended and visited British war graves.

No praise is too great.


6 Aug

The centenary of Shackleton’s most famous expedition is coming up fast. I imagine there will be many celebrations.

Shackleton is looked on as a charismatic leader, known throughout the world. His management skills are hugely admired. But, I wonder, would he, at the end of his career, have looked upon himself as a success or a failure?

Although his achievements are many, he never in fact, commanded more than 27 men and, it can be said,  he failed in the Antarctic goals he set himself: He was sent home by Scott from ‘Discovery’, a tremendous blow to a proud and ambitious man. On the ‘Nimrod’ expedition he achieved a glorious success in getting to within a hundred miles of the Pole, but he did not get to the Pole and, when eventually he had funds to return this had been achieved, not only by Amundsen, but also by Scott, no glory in being third. On the ‘Endurance’ expedition he did not achieve any of the ambitions that he had set himself – it has been said that some failures are more glorious than success and certainly, his command of this expedition is legendary (the sail to South Georgia and the boat journey to Elephant Island are regarded as almost miraculous), but he did not actually get onto the mainland.

I think ‘Endurance’ (part of the family motto), applies not only to the ship but to Shackleton himself. His endurance was both physical and outstandingly, mental. His overwhelming gift was to instill confidence and hope.

But I think at the end of his life, on balance, he would not have considered himself a great success.


9 May

Shackleton was an inspiring leader in adversity, he gave hope. In my talk on Shackleton I go over the three expeditions ‘Discovery’, ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Endurance’, each one follows inexorably after the other.

He is said to have advertised his Trans-Antarctic expedition: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success’.

He had thousands of applicants including a wonderful letter from ‘three sporty girls’, who were ‘strong and healthy, gay and bright’. Then, excellently, ‘If our feminine part is inconvenient we should be happy to don male attire’. They had been reading up on the Polar Regions and couldn’t see, ‘why men should have the glory and women none’ especially as there were women who were as capable and brave as men. They were not accepted!

Interestingly, they were not the only females who were interested in Antarctic exploration. Marie Stopes, of birth control fame, was an eminent botanist and biologist. She was particularly interested in glossopteris (seed ferns), which flourish in warm climates and she wanted to investigate their presence in Antarctica, which  would prove that the Antarctic had once been a warm climate. She discussed this with Scott before his ‘Terra Nova’ venture and he promised to bring back samples. These were found in the tent with the dead bodies of Scott and his companions in 1912, and did indeed confirm the theory.

There is no suggestion that Stopes wanted to go with Shackleton. She was 44, getting divorced, and no doubt her thoughts had moved on from pure research