Tag Archives: Hakluyt Society

CLEMENTS MARKHAM, KCB. FRS. PART 2

22 May

Clements Markham’s rise to the Presidency of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), was not inevitable. It happened, as has been described, when there was a rift in the Society over the admission of women members. But as President, he became the face of British geography; when he was appointed he announced that his ambition was to promote a British Antarctic expedition.

He was sixty- three when he was elected. During his presidency he had his supporters, but in spite of his many achievements, the dictatorial approach that he demonstrated (a quality that his supporters would have claimed was necessary to get results), along with an increasing reputation for vindictiveness and slander, resulted in many colleagues regarding him with suspicion and distrust.

From an idealistic youth he transmuted into a formidable, confident, opinionated leader – a man dismissive of criticism, but a man of courage who pursued his goals despite setbacks and rebuffs.

He was born in 1830. The family can be described as upper-middle class – a great-great grandfather was an Archbishop of York; a great-grandfather was an Admiral; his father was the Reverend David Markham. Clements began his life-long habit of making observations on the people he met and the places he visited when he was a young boy (he wrote that one elderly lady had a long neck, an eager little face and a voice like a cockatoo, another was untidy)! and he always made careful descriptions of the houses his family visited- He was a student at Westminster School. His cousin Admiral Markham wrote that Clements thought it was a more wonderful and delightful place than he had ever imagined!

For generations, the family had varied in its allegiance between the Church and the Navy and, aged 14, Clements joined the navy as a cadet. His acceptance was helped by an aunt, the Countess of Mansfield, who introduced him to Rear Admiral Sir George Seymour, a Lord of the Admiralty. Seymour was about to take command of the Pacific station and he assigned the young boy to his flagship, HMS ‘Collingwood’.

Clements Markham as a naval cadet aged 14
Artist Thomas Richmond

‘Collingwood’s’ tour lasted almost four years. She visited Callao, the main port on the Peruvian coast, this was a visit that gave Clements his first experience of a country that would figure so importantly in his later career. During the tour ‘Collingwood’ also called at Chile, Brazil, the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands),Tahiti and the Falkland Islands. Clements used the years profitably – he passed the examination to become a midshipman and he learnt Spanish.

But his experience at sea made him reassess is ambitions for the future – he decided against the navy as his career, he wanted to become an explorer/geographer. When ‘Collingwood’ arrived at Portsmouth in July 1848, Clements told his father that he wanted to leave the navy, but his father persuaded him to stay, at least temporarily. This was a decision made easier by the announcement of an Arctic expedition which aimed to find information concerning the fate of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition of 1845, Sir John’s two ships and 128 men had disappeared whilst attempting to navigate and chart the Northwest Passage. Clements knew immediately that he wanted to join in the search and he used family influence to be appointed to ‘Assistance’ in 1850. Aged twenty he was the expedition’s only midshipman. He noted every detail of expedition life in his journal.

No survivors or clues as to the whereabouts of Sir John’s ships were discovered. However Clements played his full part in the expedition’s sledging excursions and it was at this time he became impressed by a method of man-hauling sledges through icy terrain adopted by lieutenant Leopold McClintock. Clements was convinced that with fit naval men, the method was a better and more reliable method of transport in icy conditions than dog transport. This was to have profound implications for British exploration. Fifty years later he remained an advocate of the technique.

Monument to Sir John Franklin’s fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
Waterloo Place London

‘Assistance’ returned to England in October,1851 and Markham left the navy. His reasons for leaving were primarily his geographical ambitions, but he also loathed what he considered to be the excessive corporal punishment characteristic of naval life – forty years later he was to spearhead a campaign that abolished flogging. Also the long periods of inactivity on the expeditions bored him. But his naval experience made a deep impression. He was convinced, permanently, that naval discipline would be right for Polar exploration. He published his experiences under the title of ‘Franklin’s Footsteps’.

Clements always dreamed of returning to Peru. In 1852, financed by his father, he achieved his ambition. His plan was to collect information about the Inca city of Cuzco and to study relics of the Inca period. He reached Cuzco in March 1853. It was at this time that he learned that the cinchona plant, grown near Cuzco, was a source of quinine. This had enormous implications for world health – cinchona bark was the first known treatment for malaria. But he could not investigate further, the death of his father meant an immediate return to England in September, 1853. Always an inveterate writer, he published ‘Cuzco and Lima’ after his trip.

He was elected Fellow of the RGS in 1854 and the Society immediately became the centre of his geographical interests. In the same year he was also appointed to the Board of Control of the East India Company and served in the ‘secret department’ at the time of the Indian Mutiny (1858-1862). But without his father’s financial support he had to earn a living. Unsatisfactory employment in the Legacy Duty Office of the Inland Revenue was followed by a transfer to what became, in 1857, the India Office, where he was to remain until 1867. In 1859, Clements proposed a scheme to his employers for collecting cinchona trees from the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes and transporting them to selected sites in India and with the support of the Secretary of State for India, he set out for Peru six years after his first visit. His brief was to transfer the cinchona plants and seeds to India. Aged 29, he was in charge of the entire operation.

Clements Markham, aged 25

His team arrived in Lima in January 1860. The enterprise was dangerous; Peru and Bolivia were on the verge of war, Markham travelled to parts of Peru which had probably never been visited by Europeans, also the Peruvian authorities, keen to protect the country’s control over the cinchona trade, were hostile and limited his operations. He was prevented from obtaining the best quality specimens. Somehow, he managed to overcome bureaucratic obstruction and obtained the necessary export licenses to transport the invaluable plant to India – a priceless service to humanity, within years the price of cinchona had fallen from 20 shillings per ounce to a few pence per ounce. Markham was granted £3,000 for this outstanding triumph. He wrote about his experiences in ‘Travels in Peru and India’.

But he achieved even more. As part of his India Office duties he investigated and reported to the Indian government on the possibility of introducing Peruvian cotton into Madras: of transporting ipecacuanha (a plant treatment for bronchitis and croup and used to induce vomiting), from Brazil to India. He reported on the future of the pearl industry in Southern India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He wrote compulsively – particularly relating to South America – works included: ‘Quichua Grammar’ and ‘Dictionary and The War between Chile and Peru 1879-1881’.

In 1863 he was appointed as Honorary Secretary of the RGS, a post he held for twenty-five years. At that time exploration of central Africa was creating great interest and he followed the reports of Livingstone, Burton and Speke’s expeditions with enthusiasm. He travelled in Europe, South America and the States, where he was entertained by the American Geographical Society and met President Grover Cleveland. But he always worked indefatigably for the society – he arranged scientific lectures, he reorganized the library, the map collection and the society’s photographic collection. He arranged for instruction in surveying. In 1871 he instigated a Lectureship in Geography at Cambridge University. Throughout he always supported the concept of Polar exploration.

In addition he was Secretary and subsequently President of the Hakluyt Society, a society that publishes accounts of historic voyages/travels and geographical material (he eventually published about thirty papers in the society’s journals).

In 1867 Markham became head of the India Office’s geographical department and was invited to accompany Sir Robert Napier’s military expeditionary force to Abyssinia as the expedition’s geographer. He was present at the storming of Magdala, the stronghold of the Abyssinian King Theodore (who, after a simmering dispute, had insulted the British by imprisoning the British Consul and his staff and whipping a missionary) and he was the man who found the body of the defeated King. On return he published the history of the Abyssinian War. Interestingly on this expedition he met Henry Stanley, the Welsh explorer (an unknown correspondent at this time), who two years later was sent by Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the ‘New York Herald’ to locate David Livingstone in Africa.

He made a second Arctic Voyage between 1875–76. He persuaded Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli to support this expedition and he went with it as far as Greenland. He was gone for three months and his homeward voyage was delayed. This prolonged absence from India Office duties, together with his range of other interests, seems to have been too much. His superiors asked him to resign. Fortunately his 22 years of service entitled him to a pension.

He continued his travels and was abroad at the time of his unexpected appointment as President of the RGS. Once appointed he pursued his declared ambition for Antarctic exploration with formidable determination, alienating many of the distinguished members of his committees in the process. His persistence was rewarded when ‘Discovery’ was launched (discussed in the first part of this account of his life) and his support for Scott never faltered. Scott’s death, on the return from the South Pole in 1912. was a devastating blow – one that Sir Clements never really recovered from.

Scott in his turn always supported Sir Clements. As he lay dying in Antarctica he wrote; ‘Tell Sir Clements I thought much of him and never regretted his putting me in command of the Discovery’. His son was christened Peter Markham.

Sir Clements Markham, President of the Royal Geographical Society, 1893-1905

He retired from the RGS in 1905. The Society awarded him its Founder’s Medal.
His retirement was an active one – he travelled, he wrote: biographies, editing and translation work. When Scott announced his plans for a second Antarctic exploration in 1909, Sir Clements entered into the plans enthusiastically

He was awarded honorary degrees from Cambridge and Leeds (where the Chancellor referred to him as a veteran in the service of mankind and stated that he, Sir Clements, was the inspiration of English Geographical science). He helped with the preparation of Scott’s Journals and was present when a window in St Peter’s church Binton was dedicated to Scott’s final expedition. He had continued as a as a member of the Council of the R.G,S, but was so infuriated when his successor as President, Sir George Goldie, invited Roald Amundsen to dine with the Society, that he resigned from the Council too.

He died at his home, 21 Eccleston Square. He was reading in bed by candlelight. The bedclothes caught fire, he died the following day, the 30th January 1916. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery on 3 Februry,1916..

He is commemorated by Mount Markham in the Transantarctic range, the Markham River in Papua New Guinea and Markham College, a private co-educational school was opened in Lima Peru.

So what is his legacy? He had the fullest of lives, the balance of his life must be considered positive. His contribution to the accessible cure for malaria was a priceless gift to humanity, his (successful), campaign to stop flogging in the navy praiseworthy. Without him the early British exploration of Antarctica would not have taken place. He had a phenomenal memory and wrote/edited about 50 books in addition to papers and memoirs. He was made a K.C.B. (Knight Commander, Order of the Bath), in 1896. His successes were acknowledged internationally – he received awards from the Kings of Portugal, Sweden, Brazil and Norway. He was made an Honorary Member of academic and geographical societies throughout Europe and America.

But he was not universally loved or even liked; in fact David Crane writes that he achieved posthumous opprobrium. His character was complex as is shown by the contrast between ‘his was a most lovable nature, always kind and sympathetic, always happy and cheerful and ready at all times to amuse others’, with, ‘he had an unrivalled capacity for self-serving, misrepresentation, scurrilities, slanders, snobberies, affectations, infatuations and vindictiveness’ Perhaps no successful man can be generally admired but they can be respected and these assessments are not suggestive of respect. The RGS’s librarian, Hugh Robert Mill, wrote that he ran the society in a dictatorial manner. Frank Debenham who served with Scott called him a dangerous old man. Professor Rudmose–Brown (who supported the Scottish expedition, ‘The Scotia’), called him an old fool and a humbug. He had none of Shackleton’s ability to inspire and conciliate.

His character was such that once he had come to a decision he stuck to it, irrespective of opposition, in fact opposition strengthened his resolve and aggression. He had a caustic tongue. He championed causes and did not attempt to hide his own prejudices. He upset contemporaries. He was dictatorial, but also a wily negotiator – this was particularly notable in his chairmanship of the Joint Antarctic Committee (12 members from the R.G.S, 12 from the Royal Society who clashed irreconcilably). Sir Clements favoured an emphasis on geography and exploration and faced down hostility and opposition from much of the scientific community; he manipulated their differences of opinion to triumph and push his own plans through.

After the ‘Discovery’ expedition he championed Scott’s career to an extent that he disparaged the (considerable) achievements of those contemporary explorers who had also been South in the early 1900s.

His public and private persona seems to have been at variance. He was married in April 1857 to Minna Chichester and the couple had a daughter, May. His Cousin Admiral Markham described him as kind and affectionate. His loyalty to Scott was absolute. He privately performed many kindnesses

But his overriding aim was to serve the Empire and Geographical Science. In this he succeeded.

Bust of Sir Clements Markham at the back entrance of the
Royal Geographical Society