Tag Archives: National Museum of Scotland

Recognition for William Speirs Bruce

30 May

I have just spent another five days in Edinburgh; at the National Museum and the Edinburgh University Library, continuing my researches on William Speirs Bruce. I find it truly amazing how much information there is on the man, but how little his name is recognised — even in Edinburgh!
Now however, he has received some public recognition. His major contribution to Science was the ‘Scotia’ Expedition, which went to the Weddell Sea and wintered in the South Orkneys. The expedition was successful scientifically: discoveries that were made changed the way the geography of Antarctica was understood, the seas around the Antarctic were explored, a scientific base was set up on South Georgia (which continues today), 1100 species of animal were catalogued of which 212 of them were previously unknown, miles & miles of unknown ocean were explored.
When he returned to Edinburgh Bruce needed to house Scotia’s Antarctic data and specimens. Also, he needed to amalgamate this collection with collections he had made previously on five visits to Arctic. He took a storage area, contiguous with The Surgeons Hall of the Royal College of Surgeons, which he named the Scottish Ocenographical Laboratory, and from here, he worked endlessly and tirelessly in the preparation of six scientific volumes, and a log book,the seventh,which was on the day to day activities of the voyage, This was a Herculean task and took years and years of work. The scientific volumes were published between 1909 and 1920. Bruce’s Log, the narrative of the voyage, was not published until 1992.
The Oceanographic Laboratory had to be closed due to lack of funds before Bruce died in 1921 and, after his death, Bruce drifted into obscurity in the minds of the general public,
Now however, and at last, Bruce has been recognised by the naming of a laboratory at the British Antarctic Survey Research Station on Signy Island in the South Georgia Islands. A commemorative plaque has been erected in the laboratory. The news was given to Bruce’s great, great grandsons at a meeting hosted by the Oban-based Scottish Association for Marine Science in its William Speirs Bruce lecture room.
Dr John Dudeney, an Antarctic specialist, made the approach to the Brutish Antarctic Survey. It is a long needed recognition for one, who struggled ceaselessly, and with insufficient funds, to draw public attention to the wonders and opportunities of Antarctica.


26 Jan

Penguins were of great interest to the early Antarctic explorers, but where does the word come from?
Alastair Ross,a medical student, went with William Speirs Bruce on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition as taxidermist. He made notes and a comprehensive log book on the birds they saw, particularly penguins. (W.S.Bruce.National Museum of Scotland, Box 5, File 53)
He too was interested in the derivation of ‘penguin’ and made quotes from “A Dictionary of Birds” by Alfred Newton (as cited by Hans Gadout in 1894).
There are 3 suggestions;
a) The word comes from the Welsh pengwyn “white head”. This is questioned—penguins don’t have white heads, there is no evidence of a Welsh discovery of the birds and anyway, it is thought unlikely that even if the Welsh did discover penguins, they would have persuaded English sailers to use the term.
b)”Penguin” derives from the Latin pinguis (fat). This is thought unlikely.
c) Apparently the word was first applied the the Great Auk of North America and a plausible theory is that the name is a corruption of “pin-wing” meaning that the bird had been pinioned (immobilised) and referring to its rudimentary wings. The Auk was seen in the 1500s and the name “pin-wing” was given to the birds in North and South America and, after this to the Southern penguins.
This seems a reasonable suggestion and as modern dictionaries throw no further light on the mystery, I am sticking to it.