Tag Archives: Shackleton

Notes on Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

23 Nov

Bill Alp, a New Zealander, a project manager in information technology and a man with a passion for researching the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, has written a critique of the paper. I agree with his comments and give them in full

I have appended some general comments of my own at the end of his critique

Bill’s comments
General – the importance of verifiable facts in research articles
Professor Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ has recently been published by Polar Record. It may be viewed at https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/polar-record/article/why-didnt-they-ask-evans/224A49CABBF71E72B99C8C9C3B7236A4
Whilst the article draws upon many historic documents, it is rather light on verifiable facts. There are plenty of conjectures, insinuations and rumours. However, statements such as: “before sending Atkinson and his team back, Scott repeated that the dogs were not to be risked” and “Whilst no orders were apparently written by Scott for the Last Supporting party, it does seem they were issued on the journey” and “Atkinson remained convinced the orders as he understood them had not been rescinded” would be more acceptable if supported by verifiable citations.
A significant proportion of the article reiterates the opinions of individuals back in England ( Lord Curzon, K Scott, O Wilson etc.), who could not possibly have witnessed Evans’ alleged transgressions in Antarctica. The article would have more substance if it included eye-witness accounts of Evans’ alleged transgressions.
Turney has worked hard to depict Teddy Evans as being a bad person, using a technique of presenting multiple adverse opinions and innuendo. This approach is not a trusted alternative to straightforward assembly and presentation of verifiable facts. In short, Turney’s article falls well-short of the standard normally associated with scholarly research.
Alleged theft of food by Evans
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition maintains that the energy content of Scott’s man-food rations fell well-short of what was required. For example, Fiennes assessed Scott’s summit ration at 4500 calories per day and stated that energy consumption would exceed 7000 calories per day when man-hauling in polar conditions (Fiennes, 2003, pp. 283-285). The Polar Party was close to a ‘starvation diet’ for 77 days, from commencement of man-hauling up the Glacier until arriving back on the Barrier on 24 February, and thence onto the even lower energy Barrier ration, until their deaths. It is surprising that Turney’s article makes no mention of the energy shortfall in the diet planned and organised by Scott, writing only about possible food shortages allegedly caused by Evans. For the article to be perceived as being well-reasoned and balanced, a distinction between problems caused by inadequate ration content versus alleged food theft would add credibility. A more balanced approach to analysis of food-related problems could have avoided press headlines such as “Captain Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed 1911 expedition to the South Pole was ‘sabotaged’ by his second in command who stole vital rations and rebelled against orders, expert claims” (Daily Mail (Australia), 12 October 2017).
The article provides no evidence that the Polar Party was forced to go onto short rations whilst returning across the Barrier. It may be noted that Scott’s Message to Public stated every detail of their food supplies worked out to perfection (obviously, Scott was silent about the adequacy of their fuel oil supplies}. Scott’s statement may be evaluated by investigating when the returning Polar Party was able to consume full rations and when it was obliged to go onto short rations. Based upon Shackleton’s average speed in his Nimrod expedition, Scott had decided upon a 144 day southern journey and took an appropriate number of ration packs (albeit with insufficient daily energy content). With a start date of 1 November 1911, 144 days’ worth of food would last until 22 March 1912, which is very close to when the Polar Party came off their full ration in the death tent. Scott’s journal shows he dared not cut back on food rations whilst returning across the Barrier. The evidence suggests the Polar Party enjoyed full rations until about 21 March 1912.
It is therefore apparent that even if 80 ounces of biscuit (5 man-days of summit ration, as highlighted by Turney) plus an unknown quantity of pemmican had been under-provisioned by Bowers, or had been misappropriated by any of the returning parties (be it the Dog Party, the First Return Party or Evans’ Second Return Party), this alone did not cause the Polar Party to go onto short rations.
Whilst Turney’s article puts up a convincing case that a few people in far-off England had fussed over possible shortages of biscuit or pemmican, no evidence is presented to demonstrate that such shortages, if they existed, had any adverse impact on the Polar Party at all.
In order to attain a better standard of proof about alleged food shortages, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against the well-established facts. If that analysis comes out in favour of the new theories then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans took food beyond his entitlement, to the detriment of the Polar Party, is unproven.
Alleged failure of Evans to convey orders
Turney’s article bases its case about Evans’ alleged failure to convey Scott’s revised orders upon a single thread, originating in Gran’s 1961 book Kampen om Sydpolen (not available in English). One is left wondering why such a pivotal piece of evidence is not quoted in full, in English and the original Norwegian, to allay any concern about biased or selective translation. I wrote to Professor Turney on 15 October 2017 requesting a copy of Gran’s text, but as at 22 November 2017 had received no response.
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition contains a lot of widely accepted information about Atkinson’s actions when he became responsible for the third dog journey. For example, Mike Tarver’s biography of Atkinson (Tarver, 2015, pp. 53-54) tells of the letters Atkinson wrote to his parents about responsibilities assigned to him by Scott. Independent journal entries by Wright, Simpson and Cherry-Garrard (all available from SPRI archives), plus a letter from Demetri to Meares and Evans’ book itself, all paint a consistent picture of how the events of the third dog journey evolved during Atkinson’s watch. There is so much primary evidence available that independent verification of Atkinson’s account is straightforward.
However, the new theory about the orders allegedly given by Scott to Evans is not independently verified in Turney’s article, at all. The article would be more believable if Gran’s 1961 account could be verified to a similar level of confidence as Atkinson’s account. Without verifiable evidence, the charge that Evans failed to convey orders is based solely on hearsay and conjecture.
In assessing Turney’s new theory, several points come to mind:
• Gran was not present at the time the alleged instructions were given to Evans; he was not even present on the southern journey. He was therefore not an eye-witness.
• He did not enjoy Scott’s confidence. It seems highly unlikely that Scott would have shared information about his plans and instructions with Gran that he did not share with others.
• All we have is Gran’s belated recollection of Evans alleged admission, made at an unspecified place on an unknown date, recorded for the first time in 1961.
• His book Kampen om Sydpolen, from which the new material is apparently drawn, was published almost 50 years after the event. It is surprising that the story of Evans’ alleged instructions does not appear in Gran’s published diary, covering the period from 29 November 1910 until 12 February 1913 (Gran, 1984).
• Perhaps Gran created the story from memory, almost 50 years after the event. Without seeing Gran’s text one cannot be sure, but it seems as though Gran’s story could be a jumbling together of Scott’s written orders to Meares (Evans, 1961, pp. 162-163) plus Atkinson’s verbal instructions from Scott (Atkinson, 2011, p. 665) with names changed (Evans instead of Atkinson) and destination changed (83° 00’ instead of 82° 30’).
Hypothetically, Gran’s account could be true. As with the charge of food theft, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against well-established facts. If the analysis comes out in favour of the new theory then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
The article does not address the need to provide adequate dog food for the extended journey. From surviving records, such as Wilson’s sketchbook, we can see that Scott’s food-planning was thorough and it would have been out of character for him to issue instructions for the Dog Party to travel beyond their maximum (food determined) range, with fatal consequences for men and animals. The article would be more credible if it included an analysis of dog food planned for the extended journey.
Another concern is the vagueness arising from the absence of any timeline. Turney’s article provides no evidence about when Scott expected Evans to meet the Dog Party, in order to pass on the revised instructions, or when the dogs should meet up with the Polar Party. This is an important omission because the Dog Party would need to receive the revised instructions before departed south, in order to alter their payload to suit Scott’s revised instructions. The article would have more substance if it included a clear timeline analysis.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans failed to convey Scott’s revised orders, based solely upon Gran’s unverified story, is unproven. Verifiable facts would strengthen Turney’s charge that Evans failed to comply with Scott’s orders.
Atkinson, E.L. (2011). The last Year at Cape Evans, In: Scott, R.F. Scott’s Last Expedition. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Evans, E.R.G.R. (1961). South With Scott. London, England: Collins
Fiennes, R. (2003). Captain Scott. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton
Geroff, D. (1913). Letter to Cecil Meares 2 January 1913 (written by F. Debenham), Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum MS0455
Gran, J.T.H. (1984). The Norwegian with Scott: Tryggve Gran’s Antarctic Diary 1910-1913. G. Hattersley-Smith (Ed.). London, England: HMSO
Tarver, M.C. (2015). The Man Who Found Captain Scott. Antarctic Explorer and War Hero. Surgeon Captain Edward Leicester Atkinson. Brixham, Devon UK: Pendragon Maritime Publications

Bill Alp
Wellington, New Zealand
22 November 2017

GENERAL COMMENTS; Isobel P. Williams

1) In relation to food:
Scott recorded in his journal on the evening of 10th December that ‘Evans’ party could not keep up …they took nearly half an hour to come up a few hundred yards’ (Robert Falcon Scott Journals, p 344).- this is hardly surprising as two of the men had been man-hauling for the previous 40 days on Barrier Rations. The Summit Rations for the assault on the Pole had been re-calculated (4,500 calories) after Edward Wilson’s winter expedition to Cape Crozier (27 June -1 August 1911). In the 1990s Mike Stroud calculated the calories needed for man-hauling to be 7,000 calories per day (Fiennes, ‘Captain Scott’, p. 284/5). Teddy Evans started to man-haul on the 1st November 1911, as did P.O.William Lashly (Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries. p.120). 65 days later they started the Return Journey, with Thomas Crean, on 4th.January 1912 (Lashly’s Diaries, p.135). By this time both Teddy Evans and P.O. Lashly would have already expended over 150,000 calories more than they had taken in (this deficit was less than it could have been, as they were held up by blizzards for 9 days). They would have lost more weight (muscle and fat) than their peers who had only started to man-haul from the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on 10 December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.127).
In relation to the five men on Scott’s return party from the Pole – by the time they reached the Barrier, each man would have built up a deficit of 301,000 calories although they did not realize this, having man-hauled for 72 days.

2) On page 498, ‘Introduction’, Professor Turney states that C.P.O. EDGAR Evans, (as apposed to Teddy), died ‘apparently from the effects of concussion’. In my biography of Edgar Evans, ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans’, I go into the possible causes of Edgar’s death in considerable depth. My conclusion is that he probably died of a Staphylococcus Aureus bacteraemia that developed secondarily to his cutting his hand whilst shortening a sledge on 31st. December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.133). I am unconvinced by the ‘concussion’ theory, for the reasons mentioned in the relevant chapter.

3) On page 501, in relation to vitamin C, Professor Turney states that ‘it would be twenty years before its importance of the prevention of scurvy was fully realized’. Here I must put in a plug for Shackleton. In his preparation for his Trans Antarctic Expedition he was fully cognizant of the dangers of scurvy, having suffered severely from the disease himself and was determined to do all he could to prevent this problem. This is explained in an article he wrote in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ July 1914, p. 5 ‘The Antarctic’—Considerations of Diet. In his preparations he consulted carefully with Colonel Beveridge of the Royal Army Medical College’ (each man was allocated a pack daily containing 5,452 cals).

4)The cause of scurvy was demonstrated in 1907 by the Norwegians Axel Holst and Theodor Frolich, when guinea pigs were shown to be the only mammals at that time (other than humans) that could not manufacture an ascorbic factor. The guinea pigs developed scurvy when fed a deficient diet and recovered when fed a diet that included vegetables (much later the factor was isolated as hexuronic acid, later re named Ascorbic Acid, commonly known as Vitamin C).

5) Undoubtedly Teddy Evans was a brave man- – on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition he did sterling work when the ‘Terra Nova’ was in danger of sinking in the Southern Ocean after the suction pumps choked, Teddy, sometimes submerged in filthy oily water, squeezed through a hole in the engine room bulkhead and ‘wriggled over the coal, found his way to the pump shaft and down it. He soon cleared the suction of the coal balls which choked it’ (Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Max Jones p.19). In WW1, on HMS Broke, he deliberately rammed a G42′, almost breaking it in two. This action gained him immediate promotion to the rank of Captain, and the award of the DSO

Ranolph Fiennes, 2003 Captain Scott, London, Hodder and Stoughton
A.R.Ellis, 1969 Under Scott’s Command, Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries, London, Victor Gollancz
Max Jones, 2005 Robert Falcon Scott Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Oxford University Press UK
Isobel Williams, 2012 Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans, The History Press, Gloucestershire UK

Victor Hayward

10 Dec

I was interested to see that the Albert Medal and the Polar Medal, awarded to Victor Hayward, are to be auctioned. It is anticipated that thousands of pounds will be realized. I am delighted that there is still such interest in the expeditions of the Heroic Age.
The Albert Medal was awarded for the saving of life on land or sea (two medals with different inscriptions depicting the two groups). The medal was discontinued in 1971 and replaced by The George Medal. The land version, which was awarded posthumously to Victor, was in red with a red and white ribbon.
The Polar Medal is awarded to citizens of the UK and Northern Ireland who have made conspicuous contributions to knowledge of the Polar Regions, or who have
given service of outstanding quality in support of acquisition of this knowledge and who, in either case, have undergone the hazards and rigours imposed by the Polar environment.
It is greatly valued. William Speirs Bruce, whose biography I have just completed, battled unsuccessfully for years to get the medal awarded to members of his Scotia Expedition The medal is octagonal, with a white ribbon. It depicts a ship surrounded by ice floes. The obverse has a portrait of the reigning monarch, in Victor’s case George V.
Shackleton’s support team went to McMurdo Sound. Their story has been overshadowed by the Endurance saga. The Captain of the Aurora was Aeneas Mackintosh. Victor Haywood was a member of the Ross Sea party, which included the Reverend Arnold Patrick Spencer Smith and seven other members. Mackintosh was in charge of laying a series of depots across the Great Ice Barrier from the Ross Sea to the Beardmore Glacier for Shackleton to pick up when he had crossed the Antarctic from the Weddell Sea. Shackleton’s party could not carry sufficient food and fluid for the entire journey and depended on these depots for the final quarter of their journey (as is well known, in the event, Shackleton did not actually make landfall on the Antarctic as ‘The Endurance ‘became icebound, and drifted around the Weddell Sea from February 1915 to November 1915, when she sank.
Mackintosh sailed to Antarctica from Tasmania. On arrival in Antarctica three camps were prepared, the largest in Cape Evans, Scott’s hut of 1910, the second in Hut Point Scott’s original camp of 1902 (relatively poorly equipped and separated by sea/ice from Cape Evans by thirteen miles), and thirdly at Safety Camp, a staging area from which the parties would set out for the south. Mackintosh followed instructions with enormous difficulty. The first party, January to March 1915, reached 80 degrees S. At each parallel they left depots, made out of ice blocks to about 12 feet and topped by a high black flag. By the time they returned to Hut Point they had lost all of the ten dogs they had taken.

In May 1915 the Aurora was torn from her moorings in a gale and carried out to sea. The men at the base were marooned.
Mackintosh and his party spent the winter preparing to set up more depots in the south. The second depot laying party worked from September 1915 in three teams of three. A failure of a primus stove meant that three of the party returned to Cape Evans leaving six to sledge south. During the journey the Reverend Spencer-Smith failed rapidly and became so debilitated with scurvy that he had to be left behind in a tent whilst the others progressed south, passing the 83 parallel (where Shackleton had turned back from his ‘Furthest South’ in 1909). They finally got to the base of the Beardmore Glacier leaving a depot with two weeks supply of food and fuel.
On their return the party picked up Spencer Smith. When Spencer-Smith was alone and dying slowly in his tent, he hallucinated and wrote notes that are touching to read – he thought that the war was over, that Sir Ernest and Frank Wild had appeared, both clean and neat, and that he had spent the day delivering a sermon in execrable French. He was conscious enough to write ‘Laus Deo’, as the team approached his tent. The return journey was terrible. Both Mackintosh and Spencer-Smith had to be pulled on a sledge and Victor Hayward was also very weak, but he looked after his two ill companions putting their wellbeing above his own and it was for this service that he was to be awarded the Albert Medal. As the awful return continued, Mackintosh was left behind behind as Victor and Spencer-Smith were taken north by sledge. Spencer-Smith died, worn out by exhaustion and scurvy. On the return there was no conversation ‘all our energies are needed for the job in hand’ -to bring the party to the relative safety of the Hut Point shelter where Victor recovered slowly. Mackintosh was able to follow later.
The party reached the Hut Point camp in mid March. Here they were marooned waiting for the ice between Hut Point and Cape Evans to be strong enough to stand their weight. They ate seal meat morning, noon, night. They lived ‘like troglodytes’.
On May 8th Mackintosh and Victor Hayward decided they had had enough of the conditions and the unending seal meat. They decided to cross the thirteen miles of ice to Camp Evans (warm and well supplied with food in comparison to Hut Point). They left against the advice of their companions, who watched their figures slowly becoming fainter and fainter in the dim light. Two hours later a blizzard swept over the Sound Mackintosh and Hayward were never seen again. They could have fallen through the ice, or been carried out to sea when the ice broke up. If, by any chance they had managed to reach land, they would have succumbed to hypothermia.
Seven years later, in 1923, Hayward was posthumously awarded the Albert Medal for gallantry, in recognition of his efforts to save the lives of Mackintosh and Spencer-Smith on the Barrier. The award of the Polar Medal recognized his prolonged support, service and contribution to advances of knowledge in the Antarctic. He was a man who had suffered and endured the hazards and rigours of the continent with courage.

albert medal on the left Polar medal and bar

albert medal on the left
Polar medal and bar





3 Feb

The medal is awarded by the Queen. It was known first as the Arctic Medal, which was issued in 1857 and awarded to, amongst others, the expedition trying to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew, lost in 1847 whilst trying to discover the North West Passage. The Polar Medal was introduced in 1904 in recognition of the achievements of Scott’s Discovery expedition to Antarctica. It was awarded to members of the Discovery crew, also, I understand, to the crews of both rescue ships the Terra Nova and the Morning. A few years later members of Shackleton’s expeditions (1907-09 and 1914-1916) were honoured also.

The medal is given to citizens of the United Kingdome and Northern Ireland who have made significant contributions to knowledge in the Polar Regions or those who have given outstanding support in the acquisition of this knowledge and the objectives of polar exploration. Both groups have to have had experience of the hazards and rigours of the Polar environment.

The Arctic Club is delighted that its honorary secretary has been awarded the 2016 Polar Medal. Seven people have been awarded the medal this year ‘for outstanding achievement and service to the United Kingdom in the field of polar research’ with three of these related to Arctic work’.

As you know I am writing about William Speirs Bruce who led the major (Scottish) expedition, the Scotia expedition, to the Weddell Sea in 1902. After the expedition Bruce expected that he would get London-based recognition for his scientists and officers, but none received the Polar Medal. Bruce considered this a tremendous slight to himself and his crew and battled for years for the honour. He was convinced that Sir Clements Markham, the powerful President of the Royal Geographical Society and not a man to be crossed, influenced the decision. Sir Clements was the father of the Discovery expedition. He thought (and wrote) that he considered that Bruce had diverted monies that should have gone to Discovery to the coffers of the Scotia. This fundamental disagreement left Bruce with a lifelong distrust of Sir Clements and a conviction that the powerful president had effectively prevented the award.

Appeals by the Government to convince the Palace that the award should be granted were rebuffed. But recent evidence suggests that Bruce’s suspicions were wrong. The refusal appears to have been neither due to doubts as to Bruce’s scientific achievements, nor to Sir Clement’s malign influence, but because the Scotia expedition had been financed in Scotland and did not require government monies nor Admiralty rescue i.e. it had not had financial support out of Scotland (one of the ironies of this decision is that Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition did not have London-based financial support either). King Edward VII refused the award, his son George V was not prepared to overturn his father’s decision, a reason given that to honour Bruce’s expedition would set a precedent by widening the scope of the medal. A more recent application also failed.
Bruce considered, until his dying day, that Sir Clements had caused an estrangement between him and the Royal Geographical Society after the Scotia Expedition


13 Jan

I am giving a number of talks on’ Shackleton’s Life and Times’ this year. He is of particular interest now because; a hundred years ago he was still trapped in the icy grip of the Weddell Sea – no hope of any communication or help in those days.
His third expedition, the ‘Trans Antarctic’ expedition is an heroic story, but when I come to the final section, the crossing of South Georgia, I tend to keep it brief: The audience has, after all by then, gone through his early life, the ‘Discovery’ and ‘Nimrod’ Expeditions, plus five sections of the Job’s Trials that was the ‘Trans Antarctic’ expedition.
But the crossing of South Georgia is an epic story in itself. Having arrived at South Georgia in the adapted whaler The James Caird’ after a voyage that Shackleton feared might end in disaster, the six-men crew landed in King Haakon Bay through a narrow gap in a line of reefs, a gap ‘like blackened teeth’, so narrow that they had to ship their oars to get through. But they landed on the uninhabited side of the island; the whaling station in Stromness was some 26 miles away. The James Caird could not sail around the island safely. so a journey had to be made on foot across an utterly unknown and forbidding series of mountains and glaciers. Shackleton picked two of his five companions: Tom Crean and Frank Worsley to make the journey with him.
Shackleton wrote later: ‘I know that over that long and racking march of 36 hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me we were four men not three’ – they were being looked after by an unknown being, a concept taken up by T.S.Eliot in The Waste Land.
The three started out early on 19 May 1916 moving by the light of the moon. The only one with mountain experience was Worsley. Each man carried a three- day food supply in his sock. They took a primus stove plus oil, a pot, matches, a compass, a chronometer, a rope, an adze and pieces of wood from the James Caird to use as walking sticks. Soon after starting they were in fog. They roped themselves together; Worsley the navigator came last, shouting directions.
As the morning advanced they found they had crossed the island at its narrowest point, but from their vantage point the mountains dropped precipitously ahead of them and they were forced backwards. Throughout the day impassable ridges stopped their progress. They were fatigued and frostbitten.
The next stage seems to me to be almost the most dispiriting. They arrived at a place where there were five craggy peaks ahead, blunt fingers reaching into the sky. They could not find a descent pathway from the first two gaps and had to go back. Each ascent was steeper than the previous one. The third (particularly exhausting), took them to 5.000 feet. Finally, at the most northern of the four gaps they looked onto a precipice that dropped 300 feet before disappearing into the mist (or eternity).
What to do? Although Shackleton was said to be a careful and cautious leader generally, he felt they had no choice; they had nothing to loose with twenty-five men depending on them. He consulted his companions. ‘Are you willing to take a risk’? They inched down the precipitous cliff, cutting footholds with the adze, until they arrived at a snowy slope with no visible bottom. With fantastic daring the three sat, one behind the other (as if on a toboggan) and took off. They seemed to shoot into space. They shouted with excitement as they slid down 900 feet in minutes. Incredibly the slope ended leveled out and ended in a bank of snow. They had made it!
But still the trial was not ended and the men were exhausted. Shackleton allowed Crean and Worsley to sleep for five minutes (keeping awake himself by an iron will) and woke them saying they had rested for half an hour. The three had to pass over yet another ridge to get down to the coast. They struggled on and by dawn of the second day they reached a gap from which they could both see Stromness and hear the 6.30 am whistle that woke the men in the station. At 7 am they heard it again. This was their first evidence of human habitation since December 1914.
Still the problems were not over. The three then had to descend to the station carefully along the banks of and in, an icy stream, then lower themselves by rope down a thirty foot waterfall. They waded through the water before finally staggering towards the station. They were filthy, tattered, with wild hair and beards (Worsley safety-pinned his clothes together so as not to give offence). They carried the logbook the adze and the cooker, lasting memorials of their ordeal.
At the station they were seen first by two boys who, reasonably, fled. When the manager came he said ‘Well’? ‘Don’t you know me said Shackleton’? I know your voice came the doubtful reply. ‘My name is Shackleton’.
Some of the station men wept.
Some say that Shackleton’s third Antarctic expedition should never have been made. Differing views are held, but for courage, endurance and leadership in adversity it is difficult to imagine anyone more capable of giving hope, inspiring admiration and instilling confidence.


27 Aug

Shipworms which destroy wood. do not survive in Antarctic waters. This is because a Front, at the junction of the polar and warmer waters (as well as currents that circulate round the continent), acts as a barrier that blocks the invasion of these destructive mollusks.

When a Norwegian study led by Thomas Dahlgreen, (1), left wood on the Antarctic shelf for over a year, the wooden planks remained intact.

Trees have not grown on the continent for millions of years and it seems that off shore Antarctica is an inhospitable habitat for wood borers.

The fascinating question is whether wrecks in the Weddell Sea could be recovered. The prospect seems remote, given the depth of the Weddell Sea and the pack ice, but nevertheless the suggestion remains a tantalising prospect. When Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ was crushed by the pack and sunk in November 1915 (She’s going, boys), she was thought to be lost irrevocably. Could she still be lying, crushed but defiant under the Antarctic waters?

(1) Thomas Dahlgreen. Proceedings of the Royal Society. August, 2013


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.


14 Feb

Shackleton is really hotting up in the news now, a year before the centenary of him setting off on his most famous expedition, the “Endurance” expedition at the very beginning of WW1

But it is the “Nimrod” expedition that is in the news recently in relation to items left in the hut when the team left their base in a hurry to pile onto the  ship. Cases of Whisky and brandy have been recovered amongst other things.

Shackleton came from a family that was teetotal and as a young man, did not drink ; later he overcame this inhibition rather easily. He noted the benefits of alcohol on the “Discovery” expedition and realised that on his  own expedition his 14 companions would need alcohol for relaxation; apart from anything else they had the terrible Antarctic winter to get through.  He needed to encourage camaraderie. He took 25 cases of  10 year malt whisky to his base. Called ‘Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky’ it was especially prepared for British Antarctic Expedition of 1907. The malt was 47 percent proof, this gave it a low freezing point and  is how a number of cases survived the 100 years since it was stored in the crawl space under the hut.

Contents from the 3 retrieved cases have been analysed by Scottish Distillers Whyte and Mackey, who took over the original firm who provided the whisky. It is said to be in perfect condition. To obtain a bottle of the original malt is impossible for mere mortals, but Whyte and Mackay’s analysis has allowed them to reproduce the 100 year old flavour at, apparently, £100 per bottle

I must buy one!

Shackleton’s Journey re-enacted

7 Feb

An Anglo-Austrian team is attempting to recreate  Shackleton’s epic journey from Elephant Island to the whaling base in South Georgia. 800 miles by sea through the tempestuous Drake’s Passage and then the terrifying crossing over South Georgia.

The team led by Tim Jarvis have already completed the first part of the journey. They are at Peggotty Bay in South Georgia and will start the attempt to cross the island to-night. They made the stupendous journey from Elephant Island in 12 days, a little shorter than Shackleton. However Shackleton by this time, had already been battling against the elements for 16 months since he left South Georgia in December 1914 on the first leg of his attempt to cross Antarctica.

Shackleton’s journey from Elephant Island was terrifying. Six man in a  25 foot boat, the ‘James Caird’. She lifted over 50 feet waves–plunging from the crests of the waves into deep ‘holes’ where waves and ice blocks towered over them.   Frank Worsley, who navigated, was a hero.  In their 4 hour shifts the  six bailed, navigated, ate. In their rest periods they lay on the shingle ballast , soaked and probably sleepless. They landed at the wrong side of South Georgia, hence the horrifying climb across uncharted mountains that Tim Jarvis’ team will start to-day.

Shackleton crossed the island with two companions, but he wrote later that he felt there was a fourth invisible presence with them and guiding them; a concept later taken up by T.S.Eliot in The Waste Land

Shackleton did not achieve  the goal he had set himself, to cross Antarctica, but some failures are more glorious than success. His expedition was an inspiring example of endurance under suffering,

Sir Ranulph Fiennes; His Winter Trans-Antarctic Expedition

27 Sep

 Sir Ranulph Fiennes plans to lead a team across the Antarctic Continent in the coming polar winter. This would be an unbelievable feat, the first winter expedition ever since Edward Wilson’s trek across Ross Island in search of Emperor Penguin eggs in 1911. Like that early venture the expedition will take place in darkness, in temperatures that could reach minus 90 degrees Celsius and will attempt to break new scientific grounds. Unlike 1911, the expedition will take place at elevations of 11,000 feet; a level that can cause altitude sickness and will cover nearly 4,000 kilometers, starting from the Russian base Novolazareskaya and traveling via the Pole to Ross Island.

It is an amazing venture. Can it possibly succeed? The team will have to be self-sufficient, there will be no search and rescue – aircraft can’t fly inland in winter, because of the darkness and the risk of fuel freezing.

Shackleton planned this journey in 1914. His team was caught in the Weddell Sea and although they got tantalizingly close to the continent, ‘Endurance’ was carried onward around the Weddell Sea until finally the expedition famously got back to habitation after grueling and heroic exploits. Sir Vivian Fuchs finally crossed the continent in 1958. Neither of these expeditions was planned for the winter

There are to be six members in the team. Ranulph Fiennes is quoted as saying that this is his greatest challenge to date -and he has had plenty – and that it will stretch the limits of human endurance, a unique opportunity to carry out scientific tasks in the extreme polar environment, which will make contributions to our understanding of polar warming on the Antarctic continent.

Remarkable! It will be wonderful if they pull it off.



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