Tag Archives: Sir Clements Markham


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


12 Feb

Why did William Speirs Bruce, the leader of the Scottish Antarctic expedition,(the ‘Scotia’) become a supporter of Scottish independence? ‘Scotland is not a dependent country but an individual nation working hand in hand on at least an equal footing with her partners in the Great British Federation… An independent kingdom she has been, an independent kingdom let her remain’. An unexpected statement from a man born and brought up in London and Norfolk and the son of a successful physician. The transition was not obvious and came slowly.

Bruce planned to follow his father and train as a doctor in University College London, but before starting the training, in 1887 he attended two summer courses in biology in Edinburgh. The late 1880s was a golden period of Scottish academic and scientific life; Edinburgh was a hotbed of scientific activity. Bruce came into contact with scientists of outstanding intellectual ability He became an instant enthusiast and transferred his training to Edinburgh.

At this time the scientific significance of Antarctica had become better understood by many geographical and scientific men and Antarctic committees were set up. Probably the most influential of these was The Joint Antarctic Committee of the Royal Society (RS) and the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), based in London. Sir Clements Markham who masterminded the ‘Discovery’ expedition was Chair

In Scotland, increasing resentment of a ‘dictatorial’ attitude from London probably simmered for years and Bruce would have been aware of this as he worked with the men he so admired. Resentment would have definitely been exacerbated by a letter dated 14/11/89 (signed by the secretary of the RS Sir Michael Fowler, on behalf of his society and the RGS.) turning down, with no explanation, the request of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society to send a representative to the Antarctic Committee. Problems must have simmered again when in 1893, Sir Clements, who as President of the RGS had pitched his presidential address on the importance of Antarctic exploration, was followed fourteen days later, by John Murray, a noted geographer and Bruce’s mentor and friend, who laid a different emphasis on the priorities in Antarctic work. Murray gave a comprehensive history of Antarctic history and emphasised the need for research in all branches of science, but stated that he did not advocate ‘A dash to the South Pole’, nor ‘do I believe that this was what British Science, at the present time desires. It demands rather a steady, continuous, laborious and systematic exploration of the whole southern region’ Markham, a geographer disagreed. These disagreements and Murray’s conviction that the first expedition should be mainly oceanographic, led eventually to Murray resigning from the joint venture and supporting a Scottish expedition.

The personal fracture in relations between Bruce and Sir Clements Markham started in 1899 when Bruce applied to join the ‘Discovery’ expedition. He listed his considerable qualifications for the post (a summer in the Antarctic, three summers and one winter in the Arctic, a year on the summit of Ben Nevis) and he included details of his university training and he added that he would be happy to send a formal application accompanied by testimonials if required. Sir Clements replied that no decisions had been made as to staff but that he would be glad to meet Bruce.

Bruce did not meet Sir Clements in 1899. A message was sent to him a year later saying should apply for an assistant’s place on ‘Discovery’.

Bruce’s repeat application soured relations irreconcilably. He wrote that he had hopes of raising sufficient capital to lead a second British ship to Antarctica. Three days later he wrote to say that funding was assured. He said that the Scottish expedition would complement the British expedition.

It is difficult not to have some sympathy for Sir Clements. He had spent years canvassing, appealing, negotiating, scheming for the British Antarctic venture. He still needed more finance and he thought that Bruce’s monies should have been added to Discovery’s coffers. He felt betrayed, but his prickly, vitriolic response was bound to excite antipathy. ‘Sorry to hear that an attempt is to be made in Edinburgh to divert funds from the Antarctic Expedition in order to get up a rival enterprise’. ‘Such a course will be most prejudicial to the Expedition…I do not understand why this mischievous rivalry should have been started…’ ‘trust you will not connect yourself with it’.

Scottish attitudes hardened. In Bruce they had a scientist and explorer with more experience of Polar research than anyone in Britain. In June 1900, Bruce outlined his plans in the Scottish Geographical Magazine emphasising that the Scottish expedition would go to the Weddell Sea and be complementary to other expeditions (‘Discovery’ went to the Ross Sea).

Further correspondence with Sir Clements corroded any hope of meaningful rapprochement. Bruce could not understand why his expedition was considered a rival to ‘Discovery’. He was also a proud man and Sir Clements’ comments must have insulted him. Sir Clements wrote that Bruce had volunteered to join ‘Discovery’ and that he (Sir Clements), had the right to prior consultation.

Further correspondence did not heal the breach and Bruce developed an implacable life –long antagonist to Sir Clements and a conviction that an English based establishment dominated Scotland. He had good reason to resent Sir Clements and the influence he wielded. Ten years after Bruce had made his impressive expedition to Antarctica on the ‘Scotia’, Sir Clements wrote a remarkable letter in the Royal Geographical Journal saying that the work of the Scottish expedition was of no use as regards Antarctic discovery (the then President responded to Bruce’s protest by writing that views expressed were those of the author and that the society could not turn down a communication from a man of Sir Clements’ stature). Bruce also blamed Sir Clements for the failure of his expedition members to be awarded the prestigious Polar Medal. He considered till his dying day that Sir Clements had caused an estrangement between him and the RGS after the Scotia expedition. He became passionate about the Scottish cause and was convinced by the idea of Scottish independence


14 Oct

I have now started work on Bruce who led the ‘Scotia’ expedition (1902-04), a scientific expedition in the South Orkneys and the Weddell Sea. I would welcome any input.
Bruce seems to have had two outstanding enthusiasms; Firstly, natural sciences (he gave up the medical studies that he seems to have pursued in a desultory fashion for some years, to embrace the financial uncertainties of a scientific future) and secondly, a passionate Scottish Nationalism.
There are no obvious indicators for these passions;although Bruce’s father Samuel was born in Edinburgh, he grew up in London. Bruce himself was English born and educated. His overwhelming interest in natural science and Scotland seems to have started when he attended summer courses in biology in Edinburgh. These were organised by the inspirational Patrick Geddes. Geddes was an ecologist and promoted a holistic approach to the environment. In these courses Bruce met the foremost natural scientists of the day. His imagination and enthusiasm were caught. Aged 20, Scotland became his home and had his longterm loyalty.
Bitterness towards the South came later, no doubt fueled by Sir Clements Markham’s provocative reply to Bruce’s announcement, in 1901, that he planned a Scottish expedition to Antarctica to leave at roughly at the same time as Sir Clements’ baby. S.S ‘Discovery’
Sir Clements wrote…..’I do not understand why this mischievous rivalry should have been started and I trust you will not connect yourself with it…..’
Such comments inevitably stiffened the determination of the Scottish supporters of the scheme. ‘Scotia’ unusually, was fully financed by private, mostly Scottish backers.
The expedition was a success scientifically and a new land was discovered in the east of the Weddell Sea. He called this Coats Land after his principle backers.
Beyond Scottish borders Bruce is not as well known as other British explorers of the Heroic Era, although Professor David Munro mounted an important celebratory centenary exhibition.
Bruce deserves more recognition


30 Aug

The men on Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s were resourceful, courageous, and determined. On the premise that characters do not change I thought it would be interesting, at this time when the First World War is so much remembered, to follow the fortunes of the officers in the First World War starting with the officers on ‘Discovery’. The subject of the subsequent careers of the early Antarctic explorers is   fascinating (many went on to very distinguished careers) and is one I will return to later.

On ‘Discovery’ Scott’s complement included six lieutenants, two doctors (one of whom took on the duties of botanist, the other artist and zoologist) a biologist, a geologist and a physicist. The average age was 28, five were 25 or younger

Scott and Dr Wilson died in 1912 on the return from the Pole. Dr Koettlitz the senior doctor went to South Africa after the expedition and died of dysentery in that country in 1916.

Of the remaining eight who served in WW1, remarkably, all survived.

The ‘father’ of the ‘Discovery’ expedition Sir Clements Markham often recorded his impressions on the men he would appoint and I include a few on the ‘Discovery’ men for interest. Sir Clements was frank in his assessment of men (for example, in relation to Dr Koettleiz, mentioned above, Sir Clements wrote that he was’ zealous and painstaking’, but that ‘his mind perhaps works rather slowly and he has no sense of humour, but on the other hand he is thorough and persevering’.

 Albert Armitage, RNR, Second in Command, Sir Clements was’ happy with this appointment’. Armitage was at sea throughout the war. He commanded a transport ship ‘Salsette’ which was torpedoed with the loss of 14 crewmembers. After the war he returned to work for the P&O Line.

Charles Royds, RN, First Lieutenant, Sir Clements thought he was ‘a first-rate seaman who should become one of the Antarctic heroes’, was, in 1915, given command of the battleship HMS ‘Emperor of India’ an appointment that was thought to be made at an unusually young age for a junior Captain. He was appointed Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG), in 1919, for his war service.

Michael Barne, RN, Second Lieutenant, was recorded by Sir Clements as ‘a charming young fellow and so zealous that he would have thrown up his commission rather than not go and a relation of mine which is also in his favour’ In 1914 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal for diving overboard in an attempt to rescue a sailor in an Atlantic gale and subsequently served with distinction in the Dardanelles (a strait in N.W. Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara, an important exit to the sea for Russia) and on the Dover Patrol, This patrol was a Royal Navy unit based at Dover /Dunkirk with the primary aim of keeping German shipping and submarines on their way to the Atlantic out of the English Channel.

Barne was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSO) when in command of Monitor M27, a shore bombardment vessel.

Ernest Shackleton, RNR, Third Lieutenant ‘an excellent and zealous officer, the son of a doctor in Northwood but from Ireland. His great grandfather was the Quaker Shackleton who was the instructor of Edmund Burke’, Shackleton, Sir Clements wrote. was ‘steady, high-principled, strong hard working, good- tempered and well informed’. After the ‘Endurance’ expedition many of Shackleton’s crew played a part in WW1 but Shackleton had, what I imagine for him, was a disappointing war in terms of combat contributions. The government had had to arrange a rescue mission when Shackleton was trying to rescue all his crew after they were stranded, and although this expedition was not required eventually, I imagine Shackleton’s reception was muted when he reached England. He was too old to be conscripted (though he volunteered for an army post in France) and was appointed to a diplomatic position in Buenos Aires, where he hoped to persuade Chile and Argentina to join the war on the Allies side. This was followed by a position as an undercover agent in Spitsburgen (an island near Norway) and then a post in Murmansk to aid with supplies to beleaguered Russia.

George Mulock, RN, Third Lieutenant. Shackleton was replaced by Mulock when he returned to England in 1903. Mulock received letters of commendation in the early part of the war when leading convoys in the Far East. He then served with distinction in the Gallipoli campaign. The battleship ‘HMS Ocean’ sank after hitting a mine; Mulock rescued many sailors from the water. He was mentioned in dispatches and his actions recorded in ‘The London Gazette’

Reginald Skelton, Chief Engineer, RN. In May 1916, Skelton took part in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea off Denmark, This was the largest naval battle of the war and the only full-scale clash between battleships and Skelton was A valuable officer whose deportment during the action reflected credit on his organisation’. He was awarded the DSO for his services in this battle. Subsequently, he served in submarines from 1917-1918.

Louis Bernacchi Physicist and Magnetic Observer Bernaacchi remarkably served in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve, The Admiralty and the United States Navy. Impressively he was awarded both the Order of the British Empire and the United States Naval Cross

Hartley Ferrar, Geologist He was a master at Christchurch College, New Zealand at the outbreak of war and joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force based mainly in Palestine His work involved aerial surveys and intelligence

Thomas Vere Hodgson, Biologist This is the only explorer about whom I was unable to find details of wartime experience. Aged 50 at the outbreak of the war, he was too old for service in addition he suffered from ill health. Having worked in the Plymouth Biological Laboratory and subsequently becoming curator of the Plymouth Museum, he probably spent the war years in this role.

These records underline the fact that we do not change. These men kept up their impressive records through and indeed after WW1


TAGS: WW1, Scott, Sir Clements Markham, Albert Armitage, Charles Royds, Michael Barne, Ernest Shackleton, George Mulock, Reginald Skelton, Louis Bernacchi, Hartley Ferrar, Thomas Vere Hodgson, Reginald Koettlitz, The Dover Patrol, The Dardanelles The Battle of Jutland,

William Speirs Bruce

9 Nov

I am thinking of writing a biography on Bruce, so any information or special anecdotes will be welcome.

Bruce’s  ambitions in relation to Antarctica came up against the formidable hostility of Sir Clements Markham, the geographer and explorer who was Secretary of The Royal Geographical Society in London for 5 years and its President for 12. When Bruce wrote to Sir Clements asking to join the National Antarctic Expedition, Sir Clements apparently did not reply, so Bruce organized the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition. This Sir Clements considered mischievous rivalry.

Due to Markham’s influence no Polar Medals were awarded to the Scottish expedition

Incidentally two attempts to have a Blue Plaque  on Markham’s London house, organized  by Robert Stevenson of the Antarctic Circle have been unsuccessful. Rob wanted to acknowledge  Sir Clement’s role in re-invigorating interest and enthusiasm for Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s and for his role in helping to eradicate malaria.  But both applications were turned down.