Just a few days ago, Heritage Expeditions had the special opportunity of connecting a family to its proud polar past. On our current voyage into the Ross Sea led by owner Rodney Russ, the expedition team were able take passengers to all three of the great historic huts on Ross Island: Scott’s Discovery Hut near McMurdo, Scott’s Terra Nova Hut on Cape Evans, and lastly Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut on Cape Royds. Our polar guide and historian on the expedition, Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, sent us this dispatch from the ice:
“Shackleton’s hut was special for many reasons, not least of which was the chance it gave us to reunite one passenger with her family history. On board was Jenny Gardner, a teacher from Australia, whose great-grandfather was the eminent geologist Sir Edgeworth David. David travelled with Shackleton and Mawson and supported many of their expeditions. Jenny had tried to visit the hut before, but at last with Heritage Expeditions she was able to fulfil her dream.
Tannatt William Edgeworth David was born in 1858 in Wales. By the time of the Nimrod voyage, Shackleton’s first Antarctic expedition as leader, David was Professor of Geology at Sydney University. He was persuaded by Shackleton not only to join the expedition but stay on for the winter and lead their scientific efforts. He was 49 years old yet proved himself a crucial member of the team. He led the party which made the first ascent of Erebus, before the long winter darkness set in. The following spring he was tasked by Shackleton to take two companions to go and find the South Magnetic Pole.
First to the South Magnetic Pole
In 1829, Sir John Ross left England to lead an expedition to the Canadian Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage. During this expedition his nephew, James Clark Ross, took command of a sledging party, which in 1831 located the North Magnetic Pole. In 1839-42, James Clark Ross sailed south on a voyage of exploration to the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Discovering and charting the ice shelf, which now bears his name, Ross also hoped to locate the South Magnetic Pole and thus be the first to reach both. In this respect he was unsuccessful, but he did determine that the Pole lay inland from Victoria Land, which he could not reach.
Nearly seventy years later, Shackleton sent David, Mawson and Dr Alistair Forbes Mackay to complete the task. Using neither dogs or ponies, the men hauled their sledges for the entire journey and on 16 January 1909 at 7215’S and 15516’E they raised the Union Jack, thus successfully completing one of the expedition’s main aims. It was by no means an easy journey for the three men – man-hauling heavy loads over the sea ice, huge distances over uncharted terrain, countless glaciers to cross, falling down crevasses, suffering frostbitten toes, near madness, and almost continual hardship.
Shackleton of course took most of the credit for their achievements in later years, but David’s role really ought to be considered more. The first ascent of Erebus and the haul to the South Magnetic Pole were both journeys of real significance and scientific merit. They are both great stories too. We were pleased to give a number of lectures about this expedition whilst in the ice, revisiting many of the places where this adventure unfolded. It is incredible when history comes alive in this way.
Honouring Professor Sir Edgeworth David
A Lieutenant Colonel in WWI, David returned to Australia and was awarded the DSC in 1918. He was knighted in 1920. Well-liked by his fellow explorers and admired by the scientific community, David died in 1934. In speaking at the Pacific Rim Conference, Professor S.W. Carey gave this suitable tribute to David’s legacy: ‘We honour you as a trail blazing scientist. We were inspired by your leadership and courage. We were humbled by your grace and humility. We loved you for your compassion and charm’.
Mostly forgotten now, David’s achievements as a man of science and a supporter of exploration certainly deserve him wider recognition.”
For more information about Heritage Expeditions’ Antarctic voyages, please visit www.heritage-expeditions.com.
- Professor David (centre), flanked by his companions Mackay and Mawson, stand at the South Magnetic Pole, 16 January 1909. This is an incredibly important historic photo, one of only a few that survives from their great journey. Of course, if you like, it’s also a ‘selfie’ – you can just make out the string that David is pulling to fire the camera’s shutter. Credit: Courtesy Huw Lewis-Jones.
- Professor David’s great grand-daughter, Jenny Gardner, photographed in the hut at Cape Royds, 2015. Credit: Courtesy Huw Lewis-Jones.