It was, no doubt, a bold one, and not conventional, and there was no precedent by which the chances of its success or failure could be judged, and, as every public body has to be careful not to make mistakes, there may have been some justification. for the hesitation of the experts in advising the Council to give its support to such an absolutely untried experiment. When, however, on the return of the expedition, it was found that Nansen had reached a point nearly three degrees further north than the leaders of the Nares Expedition declared to be possible of attainment by even the best equipped expedition, that he had done so with only one companion and a few dogs, that the sledge journey was made over rough pack-ice such as the Nares Expedition had encountered, and that no instance of scurvy had occurred among the members of the expedition during the entire period of their sojourn in the Frozen North, surely it was full time that the Society should have moved with the view to considering the advisability of despatching another expedition to the Arctic Regions, taking advantage of the experience gained by Nansen. The latter was given a wellmerited special medal of the Society, and with this graceful but not arduous duty the temporarily revived Polar enthusiasm of the Council appears to have died down again.

To show that Nansen's ice journey was not a flash in the pan' in Arctic travelling, we find a few years later an even longer sledge journey over the Polar pack-ice made by Captain Cagni, of the Duke of Abruzzi's Italian Expedition, who covered a distance of five degrees of latitude over the ice. Captain Cagni started on this ice journey some distance to the south of the point at which the Nares Expedition took the ice, but beat the latter's record by over three degrees. This expedition was of great value in confirming the fact that the most, if not only, practicable way of attempting to reach the North Pole was by sledge.

Finally, we come to Peary. If Nansen's Expedition created a new era in Polar exploration, Peary's exploits have created another, and his last expedition to the North Pole has brought forward more prominently than any other set of circumstances could have done the ground lost by Great Britain in Arctic work.

Extremes meet in comparing Peary's work with the Society's inactivity during the same period. I would ask the Society's advisers to note how Peary spent years in studying on the spot not only the ice problems of the Arctic Regions, but also the Eskimo, upon whose help he meant ultimately to depend for carrying out his project for reaching the North Pole, and in learning their language. His experience of the Frozen North extended from 1886 to 1909, during which period he passed eight

winters and nearly twice as many summers in the Arctic Regions. No detail which could be advantageously improved upon, whether in equipment or otherwise, appears to have been too small to take trouble about. Nobody grudges Peary his title to be the discoverer of the North Pole, for no one has devoted to the subject any appreciable part of the time and trouble that he has done; but, however much we feel that Peary genuinely deserves the honour, we cannot, in the circumstances, help feeling a keen regret that steps were not taken to gain the honour for Great Britain. Peary's telegram announcing that he had secured the North Pole for America caused a painful sensation throughout the British Empire, as the most lethargic of our countrymen knew that the English had been looked upon for centuries as the pioneers of the Arctic Regions. I believe that I represent a not inconsiderable body of public opinion, both inside and outside the Society, when I say that in the matter of Arctic work the Royal Geographical Society ' has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.'

I find the sum total of the Royal Geographical Society's active British Polar work during the last thirty years appears to be, (1) the Discovery Expedition to the Antarctic, the value of which seems to be out of all proportion to its cost, and (2) the expedition at present in the field under the same commander. The following list shows the grants made, since the return of the Nares Expedition, to Polar Explorers:

[blocks in formation]

The grants of money, therefore, have been made as


1. To Captain Scott's two Antarctic Expeditions

2. To British Polar Explorers

3. To Foreign Arctic Explorers




In endeavouring to arrive at a reason for the Society's inaction in the matter of Polar research, I am driven to the conclusion that their experts have the conviction that none but

their own nominees should be sent out in charge of any expedition to either Pole. If this be so, the Poles are close boroughs' of the experts, and I have formed the impression that the Society favours Naval men only as their nominees for this purpose.

In common with all my countrymen, I have the deepest respect for our Navy, and would as soon have the handy man' as anyone else with me when difficulties have to be faced, but an officer who is keen on his work and wishes to rise in his profession is not always ready to throw up his prospects to take the command of such an expedition. Assuming his safe return, covered with glory, he resumes his place in the service, and, though he has been out of touch with his profession for some years, he may return to be placed over the heads of men who have continued working and are up to every new move in the naval game. Polar work, although a fine experience for any seafaring man, can in no circumstances be considered as an assistance in the highly technical education which a naval man of the present day requires, and promotion for duties of such a character is not popular in the Navy, nor is it in the interest of the service.

As to the command of Polar expeditions being entrusted to naval men, I grant that, when a ship is despatched to either Polar Sea, the ship must be in command of a seaman, but the Royal Navy has not the monopoly of the knowledge suitable for such an expedition. I contend that in the Polar regions the men best suited for such work are captains of whaling ships, some of whom have spent their lives within the Arctic Circle, and have had opportunities of experience which Naval Officers cannot acquire. Neither Nansen nor Captain Bartlett was a member of his country's navy, though Lockwood and Cagni were, yet the work done by the former two is enough to show that, if other nations can succeed without the services of their naval men, it is worth while for us, too, to give the experiment a trial. Peary, though an engineer in the United States Navy, appears to have done but little active service in it.

In support of my close borough' theory I will give three illustrations.

First, Dr. W. S. Bruce went to the Antarctic before Captain Scott, and did remarkably fine work. He sailed in the Balana, as naturalist, in 1892, and reached nearly 68° south latitude. An account of this voyage appeared in the Geographical Journal, May 1896. Moreover, he acted as zoologist to the JacksonHarmsworth Expedition to Franz Josef Land, as well as to Major Andrew Coats' Expedition to Nova Zembla and Barent's Sea. He has received no support from the Royal Geographical

Society, unless their awards can be so termed. It must be remembered that Dr. Bruce's plan of exploration was a much better one than Captain Scott's, and would have been a great conquest if it could have been carried out.

Dr. Bruce discovered Coats' Land in the Scotia Expedition, and after his return his plans, as given in the Scottish Geographical Magazine, were to establish two bases, one on Coats' Land and the other at the western end of Ross' Great Ice Barrier, and to start a party from each base which were to meet at the South Pole. In this way Dr. Bruce thought it would be possible to explore the Antarctic Continent from Coats' Land to the Ross Sea. Unfortunately, this project, like so many others, was not considered possible by the Polar experts of this country. With my knowledge of Polar exploration, I am sure that such journeys were quite possible, if attempted by Polar explorers of experience, and we have Captain Amundsen's journey before us, which rather tends to show that Dr. Bruce was quite right. Unfortunately, if anyone submits original plans to the expert advisers of the Royal Geographical Society on Polar matters, he is at once subjected to objections such as were given to Dr. Nansen.

Dr. Bruce also went out in command of the Scottish Expedition on board the Scotia at the same time as Captain Scott went in the Discovery. Surely there was ample work for two expeditions from this country, and although the Scotia Expedition had no funds to be compared with those of the Discovery, it carried out useful scientific research in the Weddell Sea.

Secondly, Sir Ernest Shackleton, who succeeded Captain Scott as a South Polar explorer, received no support from the Society other than the loan of an instrument, and why? Presumably, because he was not one of their nominees. On his return the Society killed the fatted calf for him, and partook of the meat, but history does not say whether the meat was palatable.

Thirdly, no better illustration can be brought forward than that of the late Mr. David Hanbury. It is probable that few people have heard of Mr. David Hanbury as a Polar explorer, but to my mind he did some of the best work of modern times. He was by nature a Polar explorer, he had learned how to use snow-shoes, how to build snow houses, how to clothe himself and how to feed himself in the Polar regions, and, above all, how to drive dogs. These appear very simple accomplishments, but they take a long time to acquire, and every leader of a Polar expedition should have this knowledge. The man who can construct snow houses easily and quickly-a most difficult accomplishment-gets his proper rest at night, because he can keep

warm, and is fit to work during the day. Dogs are the only means of locomotion really valuable in the Polar regions. They go on top of the snow, where men without snow-shoes, ponies and motor sledges sink in. I have never tried motor sledges in the Polar regions, but I should think they would be about as much use as the balloon was to the Discovery Expedition.

Mr. David Hanbury started away from Great Slave Lake with nothing but his rifles, his fish nets and a small canoe. He travelled through the barren lands of Northern Canada to Chesterfield Inlet, and from there to the Arctic Coast, along that coast to the Coppermine River, and then across Bear Lake to the Mackenzie. He was away for two years, and lived most of the time with the Eskimo, and undoubtedly this journey was accomplished on the knowledge he had previously gained from the Eskimo. He made many journeys into the Arctic regions and at his own expense, but he never went as far north as the survivors of the Nares Expedition, although he made journeys that none of them could have accomplished. He is well remembered in Northern Canada as a traveller, and had the makings of one of the greatest Polar explorers that England has ever produced, but the Society sent round no appeal for funds on his behalf, nor encouraged him in any way, and, probably, never took the trouble to make any inquiry about him in those parts where his records were known, with the result that he retired from Polar exploration, and died last year. He was just in his prime when Captain Scott got command of the Discovery, and would have been, in my opinion, a splendid man to have had such a position.

On my previous expedition to the Arctic regions I heard nothing but good of his work, and the Eskimo would have followed him implicitly. The leaders of the Nares Expedition, however, held that the Eskimo were timid, and they consequently refused to employ them on their sledge journeys over the ice on that expedition. Presumably, they also thought that their opinion of Mr. Hanbury was not worth having, nor would it be if it were only the Eskimo who thought highly of his work.

I have given only three instances, and there were many men who were well fitted by experience to take the command of the National Antarctic Expedition. Let us now look at the experience of the man nominated or chosen by the Royal Geographical Society, and we cannot do better than take his own words out of is book, The Voyage of the Discovery."

I may as well confess at once that I had no predilection for Polar exploration, and hat my story is exceedingly tame, but such as it is it shows

13 Vol. i. p.

« VorigeDoorgaan »