SHACKLETON NEWS ARCHIVE
A JOURNAL IN THE BEST SCHOLARLY TRADITION
At the last JCS meeting there was considerable appreciation and interest expressed in the newest issue of the James Caird Society Journal.
This handsome publication (JCS Journal Number Four), edited by Stephen Scott-Fawcett FRICS FRGS, includes a first-rate selection of essays and book reviews.
Of particular interest are the very substantial extracts from the personal diary of one of the crucial (and also intriguing and controversial) members of Shackleton's Endurance expedition: Harry McNish, the ship's carpenter and - crucially - the reconstructer of the James Caird, in whom defence many have spoken out in recent years, not least because of Shackleton's decision, on whatsoever grounds, not to award McNish a Polar Medal.
These colourful, well-written and strikingly positive entries by McNish run for over 20 pages (prefaced by a valuable introduction), spanning the period December 1914 (the setting off of Endurance) to May 1916 (the party's rescue from Elephant Island), with substantial extracts from each month. The present selection has been collated and edited by Stephen Scott Fawcett from the full version originally issued on CD-ROM by Shane Murphy.
Just turned 40, Harry McNish was the oldest member of the ship's party. His diary entries reveal McNish's sensitive and often enthusiastic responses to the beauty of place, to temperature and weather conditions. They cover day-to-day things like meals and rations, birthdays and events, McNish's fondness and concern for animals (not least the dogs), his thoughts for his wife and family, the party's various hopes and plans for escape to various northerly islands, and (during November) McNish's essential work not just building up the James Caird, but strengthening the Dudley Docker and then the Stancomb Wills. It was on these that their survival hung.
So far from suggesting any intemperate anger and resentment following the loss of Mrs. Chippy, his beloved cat, he concedes with sad resignation in the diary that she could not come with them once they disembarked from the ship.
These fascinating entries conclude with McNish at King Haakon Bay, far from exhausted, preparing the James Caird for a possible onward voyage round South Georgia island by sea, and McNish being left by Shackleton in charge of the three-man group left behind at the landing point.
Tom Crean's acclaimed biographer, Michael Smith, launches Journal Volume 4 with a stimulating 12-page essay on the Nimrod expedition (culminating in Shackleton's 'Furthest South' in 1909) in celebration of the expedition's centenary this year. It includes striking pictures of the southern party upon its return, and of the Nimrod upon its rearr8ival at civilisation at Lyttelton harbour, New Zealand. As well as An Unsung Hero – Tom Crean, Antarctic Survivor (2000) and two books for children: Tom Crean – Iceman and Shackleton – The Boss (2004), Michael's other books include I Am Just Going Outside – A Life of Captain Oates (2002); Sir James Wordie – Polar Crusader (2004); Tom Crean – An Illustrated Life (2006, shortlisted for the Irish Published Book of the Year 2007); and Captain Francis Crozier – Last Man Standing? (2006).
Penguins get a good innings in the new Journal, both in colour photographs and in a lively article on the Palmer penguin by Meredith Hooper; and there are some first-rate colour reproductions of Antarctic stamp first-day covers.
One issue which could yet one day yield problems is the conflicting British, Argentinian and Chilean claims to the Weddell Sea side of the Antarctic continent. Martin Williams introduces, summarises and then lists in detail, Article by Article, the provisions of that 1960 treaty, including the signatories and dates of accession - many in 1960 but some (such as Estonia, Venezuela, India, China and both Koreas) much more recently.
Awareness of other eminent polar explorers is enhanced by a book review by the Editor of No More Beyond - The life of Hubert Wilkins, by Simon Nasht, published (see earlier article on the JCS website) by Birlinn Books (ISBN: 978 1 84158 5192).
Born George H. Wilkins but dubbed, at his own request, 'Sir Hubert' by King George V, the Australian explorer (1888-1958; as a war photographer he showed extraordinary courage, winning the MC and bar for rescuing the wounded in the opening stages of the third battle of Ypres during 1917 and in the final advance of 1918) was one of the first to see and capitalise on the potential of aerial photography in recording and mapping out-of-the-way places. In this respect above all Wilkins was a true Antarctic pioneer. Stephen Scott-Fawcett's extended summary of this Australian maverick's remarkable trysts with death makes good reading in itself, and he gives one a healthy appetite to acquire and read the book itself.
Another important book feature (part of the main section) is the description by Michael Rosove of how he came to explore the correspondence between Emily Shackleton and Hugh Robert Mill, the explorer's first biographer (and still one the most perceptive).
Published as Rejoice My Heart, this fascinating series of exchanges (the title comes from Lady Shackleton's delighted and enthusiastic initial exchanges on the subject with the future biographer), full of deep personal insights, is issued by Adelie Books (ISBN: 0 9705386 2 8), and is reviewed positively by the Editor ("Make no mistake about it, this is a remarkable book...") on page 68; while a feature from Stephenie Barczewski draws attention to the contrasts in personality, background and approach of a range of key Antarctic figures in her book Antarctic Destinies - the changing face of heroism (Hambledon Press, ISBN: 978 1 84725 1923).
Reviews of the Dictionary of Falklands Biography, edited by led by the islands' former governor David Tatham assisted by a distinguished editorial committee, and of Stephen Haddesley's biography of J. R. Stenhouse, a key member of the Nimrod expedition, are promised for volume 5, and are to be keenly looked forward to.
Jonathan Shackleton's letter praising Volume Three of the JCS Journal draws added attention to the huge value and significance of this publication in the Society's life, and in enhancing its now tangible and considerable contribution to Shackleton and Antarctic studies.
Sponsors and supporters of the Journal whose service may be of value to readers include the eminent Antiquarian Booksellers J & SL Bonham (bonbooks.dial.pixel.com); polar and travel specialists Meridian Rare Books (www.meridianrarebooks.co.uk); Glacier Books, Scotland's leading polar specialists (www.glacierbooks.com); auctioneers Bonhams (www.bonhams.com) whose regular sales in London and Oxford include valued Antarctic books, maps and MSS; the Canadian company Aquila Books (www.aquilabooks.com), who are based in Alberta but make twice-yearly trips to the UK to buy book collections; and Kingsbridge Books in Devon, purchasers and sellers of books and ephemera (contact: Paul Davies, email firstname.lastname@example.org); and not least, the Editor himself, who is to be congratulated upon another handsome publication.