The Scottish Polar explorer William Speirs Bruce (1867–1921) and his thwarted ambitions in the Falkland Islands Dependencies

Stone, Phil. 2023 The Scottish Polar explorer William Speirs Bruce (1867–1921) and his thwarted ambitions in the Falkland Islands Dependencies. Falkland Islands Journal, 12 (2). 35-50.

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On 2 April 1923, Easter Monday, the ashes of the Scottish Polar explorer William Speirs Bruce were scattered in the South Atlantic Ocean off South Georgia, at latitude 54° South, longitude 36° West. Bruce is best known for his leadership of the 1902-1904 Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (Fig. 1). He had died in Edinburgh on 28 October 1921, and in his will, he had requested that his ashes be scattered at sea in a high southern latitude between 10° and 15° East. His first biographer, Robert Rudmose Brown, a member of the Scottish expedition (Fig. 1), wrote that in stipulating the eastern longitude Bruce hoped to draw attention to a little-known section of the Antarctic coastline (Brown 1923); in the event, the spirit of his wishes was satisfied even if the geography could not be realised. Nevertheless, given Bruce’s involvement in exploration of the Scotia and Weddell seas and the South Orkney Islands, the location was highly appropriate. His ashes were conveyed to South Georgia on the Salvesen Company’s supply ship Coronda and scattered from the whale-catcher Symra by Edward Binnie, the resident South Georgia magistrate, in company with the managers of some of the islands’ whaling stations.1 According to Brown (1923, p. 294), “[t]hey had no sooner got clear of the land than a strong wind set in from the north bringing with it a heavy sea; the deck of the whaler was more often under water than above it.” It was a poignant coincidence that a year previously, on 5 March 1922, Binnie had officiated at the funeral of Bruce’s Antarctic peer Sir Ernest Shackleton, buried in the Grytviken cemetery (Fig. 2). The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, covered in general terms in Bruce’s entry in The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (Wordie 2008), was his second visit to the Falkland Islands and foray into the Antarctic. The first expedition was a speculative whaling venture from Dundee. In 1892 Bruce had abandoned his final year medical studies at Edinburgh University to sign-on as surgeon on the Balaena, one of the four Dundee ships involved – and persuaded his good friend William Burn-Murdoch to accompany him as assistant surgeon, despite the latter’s complete lack of any medical training whatsoever. Burn-Murdoch (also written-up for The Dictionary of Falklands Biography by Wordie) was a talented writer and artist and his account of the Balaena voyage, published in 1894, is an entertaining classic of Antarctic literature.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Date made live: 31 Oct 2023 13:47 +0 (UTC)

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