Two Years in the Antarctic: Being a Narrative of the British
National Antarctic Expedition (1905) [Paperback]
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- Jackson-Harmsworth Arctic expedition 1894
Lieutenant R.N.R. - second-in-command and navigator
Lieutenant Albert B. Armitage of
the Royal Naval Reserve (R.N.R.) had already spent many years at
sea before joining Scott on the Discovery expedition.
His first ship was the training ship "Worcester"
which he joined in 1878 and passed through with credit, he then
proceeded to several years of practical seamanship training on sailing
ships before being given a position with the P & O company.
He was still in this companies employ at the time of the Discovery
expedition, though had been given leave to join the Jackson-Harmsworth
Expedition to Franz-Josef in 1894. This expedition was absent without
communication for four years though his employers gratefully recognised
his service on his return, he was also presented with the Murchison
Award from the Royal Geographical Society.
On his return to the UK, Lt. Armitage resumed his
duties as ship's mate with P & O until January 1901 at the
age of 37 when his services were lent once again for the Discovery
expedition as navigator and second in command.
Armitage was appointed mate and navigator
by Scott on the Discovery expedition though was soon made second-in-command
of the expedition by Scott after himself.
His responsibility on the expedition
was survey amongst the Victoria Land mountains to the west of McMurdo
Sound. He led sledging parties exploring the Ferrar Glacier reaching
an altitude of about 2750m (9000ft) finding the route that Scott
used later on to reach the Polar Plateau on his journey to the pole.
was an excellent practical navigator, and of the value of his
Polar experience I shall speak late on"
- Scott "The Voyage of the Discovery"
The following is courtesy
of Andrew Payne, March 2008
Armitage was born at Balquhidder, Perthshire, Scotland on 2
July 1864, his parents were holidaying there at the time. Albert's
parents were Bradford born Samuel Harris Tatham Armitage M.D.
and Alice (formerly Lees) Armitage from Ashton under Lyne, who
had married at St Michael's church, Ashton under Lyne on
18 June 1857 (info from International Genealogy index). In 1860
Armitage snr. had been appointed Honorary Surgeon to the 31st
Lancashire Rifle Volunteers.
had six brothers, three of whom went to sea. He was the only
one of seven boys who would eventually marry.
might have been a mason; I have a copy of Two Years in the Antarctic
(by Albert Armitage) inscribed by SHT Armitage to Sir Edward
Letchworth who was the Grand Master of the English/British freemason
fairly brief childhood was largely spent in Scarborough where
his father had a practice at the time. It seems likely he had,
by today's standards, a rather harsh childhood. At the age
of six he is a boarder at the Clifton Villa school in Scarborough.
At the time of the 1871 Census all his brothers bar one (Cecil,
aged one year) were away from home, presumably at boarding school,
despite the family having a housemaid, a cook and two nurses.
In his biography, Cadet to Commodore, Cassell & Co, 1925,
he takes some pride in his prowess with his fists and relates
how he fell out with one of his brothers and later with his
father. By his own account he was a quick tempered man. Once,
by his own account, during a boxing bout on a P & O vessel
he went "berserk" and felled a man with a massive
blow to his heart.
the naval training ship HMS Worcester at Greenhithe at the age
of 14 years and graduated from the same two years later. "Birdie"
Bowers trained in the same vessel some twenty years later. By
this time of his graduation Armitage's parents had moved
to London. His father conducted a distinguished practice from
premises on the corner of North Audley Street and Grosvenor
Square into the early 1900s.
first voyage was aboard the Plassey, a cargo sailing ship, which
took 158 days to reach Calcutta without sighting land on the
way. He describes the Calcutta docks and the unforgettable sight
of 300 sailing ships berthed four abreast in serried ranks.
On the return leg of his second voyage the Plassey ran ashore
in a storm near Sandgate, there she eventually broke up, still
with some of the crew aboard, who died.
experience of sail he joined the P & O company with whom
he remained in employment, apart from his two periods of Polar
exploration, until his retirement in 1924.
to Commodore was expressly written to encourage boys to go to
sea, Armitage's view of his own life seems to be one of
disappointment and frustrated ambition. He complained bitterly
of the time it took for him to have his own command: "twenty
eight years since I was entered on the books as a cadet, twenty
one of which had been, with the exception of such time as my
poor person had been loaned to Polar people, in the service
of the P & O. A long time to wait, to work and strive for
(sic). Many grow weary of waiting; many grow stale and grooved
by so many years of little varied routine; many sicken and die
from the result of striving apparently so fruitlessly, …"
aside from his Polar adventures he had a most interesting life.
His first employment with the P & O was aboard the Bokhara,
a 4000 ton vessel which carried livestock and passengers to
the Far East with a cow for fresh milk, an ice-room for fresh
meat and vegetables, no refrigeration, no electric light, just
oil lamps and candles, most of which including those of the
passengers had to be extinguished every night at 10.30 pm.
years service with the P & O he was nominated by the company
for the proposed North Polar Expedition. His initial appointment
was that of Observer for which he was given some training at
Kew Observatory but by the time the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition
set sail for Franz Josef land he was made second in command
of the expedition. For three years the expedition was cut off
from the world on Franz Josef Land, extensively exploring and
surveying the region. He claims he was the first person to sight
Nansen coming in off the Arctic ocean after his epic journey
from the Fram but it was Jackson who first met Nansen and Johanssen.
Armitage remained a most ardent admirer of Nansen for the rest
of his days. According to Armitage the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition "fell
rather flat" achieving very little other than the slaughter
of a great number of bears and other wild life. "It was
one of the worst [experiences] and one of the best that can
be imagined, and affected all my subsequent life." The
main effect of both this expedition and his time with the Discovery
Expedition seems to have been his loss of promotion with P &
O, and this rankled. He certainly lost four years employment
with P & O by virtue of this first expedition. However,
this did not deter him from volunteering for Scott's Discovery
Markham and Scott both wanted the expedition to be manned entirely
by members of the Royal Navy but Sir Alfred Harmsworth, who
donated the very large sum of £5000 toward the expedition, made
the condition that Armitage and Koettlitz (also of the Jackson-Harmworth
Expedition) be included as members of the expedition. Armitage
got on very well with Scott during the preparations for the
voyage and his RNR rank of lieutenant ensured that he was made
second in command of the Discovery expedition. However, he later
fell out with Scott and claimed that he and Markham failed to
honour a number of promises they had made. He claimed he was
to be given an independent sledging command in Antarctica, with
no restrictions on his sledging, and he claimed that his pay
by the expedition was to commence on the date he left his P &
O ship and continue until he rejoined another P & O ship.
In the event Armitage led one major sledging expedition onto
the Polar Ice Cap over the Western mountains, the first man
ever to do so, thus proving its very existence. This achievement
was later eclipsed by Scott, who with Lashly and "Taff"
Evans, sledged a much greater distance beyond Armitage's
furthest west. Scott refused to allow Armitage a second attempt
toward the Pole (the season following Scott, Wilson and Shackleton's
furthest south), and on his return to Britain Armitage was paid
off by the expedition and it took him nearly nine months to
find an appointment with P & O. The Admiralty wouldn't
even sanction his promotion within the RNR from lieutenant to
commander, claiming that he was not yet qualified for that rank.
this uncertain period by giving lectures around the country
on the subject of the Discovery Expedition. He claimed that,
during his absence in Antarctica, six Chief Officers of the
P & O had been promoted over his head, and that he had lost
18 months seniority. In Cadet to Commodore he wrote, "I
did rankle under a sense of injustice." During this period
he also wrote Two Years in the Antarctic, Edward Arnold, 1905.
A row followed with Scott's publishers because Scott's
Discovery Expedition didn't come out until after Armitage's
book. However, according to Armitage, he was at sea when this
happened and he and Scott later met up for lunch "and all
was sunshine." They never met again.
he was given his own command, the Royal Mail Steamer Isis, carrying
mails between Brindisi and Port Said. And this was essentially
the story of his life until retirement, carrying passengers
and mails on "little ferry boats" across the Mediterranean
and later, in command of the Salsette between Bombay and Aden,
living for many years away from England. Toward the end of the
First World War the Salsette was torpedoed with a loss of life
of 14 crew and Armitage was given command of the Karmala which
was used to transporting cargo and troops across the Atlantic
and, later, for repatriating Australian soldiers.
His last command
was the 11,000 ton mail steamer the Mantua on the Bombay to
China run. After over 40 years at sea he was appointed Commodore
and, by the company rules, required to retire at the age of
60 years, just one year later. A disappointed man.
diaries of his time in the Antarctic were sold at auction for
£36,000 in 2004 to a private buyer.
International Genealogy Index (IGI)
1871 to 1901
1860 to 1905
Albert B. Two Years in the Antarctic, Edward Arnold, 1905
Albert B. Cadet to Commodore, Cassell & Co. 1925
Landmarks named after Albert B.
Description: The saddle at the head of
Blue Glacier, overlooking the Howchin and Walcott Glaciers which
drain toward Walcott Bay in the Koettlitz Glacier. The saddle is
at the S end of the "Snow Valley" (upper part of Blue
Glacier) mapped by Armitage in 1902, and subsequently wrongly omitted
from maps of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-13. The New
Zealand Blue Glacier Party of the CTAE, 1956-58, established a survey
station on the saddle in September 1957. They named it for Lt. A.B.
Armitage, in recognition of his exploration in this area.
Description: Cape forming the S end of Hut Point Peninsula
and the southernmost point on Ross Island.