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Robert Selbie Clark (1882-1950) - Biographical notes

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Robert Selbie Clark

Biologist Endurance 1914-17

The Endurance Expedition

An almost archetypal "dour Scot", Clark nonetheless gained respect from the crew due to his willingness to turn out for any work that needed to be done and always pull at least his own weight. He was never quite so excited as when he had found a new or novel specimen for his biological collections. This made him the butt of a particular practical joke when the crew bottled some cooked spaghetti in one of his specimen jars causing "great excitement"!

Though he gathered many preserved creatures from dredges of the sea floor and many bird skins, they were all lost with the Endurance and none were taken when the men left for Elephant Island. In Worsley's words

"I felt sorry for Clark, as I lay there that night and realised that he had been obliged to leave on the Endurance the whole of his valuable collection that he had been at such pains to classify and study."

Biography

Robert Clark was born in Aberdeen and attended Aberdeen Grammar School. He went on to Aberdeen University and put his education to use as a zoologist at the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in Edinburgh. While here, he worked on some of the specimens brought back from Antarctica by W. S. Bruce from the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition 1902-04. In 1913 he obtained a position as a naturalist in the Plymouth Marine Biological Association.

On return from the Antarctic, Clark served for the rest of the First World War as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and like many of the other men from the Endurance did his service on minesweepers.

He was awarded the degree of D.Sc. (Doctor of Science) in 1925 and became the director of the Fisheries Research station in Torry, Aberdeen. In 1934 he was appointed Superintendent of Scientific Investigations under the Fishery Board.

Robert Clark retired in 1948 and died on the 29th of September 1950 at home in Murtle, Aberdeenshire Scotland.

 

References to Robert Clark in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

  • The quaint little penguins found the ship a cause of much apparent excitement and provided a lot of amusement aboard. One of the standing jokes was that all the adelies on the floe seemed to know Clark, and when he was at the wheel rushed along as fast as their legs could carry them, yelling out "Clark! Clark!" and apparently very indignant and perturbed that he never waited for them or even answered them.
  • Many bergs were in sight, and they appeared to be travelling through the pack in a south-westerly direction under the current influence. Probably the pack itself was moving north-east with the gale. Clark put down a net in search of specimens, and at two fathoms it was carried south-west by the current and fouled the propeller. He lost the net, two leads, and a line.
  • The view was obscured, but we proceeded to the south-east and had gained 24 miles by noon, when three soundings in lat. 74° 4 S., long. 22° 48 W. gave 95, 128, and 103 fathoms, with a bottom of sand, pebbles, and mud. Clark got a good haul of biological specimens in the dredge.
  • On the 7th Wordie and Worsley found some small pebbles, a piece of moss, a perfect bivalve shell, and some dust on a berg fragment, and brought their treasure-trove proudly to the ship. Clark was using the drag-net frequently in the leads and secured good hauls of plankton, with occasional specimens of greater scientific interest.

  • The quarters in the 'tween decks were completed by the 10th, and the men took possession of the cubicles that had been built. The largest cubicle contained Macklin, McIlroy, Hurley, and Hussey and it was named "The Billabong." Clark and Wordie lived opposite in a room called "Auld Reekie."

  • All hands are cheered by the indication that the end of the winter darkness is near. . . . Clark finds that with returning daylight the diatoms are again appearing. His nets and line are stained a pale yellow, and much of the newly formed ice has also a faint brown or yellow tinge. The diatoms cannot multiply without light, and the ice formed since February can be distinguished in the pressure-ridges by its clear blue colour. The older masses of ice are of a dark earthy brown, dull yellow, or reddish brown."

  • By the middle of September we were running short of fresh meat for the dogs. The seals and penguins seemed to have abandoned our neighbourhood altogether. Nearly five months had passed since we killed a seal, and penguins had been seen seldom. Clark, who was using his trawl as often as possible, reported that there was a marked absence of plankton in the sea, and we assumed that the seals and the penguins had gone in search of their accustomed food.

  • This ice had been slightly thicker in the early part of September, and I assumed that some melting had begun below. Clark had recorded plus temperatures at depths of 150 and 200 fathoms in the concluding days of September.

  • Returning to the camp, we found the men resting or attending to their gear. Clark had tried angling in the shallows off the rocks and had secured one or two small fish.

  • Twice the usual number of penguin steaks were cooked at breakfast, and the ones intended for supper were kept hot in the pots by wrapping up in coats, etc. "Clark put our saucepanful in his sleeping-bag to-day to keep it hot, and it really was a great success in spite of the extra helping of reindeer hairs that it contained. In this way we can make ten penguin skins do for one day."

  • One stop was due to water having run over the friction gear and frozen. It was a day or two later that we heard a great yell from the floe and found Clark dancing about and shouting Scottish war-cries. He had secured his first complete specimen of an Antarctic fish, apparently a new species.

Endurance
Personnel

Summary

Bakewell, William
Able Seaman

Blackborow, Percy
Steward (stowaway)

Cheetham, Alfred
Third Officer

Clark, Robert S.
Biologist

Crean, Thomas
Second Officer

Green, Charles J.
Cook

Greenstreet, Lionel
First Officer

Holness, Ernest
Fireman

How, Walter E.
Able Seaman

Hudson, Hubert T.
Navigator

Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Official Photographer

Hussey, Leonard D. A.
Meteorologist

James, Reginald W.
Physicist

Kerr, A. J.
Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Surgeon

Marston, George E.
Official Artist

McCarthy, Timothy
Able Seaman

McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Surgeon

McLeod, Thomas
Able Seaman

McNish, Henry
Carpenter

Orde-Lees, Thomas
Motor Expert and Storekeeper

Rickinson, Lewis
First Engineer

Shackleton, Ernest H.
Expedition Leader

Stephenson, William
Fireman

Vincent, John
Able Seaman

Wild, Frank
Second in Command

Wordie, James M.
Geologist

Worsley, Frank
Captain

 
Biographical information - This is a difficult area to research, I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have is gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.
What are the chances that my ancestor was an unsung part of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration?
 
Recommended Books DVD's and VHS

Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
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Movies / Documentaries
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Cool Antarctica Store - Pictures, Shirts, Calendars, Cards etc.



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Shackleton
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The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition
Dramatization with original footage

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