Alexander Stevens and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914 – 17
29 November 2016 – 25 June 2017
This display commemorates the centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and Alexander Stevens, a graduate of the University of Glasgow who served as Chief Scientist and Biologist on the Ross Sea Party.
The aim of the expedition, which set out from England in September 1914, was to sledge across Antarctica, a feat never before achieved. Shackleton led the Weddell Sea Party, sailing on Endurance to the frozen continent. The Ross Sea Party sailed to Australia and on to the opposite coast to Shackleton. Striking inland, the men laid supply depots along the last stretch of the proposed sledging route and undertook scientific work. Both parties ultimately met with disaster, and both emerged with extraordinary tales of survival.
Born in Kilmarnock, Alexander Stevens (1886 – 1965) battled ill health from the offset in the harshest environment on the planet. In May 1915, the Ross Sea Party’s support vessel, the Aurora, was swept away in a violent storm, leaving ten men, including Stevens, stranded until their rescue on 10 January 1917. By that time, one member had died; two were missing. The joy of rescue was tempered by the party’s loss, news of the expedition’s overall failure, and of the war that had engulfed the world. Most resolved to join up when they returned home and Stevens was no exception. He served on the Western Front in 1918, after which he returned to the University of Glasgow, becoming the first Professor of Geography in 1947.
The Polar Medal on display was bestowed on Stevens by King George V in 1918 and gifted to the University upon his retiral in 1953.
Image 1. Alexander Stevens, Chief Scientist of the Ross Sea Party © Antarctic Heritage Trust, nzaht.org.
Image 2. Alexander Stevens onboard Aurora © Antarctic Heritage Trust, nzaht.org.
Image 3. Alexander Stevens’ Polar Medal, GLAHM: 37647.