We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
  Apsley George Benet  Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959), by Frank Debenham Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959), by Frank Debenham
Garrard, Apsley George Benet Cherry- (1886–1959), polar explorer, was born in Bedford on 2 January 1886, the only son (there were five daughters) of Major-General Apsley Cherry-Garrard CB (1832–1907), and his wife, Evelyn Edith, daughter of Henry Wilson Sharpin. Major-General Cherry-Garrard, a distinguished soldier, inherited from his elder brother the Cherry estate of Denford Park, Berkshire, and in 1892 that of his mother's family also, Lamer Park, Hertfordshire, with the added name and arms of Garrard. He leased Denford and made Lamer his residence; it became to his son the dearest place on earth. Short-sightedness handicapped the young Cherry-Garrard in games at his preparatory school and at Winchester College, where he was lonely. But at Oxford he found congenial friends and interests as well as rowing—a sport to which bad eyesight was no bar: he helped the Christ Church eight to win the Grand Challenge cup at Henley in 1908. In the same year he obtained a third class in modern history.

On his father's death in 1907 Cherry-Garrard found himself the heir to a double fortune, and two years later went for a cruise round the world on cargo boats. Hearing when at Brisbane that Captain Robert Falcon Scott proposed a second expedition to the Antarctic in 1910, he wrote to Edward Wilson, whom he had met previously at a shooting party in Scotland, volunteering his services. Every member of the expedition was a specialist of some sort and he was accepted by Scott on Wilson's recommendation alone: he duly enlisted as ‘assistant zoologist’. Yet from the outset, despite his youth and inexperience, he won the affectionate regard of his more seasoned comrades, and before the close of the expedition had more major sledge journeys to his credit than any other surviving member.

On the Depôt Journey to lay stores at stages along the southern route, as far as to One Ton Depôt 140 miles from base, Cherry-Garrard was warmly commended by Scott for his efficiency and unselfishness as a sledger and tent-mate. In the comparative comfort of life at the base he edited the South Polar Times, a unique periodical afterwards reproduced in facsimile. Wilson chose ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Cherry-Garrard—‘the pick of the sledging element’ (Scott, quoted in South Pole Odyssey, 81)—as his companions for a Winter Journey in 1911 to obtain specimen eggs from the emperor penguin rookery at Cape Crozier. This entailed a hazardous round trip of 120 miles in darkness, at temperatures in excess of -70 °F, an exploit which is still without parallel in the annals of polar exploration. An unbreakable bond was forged between the three men and on their return five weeks later Scott described their journey as ‘the hardest that has ever been made’—a phrase which later suggested to Cherry-Garrard the title of his narrative of the fortunes of the whole expedition: The Worst Journey in the World (1922).

The Winter Journey was the climax of the whole expedition for Cherry-Garrard, so much so that even the outward marches of the great southern journey, despite their gruelling nature, were a picnic by comparison. He accompanied the polar party as far as the summit of the Beardmore Glacier whence he was sent back, because of his youth, with the first of the two supporting parties. Early in March 1912 he set out with dog teams and Dmitry, the Russian dog driver, to speed the return of the polar party. Having reached One Ton Depôt on the night of the third, the date approximately timed for their arrival, he was beset by a four days' blizzard which prevented movement, but stayed on until there remained only just enough dog food for the return. Although his decision to return was the only possible one, he never ceased to reproach himself afterwards for not having attempted the impossible. He was a member of the search party eight months later which found the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers, who had died within only 11 miles of One Ton Depôt (which they reached on 21 March), and learned of the heroic self-sacrifice of Lawrence Oates a few marches behind, and of Petty Officer Edgar Evans's earlier collapse below the Beardmore Glacier. It was at Cherry-Garrard's suggestion that the last line of Tennyson's Ulysses (‘To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’) was inscribed on the cross surmounting the cairn of snow which covered them, as well as the epitaph commemorating Oates.

The rest of Cherry-Garrard's life was anticlimax. During the First World War he commanded a squadron of armoured cars in Flanders from 1914 until invalided out two years later, and during long convalescence wrote The Worst Journey, a classic of Antarctic literature. First published in December 1922 it went through several editions before being republished in 1951, with a postscript written in 1948. Years later he also wrote introductions to biographies of Wilson and Bowers. He cultivated friendships with men of letters, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Arnold Bennett; and with men of action, especially Mallory of Everest and Lawrence of Arabia. To the latter he paid tribute in the symposium T. E. Lawrence by his Friends (1937).

In the early 1920s Cherry-Garrard recovered some strength but the Scott tragedy continued to haunt him, altering and even reversing many of his interests: ‘He gave up shooting, became almost hostile to fox-hunting, and disappointed the churchmen who had been accustomed to his support in the parish’ (The Times). Later he cruised the Mediterranean and collected books, first editions where possible, but ‘he still lived with the Polar expedition and would talk of little else’ (ibid.). He married, on 6 September 1939, Angela Katherine, daughter of Kenneth Turner, of Fairfields, Ipswich. In 1947 income tax demands and ill health obliged him to sell Lamer, which was demolished, and he moved into a London flat. After many years of intermittent illness he died at the Berkeley Hotel, Piccadilly, London, on 18 May 1959. He was survived by his wife; there were no children.

Mark Pottle

Sources  

The Times (19 May 1959), 13a · L. Huxley, ed., Scott's last expedition, 2 vols. (1913) · A. Cherry-Garrard, The worst journey in the world: Antarctic, 1910–1913 (1951) · personal knowledge (1971) [DNB] · S. Wheeler, Cherry: a life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard (2001) · WWW · G. Seaver, ‘Birdie’ Bowers of the Antarctic (1938) · G. Seaver, Edward Wilson of the Antarctic (1933) · South Pole odyssey: selections from the Antarctic diaries of Edward Wilson, ed. H. King (1982) · F. Spufford, I may be some time: ice and the English imagination (1996) · Burke, Gen. GB (1937) [Cherry-Garrard of Lamer] · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1959)

Archives  

Scott Polar RI, corresp., journals, and notebooks


Likenesses  

F. Debenham, photographs, c.1911–1912, Scott Polar RI · H. C. Ponting, photographs, c.1911–1912, Scott Polar RI · I. Roberts-Jones, bronze statuette, 1962, Wheathampstead parish church · F. Debenham, photograph, Scott Polar RI [see illus.] · group portrait, photograph (with Bowers and Wilson; after return from the ‘Winter Journey’), repro. in Huxley, Scott's last expedition, vol. 2, p. 73 · photograph, repro. in Huxley, Scott's last expedition, vol. 1, p. 426

Wealth at death  

£481,158 6s. 8d.: probate, 14 July 1959, CGPLA Eng. & Wales