Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Museum seeks memories of ex-Budleigh Salterton polar explorer

Budleigh Salterton's Fairlynch Museum is appealing for help in putting together an exhibition in 2011 to mark the centenary of the British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Robert Scott.

A senior member of the expedition was Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN, who lived in Budleigh. His role as the expedition's doctor will be highlighted in the Fairlynch exhibition, but Levick is also celebrated as the founder in 1932 of the British Schools' Exploring Society.

The above photograph was taken by Levick, the zoologist and photographer of the party, on Captain Scott's final Antarctic expedition of 1910-13.

The six men, the northern party of the expedition, stand outside the entrance to the snow hole in which they have just spent the 1911-1912 Antarctic Winter in darkness. George Murray Levick is standing second from the right and pulling the string to release the camera shutter. Their clothing and hair were impregnated with seal blubber because all their cooking, mostly of seal meat, was carried out over a seal blubber stove. Among their problems were the shortage of seals to kill during the winter due to constant blizzards, ptomaine poisoning and dysentery due to the cooking conditions, and the fact that they could not stand upright in the cave which they had managed to excavate from the snow.

The photo shows Adélie Penguins on the ice-foot at Cape Adare in the Antarctic and was taken in 1911 or 1912 by George Murray Levick.
Picture credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/

For seven years from 1932 George Murray Levick led annual expeditions to Arctic destinations. The BSES which he started, originally known as the The Public Schools Exploring Society, continues to be a flourishing organisation which has benefited thousands of young explorers, often during their gap year between school and university.

Former Exeter University student James Burgess is one of many such young people who feel indebted to the former Budleigh resident. In 2002 he took part in a four-month BSES expedition to Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, learning to cope with temperatures of roughly minus 20 degrees celsius.

Above: Crossing a glacial stream in Svalbard
"We used to wake in the mornings with ice frozen on the inside of the tent from our breath during the night," he recalls. "As we were living in tents for the whole time the washing facilities were basic to say the least."

Scientific research was one of the aims of the Svalbard trip, but James felt that it offered much more. "I think that probably the most valuable thing I got out of the expedition was the necessity of working as a group, whether that was putting up tents at the end of a long day's trekking or crossing a glacier roped together."

"I also think spending extended periods of time with people who you might not necessarily choose to spend time with in difficult conditions makes one pretty tolerant, understanding and considerate for others, basically because you have to be."

Later, while studying at University, James wrote a dissertation on polar exploration in the heroic period of the early adventurers like Scott and Murray Levick. "Clearly the expedition had quite an impact on me!" he said.

The Fairlynch exhibition organisers are seeking information from anyone who can contribute to the planned display. Levick's former home in Budleigh was sold in about 1987, and they are hoping that anyone with memorabilia or anecdotes relating to the BSES founder will contact them.

Anyone with information, or memorabilia, is asked to contact Fairlynch Museum, 27 Fore Street, Budleigh Salterton, EX9 6NP; email: admin@fairlynch.org.uk or telephone 01395 442378.

Photos and text credit for pictures of the George Murray Levick group and Svalbard expedition: British Schools Exploring Society http://www.bses.org.uk/

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