Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Penguin expert's quest brings him from New Zealand to Budleigh




















Antarctic artefacts: Former Fairlynch Museum Chairman Roger Kingwill, right, shows Professor Lloyd Davis some of the material used in the 'Survival!' exhibition to mark the centenary of Captain Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole

So many travellers and explorers associated with the Budleigh area have made their mark in distant lands that it’s no surprise to find overseas visitors in Fairlynch Museum keen to trace family trees or eager to see where their forebears lived.

Professor Lloyd Davis, who holds the Stuart Chair in Science Communications at the University of Otago in New Zealand, was a recent visitor searching for information.  Wildlife enthusiasts from that part of the world will know Lloyd as a leading authority on penguins, on which he’s written many scientific papers. He’s even written a book  Penguin: a season in the life of the Adelie penguin, which is a story of penguins and Antarctica as seen through the eyes of a penguin. It won the PEN Best First Book Award for Non-fiction in 1994. He went on to write The Plight of the Penguin which won the NZ Post New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award in 2002 - the first time in the history of the awards that non-fiction had been awarded the overall prize.
 
No penguins in Budleigh Salterton of course, but those of you who visited the ‘Survivival’ exhibition at the Museum last year will know that it was here that Antarctic explorer Murray Levick, author of the book Antarctic Penguins, settled in retirement.

Fascinated by Antarctica from an early age, Lloyd started his academic career as a zoologist by studying seals before moving on to penguins.


The photographs on the left which formed part of the Fairlynch Museum display were taken by Murray Levick in Antarctica during Scott's Terra Nova expedition. Levick's skills with the camera proved to be second only to those of Herbert Ponting, the official photographer
Levick, the zoologist and doctor on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica, is well known as one of the earliest writers on the subject of the characterful flightless birds found only in the Southern Hemisphere and was a natural research topic for Lloyd. He even went all the way up to Newcastle-on-Tyne, Levick’s birthplace, but it was a fruitless journey which revealed nothing.

So seeing some of the material that was on show in Fairlynch Museum’s ‘Survival!’ exhibition last year helped to make Lloyd’s trip to the UK worthwhile. The author of Antarctic Penguins had achieved fame not through his writing but as a survivor of a particularly savage polar winter in 1912. He went on to see active service in World War One, notably during the Gallipoli Campaign. In the post-war years he used his medical skills to help ex-soldiers suffering from trench foot and blindness caused by gassing. Later he was involved with the Chailey Heritage School for disabled children and founded what is now BSES Expeditions. Remarkably, in his sixties the Government called on him to teach survival skills to commandos during World War Two. A story is told of how he would demonstrate his physical fitness by cartwheeling down a staircase in front of trainees.


Lloyd Davis and Roger Kingwill with items of equipment used by polar explorer and one-time local resident Murray Levick   

Touching the skis that Levick had used and actually being able to sit in an armchair that had belonged to the great man was a truly magical experience.

“It’s like feeling you’ve shared the molecules of someone you’ve always wanted to meet” he said. “I once visited Down House where Darwin lived and on an impulse I touched some items on a desk that had belonged to him. Of course alarms rang, and people came running. It was highly embarrassing.” 

What has increasingly intrigued Lloyd is Murray Levick as a character and as a family man, aspects of which relatively little is known.  The Museum is working with Lloyd to find out more about the celebrated explorer whose story of Antarctic survival will thrill generations to come. 


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