Published 12th October 2021
By Brian Goodison-Blanks View profile
The first section of Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood's Autumn 2021 Maritime Auction of the 16th November 2021 comprises an important collection of Antarctic Expedition material that should appeal to those with an adventurous spirit.
Francis Edward Charles Davies (1885-1952), a Plymothian, who was the Royal Naval Carpenter and Shipwright aboard the RYS Terra Nova and a member of many later Polar Expeditions. Davies' name is commemorated by Davies Bay, situated between Drake Head and Cape Kinsey which was discovered in February 1911.
Francis Davies was a Plymouth man through and through. He was born and brought up in the Lower Crabtree and Laira Green area of the city and on leaving school, attained a shipwright's apprenticeship at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Devonport. After working in Devonport and as shipwright on HMS Vanguard, he heard mention of Captain Scott's plans for an expedition to the Antarctic and that shipwrights were required. He applied, was accepted and joined the British Antarctic Expedition on 30th May 1910. He signed on at Poplar, London.
His recollections of the Terra Nova, her crew and of the Expedition have been recently published in a book 'With Scott Before The Mast', from his first impressions of seeing the Terra Nova and meeting both Captain Scott and Captain Oates, to the sadness shared among the whole expedition party on hearing of the death of their friends and colleagues. The auction includes many of the photographs, letters and artefacts included within the book, which highlights the monumental task of organising and preparing for the British Antarctic Expedition.
Charged with preparing both the ship and the expedition huts, Davies became well known among his crewmates and his character soon earned him the nickname of 'Chippy'. Davies established many friendships on the expedition; not only did he have a rapport with Captain Oates, but he also became friends with sailors and scientists alike including Harry Pennell, Edward Atkinson and Edward Wilson. Included in the auction are numerous letters between these great friends.
As the Terra Nova was an old ship, she gave Davies many problems on the expedition. Three pieces in particular: the windlass, hand pump and steering gear required constant attention and they were referred to by Davies and his 'babies'. On the voyage from Port Chalmers to the Pole, the hand pump became blocked during a severe storm and the ship was in danger of sinking. Davies played a vital role, along with Lieutenant Evans, cutting though a bulkhead to get to the pump to make repairs. Such was Davies talents at keeping the Terra Nova running that despite his desires to stay with Scott and the Southern party, Lieutenant Harry Pennell insisted that Davies stay aboard in order to ensure that the Terra Nova could continue to sail. Original blueprints of the Terra Nova [Terra Nova Blueprint (MA20/39) and Terra Nova Blueprint (MA20/40)] are included in the auction as well as several photographs of the ship on route and ice locked in the Antarctic ice.
Davies was vital in the successful manufacturing and construction of the huts to be used by the expedition. It is testament to his character that he questioned the factory sales representative supplying the timber, saying that the lengths the factory were supplying would not be sufficient once they reached their intended destination. After the representative rebuked Davies, he took it upon himself to go the factory and see the foreman who agreed with him. Summoned before Captain Scott the following day and faced by a disgruntled sales representative, Davies stood his ground and Captain Scott sided with his crewman to demand the factory supply the correct timber for the expedition huts. Among the papers in the collection is an updated invoice from the factory (MA20/62) with a note 'details as taken by your carpenter'. The main hut, which has now been conserved, is known as 'Scott's Hut', about which Captain Scott wrote 'We are simply overwhelmed by its comfort'.
Perhaps the most historically important pieces Davies kept after the expedition are charts Antarctic Ocean Sheet VIII (MA20/34) and Antarctic Ocean Sheet IV (MA20/33). Each with details plotting the course for the Terra Nova from 1910 to 1913 with dates and annotations and detailing the voyages off South Victoria, McMurdo Sound, the Bay of Whales together with notes of the dates entering and leaving the pack ice. Captain Scott would have stood over these with other senior crew, discussing the ships progress, before committing his thoughts to his dairy. Certainly the slow progress through the pack ice from 20th December 1910 to 23rd December 1910 gave him concerns, though he writes of the crew 'A spirit of tolerance and good humour pervades the whole community, and it is glorious to realise that men can love under conditions of hardship, monotony and danger in such bountiful good comradeship'.
Francis Davies played a key part in maintaining the morale aboard the Terra Nova, as well as honouring the lives of their friends by making the memorial cross which still stands on Observation Hill today. A poem written aboard the Terra Nova at McMurdo Sound on the 18th January 1913 by another crewman, entitled 'They Died Like Men' (MA20/64) is also included in the collection.
Included in the second part of the auction is a good selection of maritime ceramics, ship's fittings, navigational and scientific instruments as well as another historically interesting item.
Mounted in a small locket and placed within a modest frame are a few strands of Napoleon Bonaparte's hair (MA20/343). Accompanying the locket is a Legion of Honour and a handwritten note detailing the origins of the hair. The hair was acquired by Thomas William Poppleton (1775-1827) and then passed to a member of the Gregory family. It remained within the Gregory family until it was acquired by an antiques dealer in Exeter in the early 1980s.Though perhaps still a divisive figure, interest in Napoleon should is still very strong hence the pre-sale estimate of £5,000-£7,000.
For further information, please contact Brian Goodison-Blanks