Clements Markham bigraphy, stories - British explorer

Clements Markham : biography

20 July 1830 - 29 January 1916

Sir Clements Robert Markham KCB FRS ( 1830 – 1916) was an English geographer, explorer, and writer. He was secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) between 1863 and 1888, and later served as the Society's president for a further 12 years. In the latter capacity he was mainly responsible for organising the National Antarctic Expedition of 1901–04, and for launching the polar career of Robert Falcon Scott.

Markham began his career as a Royal Naval cadet and midshipman, during which time he went to the Arctic with in one of the many searches for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin. Later, Markham served as a geographer to the India Office, and was responsible for the collection of cinchona plants from their native Peruvian forests, and their transplantation in India. By this means the Indian government acquired a home source from which quinine could be extracted. Markham also served as geographer to Sir Robert Napier's Abyssinian expeditionary force, and was present in 1868 at the fall of Magdala.

The main achievement of Markham's RGS presidency was the revival at the end of the 19th century of British interest in Antarctic exploration, after a 50-year interval. He had strong and determined ideas about how the National Antarctic Expedition should be organised, and fought hard to ensure that it was run primarily as a naval enterprise, under Captain Scott's command. To do this he overcame hostility and opposition from much of the scientific community. In the years following the expedition he continued to champion Scott's career, to the extent of disregarding or disparaging the achievements of other contemporary explorers.

All his life Markham was a constant traveller and a prolific writer, his works including histories, travel accounts and biographies. He authored many papers and reports for the RGS, and did much editing and translation work for the Hakluyt Society, of which he also became president. He received public and academic honours, and was recognised as a major influence on the discipline of geography, although it was acknowledged that much of his work was based on enthusiasm rather than scholarship. Among the geographical features bearing his name is Antarctica's Mount Markham, named after him by Scott in 1902.

Civil servant, geographer, traveller

India Office

After the death of his father in 1853 Markham had needed paid employment, and in December 1853 had secured a junior clerkship in the Legacy Duty Office of the Inland Revenue at a salary of £90 per annum (around £6,000 in 2008). He found the work tedious, but was able, after six months, to transfer to the forerunner of what became, in 1857, the India Office. Here, the work was interesting and rewarding, with sufficient time to allow him to travel and to pursue his geographical interests.A. Markham, pp. 165–66

In April 1857 Markham married Minna Chichester, who accompanied him on the cinchona mission to Peru and India. Their only child, a daughter Mary Louise (known as May), was born in 1859.A. Markham, p. 169 As part of his India Office duties Markham investigated and reported to the Indian government on the introduction of Peruvian cotton into Madras, on the growth of ipecacuanha in Brazil and the possibilities for cultivating this medicinal plant in India, and on the future of the pearl industry at Tirunelveli in Southern India.A. Markham, pp. 202–04 He was also involved in an ambitious plan for the transplanting of Brazilian rubber trees, claiming that he would "do for the india-rubber or caoutchouc-yielding trees what had already been done with such happy results for the cinchona trees." This scheme was not, however, successful.Dean, p. 12

Abyssinia, 1867–68

In 1867 Markham became head of the India Office's geographical department. Later that year he was selected to accompany Sir Robert Napier's military expeditionary force to Abyssinia, as the expedition's geographer.A. Markham, pp. 210–13 This force was despatched by the British government as a response to actions taken by the Abyssinian King Theodore. In 1862 the king had written to the British government requesting protection against Egyptian invaders, and proposing the appointment of an ambassador.Pankhurst, pp. 11–14 Unwilling to risk giving offence to Egypt, the British government did not reply. The king reacted to this slight by seizing and imprisoning the British consul and his staff, and ordered the arrest and whipping of a missionary who had allegedly insulted the king's mother. A belated reply to the king's letter resulted in the capture and incarceration of the deputation that brought it. After efforts at conciliation failed, the British decided to settle the matter by sending a military expedition. Because the geography of the country was so little known, it was decided that an experienced traveller with map-making skills should accompany the force, hence Markham's appointment.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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