BOWERS, Henry Robertson, letters, autographs, documents, manuscripts

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The image is of two sample pages only (of ca 55).
The notebook of 'Birdie' Bowers

BOWERS, Henry Robertson (1883-1912). Antarctic explorer. Perished with Scott and Wilson in the tent.
Bowers's autograph notebook used during his service on the Sladen on the Irrawaddy [Burma], 1907, ca 55 pages, small 8vo with blanks, cloth boards. This small notebook, in excellent condition, is signed in ink on the decorative end-paper 'H R Bowers / S. Lieut.' and clearly dates from his service in Burma in the first half of 1907. Most entries are in pencil.
After his initial training on HMS Worcester Bowers first sailed on the Loch Torridon, a four-masted sailing ship, in which he made four voyages before being gazetted to the Royal Indian Marine as a sub-lieutenant. The navigation of the Irrawaddy held a particular fascination for Bowers. 'It was reckoned a difficult river, with its constantly changing channels, its currents, seasonal rises and falls, sharp bends and deep defiles. For a ship to answer the helm, whirlpools had to be taken at full steam when coming with the current.' [George Seaver, 'Birdie' Bowers of the Antarctic, 1951, page 58.] It was during the period covered by the present notebook that the young sub-lieutenant undertook two of his more strenuous and adventurous private expeditions; the first a bicycle ride from Mandalay to the Chinese frontier, some 40 miles away, and the second his descent without a guide of the treacherous Goktak Gorge.
 The notebook meticulously details the works for which Bowers was the overseer, and many pages are headed 'Carpenter' or 'Hands', each comprising a list of 20 or more tasks with marks or notes to show that they had been completed. Another category is 'Defects and Surveys', and there are references to basic faults such as 'Water in Saloon Galley from Paddle box & deck above' (the Sladen was a stern-wheeled paddle steamer). The incident in which the ship got loose in the tide on 22 March and struck a buoy is also followed by a list of the faults caused by the damage on that occasion. There are also some lists of stores and of ammunition. Altogether the book shows Bowers to have been highly dedicated to his job, giving great attention to detail.
It was principally as the junior officer in charge of stores that Bowers was to be appointed to Scott's 1910 Antarctic expedition. He soon proved himself invaluable in all departments and was, moreover, a most popular and respected officer. His qualities were immediately recognised by Scott, who described him as 'a perfect treasure; there is not a single case or a single article of any sort which he cannot put his hand on at once'. He was chosen to be one of the landing party where 'every day he conceives or carries out some plan to benefit the camp' [Scott]. He undertook, with Wilson and Cherry-Garrard the arduous winter expedition described by the latter in The Worst Journey in the World, and was picked by Scott for the attempt on the South Pole. It was on the eve of departure for the South that Scott wrote to his wife at length about Bowers:
'... Bowers is all and more than I ever expected of him. He is a positive treasure, absolutely trustworthy and prodigiously energetic. He is about the hardest man amongst us, and that is saying a good deal - nothing seems to hurt his tough little body and certainly no hardship daunts his spirit. I shall have a hundred little tales to tell you of his indefatigable zeal, his unselfishness, and his inextinguishable good humour. He surprises always, for his intelligence is of quite a high order and his memory for details most exceptional. You can imagine him, as he is, an indispensable assistant to me in every detail concerning the management and organization of our sledging work and a delightful companion on the march. ...'
For the final assault on the Pole Bowers had to haul the sledge on foot whilst the four others had a far easier time on ski ('in spite of my protest he would take sights after we had camped to-night, after marching in the soft snow all day where we have been comparatively restful on ski.' [Scott]). It was from the tent which was very soon to become their tomb that Scott wrote to Bowers's mother:
'I am afraid this will reach you after one of the heaviest blows of your life.
I write when we are very near the end of our journey, and I am finishing it in company with two gallant, noble gentlemen. One of these is your son. He had come to be one of my closest and soundest friends, and I appreciate his wonderful upright nature, his ability and energy. As the troubles have thickened his dauntless spirit ever shone brighter and he has remained cheerful, hopeful, and indomitable to the end. ...'

[No: 20792]


The image is of two sample pages only (of ca 55).


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