Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic 1910-12

100 years ago Robert Falcon Scott arrived at the South Pole on 17th January 1912 to find that the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had reached there before him. Scott and his four companions died on the way back to their camp.

What the ice takes, the ice keeps’ Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton’s Polar expedition on Endurance in 1914-17 was a heroic one with the survival of all his men. Several Aberdeen doctors have had connections with this frozen continent and its two famous explorers, Scott and Shackleton.

William Clark Souter (1880-1959)

Scott’s first expedition to Antarctica (1901-04) was on Discovery now berthed in Dundee. Frozen in ice it was eventually freed with the help of ships Morning and Terra Nova. On board Terra Nova was a recent graduate from Aberdeen, William Clark Souter who, looking for adventure, had signed up as surgeon.

Souter was awarded a Polar Medal for his service and returned to Aberdeen to have a long and illustrious career as an ophthalmologist. In his later life while walking in Aberdeen he was caught in a blizzard and helped home by two girl guides unaware of their help to an Antarctic explorer.

Alexander Hepburne Macklin (1889-1967)

The story of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914 when his ship Endurance was crushed by pack ice is well known. Less well known is Alexander Hepburne Macklin (MBChB 1912 Manchester) who was one of the medical officers with Sir Ernest Shackleton. With the Endurance lost, the men survived in three lifeboats drifting through ice floes until they reached Elephant Island. Macklin remained with the main party on the island for three months until Shackleton returned with help. He had to administer chloroform while McIlroy, the other medical officer amputated the frostbitten toes of one of their colleagues.

For his activities during the First World War, Macklin received the Polar Medal, OBE, Military Cross and Order of St Stanislaw, the last for helping evacuate wounded from the front during the North Russian Winter Campaign. He returned to South Georgia with Shackleton in 1921 and did the postmortem on his friend when Shackleton died of a heart attack in the bay at Grytviken, South Georgia.

Following one of his favourite phrases, ‘Always accept a chance or a challenge’, Macklin continued to lead a varied life becoming a chloroformist at Dundee Royal Infirmary until World War II intervened. He commanded a Field Ambulance in the 51st Highland Division before being sent to East Africa. Moving to Aberdeen, in 1947 he became physician in charge of the student health service in the University, retiring from this post in 1960. Such was his energy, he continued working in locum house officer posts until his death in 1967.

Institute of Environmental and Offshore Medicine

In the 1970s when the oil industry started working on rigs in the North Sea, medical care had to change and Professors George Smith and Nelson Norman from the Department of Surgery were approached by the oil companies. Professor Nelson Norman had spent time in the Antarctic during his National Service and was studying techniques of critical care while Professor George Smith had been involved in hyperbaric medicine and researching the effects of hypothermia.

As a spin off from research into caring for personnel working in remote places, Aberdeen liaised with the British Antarctic Survey and several doctors did PhDs researching physiological changes in the body due to cold. A laboratory was built on Morrone, the mountain at Braemar to continue research into cold conditions and in 1986 the British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit was established at Robert Gordon Institute of Technology Centre for Offshore Health in Aberdeen. Although BAS Medical Unit is based in Plymouth now, Aberdeen played a large part in its early days.