• Back to Encyclopedia Arctica homepage

    Gino Watkins

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0870                                                                                                                  

    (J. M. Scott)


            Gino (Henry George) Watkins (1907-1932), outstanding British figure

    and inspiration of the youthful between-wars school of explorers, had led

    four northern expeditions by the age of 25 years. H. G. Watkins (always

    called Gino, pronounced to rhyme with Reno) was the son of Lt. Colonel

    Henry George and Mrs. (Monsell) Watkins. He was born in London, and was

    educated at Lansing College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied

    engineering but never completed either his examinations or the nine terms

    necessary to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. A fair, lightly built,

    delicate child, Gino showed little aptitude for or interest in athletics

    of any sort, except shooting.

            At the age of sixteen he was introduced to mountaineering at Chamonix.

    Subsequent school holidays were spent in the Lake District, and a long season

    in Switzerland which included some forty climbs qualified him for Alpine Club

    membership. With equal enthusiasm and thoroughness he took up skiing during

    his second year at Cambridge.

            During his first university year Watkins had become interested in arctic

    exploration by hearing Raymond Priestley's lectures. Priestley had introduced

    him to J. M. Wordie, and Wordie had promised him a place in an expedition to

    East Greenland then planned for the summer of 1927. Watkins set to work

    studying arctic literature and developing himself physically during the

    002      |      Vol_XV-0871                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    eighteen months' interval. (His skiing and serious mountaineering and fly–

    ing with the University Squadron belong to this period.) But when the time

    came Wordie found it necessary to postpone his project. Watkins, however, was

    determined to visit the Arctic, and, although only nineteen, decided to organize

    and lead his own expedition.


    Expedition to Edge Island

            He chose for his destination Edge Island, part of the Spitsbergen group.

    This island, 2,500 square miles in the area, had been scientifically examined

    only by the Russo-Swedish Arc of Meridian Expedition of 1899-1901, whose work

    had been confined to the coast. There would have been little time, even for

    an experienced traveler prepare such an expedition. But during the following

    weeks, in addition to his University studies, (he had an examination to pass)

    and without losing his undergraduate reputation as a light-hearted dilettante,

    Watkins proved to a few intimated his extraordinarily mature grasp, directness

    of kind and powers of concentration. His plans were approved by the Royal

    Geographical Society, which made a grant of £ 100; the Worts Fund of Cambridge

    University granted £ 150; food and equipment were bought; the Heimen was

    chartered, and the following party was enrolled: Major H. T. Morshead, D.S.O.

    (surveyor); N. C. Falcon (geologist); Dr. Hugh M. Woodman (medical doctor);

    A. G. Lowndes (biologist); R.v.d.R. Woolley (physicist); V. S. Forbes (assis–

    tant surveyor); C. T. Dalgety (ornithologist); A. G. Michelmore (land biolo–

    gist and botanist).

            The Heimen , a two-masted motor-driven sealing vessel of 72 tons (Captain

    Lars Jacobsen) sailed north from Tromsö on July 23, and on July 31, 1927

    anchored in Deevie Bay, a large indentation in the southwestern part of Edge

    Island, at the spot marked Keilhau Bay on the Admiralty Chart (in fact the

    003      |      Vol_XV-0872                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    coast is scarcely indented at this point). The surveyors at once went to

    Whales Point to pick up the triangulation points left by the Russians. A

    party led by Watkins set out with a man-drawn sledge to cross the icecap

    eastward, surveying by plane table. Continual bad weather caused this plan

    to be severely modified and results were scant.

            Twelve hours after his return to the ship, Watkins, accompanied by Forbes

    and Falcon, set out again, this time carrying packs. They succeeded in

    making a compass traverse across the island northward from Deevie Bay to

    Cape Lee and Cape Heuglin, where the ship picked them up, on August 23, after

    an anxious delay due to its having gone aground. Rations during the land

    party's march had consisted of 1/2 lb. Bovril pemmican, 1 lb. plasmon biscuits,

    and 1/2 lb. chocolate per day.

            The surveying program had seriously suffered from the weather. During

    four weeks spent on Edge Island there were only five fine days. The main

    icecap, it was found, is roughly horse w s hoe-shaped, with its extremities

    running out into the two arms of Deevie Bay. On the west and north coasts

    none of the glaciers from the icecap reach the sea, but on the east and south

    coasts several glaciers reach it. Most glaciers are retreating. The icecap

    consists of large, rounded snow domes, the greatest height recorded being

    2,000 feet. The whole island has been subjected to gradual uplift, which

    is probably still continuing. This has resulted in the formation of curious

    canyons near Keilhau Bay. The magnetic, biological, botanical, geological,

    glaciological, and ornithological results obtained by various specialists

    working chiefly from the ship on the southern and western coasts of the

    island are published in the Geographical Journal, Vol.72, n.2, August 1928.

            Considering the brief period available and the natural difficulties

    encountered, these results are remarkably good. But, for the layman at least,

    004      |      Vol_XV-0873                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    the most striking aspect of the expedition is that it was organized and

    led by an undergraduate who had not yet reached his twentieth birthday.

            After pondering various projects, Watkins decided to sail for Labrador

    the next summer and make exploratory surveys in the southern half of the

    peninsula. The sudden death of his mother in the spring almost caused him

    to give up these plans but he was persuaded to go through with them.


    Labrador Expedition

            On June 26, 1928, he sailed from Liverpool with J. M. Scott and L.A.D.

    Leslie. Scott was the same age as Watkins, and Leslie a few years older.

    The Royal Geographical Society, which had made him the Cuthbert Peek Grant

    for his work in Edge Island, also backed this expedition with £ 300 and the

    loan of instruments. Owing to the dispute between Canada and Newfoundland

    about the actual position of the southern boundary, Labrador was then in

    the news, comparatively little being known about this potentially rich,

    well-watered, thickly forested and undeveloped country. Even compass tra–

    verse surveys of the interior would be of value.

            Traveling to St. John's and thence by coastal steamer and motorboat,

    the party, on July 20, reached Northwest River, near the head of Lake

    Melville, a tidal lake. (The settlement at Northwest River, one of the largest

    in this region, is described separately. Goose Bay, as the head of Lake

    Melville is called, is the site of the important air field established during

    World War II and maintained thereafter.) Five days later the first survey

    journey began. The intention was to travel by canoe to the headwaters of

    the Hamilton River, which empties into Goose Bay, there to explore the

    complicated system of lakes and short-cut rivers, which include "Unknown"

    River and Valley River, and about which the information was then confused

    and incomplete.

    005      |      Vol_XV-0874                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            The first attempt was a failure. After a fortnight of paddling,

    towing, and portaging up a flooded river, Robert Michelin, the trapper who

    accompanied the party, backed his foote with an axe while splitting fire–

    wood. Since it was impossible to leave him alone and unsatisfactory to

    divide the small party, Watkins decided to return at once to the base and

    postpone the Unknown River journey until the winter. He realized that it

    would be impossible to carry on sledges the same quantity of provisions

    that could be taken in a canoe, and the journey, of course, would be of

    the same length - about 500 miles - so haste and hardship were bound to

    result. But in the circumstances he had no choice. After the return to

    Northwest River settlement the season was too advanced for another attempt

    at ascending the Hamilton by water.

            By August 20 August Michelin's foot was sufficiently recovered for him

    to travel by canoe. With him and a second trapper, Douglas Best, the party

    set off up the Kenamu, a river which promised to be much shorter than the

    Hamilton and which flows into Lake Melville from the south. The intention

    was to explore the river to its head and thence follow a different unmapped–

    country route back to the base.

            This was done. The Kenamu was a sluggish stream for the first thirty

    miles, but among the Mealy Mountains it was an almost continuous series of

    rapids until the plateau lakes were reached. These, a series of lakes connected

    by short stretches of rivers so that on a map they look like a string of

    sau s ges, were later found to be typical of the Labrador marshes.

            So great is the amount of water contained in those plateau marshes,

    where lakes and meandering streams abound in a maze-like profusion, that it

    would probably always be difficult to recognize the actual source of a

    Labrador river. (Where, for example is the exact "source" of water which drips

    from a sponge?) When the [k?] K enamu, in its recognizable stretches between

    006      |      Vol_XV-0875                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    lakes, became narrow enough to jump across (and much too shallow to canoe

    [ ?] along) the party made a portage northeastward, using whatever swamp

    lakes they found in their path, until they found themselves on a stream

    with a recognizable current flowing in the general direction of Lake Melville.

    This, they hoped, might very likely be the Traverspine River, which would

    lead them back to the base, for after a month of wet and arduous travel their

    soluble foodstuffs had been reduced by frequent immersions almost as much as

    by appetite.

            The reader, if he has had an opportunity of examining the recent air

    photographs of this district or the map drawn from them, may wonder why the

    party was ever in doubt which way to go. He would realize in a moment if

    he could be transported to the Labrador backwoods. It is all lakes and forests

    of black spruce trees. The country is flat and it is generally impossible

    to see more than a hundred yards in any direction — except by climbing a tree,

    and then one is rewarded only by a view of an infinite number of similar trees

    and a weary waste of shapeless smudges of water. Rarely is there any helpful

    landmark. The only way to survey such a country effectively is by air photo–

    graphs with ground control. This expedition made a compass traverse controlled

    by theodolite observations of sun and stars, but they could not afford the air

    survey which wartime values have since made practicable.

            The descent river, all rapids until five miles before its end, proved

    to be the Traverspine, and a running survey was made of this also. Then

    followed the transitional autumn season when Leslie went home and Watkins

    and Scott made a plane-table survey of Grand Lake, the forty-mile-long expanse

    of water to the north of Northwest River settlement. They also collected dogs

    and prepared for sledge as opposed to canoe travel.

    007      |      Vol_XV-0876                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            Watkin's next plan, as soon as winter conditions prevailed, was to

    travel northeastward to Hopedale, on the Atlantic coast of Labrador. The

    route lay up Grand Lake and thence by Indian portage routes to Seal Lake,

    which Wallace had reached in the summer of 1905. From Seal Lake onward

    any major features such as lakes or rivers were generally shown on the maps,

    if they were shown at all, by dotted lines, until the coast was approached.

    There was, in fact, plenty of useful work to be done.

            The journey, as is usual on such Occasions, proved a great deal harder

    than was expected. And the small party, Watkins, Scott, and Michelin, haul–

    ing their three sledges in team with one or two dogs which were attached

    to each, finally reached Hopedale and its Moravian Mission, if not in a

    state of starvation, at least in one of keen appreciation of the virtue

    of Christmas feasting.

            The return journey, made at the end of December 1928 and in January 1929,

    proved harder, owing to bad weather, than the outward trip. At one stage the

    party might have been in serious straits but for the stockings full of good

    things which Watkins's romanticism had caused to be hung up in a "Christmas

    tree" during the outward journey.

            After a week at Northwest River, spent chiefly in preparation, the same

    party left with toboggan sledges and seven dogs for the headwaters of the

    Hamilton, some 250 miles away. The questions which interested them have

    since been fully answered by air survey but it may be useful to make a very

    brief statement of the problem as it then existed. The main course of Hamilton

    River was sufficiently well mapped. But at its headwaters, in the area of

    Grand Falls, it was known to flow in the form of an inverted U, Lake Ossokman–

    uan forming half of the left-hand arm of the , Grand Falls being near the

    apex. On the right-hand arm the water apparently turned southward through

    008      |      Vol_XV-0877                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    Bowdoin Canyon and formed the Hamilton proper. Former explorers, J. G. Thomas

    in 1921 and Varick Frissell in 1925, had found two rivers, the Valley and the

    Unknown, flowing into the right-hand arm of the , and each had seen a water–

    fall divided by a central rock. But these surveys had been incomplete and it

    was not known if at least one of these rivers did not cut right across from the

    left-hand arm of the , turning the figure into an A and thus [ ?] robbing

    Grand Falls of some of its water. Nor was it certain whether Thomas and Frissell

    had seen the same waterfall or two very similar waterfalls on Unknown River.

            Watkins was able to prove that Unknown River does flow out of Lake Ossok–

    manuan and short-circuits, Grand Falls. Furthermore, Unknown River itself

    divides into two branches for a stretch of some 15 miles. There is a waterfall

    on each of these branches and a third where the branches reunite. With Grand

    Falls, where there is a drop of some 300 feet, it is clear that this area is

    well supplies with water power.

            This information was obtained at the expense of four out of the seven

    dogs, dead from hunger and exhaustion, and considerable lardship to the men.

    The journey could scarcely in any case have been made without discomfort,

    but groping through the deep snow and thick woods in the Unknown River area

    was slow work. And just at this period when food was at its shortest (for

    a dump for the return journey had been left on the Hamilton), a very cold

    spell of weather was experienced, with temperatures below –40°F. A con–

    tributory cause may well have been that the dogs on this journey were fed

    in the local stype on boiled cornmeal instead of pemmican which they had

    been given on the Hopedale trip. An interesting point is that the three

    animals which survived were those with the habit of eating slowly.

            The party returned to Northwest River settlement on April 1. Watkins

    had hoped to leave the country by sledging over the height of land southward

    008      |      Vol_XV-0878                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    southward to the St. Lawrence. But the spring thaw had already started

    and the rapid rivers were no longer possible roads. So, after collecting

    fresh dogs, he and Scott sledged down Lake Melville to the Atlantic coast,

    thence southward to Battle Harbour and southwestward to Forteau. They

    were ferried across the Strait of Belle Isle and reached England via Fort

    Aux Basques, Quebec, and New York.

            A remarkable aspect of Watkin's character was that, in spit of his

    capacity for enjoying idleness or frivolity when there was no work to be

    done, he was fiercely apposed to wasting a day - a certainly would not

    waste a season - which might be spent in exploration. While sledging out of

    Labrador he had already roughed out and discussed with Scott the plans for

    his next enterprise. His interest was in the Great Circle air route between

    Canada and Europe, via Greenland. After the experience gained in Edge Island

    and Labrador he felt capable of making a base in East Greenland and exploring

    that least-known part of the Great Circle route.


    British Arctic Air Route Expedition

            Returned to England, as soon as the results of the Labrador expedition

    had been wo rked out, Watkins published his plans for the following year.

    He estimated that about £ 12,000 would be required, a far larger sum than his

    previous expedition had cost. This was largely because he intended to take

    two airplanes, Labrador having impressed on him that air survey was essential.

    Also, since a lot of icecap travel would be included in the program, rations,

    clothing, and equipment would have to be of the very best.

            Watkins soon proved that, in spite of his youth (he was now twenty-one

    years old), he was quite capable of gaining the confidence of financiers as

    well as of scientists. A Committee was formed consisting of Stephen Courtauld

    009      |      Vol_XV-0879                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    (Chairman); A Courtauld (Treasurer); Captain R. Rayner (Secretary); J. M.

    Wordie; A. Holt; Gino Watkins. The Prince of Wales consented to become

    President of the Committee. With such a backing Watkins's plans became

    practicable, and in due course the following party was enrolled to form

    the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-31: Gino Watkins, leader;

    J. M. Scott; Augustine Courtauld; A Stephenson, chief surveyor; Captin P.

    Lemon, radio; L. R. Wager, geologist; Flight Lt. N. H. D'Aeth, pilot;

    Quintin Riley, meteorologist; Lt. Martin Lindsay; J. R. Rymill; F.S. Chapman;

    W. E. Hampton, second pilot; Surg. Lt. E. W. Bingham doctor; Flight Lt.

    H. I. Cozens, photographer and assistant pilot.

            It was a typical party for Watkins to choose. Nearly all were under

    twenty-five years of age and only Courtauld and Scott had former northern

    experience. But all were keen, fit, mutually likeable and ready to do

    anything, unhindered by preconceived ideas. No official grading relative

    to seniority was ever made, nor is the above list an attempt at one.

            The equipment included two D.H.60 X Moth aircraft, adaptable for either

    skis or floats. The sledging tents were of the double-covering, four-pole

    pyramid type. The sledging ration was remarkable, Watkins having subordinated

    most other considerations to that of obtaining 6,000 calories per day in two

    and q quarter pounds of food. It was as follows:

    Bovril Pemmican 8 ozs.
    Maypole Margarine 8 "
    Plasmon Wholemeal biscuits 4 "
    Pea flour 2 "
    Plasmon powder (protein) 2 "
    Plasmon Oats 3 "
    Lump sugar 4 "
    Cocoa and milk powder 1 "
    Chocolate 3 "
    Malted milk 0.5 "
    35.5 ozs.

    010      |      Vol_XV-0880                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            There were also small quantities of cod-liver oil, dried yeast powder,

    concentrated lemon juice, and essential salts. The most striking feature

    of this ration was the relatively small quantity of biscuits and large

    quantity of margarine. During a week's trial in London it was found to

    be literally nauseating. But it fully proved its value for sledgers on

    the icecap, for it keep Courtauld in good health for six months. And it not

    only was good but also tasted good under those conditions.

            On July 6, 1930, the veteran polar ship Quest sailed from St. Catherine's

    dock with the British Arctic Ail Route Expedition on board. She called at

    the Faroe Islands to pick up Scott, who was waiting there with 49 huskies

    which he had bought in West Greenland. with this additional cargo she sailed

    on to Reykjavik, Iceland, and thence to East Greenland. A suitable site for

    a base was found in a fjord south of Angmagssalik, a Norwegian trapper's

    hut, brought out in sections, was erected, and [ ?] scientific work

    immediately began.

            During the next thirteen months seven main journeys were made by the

    expedition, in addition to those directly connected with the Ice Cap Weather

    Station. All journeys started from the base camp, Lat. 65° 38′ 50′ N., Long.

    38° 38′ 25′ W.

            The first journey was a topographical and geological survey of the

    coast as far north as Kangerdlugssuak Fjord, the Quest, an outboart motorboat,

    and one of the airplanes working in conjunction. All members of the expedi–

    tion with the exception of Lemon, who remained at the base, and Scott, Rymill,

    Riley, Lindsay, Bingham, who were establishing the Ice Cap Weather Station,

    took part in this journey. The topographical survey was by plane table supple–

    mented by air photographs. The highest range of mountains in Greenland,

    named the Watkins Mountains after Watkin's death, was discovered. The

    011      |      Vol_XV-0881                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    party was away from the base between August 11 and September 14.

            Second Journey . Watkins and Scott made the second journey by dog sledge.

    They accompanied the first relief party to Ice Cap Weather Station, which

    had been set up on what appeared to be highest level of that part of the

    inland ice, 8,200 feet, about 130 miles inland W.N.W. of the base. On

    October 5 they turned south intending to sledge down the crest of the ice–

    cap to the highest point of Nansen's crossing about 200 miles away. This

    journey was a failure and might have developed into something more serious

    but for the extraordinary behavior of the dogs. During the first part of

    the journey the weather was remarkably good for that late season of the

    year. Yet the dogs, two good teams of seven animals each, refused to respond

    to any form of encouragement known to the drivers. Ten miles was a good day's

    journey. So, instead of sledging at least two hundred miles southward before

    turning for home, Watkins was forced to turn after covering 95 miles from the

    Ice Cap Station.

            Immediately the weather broke. Hundred-mile-an-hour gales blowing from

    the northwest — almost at right angles to the direction of travel — lashed

    the tent and made sledging impossible except during brief intervals. Most

    fortunately, the worse the conditions became, the more the dogs recovered

    their spirit, and the party reached the base on November 11 with one day's

    food in hand. From the experience of this journey, and others too, it appears

    that September is the last month during which icecap travel is dependable.

    The third journey, an October attempt to reach Kangerdlugssuak by the icecap,

    failed for the same stormy [ ?] reason. This, with the exception of the Ice Cap

    Station journey to be described later, finished long distance travel for the


    012      |      Vol_XV-0882                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            But Watkins, whose "bible" in such matters was Stefansson's The Friendly

    did not encourage idleness during the winter. Local surveying,

    geological and meteorological work was done. Also there was some flying —

    except when both aircraft were incapacitated by storms. And a major pre–

    occupation was hunting to provide fresh meat for the men and essential food

    for the growing complement of dogs. Watkins studied the Eskimo methods of

    seal hunting, both at this time and when open water came, with critical care.

    He had a number of future exploratory plans in mind, the success of which

    would depend upon his hunting skill.

            A word may usefully be said here about the social life at the base.

    There was a complete absence of formal discipline and routine, but a lively

    spirit of rivalry in endeavor and emulation of the leader's achievements.

    Watkins never depended on any artificial symbols of authority. He was "Gino"

    to everyone. Leading a primitive existence, he maintained his authority only

    by demonstrating his superiority in appreciation of scientific values, hunting,

    enruance, travel, luck, and everything else which affected the party's life

    and success.

            Icecap Journeys. In the early spring the "shooting party" atmosphere

    at the base was disturbed by the first failure to relieve the one-man garrison

    at the Ice Cap Station. The story of that weather observation post may now

    conveniently be told. The purpose was to obtain a regular series of meteo–

    rological observations from the highest part of the icecap which would make

    a parallel to those obtained on the coast. Scott's party had built the

    Station at the end of August. It consisted of a beehive-shaped tent, nine

    feet in height with double canvas [ ?] walls and a tunnel as means of entrance.

    It was first occupied by Lindsay and Riley. They were relieved by Bingham

    and D'Aeth, who traveled in with Watkins, at the beginning of Journey No. 2,

    013      |      Vol_XV-0883                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    already described. It was intended that they in their turn would be relieved

    by a third couple after six to eight weeks. But it happened that the November

    relief under Chapman suffered appalling weather, and the party were conse–

    quently so much delayed that they ate up en route a large proportion of the

    food intended for the wintering party at the Station. This forced a decision

    as to whether to abandon the Station or garrison it with one man. Augustine

    Courtauld volunteered to remain alone rather than interrupt the important

    series of observations. On December 6 he was left at the Station with enough

    food to last him, by careful rationing, until the beginning of May. During

    the winter two or three flights were made to drop extra supplies, but the

    Station could not be located, for reasons which will later be apparent.

    And then both aircraft were knocked out by storms.

            On March 8, after two false starts, Scott, Riley, and Lindsay managed

    to get beyond the rough coastal area and started a relief journey. They

    suffered extremely severe weather — high winds accompanied by low tempera–

    tures — and when at last they reached the area of the Station they were held

    up by a six-day blizzard which so corrugated the surface of the icecap that

    visibility was difficult even during the brief clear spells which succeeded

    the storm. Finally, faced by the probability of losing all their dogs (they

    had already killed two for food) they ran for the base, which they reached

    after spending forty days on the icecap.

            The date was then April 17. There was still time for a second party to

    reach Courtauld by the beginning of May, a fact which had influenced Scott's

    decision to return when he did. But his failure to see any sign of the

    Station — even allowing for drifting snow which had reduced visibility and

    probably made sun observations inaccurate — caused many people a good deal

    of alarm.

    013      |      Vol_XV-0884                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            Watkins, however, refused to be worried. With complete calm, yet

    unresting energy, he made his preparations and set off with Rymill and

    Chapman, leaving instructions that any outside rescue attempts were to be

    firmly discouraged. His now proverbial luck — perhaps the most valuable

    quality that any leader can possess — stood him in good stead, and the

    weather radically improved. But as a serious contribution to Courtauld's

    safety (besides his own remarkable self-sufficiency) one must also remember

    the excellend of the ration and the strength and suitability of the tent

    and other equipment which Watkins had designed. "Luck" generally depends

    upon a practical foundation.

            On May 5 Watkins reached the position of the Ice Cap Station. The tent

    was entirely buried, with the two-inch-wide ventilating tube only just pro–

    jecting. Courtauld, however, was in excellent health and spirits after his

    lonely five months' vigil and the party returned to the base to start prepa–

    rations for the final journeys. (Courtauld's experiences are described


            Fourth Journey . Stephenson, Wager, and Bingham left the base by sledge

    for Mount Forel, in the Watkins Mountains, on May 6 and returned on May 26,

    having surveyed this mountainous area and climbed within 700 feet of the summit.

    (Mount Forel, the second highest peak in Greenland rises to 11,023 feet.)

            Fifth Journey. On July 1, Scott, Stephenson and Lindsay left the base

    by dog sledge for Ivigtut on the southern part of the west coast of Greenland,

    448 miles away. They arrived on July 29 after a fast and comfortable journey

    southwestward across the icecap, during which they had kept up a sledging

    average of nearly seventeen miles a day. Traveling was done at night, some–

    times using sails on the sledges. Apart from a mist of snow crystals which

    formed almost every night, the weather was good. The highest altitude of the

    014      |      Vol_XV-0885                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    icecap recorded was 9,200 feet.

            Sixth Journey. Rymill and Hampton sledged from the base northwestward across

    the icecap to Holsteinsborg, on the west coast of Greenland. They left on

    August 12, each carrying a kayak on his sledge. The first part of the journey

    was rapid, but as the western edge of the icecap was approached they were

    seriously delayed by rough ice, slush and numerous thaw channels. Among the

    rivers and deep fjords of the coastal sretch, where they used their kayaks,

    they were delayed by ice. They finally reached Holsteinsborg on October 20.

            Seventh Journey . On August 15, Watkins, Courtauld, and Lemon left the

    base for an open-boat journey round the southern tip of Greenland to Manor–

    talik, six hundred miles away. Their equipment consisted of two outboard

    motoboats with 4 h.p. Johnson seahorse engines, three kayaks, emergency

    sledges, and hunting instruments. Their arrival was announced in a message

    from Julianehaab the next settlement up the coast, on October 9.

            The journey started well and the surveying program, which was to map

    the coast as far south as Umivik, was completed by September 1, the men

    working daily from dawn till dusk. Thereafter trouble of all sorts dogged

    them, principally bad weather and eingine trouble. Puisortok, a glacier

    feared by the Eskimos from its havit of calving under water, hold them up

    for many days. The final near disaster was of a semicomical nature. By

    radio it had been arranged with the Danish authorities on the west coast

    to leave a dump of "patrol" (gasoline) at Augpilagtok. This was done —

    except that the fuel left was paraffin, (Danish petrolium , American kerosens).

    The party managed, however, to complete the journey successfully. One aspect

    of this venture was that only a little oatmeal and sugar was carried. Watkins

    kept the party in food by hunting from his kayak.

    015      |      Vol_XV-0886                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            Thus the B.A.A.R.E. finished with a sort of explosion which carried

    half its members across Greenland on three pioneer journeys. These parties

    found their way back to England individually.

            Many months elapsed before the members of the original expedition

    were able to piece together the entire story and exchange accounts of their

    adventures which, in the case of Watkins and Courtauld and of Rymill and

    Hampton, were epic. D'Aeth, Bingham, Cozens, Riley, Wager and Chapman returned

    to England via Copenhagen in comparative comfort on the Gertrude Rask, which

    sailed from Angmagssalik on August 9, reaching Copenhagen early in September.

    Scott, Stephenson, and Lindsay left Greenland later, sailing from Ivigtut

    aboard a cargo vessel at the end of August. Watkins and Courtauld had com–

    pleted their journey and were waiting with some anxiety for Rymill and

    Hampton at Sukkertoppen, where they received the news by radio that the latter

    had safely arrived at Holsteinsborg and immediately set out to rejoin them.

    But that was in October; and the four men — Lemon had dropped out at

    Julianehaab to go directly home to his military duties — did not reach

    England until the end of November 1931, for they sailed on the Hans Egede ,

    the last boat of the year. Once they had arrived in Copenhagen (November 12)

    a series of important official receptions of course delayed the return of

    the arctic heros to their native land.

            Watkins, as usual, had been looking well ahead and the next project

    seriously discussed in England was a crossing by dog sledge of the Antarctic

    Continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. But before he could give

    much time and attention to this project he had, of course, to wind up the

    last expedition, arrange for the preparation and publication of the results,

    and give his lecture to the Royal Geographical Society.

    016      |      Vol_XV-0887                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            The work of the B.A.A.R.E. was applauded. Watkins was honored by the

    geographical societies of England, Scotland, Denmark; he was received by

    the King, the Prince of Wales, and the King of Denmark; and the whole

    expedition was awarded the Polar Medal with Arctic Clasp, an honor which

    had not been given for half a century. As a further claim upon his time,

    watkins was giving public lectures all over the country to pay off the degt

    of the B.A.A.R.E., and was as well flying with the R.A.F. Reserve.

            When he was able to turn his attention to his Antarctic plans he

    found considerable interest and encouragement in official quarters —

    but very little money. England had gone off the gold standard, the economic

    depression was paralyzing all enterprise. Watkins proposed to dut down his

    party from eight to four men and employed considerable ingenuity to reduce

    his estime to £ 13,000. The Discovery Committee in May offered between £ 3,000

    and £ 4,000 toward this sum. But the finding of the balance would remain

    Watkins's responsibility, and give he would have no time for money hunting

    if he was to organize and launch an expedition within the next few months.

            Immediately following this Committee meeting, Watkins took a quick

    decision. If he persisted in attempts to launch an Antarctic expedition,

    it was very probable that he would have to postpone it for a year and so

    miss a season of exploration. On the other hand, there was still just time

    enough to prepare a small expedition to East Greenland, there to continue

    work upon the arctic air route. By depending on hunting he could save the

    expense of buying food and thus run the whole expedition for about £ 1,000.

    It was a certainty. He chose it. The Antarctic must wait.

            British Arctic Air Route - American Airways Expedition

            His party would consist of Rymill - who was destine to prove himself upon

    this expedition - Riley, and Chapman. They would live in a beehive tent in

    017      |      Vol_XV-0888                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

    Lake Fjord, the Y-shaped bay in latitude 66° 17′ N. from which he and

    D'Aeth had done most of their survey flying during the summer of 1930.

    It was a convenient seaplane base because there was a freshwater lake

    above the head of the fjord. The cost would be covered by the Royal

    Geographical Society, Pan American Airways Company, and a publishing house.

    He had a little more than a month to make all the preparations. During

    this period he became engaged to Margaret Graham. Exactly eleven days

    later, the original plans had to be revised, for on August 20, Gino Watkins

    was drowned.

            Watkins met his death while hunting in his kayak in the northern part

    of the fjord, which is headed by a glacier. Expert in the handling of a kayak,

    Watkins had nevertheless previously had some narrow escapes while fishing,

    hunting, or harpooning [ ?] from the light and easily capsized boat so much

    used in those waters. In fact, only a few days before the fatal accident,

    while harpooning seals on an ice floe, he had come close to death. Upon

    that occasion a piece of the glacier broke off, fell into the water, and

    the resultant wave crashed him against a cliff and capsized his kayak to which

    he had tied himself with a piece of towline. It is thought that something

    similar may have happened on the 20th. All that is known is that on that

    day he did not return. And when Rymill and Chapman set out by motorboat

    to explore the site, pieces of glacier were breaking off and it was only

    after much searching that they saw indications of their missing comrad e :

    Watkins's kayak floating upside down, and, 200 yards from the face of the

    glacier, the dead man;s sodden belt and trousers on a small ice floe. It

    is supposed that, having capsized, Watkins had tried to disengage himself

    from the kayak and his encumbering clothes to swim to shore through the

    ice waters. His body was never recovered.

    018      |      Vol_XV-0889                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: Gino Watkins

            Gino Watkins is remembered not only for the achievements of his

    expeditions but for his quality as a leader and the inspiration with which

    he inspired his followers. His youth, age, and manner, his unconventional

    methods, and his wonderful capacity for endurance, both mental and physical,

    made him not only an inspiring commander but a real friend of all who worked

    with him.

            He showed that useful scientific work can be done in the Arctic (when

    the necessary instruments are lent) for very little cost. He followed

    Stefansson's principle of living off the country and proved that a European

    can quickly and easily become at least as good a kayak hunter as the Eskimo.

    He brought the spirit of sport to exploration, thereby increasing rather

    than otherwise the hard work that was done. He demonstrated [ ?] anew that

    the best leader of a scientific party is not necessarily himself a specialist,

    in fact, that a man of general interests may better coordinate the work of

    specialists, keep them contented, and get the most out of them.


    J. M. Scott. Gino Watkins, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1935.

    ----. The Land That God Gave Cain, Chatto and Windus, London, 1935.

    E. S. Champman & Others. Northern Lights , Chatto and Windus, London, 1934.

    Martin Lindsay. Those Greenland Days, Blackwood, London and Edinburgh, 1938.

    Royal Geographical Society Journal - Vol. 72, n.2 Aug. 1928.

    " " " " " 75, n.2 Feb. 1930.

    " " " " " 79, n.5 May 1932

    " " " " " 79, n.6 June 1932.

    " " " " " 80, n.1 July 1932.

    " " " " " 83, n.5 May 1934.


    J. M. Scott

    Back to top