In 1914 the explorer Ernest Shackleton led an expedition to the Antartctic. On board the ship Endurance was a crew member with a Blackburn connection. His name was Alfred Buchanan Cheetham.
If there was a seaman worthy of the title “Antarctic Seaman” then it must surely apply to Alf Cheetham.
Shackleton writes of Cheetham….. ‘Cheetham the veteran of the Antarctic had been more often south than any other man’
Alfred Cheetham was born in 1867 in Liverpool. He was a small, lean man and was well known for his cheerfulness. He married a woman named Eliza Sawyer from Hull in Yorkshire. They moved to Hull in Yorkshire and had 13 children. Alf died on the 22nd August 1918 at sea.
Alfred was the son of John Cheetham who was born in 1835. He was from Blackburn and was a railway clerk. Alfred’s grandfather was a school master. Alfred’s mother Anne Elizabeth Cheetham was born in 1832 and she was from Brampton Cumberland. The family left Blackburn between 1861 and 1866. In 1871 they were in Liverpool and by 1881 they were in Hull.
Alfred ran away to sea as a teenager working on the fishing fleets of the North Sea and further afield.
Alf made his first visit to the Antarctic on the relief ship Morning during the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904. He returned with the Terra Nova Expedition, he served as a boatswain, and volunteered for the search party that was to look for Scott’s party, but he was turned down as he was a family man.
Then he travelled again to the Antarctic under the command of Ernest Shackleton on the Nimrod Expedition. He was third officer and boatswain.
By the time of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914, when he was 47, Cheetham was the crew member with the most experience of the Antarctic, having spent almost 6 years in the seas around the continent.
Chronology of the expedition of the Endurance
• On the 4th August 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out from Southend-on-sea, England on a daring expedition. His goal: the first crossing of the Antarctic continent.
• Cheetham was serving as third officer. After crossing the southern ocean Endurance arrived at south Georgia on 5th November 1914
• After loading supplies of food, coal and winter clothing, Endurance steamed form the Cumberland Bay on the 5th December 1914 bound for the Weddell Sea.
• The next day the ship was surrounded by large bergs. So it would be, with few exceptions, for the next several weeks, until January 19th, 1915, when Shackleton and his men found themselves within sight of their goal- and due to the gale they had just weathered in the lee of a berg, locked immovably in ice.
• Hurley finally admitted the obvious on January 28th, noting that a fall in temperature had caused what open water remained around the ship to go completely solid.
• Their last hope of breakout came on the 14th February, the eve of Shackleton’s 41st birthday, when an opening in the ice 300 yards ahead gave hope.
• They only managed to get around 300ft.
• On February 24th Shackleton ordered everyone to help turn the ship into a winter station.
• There they spent the lonely Antarctic winter were the sun never rose above the horizon.
• Midwinter’s Day June 22nd, which heralded the return of the sun, deserved celebration and was observed as a special holiday with generous meals fashioned from special treats. Following a grand dinner, a “smoking concert” was held on stage built by Hurley.
Cheetham in the middle, helping to wash the lino on the ship.
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• As the days lengthened and breakout seemed imminent, the ice tightened its grip. The ship endured repeated nights of heavy pressure, the floor of the Ritz buckling while Cheetham and the others, unable to sleep, lay in their bunks anticipating the ship being crushed as the wood between their cubicles cracked, groaned, and sometimes splinted. Topside, they occasionally found it difficult to perform their duties as the ship would sometimes contort like a bow, leaving ominous voids in the deck while the wood groaned and fractured around them.
• At midnight on the 15th October, a thunderous crack compelled all hands to rush up on the slushy deck where, gazing out, they observed a widening fissure expanding through the ice. Settling into the water, the ship was suddenly free for the first time since the 15th February.
• A sail was raised and Endurance actually sailed- for a scant 100 yards (91 metres) - before coming to a rest in a narrow lead surrounded by large, menacing floes which, they knew, would eventually come together.
• On 26th October, extremely heavy pressure once more assailed the ship, opening planking beneath the men’s feet. Shackleton immediately ordered sledges, lifeboats, and emergency stores lowered onto the ice and to move away from imminent harm.
Some of the sledge dog puppies
• The next day the ship was too dangerous to live on so they had to abandon her.
• Shackleton called his men together. In a speech often portrayed as his most inspiring address, one that asked the men to put aside their individual difficulties to achieve the impossible for all, he informed them of his plan to march 300 miles (480 km) across the ice to Snow Hill where he knew there was a supply of stores. He then reached into his pocket and discarded some items including a gold watch and a cigarette case, ordering the men to do likewise.
• On the 21st November, at 5pm, as the men were resting in their sleeping bags, Shackleton noticed a movement in the wreck. Calling out, he alerted the men who ran quickly from their tents to the highest vantage points available. In 5 minutes the stern of the endurance rose critically in the air and then dove forever beneath the ice.
• After moving camp back a few miles ‘Mark Time Camp,’ later to become ‘Patience Camp,’ was established at the dawn of 1916. And here they sat, cold, bored, increasingly agitated, and hungry for three months waiting for the ice to open.
• It was on the 30th March when the floe cracked in half. Then finally on Sunday the 9th April 1916, after 156 days on the ice, their small floe split again and they took to the boats.
• There were three boats, the James Caird, Dudley Docker, and the Stancomb-Wills. Cheetham was on the Dudley Docker with Worsley, Greenstreet, Kerr, Orde-lees, Macklin, Marston, McLeod and Holness.
• During the next five horrid days, hungry, delirious with thirst, frozen to the core, and unable to sleep, they battled high waves, freezing temperatures, pack-ice, diarrhoea, and seasickness in ice-encased boats and clothing.
• But finally they sighted Elephant Island 30 miles off at dawn on April 14th. They toiled at the oars for hours, approaching to within 10 miles. But here, nearly landed, they were gripped by an offshore current that forced the boats to remain at sea one remaining night- in a blizzard during which the Dudley Docker disappeared from sight and was thought lost. The Caird and the Wills landed on Elephant Island on 15th April just in time. Several men were near death. Then the Docker hove in sight. All were saved!
• After setting up camp, they waited for an opening to appear so that Shackleton could go get help. On Easter Monday on the 24th April an opening in the ice appeared. When the Caird was ready Shackleton came ashore had a cigarette with Worsley then wished the men good-bye and was rowed out to the Caird for the last time.
• Shackleton and his crew endured 17 hellish days at sea, bitterly cold, wet to the core, their boat pitching, rolling and jerking heavily with massive waves breaking over her at all hours.
• All hope of rescue had been surrendered on Elephant Island. On 28th April, a hut was fashioned by overturning the Wills and Docker atop two 4 ft-high stone walls, 18ft apart.
• Then 5 months later after another bitterly cold winter and scarce food Marston came charging up the path shouting ‘Ship-O’ again and again.
• Hurley gathered up some paraffin and a handful of sennegrass. When he struck the match the resulting explosion thundered across the water like a cannon’s roar. The Yelcho signalled her response, and a boat was lowered. Shackleton landed, throwing cigarettes and tobacco at their feet. Like giddy school children they cheered his arrival. In less than an hour, they were gone. That night, aboard Yelcho, flung from side to side like a cork on the wide ocean’s waves, all were raving seasick- hysterically happy.
• Amazingly not one person died from the trip.
• Cheetham was awarded the Silver Polar Medal (Clasp Only).
After the expedition Alfred returned to Hull only to learn that one of his sons, William Alfred Cheetham aged just 16, had lost his life at sea, presumed drowned whilst serving on the S.S Adriatic on the 31st October 1916.
Alfred then enlisted in the Mercantile Marine and was serving as second officer on the S.S Prunelle.
Unfortunately he was to have the same fate as his son, when on the 22nd August he was killed when his ship was torpedoed 2 miles from Blyth by a German U-Boat (UB 112, commanded by Wilhelm Rhein). He was aged 51 at the time. Twelve lives were lost including Cheetham's.
Cheetham has no known grave, but you can find him on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.
The Commonwealth War Graves has this citation for Alfred Cheetham:
Name: CHEETHAM, ALFRED BUCHANAN
Initials: A B
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Officer
Regiment/Service: Mercantile Marine
Unit Text: S.S. "Prunelle" (London)
Date of Death: 22/08/1918
Additional information: Son of the late John F. and Annie Elizabeth Cheetham; husband of Eliza Cheetham (nee Sawyer), of 40, Bean St., Hull. Born at Hull.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Memorial: TOWER HILL MEMORIAL
There are two landmarks named after Cheetham:
• Feature name: Cheetham Ice Tongue
• Feature type: Glacier
• Latitude: 7545S
• Longitude: 16255E
• Description: A small ice tongue on the E coast of Victoria Land between Lamplugh Island and Whitmer Peninsula. It projects eastward into Ross Sea. The tongue appears to be nourished in part by Davis Glacier and partly by ice draining from Lamplugh Island and Whitmer Peninsula. First charted by the BrAE, 1907-09, under Shackleton-Nimrod Expedition• Variant Name(s)- Cheetham Glacier Tongue, Cheetham Ice Barrier Tongue
• Feature name: Cape Cheetham
• Feature type: Cape
• Latitude: 7018S
• Longitude: 16242E
• Description: An ice-covered cape forming the NE extremity of Stuhlinger Ice Piedmont. First charted by members of the BrAE, 1910-13, who explored this coast in the location assigned on the maps of the ANARE (Thala Dan), 1962.
Quotes about Cheetham taken from Ernest Shackleton’s book South
‘In the afternoon we see 5 emperors in the western lead and capture one. Kerr and Cheetham fight a valiant action with 2 large birds. Kerr rushes at one, seizes it, and is promptly knocked down by the angered penguin, which jumps on his chest before retiring. Cheetham comes to Kerr’s assistance; and between them they seize another penguin, bind his bill and lead him, muttering muffled protests, to the ship like an inebriated old man between two policemen. He weighs 85lbs., or 5lbs less than the heaviest emperor captured previously. Kerr and Cheetham insist that he is nothing to the big fellow who escaped them.”
“McLeod and Cheetham were two good sailors and oars, the former a typical old deep-sea salt and growler, the latter a pirate to his finger-tips. In the height of the gale that night Cheetham was buying matches from me for bottles of champagne, one bottle per match (too cheap; I should have charged him two bottles). The champagne is to be paid when he opens his pub in Hull and I am able to call that way.” Unfortunately the debt was never repaid."
By Alexandra Griffiths of Moorland School, Darwen, whilst on work experience at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery.
All pictures by kind permission of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
Prior to 1900, John had spent ten years in research and with excavations at several Roman sites in Britain – especially at Ribchester, Melandra Castle in Derbyshire, (believed to be the sister fort to that of Manchester), Richborough and Brough. In 1899 he went to Abydos in Egypt to work with Professor Flinders Petrie, acknowledged to be the greatest Egyptologist of the time. Petrie mentions his new assistant in letters home to his wife Hilda. John was considered a pioneer in the use of scientific practices in archaeology and kept detailed records with extensive photographic records. He was now a reader in the archaeological department of Liverpool University. At Abydos, royal tombs of the third dynasty were discovered by John with significant relics – gold work, engraved ivories, the toilet objects of Menes, (the founder of the monarchy), fashioned more than 6,500 years ago. It is interesting to learn that these and other finds were in places where the Nile had not flooded the land. The flooding happened annually and although it gave fertility to the area it also destroyed many of the ancient cities. John Garstang was held in great esteem not only by other eminent Egyptologists but also by the Egyptian workers because of his knowledge of their country and people - on some digs there could be as many as 500 local workers. Liverpool University sent out students to study with John Garstang in the field. In November 1902, John was in the Sudan at the site of Meroe the Ethiopian capital where the Ethiopian kings were crowned and where there were many temples.
In 1903, John Garstang gave a number of lectures, including one at Blackburn Town Hall, explaining his theory of the origin of the Sphinx and the possible similarities of the Hittites and the Etruscans. This was illustrated by many slides – some, of the interiors of the tombs, and for the benefit of those interested in photography, he told how the sun and a biscuit tin had been used to provide the necessary light as the batteries were inadequate.
In 1904, an expedition was made to Upper Egypt between Edfu and Esna and after an extensive season many antiquities were sent to England as part of the annual exhibition of antiquities discovered, and displayed in the Institute of Archaeology of Liverpool University – this annual exhibition was usually held in London at Burlington House. 1904 was also the year a book was published by John Garstang and Percy E. Newbury – a short history of ancient Egypt. The critics remarked that every statement was substantiated by some fact and that the evidence of archaeology was preferred to the traditions of historians. Two years work had now been completed at the sites of Beni Hasan and Negadeh in upper Egypt. A phase of Egyptian civilisation before BC2000 had been revealed and a thousand photographs of the interiors of funeral chambers and their contents had been recorded.
In January 1907, John Garstang was elected to the Chair of the Methods and Practices of Archaeology, recently established by Sir John Brunner and Mr. John Rankin, in recognition of his service in research. This allowed John to spend a portion of each year in exploration and research. In July 1907, Lord Derby, the Chancellor of Liverpool University, opened the exhibition of antiquities at the William Brown Museum - it was the second annual exhibition and the researches had been most fruitful. Mr. Garstang was most appreciative of the support of the municipal authorities of Liverpool. In the Autumn, Professor Garstang spent four months in exploration in Asia Minor and Northern Syria. There was reason to hope that the long contested problem of the Hittites might be solved and it would demonstrate the important role the Hittites played in the history of the world in their day. They were of mixed race and Professor Garstang suggests that the origin of the present Turkish crescent might be found in the rosette depicted in one of the palaces. The Turks treating this as an heirloom of this ancient people whose land they took.
Professor John Garstang in 1912
The following season John Garstang was in the Soudan (Sudan) at the site of the ancient city of Meroe, the Ethiopian capital. The temple of Amon where the kings were crowned was unearthed within the city along with other temples both inside and outside the city. A number of bronze objects, stone carvings and two ancient pottery vases filled with gold nuggets were found - one vase also contained four jewels. There was great excitement about these finds and the gold was twenty two and a half carats valued at about £1000. Surprisingly, Professor Garstang found time to publish details of his latest discoveries and the burial customs of ancient Egypt. In 1914, John accepted an invitation from the Government of Sudan to be their Honorary Advisor to the Services of Antiquities of Sudan.
During the war he was on voluntary service as a liaison officer in France. In 1919, John Garstang was appointed Director of the permanent British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem, set up with the cordial support of the British Foreign Office. Since the armistice, he had been in charge of excavations in Palestine including those at the Crusader city of Ascalon, one of the five chief cities of the Philistines and birthplace of Herod the Great. The city was captured by Saladin and Richard the 1st and its name survives in current speech through its derivation shallot which were grown outside the city walls. John visited Blackburn and lectured on his work in Palestine early in 1922. Professor Garstang had become one of the greatest living authorities on Palestine adding to our biblical knowledge of the Holy Land.
1 Model of Rowing Boat of Twenty Oars,
2 Wooden Votive Model. Seven Figures Engaged in Beer Making
3 String And Bead Dolls
He was also most concerned about the Jewish colonisation leading to the Arab fear of being outnumbered. He suggested a suspension of Jewish immigration whilst a Royal Commission held an enquiry which would halt the present troubles. In 1936, he began his last dig in Turkey where he worked for five seasons and excavated Yumuk Tepe, near Mersin. He returned to Turkey after the war and finished the excavations. He published his results definitively in the volume “Prehistoric Mersin”. In 1948 he founded the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankora acting as its first director – Seeton Lloyd followed him. His work on three continents made him a specialist in all aspects, being able to divine which ancient site really mattered. He wrote a great deal, lectured widely and never shied from publicity. This exposed him, on occasions, to be severely judged for his techniques but, however imperfect, he certainly got results of great importance to the archaeologist and the historian. Liverpool gained an international reputation for archaeological research. Over the years, John wrote about 18 books and his archaeological knowledge of biblical lands was used to explain some parts of the bible. John’s hobbies were music, golf, fly fishing and, apparently, he created a golf course in the desert on one of his expeditions.
Professor John Garstang in 1956
John married French archaeologist, Marie Louise Berges, in 1907. Over the years Marie travelled extensively with him. Whilst in England, they lived in Formby near Liverpool where she died in 1949. John died some years later, in Beirut, on the return journey from a holiday cruise. It was 1956 and he was eighty years old. Their only child John Berges Garstang died in 1965 aged 57. It appears that there is a blue plaque on the house of his birth in Shear Bank Rd.
Written and compiled by Community History Volunteer, Janet Burke, February 2019.
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