Perito Moreno - William Bruce two patriots - one world
Scottish National Antarctic Expedition
1902 - 1904
This is a story of a success. It is also the story of two patriots - the Scottish scientist William Bruce and the Argentinian scientist Dr Francisco Pascasio Moreno (Perito Moreno), of their abilities, experiences, vision and determination, and of the respect they showed for scientific explorers of whatever country. It is this spirit, 100 years later, that Ciencias y Artes Patagonia presents this exhibition.
On 2 December 1903 an anxious William Bruce arrives in the Malvinas (Falkland Isles). He is leading an already highly successful scientific expedition which has wintered on the lonely Laurie Island of South Orkneys on the edge of Antarctica. He has left 6 men on the island in order that meteorological, magnetic and biological observations can continue. He plans to pick the men up when he goes south again for further oceanographic studies before returning to Scotland.
But he needs provisions, and his ship the Scotia needs to be serviced and restocked with coal. He is hoping that the news of his success will encourage financial help from home, to enable him to continue his work, or at the very least, allow him to pick up the men he has left. Unfortunately, the news is not good.
The British government continues to show little interest in his expedition. It is even planning to permanently close the mountain observatory in Scotland where he had gained valuable experience before sailing south. The price of coal in the islands is also much higher than he had anticipated. The brief Antarctic summer will soon be over. Time is short. He decides to head for Buenos Aires, via Montevideo, and seek help from Argentina.
How fortunes change! In spite of a dock strike and the great heat, the kindness shown in Buenos Aires will remain with him always. Amazingly within two weeks, and at the height of the holiday period his problems are solved. The costs of servicing the ship in dry-dock and replenishing it with coal will be found.
On the 21 of January the Scotia leaves Buenos Aires. There are now an additional three Argentinian scientists on board. On the 13 February they reach Laurie island.
Vital maintenance of the buildings is soon undertaken. Letters and envelopes are franked with an Antarctic postmark for the first time. Photographs are taken with the Scottish, the UK and Argentine flags flying.
On the 22 February the Scotia leaves. Before another austral winter begins, more valuable oceanographic observations will be made in the polar seas. In July the Scotia, will eventually arrive back in Scotland, safe and well. It will have been the most economical and many say the most scientifically successful Antarctic expedition of the period.
Back on Laurie island, two Scots have remained with the three Argentinian scientists. Together they will carry on the scientific studies through a very very bleak winter. The following summer they will be relieved by the illustrious Corbeta Uruguay. Argentine scientific studies and Argentine international scientific co-operation in the great white continent have begun.
The Bariloche Documents
But what actually happened in those critical two weeks in Buenos Aires?
Until recently few polar scientists, even in Argentina, knew of these documents.
Of particular relevance is an original letter by Bruce written from Montevideo, dated 14 December, seeking help from Moreno when he arrives in Buenos Aires.
Other letters and cuttings provide further fascinating examples of the extraordinary qualities of Moreno, of his understanding of the power of the press and of the importance of international cooperation. They illustrate too his vision and determination both so important in establishing his beloved country´s permanent presence in the region. (He had already been a key player in the Argentine rescue of the stranded Swedish Antarctic Expedition and was now planning the setting up of the first Post Office in Antarctica).
But perhaps the most striking item in the Archives is a message of only seven words: "Bruce Antarctica Portobello Scotia sailed Love Willie".
Presumably the message is to Bruce’s wife Jessie in Portobello, Edinburgh. It is written on Antarctic Expedition Scotia notepaper, headed with the blue and white Scottish Flag superimposed with the expedition initials SNAE. An attached receipt indicates that Bruce had arranged for it to be sent back to Scotland, in the form of a telegram, as his ship, restocked and refurbished, left Buenos Aires. As the telegram is now in the Bariloche Archives it seems likely that it was sent through Moreno - a dedicated international scientist as well as a patriot, helpful to the last.
"Dr. Moreno... As President of the Sociedad de Bellas Artes he placed the Argentine Republic in a leading position among the advocates of research in Natural History and Archaeology, .. His patriotic labours in advocating the Argentinan view of the great boundary question resulted in a formidable work of many volumes splendidly illustrated ... his outlook was essentially that of a man of science....He was resourceful, determined and almost preternaturally observant. He was in short, a great explorer." Sir Thomas Holdich – Geographical Journal - Obit: Royal Geographical Society, London, 1920
" William Spiers Bruce ... In the field he was an ideal leader, expecting much of his companions but never as much as he gave himself; dauntless in his enthusiasm, but taking risks only when they were necessary; and generous and unselfish to a fault." R.N. Rudmose Brown – Geographical Journal Obit: Royal Geographical Society, London, 1921
María Victoria Canullo y Robin Willson,BR> Puerto Madryn, January 2004.
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