William Colbeck (seaman)

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For the American politician and bootlegger, see William Colbeck.
William R. Colbeck (1906-86), son of William Colbeck

William Colbeck (1871–1930) was a British seaman who distinguished himself on two Antarctic expeditions.


William Colbeck was born on August 8, 1871, in Myton Place, Hull. He was the second child in a family of six born to Christopher Colbeck, a baker, and his wife Martha.[1] Educated at Hull Grammar School, Colbeck served a merchant navy apprenticeship between 1886 and 1890, earning his second mate's certificate in 1890, first mate's certificate in 1892, master's in 1894 and extra master's in 1897. He was awarded a Royal Navy reserve commission in 1898. In that year he was invited by the Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink to join the Southern Cross Expedition to the Antarctic. This would be the first expedition to overwinter on the Antarctic mainland; Colbeck took charge of the expedition's magnetic observation work.[2]

After returning to England in 1900, Colbeck was soon going southward again, this time in command of the relief ship Morning, sent in early 1903 to resupply Captain Scott's Discovery, then trapped in the ice at McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic.[3] In January 1904 Colbeck returned with Morning, this time with firm instructions that unless Discovery could be speedily released from the ice, she was to be abandoned; Colbeck was to bring Scott and the expedition home. In a race against time, and with a fortunate shift in ice conditions, Discovery was freed and sailed safely home.[4]

Thereafter Colbeck made no further Antarctic ventures. The family moved to London, living at 51 Inchmery Road, Catford. Captain Colbeck became a founder member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners. [5] He died in 1930.

William Colbeck married Edith Robinson and they had four sons. One of these, William Robinson Colbeck (1906–86), joined the British Australia and New Zealand Antarctic Expeditions of 1929-1931 as second officer and navigator in the old Discovery. He was responsible for much of the charting during the two voyages and the Colbeck Archipelago off the Mawson Coast is named after him.[6]


His work in the Antarctic was commemorated by the naming of Colbeck Bay at 71°38′S 170°5′E / 71.633°S 170.083°E / -71.633; 170.083 and Cape Colbeck on the King Edward VII peninsula, at 77°07′S 158°01′W / 77.117°S 158.017°W / -77.117; -158.017.


  1. ^ http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Rescuing-Scott-Antarctic-Hull-captain-William/story-20405399-detail/story.html#5e7QqxW7jQ9ouLw1.99
  2. ^ Borchgrevink, Carsten (1901). First on the Antarctic Continent. George Newnes Ltd. Retrieved 11 August 2008. 
  3. ^ Crane, pp. 232–40
  4. ^ Crane, pp. 277–87
  5. ^ http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/Rescuing-Scott-Antarctic-Hull-captain-William/story-20405399-detail/story.html#5e7QqxW7jQ9ouLw1.99
  6. ^ Maritime Historical Studies Centre.The Colbecks. Retrieved 21 July 2014