Arnold Spencer-Smith

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Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith
Arnold Spencer-Smith photographed by J. Palmer Clarke in 1907
Born (1883-03-17)March 17, 1883[1]
Streatham, London
Died March 9, 1916(1916-03-09) (aged 32)[1]
The Antarctic
Education Westminster City School, King's College London and Queen's College, Cambridge
Occupation Curate

Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith (1883–1916) was a British clergyman and amateur photographer who joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17, as Chaplain and photographer on the Ross Sea party. The hardship of the expedition resulted in Spencer-Smith's death. Cape Spencer-Smith on White Island at 78°00′S 167°27′E / 78.000°S 167.450°E / -78.000; 167.450 is named in his honour.


Born in Streatham (he shared his birthday, 17 March, with Captain Lawrence Oates but was three years younger[2]), he attended Westminster City School,[3] King's College London and Queen's College, Cambridge. He did not attend his exams and was given a pass degree in history.[1] After a few years teaching at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, Spencer-Smith was ordained as deacon into the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1910, subsequently being appointed curate of All Saints, Edinburgh.[4] He was ordained as priest shortly before leaving England to join the Aurora.[5]

Expedition member[edit]

It is unclear how he came to join the expedition. One version is that he had wanted to enlist in the army at the outbreak of war, but as a clergyman was barred from combatant service. He therefore volunteered himself to Shackleton as a replacement for one of the original party who had left for active service.[6] After arrival in Antarctica his unfamiliarity with polar work and limited physical stamina were in evidence during the first (January–March 1915) depot-laying journey, before he was sent back to base by expedition leader Aeneas Mackintosh.[7] During the 1915 winter season he worked at the Cape Evans base, mainly in the darkroom where he sometimes held religious services.[8]

The circumstances of the expedition, after the depletion of the shore party following the loss of SY Aurora in May 1915, meant that Spencer-Smith was required for the main depot journey to the Beardmore Glacier during the 1915–16 summer season, irrespective of his physical limitations.[9] In this he showed no reluctance and worked tirelessly. However, worn down by the preliminary work of hauling stores up to the base depot at Minna Bluff during the four-month period September–December 1915, he was unable to sustain the physical effort required on the main depot-laying journey south, and collapsed before the Beardmore was reached. Thereafter he had to be carried on the sledge, unable to help himself and dependent on Ernest Wild for his most basic needs.[10] The party nevertheless completed its depot-laying mission and struggled back northward in worsening weather conditions, each man growing weaker as scurvy took hold, and progress forward was with acute difficulty. Spencer-Smith, uncomplaining but in the latter stages occasionally delirious,[11] died on the Barrier on 9 March 1916, aged 32, two days before the safety of Hut Point was finally reached. He was buried in the ice.[12]

Arnold Spencer-Smith was unmarried. He dedicated a final diary entry, 7 March 1916, to his father, mother, brothers and sisters. He is commemorated by Cape Spencer-Smith on White Island at 78°00′S 167°27′E / 78.000°S 167.450°E / -78.000; 167.450.

His wallet[edit]

In 1999 a team of investigators entered Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans, and found a wallet with three photographs of a camping expedition in it. After extensive investigations it was established that this wallet had belonged to Arnold Spencer-Smith.[13] The wallet, mislaid in 1915, was thus found after 84 years.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Jonathan Holmes. "Heroism and Tragedy in the Antarctic". Archived from the original on August 12, 2007. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  2. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p77
  3. ^ Westminster City School and its Origins by R.Carrington Published by kind permission of the United Westminster Schools Foundation and the Governors of Westminster City School. 1983
  4. ^ APS-S biog. summary on
  5. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p40
  6. ^ Huntford, pp412-13
  7. ^ Huntford p414
  8. ^ Huntford, p452
  9. ^ It is likely that, had the Aurora remained moored, other members of the ship's party would have fortified the shore party and the physical demands on Spencer-Smith would have lessened
  10. ^ Bickel, p143
  11. ^ Bickel, p182
  12. ^ Bickel, p191
  13. ^ The Australian, Christmas Weekend Edition 24, 6 December 1999, Bruce Montgomery - cited by Queens