Cecil Meares

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Cecil Meares

Cecil Henry Meares (1877–1937) was the chief dog handler and Russian interpreter on the Terra Nova Expedition, the British expedition to Antarctica that took place from 1910 to 1913. Born in County Kilkenny, Ireland, the son of an army officer, Meares was an adventurer and linguist: a man of action who liked to have fun, which made following the orders of Robert Falcon Scott, the expedition leader, difficult at times. Before his involvement in the expedition, he was a British military officer, a fur-trader in Kamchatka and Okhotsk in Siberia, a fighter in the Russo-Japanese War and the Boer War and a traveller to various places including Tibet.

Terra Nova Expedition[edit]

Meares joined Robert Falcon Scott on his expedition to the Antarctic in 1911-1912, donating £1,000 (£110,000 in 2018) to Scott's funds. Aspley Cherry-Garrard also donated the same sum, allowing the expedition to take place. [1]

Meares's tasks included selecting and purchasing the 34 dogs and 20 ponies for the expedition and then transporting them from Siberia to New Zealand via Japan where they were to join up with the expedition. Meares knew little about ponies, but nevertheless followed Scott’s orders and went to Nikolayevsk, Siberia to select the dogs. There he met Dimitri Gerov, an experienced dog driver, who helped him choose the dogs required for the sledging tasks and who was subsequently recruited as a dog driver for the expedition. Meares also recruited Russian jockey Anton Omelchenko as groom on the expedition. They then travelled to Vladivostok where the Siberian ponies were purchased. Scott specifically wanted white ponies for the expedition because during the 1907 Nimrod Expedition, Ernest Shackleton observed that the white ponies outlived the dark ponies. Lawrence Oates, the British Army Captain on the expedition whose role was to look after the ponies, was disappointed in Meares's selection as they had “such deficiencies as: narrow chests, knocked knees, …aged” and were the “greatest lot of crocks I have ever seen.” Once the Terra Nova Expedition began, Meares and Gerov looked after the dogs. After setting off as part of the support team on the journey to the South Pole in early November 1911, Meares and the Russian Gerov turned back north with the sled dogs on 14 December at the foot of the Beardmore glacier. He resigned from the expedition for unsubstantiated reasons [2] and returned home on the Terra Nova in March 1912.

Some controversy surrounds Meares's "unavailability" for further Barrier (Ross Ice Shelf) work for the 2 months prior to his boarding the Terra Nova to return home, while the base camp was under the command of George Simpson and then Edward Atkinson. Meares's return to civilisation before the Antarctic winter of 1912 was not unexpected (in Scott's instructions to the commanding officer of the Terra Nova written before his departure for the pole he stated that Meares might return on the ship, depending on letters from home), but it is not clear why he was not available to undertake sledge work with the dogs during the autumn season, nor why Simpson or Atkinson did not force him to do so, given that the expedition was run on strict naval terms.[citation needed]

Later life[edit]

During World War I, he joined the Royal Flying Corps, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He married Anna Christina Spengler in 1915.[3] Following the end of the war, he traveled to Japan and assisted the Japanese Naval Air Service as part of the British Air Mission. [4]

After his return from Japan, Meares and his wife later moved to Victoria BC, Canada, where he died in 1937.


  1. ^ E.G.R.G. Evans: South With Scott Collins London 1952 p25
  2. ^ There are differing accounts as to why Meares resigned. Huntford (p435) claims a row with Scott. Fiennes (p340) says Meares had to return to England to deal with his late father's affairs.
  3. ^ "Series MS-0455 - Cecil Henry Meares papers". BC Archives. Retrieved 14 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Cecil Henry Meares - in charge of dogs, Russian interpreter (1877 - 1937) - Biographical notes". Cool Antarctica. Retrieved 14 September 2018.