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‘Our Junior Scientist’

Throughout this year, we’re marking the birthdays of some of the men who have been part of Discovery’s astonishing 120+ year history.

28th January 2024 marks the 145th anniversary of the birth of Hartley T. Ferrar in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. Ferrar joined Discovery’s 1901 Expedition just one month after graduating University; despite his youth, his contribution to the Expedition aims and Antarctic science was remarkable. In this blog, we’ll touch on some of Ferrar’s Discovery experiences, and background. Get your cocoa ready, and enjoy!

Though born in Ireland, Hartley lived much of his childhood in Durban, South Africa, before returning to England to be educated; first at Oundle School, Northamptonshire and then as a geologist at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

He was appointed to the Discovery expedition only a month after his graduation in July 1901. The youngest member of the scientific staff, he earned the nickname ‘Our Junior Scientist’ – one of many nicknames allocated to the men throughout the 1901 Expedition!

Portrait of Hartley T. Ferrar (DUNIH 2018.24.25.1)

Throughout Discovery’s 1901-1904 Expedition, Ferrar took an active part in both exploring and scientific work, taking over the role of sea-water analysis after Shackleton’s departure in 1903. His main responsibility was geological surveying of the area; an activity that led to the young scientist discovering the first fossils in the Western Mountains, in what was then known as the Antarctic mainland.

The discovery of these fossils was astonishing – impressions of fern and wood revealed that Antarctica had, at one time, been a far warmer climate than the men of Discovery found in 1901, and than the Antarctic that we know today.

Whilst on journeys in the Antarctic, Ferrar would have taken with him this flag; bearing the St. George’s cross, and reading “Ferre va Ferme”; a Ferrar family motto that in French translates to “The shod horse goes surely”. The flag is part of our extensive Polar Collections and is on display here at Discovery Point.

Ferrar's sledging flag (DUNIH 446)

When travelling to the north-west of McMurdo Sound, Ferrar ventured across the largest mass of ice known to man. Then known as the New Harbour Glacier, it was later renamed as a mark of honour to Ferrar for this feat and his Antarctic legacy; now recognised as the Ferrar Glacier.

An ‘Outlet Glacier’ valley completely filled with ice. Looking up the Ferrar Glacier to the South-West (K 22.16)

The scientific breakthroughs and achievements of Hartley T. Ferrar during the 1901-1904 Expedition are as varied as they are remarkable. It it little wonder then, that when reflecting on his time in the Antarctic, Louis Bernacchi described ‘our junior scientist’ instead as the “pioneer of Antarctic geology”.

After Discovery, Ferrar went to Egypt to join the geological section of the Survey Department where he remained until 1913 when he went to New Zealand to be Master of Christchurch College.

In 1919 he joined the New Zealand Geological Survey where he remained until his death in 1932.

Ferrar on the deck of Discovery (DUNIH 2018.24.25.1)

Explore more of Ferrar’s life aboard Discovery, and immerse yourself in the National British Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 at Discovery Point; as you walk aboard the ship in the footsteps of Captain Scott, Shackleton, and Ferrar.

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