The remarkable but forgotten story of a Grantham explorer who worked alongside Captain Scott on his first expedition to the Antarctic has come to light thanks to one woman’s research into her own family tree.
Jane Handsley, formerly of Grantham but now living at Folkingham, was researching the involvement of a suspected relative called Jesse Handsley with legendary explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic between 1901 and 1904 when she came across the name Arthur Blissett.
Jane said: “I never imagined I would have something like this about my home town to investigate.”
Mr Blissett was born at 48 Manthorpe Road in Grantham before being baptised at St John’s Church in Spittlegate. He was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Marines but joined Captain Scott’s 1901 Discovery Expedition.
Jane said: “It was a scientific expedition rather than to get to the South Pole. They were trying to get as far south as they could to do scientific research.
“Arthur served as a steward and a ward room domestic and during 1902 and 1903 undertook a total of 30 days sledging. These perilous journeys entailed man-hauling sledges in temperatures reaching below -60 degrees, sometimes reaching near starvation.
“When Blissett discovered an Emperor penguin’s egg, the men thought he should receive a medal, but unfortunately they were not able to digest it.
“Scott wrote that Blissett ‘was the chief sufferer on this journey, as he also had his face very severely frostbitten’.
“He also tells of the bravery, and the great camaraderie both on their travels and over long winter months of waiting and preparation for the sledging season to begin.”
For most of 1903 and into 1904, the Discovery was stuck in ice and it appeared the men were going to have to abandon ship, only for a sudden breaking up of the ice in February to allow the men to sail home under their own steam.
On their return, both Jesse and Arthur were awarded silver Antarctic medals.
Jane said: “My admiration and respect for the men of the expedition, their courage and bravery is such that I have spent the last two years undertaking research in Lincoln and at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
“There is a passage in the RGS journals that specifically mentions him. They are talking about the men on the expedition and how good they were - the Naval officers and the men. It mentions the Royal Marines and specifically mentions Arthur Blissett, who was said to be excellent.”
Captain Scott became a hero on his return from the Antarctic but it was for the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition that he is best remembered today. His attempts to be the first man to reach the South Pole failed with he and his four comrades all dying as they attempted to return from their effort.
Jane said: “Whenever I discuss Arthur and Jesse with people, they always ask if I think they would have known Captain Scott but I think what is very evident is that they were a team. There was a distinction between the officers and the men but they shared the same food at Christmas and there was clearly a good camaraderie.
“Scott was a leader but he was also part of the team and knew all of these men.”
Jane is hoping to raise enough money to pay the cost of creating and erecting a blue plaque in Arthur Blissett’s name here in Grantham.
Jane said: “Skegness is planning a monument for Jesse so I thought that surely we can get some recognition for Arthur too.”
* If you would like to help Jane get the plaque erected, you can contact her by e-mail on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos courtesy of: Dundee Heritage Trust: RRS Discovery