Henry Watkins collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Watkins with the geographer and meteorologist Hugh Robert Mill

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry George [Gino] Watkins was born on 29 January 1907 in London. While an undergraduate at Trinity College, Cambridge, he led the Cambridge University Expedition to Spitsbergen in 1927, organized to explore and map Edgeya, the third largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago. The following year Watkins returned north on an expedition to Labrador, accompanied by James Maurice Scott, exploring and surveying in the upper reaches of the Hamilton River from July 1928 to May 1929.

On his return, Watkins gained the support of the Royal Geographical Society for the British Arctic Air Route Expedition [BAARE], 1930-1931, organized to investigate the possibilities of an air route from Britain to the west coast of the United States via Iceland, Greenland, Baffin Island, Hudson Bay and Edmonton. Watkins proposed to explore the east coast and Inland Ice of Greenland, the least known areas along its course. Sailing in Quest from London in July 1930, the expedition reached Ammassalik in East Greenland, where a base camp was established. On 8 September 1930, a meteorological station was established on the ice cap at 67 05°N, 41 48°W, where a series of observations was conducted. Several exploratory flights were made, during which a range of high mountains was discovered, later named the Watkins Mountains. Sledging and boat journeys were made to survey and chart parts of the east coast of Greenland and to examine the ice cap of the interior. Already an experienced dog-driver, Watkins became skilled in the practice of hunting by kayak during this expedition, and demonstrated considerable ability in combining techniques learned from the Eskimo and previous explorers with innovative use of modern technology.

On his return to Britain in 1931, Watkins commenced plans for a Trans-Antarctic Expedition, but was unable to raise sufficient funds due to worldwide economic depression. He decided to return north on the East Greenland Expedition, 1932-1933, sponsored by Pan-American Airways to extend the work begun during BAARE. Watkins' primary responsibility was to feed his three companions, John Rymill, Quintin Riley and Frederick Chapman, through his hunting. In August 1932, Rymill and Chapman discovered Watkins' empty kayak on Lake Fjord where Watkins had been seal-hunting alone. Once it became clear that Watkins was dead, his three companions decided to stay on in Greenland to complete their work under the leadership of Rymill.

Published work 'The Cambridge expedition to Edge Island' by Henry George Watkins, The Geographical Journal volume 72 number 2 (1928) p117-143 SPRI Library Shelf (327)91(08)[1927] Northern lights - the official account of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-1931, by Frederick Spencer Chapman, Chatto and Windus London (1934) SPRI Library Shelf (38)91(08)[1930-31]


The correspondence to Mill is arranged chronologically

Access Information

By appointment.

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Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-1940, Oxford University Press London (1950) and Gino Watkins by James Maurice Scott, Hodder and Stoughton London (1937) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Watkins, H.G.] and British polar exploration and research: a historical and medallic record with biographies 1818-1999 by Lieutenant Colonel Neville W Poulsom and Rear Admiral John A L Myres, Savannah Publications London (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 737.2

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

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