Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard
The first authorized biography of the antarctic explorer who gave us the greatest classic of polar literature
In February 1912, Apsley Cherry-Garrard drove a team of dogs 150 miles to a desolate outpost on Antarctica’s rough ice shelf to meet Robert Falcon Scott and his men, who were expected to return victor-ious any day from their epic race to the South Pole. Winter was closing in, and Cherry was handicapped by brutal temperatures and diminishing light. Less than two weeks later, three dying men pitched their tent for the last time just twelve miles to the south. One was Captain Scott, the leader of the expedition. The other two, Birdie Bowers and Bill Wilson, were the closest friends Cherry had ever had.
Ten months later, once the polar winter had released them from captivity, Cherry and his search party found the tent, piled with snow and pinned to the ice by his friends’ corpses. It was a tragedy that would rever-berate around the world and inspire Cherry to write his masterpiece, The Worst Journey in the World, which recently topped National Geographic’s list of the 100 greatest adventure books of all time.
Cherry discovered in his writing a means to work out his grief and anger, but in life these doubts and fears proved far harder to quell. As the years progressed, he struggled against depression, breakdown, and despair, and was haunted by the possibility that he alone had had the opportunity to save Scott and his friends.
Sara Wheeler’s Cherry is the first biography of this soul-searching explorer, written with unrestricted access to his papers and the full cooperation of his widow—who has refused all requests until now. Wheeler’s biography brings to life this great hero of Antarctic exploration and gives us a glimpse of the terrible human cost of his adventures.
manner that did not savour of happy chance.’ Apsley was adrift in another strangely closed community, a country boy who did not belong among the braying aristocrats roaming arm-in-arm through Tom Quad. Like Michael Fane, the protagonist of Sinister Street, it seemed to him that he alone was not in the club, and that he stood, a solitary figure, in the wings of a glittering show. He sat at his desk in the long evenings, a pool of light from his lamp flooding the pages of Thucydides, and gazed
will allow the matter to stand over until you return, and if, after coming once more into closer touch with your home ties, you are still anxious to go, I can promise that your application will not have been forgotten, and will not have suffered by the waiting. Only at present it is quite impossible to make you any promise – I wish it were otherwise – and you must be prepared for disappointment. I am delighted to hear that you are enjoying your travels. From the start, Wilson was unequivocal in
this that he was sensitive, femininely sensitive, to a degree which might be considered a fault, and it will be clear that leadership to such a man may be almost a martyrdom.’ In the original typescript Cherry wrote, ‘nightmare’ in place of ‘martyrdom’. To lead none the less: Cherry recognised what a triumph it was. ‘Temperamentally,’ he continued, ‘[he] was a weak man, and might very easily have been an autocrat. As it was he had moods and depressions which might last for weeks . . . He cried
done was not done’, and in The Times that the returning parties might have ‘tapped’ oil from the depôts, leaving Scott short. Worse, many editorials focused on the inaction of Cherry and Dimitri during their dog journey to One Ton. The Sydney Morning Herald cited a rumour ‘that relations between the present heads of the expedition are more than a little strained, and the suggestion is made this may possibly be in connection with the work of the relief parties in March of last year’. It was not
forwarded the questions, immediately replied that he was too busy to answer. Hospital work was abandoned – for good, as it turned out – as Cherry threw himself into research for the book. He was soon drowning in material. He spent many days in London, and started going round to firms who had supplied the expedition with equipment and food. At the beginning of July he broke off to take the train over to Cheltenham. There he joined thousands of people watching Sir Clements Markham unveil a