Zulu War to Scott of the Antarctic
Apsley Cherry was born on 1st September 1832, son second son of a prosperous family of lawyers and civil servants who had settled in Berkshire a generation before him; his mother, Evelyn Sharpin, was twenty-eight, the daughter of an eminent Bedford doctor.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Major Apsley Cherry
(John Young Collection)
Colonel Cherry had crinkly brown hair streaked with grey, white sideburns, a high forehead and a strong nose above a neatly waxed handlebar moustache, and he was an upright figure in both the physical and the moral sense. After school at Harrow, which he hated, he proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, and then, like many younger brothers, went off to fight wars. He joined the 90th Light Infantry as a junior officer, and in 1857, on his way to China with a detachment of his regiment, he was shipwrecked close to Sumatra, not far off the Equator. The soldiers rowed to a small island, and although Apsley Cherry lost most of his gear, his bed floated ashore. The men ate pineapples and coconuts for a week, and then a passing ship brought rescue and news. 'The sepoys have kicked up a row in India,' Apsley wrote to his mother. It turned out to be more than a row: it was the Indian Mutiny. China was forgotten, Apsley Cherry packed up his dried-out bed and the detachment was re-routed to Calcutta on a relief ship. He went on to serve with gallantry in the Mutiny, fighting in the assault, relief and capture of Lucknow, and in the reconquest of Oude. He received a medal with two clasps.
Apsley wrote frequently and affectionately to his family. From Alumbagh, near Lucknow, he asked his mother, 'Send this please to Amy and Emily, just to show them, what of course they must know already, that they are never forgotten by their brother Apsley.' He was a natural soldier. 'I don't think,' he wrote to his mother during the siege of Lucknow, when men were falling all around him, 'you need be in much fear for my being hit at this work, for I don't think I was born to be shot.' A cosy domesticity clings to the letters, cheating the miles and the years. Describing an abscess on his hand, he wrote, 'I can fancy you examining into the subject in the brown medicine book!'
After three years' staff service in Bengal, he returned on leave to Denford, the family estate in Berkshire. In his heart he had never really left. What gripped him most keenly was the shooting. 'Mind you give me an account of any good bags,' he wrote to his brother George from Lucknow. George in turn made sure that Apsley was involved in such vital issues as the appointment of a new gamekeeper. It helped diffuse the tension of war. 'It seems to be a great partridge year,' wrote Apsley in the same letter, continuing without even a line break, 'A battlefield is the most awful place you ever saw.' He was a committed correspondent, once dashing off a letter 'during an interval in the firing'. When George wrote asking if he or Mother could help out financially, Apsley replied breezily, 'I thank you exceedingly for thinking of it but truly I have lots here ... we live on our rations and loot the rest.'
Apsley stayed in India for twenty years. He was promoted to major in 1874, and three years later, still with the 90th Light, he went to southern Africa, where settlers were fighting over their territorial rights. Relations between the first colonists, the Dutch-speaking Boers, and the more recent British immigrants had been tense for decades. That year, 1877, Britain annexed the Boer Republic of the Transvaal as the first step in a campaign to create a South African federation, thereby bringing the whole southern region of the continent under British control. Terrible battles followed, and Apsley Cherry was present at the most gruesome. 'All the morning,' he wrote on 1 May 1878, 'I have been burying men.' He was mentioned in despatches and received a medal with clasp and the brevet (temporary promotion) of lieutenant-colonel, later to be made permanent. The responsibility lay heavily. 'If you have to fight against great odds,' he wrote, 'do so as a subaltern, not as one in command, sleep and rest is better than a brevet.'
As the bodies piled up, he grew disenchanted. 'What a fearful mistake the annexing of the Transvaal now appears,' he wrote in January 1879. 'What on earth we want of millions of square miles of such a country when we have millions of unoccupied land in hand which only, they say, wants scratching to produce anything, I can't imagine. It seems to me that whatever you read about South Africa in books is a falsehood.' The lies printed about the African campaigns in the British newspapers is a leitmotif of his correspondence. In a letter to his friend Alfred Welby from Balte Spruit on 29 March 1879, Apsley Cherry explained that he couldn't write to his mother: she would be terrified if she knew how shattering it was there. He wasn't even able to write to his brother, as the women of the house would recognise his handwriting when they saw the envelope on the hall table.
On 4th July 1879, Apsley took part in the Battle of Ulundi.
His bitter feelings in Africa never dented his faith in the virtues of imperialism. He remained an exemplary soldier. Field Marshal Lord Wolseley, an outstanding soldier himself, called Apsley Cherry the bravest man he had ever seen. Yet Apsley was not afraid to be human. On Easter Sunday 1879 he confided to Welby from Balte Spruit, 'Between you and me, don't send this on to Denford, the incessant work and anxiety to do the best, etc, etc, is a little beyond what I am able for, as long as what I am responsible for goes straight I am fit enough, but when orders are misunderstood or not carried out and things don't go straight, it is not in me to take it easy, and I get seedy.'
Colonel Cherry left Africa at the end of 1879, after two grim years of service, and sailed back to India. The news from home was bad the next spring: his mother had died. She had gone on for thirty-two years longer than her husband. Some time after that Apsley Cherry returned to England, and in July 1883 he was put in charge of the garrison at Kempston Barracks on the outskirts of Bedford, about fifty miles north of London. It was tame work compared with the Zulus and the sepoys and the heat and disease of India and Africa, but perhaps he was grateful. He was fifty years old.
Change of name.
Change of name to Cherry-Garrard: The General had not just inherited Lamer Park and its estate. There were Garrard lands in other counties, and the family owned a large house in Watling Street in the City of London which was leased to a firm of cotton traders. The Cherry’s had certainly gone up a rung: Charles Benet Drake Garrard's estate was valued at £130,750 gross (well over £6 million in today's terms). There was only one condition attached to their good fortune: under the terms of his uncle's will the General had to assume the name and arms of Garrard. The Drake was abandoned, and, by Royal Licence dated 30 September 1892, the name Cherry-Garrard came into existence.
Apsley George Benet Cherry was born 2 January 1886, Lansdowne Road, Bedford, only son of Apsley Cherry. He was educated at Winchester College and Christ Church, Oxford.
Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard had always been enamoured by the stories of his father's achievements, and felt that he must live up to his father's example. In September 1907, Dr Edward Adrian 'Bill' Wilson met with Captain Scott at Reginald Smith's home in Cortachy, to discuss another Antarctic expedition. Smith's young cousin Apsley Cherry-Garrard happened to visit, and decided to volunteer.
At the age of 24, Cherry-Garrard was one of the youngest members of Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova expedition (1910–13). This was Scott's second and last expedition to Antarctica. Cherry-Garrard was initially rejected, but made a second application along with a promise of £1,000 towards the cost of the expedition. Rejected a second time, he made the donation regardless. Struck by this gesture, and at the same time persuaded by Dr Edward 'Bill' Wilson, Scott agreed to take Cherry as assistant biologist.
With Wilson and Lieutenant Henry 'Birdie' Bowers, Cherry-Garrard made a trip to Cape Crozier in July 1911 during the austral winter in order to secure an unhatched Emperor penguin egg. Cherry-Garrard suffered from high degree myopia, seeing little without spectacles that he could not wear while sledging. In almost total darkness, and with temperatures ranging from −40 °F (−40 °C) to −77.5 °F (−60.8 °C), they man-hauled their sledge 60 miles (97 km) from Scott's base at Cape Evans to the far side of Ross Island. Frozen and exhausted, they reached their goal only to be pinned down by a blizzard. Their tent was ripped away and carried off by the wind, leaving the men in their sleeping bags under a thickening drift of snow, singing hymns above the sounds of the storm. When the winds subsided however, by great fortune they found their tent lodged nearby in rocks. Cherry-Garrard suffered such cold that he shattered most of his teeth due to chattering in the frigid temperatures. Having successfully collected three eggs and desperately exhausted they eventually arrived back at Cape Evans, sometimes only managing a mile and a half a day. Cherry-Garrard later referred to this as the 'worst journey in the world' at the suggestion of his neighbour George Bernard Shaw, and gave this title to his book recounting the fate of the 1910–13 expedition.
Cherry-Garrard was afterwards responsible for helping lay depots of fuel and food on the intended route of the party which would attempt to reach the South Pole, and accompanied the team that would make the attempt on the South Pole to the top of the Beardmore Glacier. Cherry was in the first group of those four who returned on 22 December 1911. On his return, Cherry took over navigation on a number of occasions using the sight of his partner until his partner became snow-blind. Without a sighted companion, Cherry managed to overcome his extreme myopia by navigating using the faint gleam of the sun. On 26 February 1912, Cherry and dog handler Dimitri Gerov made one last supply run out to the 'One Ton Depot'. They waited there seven days hoping to meet the South Pole team on their return journey, although the mission was to resupply the dump and not to provide an escort for the polar party 'home' who weren't expected to reach this point for another week or two. Cherry finally turned back on 10 March 1912 in order to preserve his dog team which were short of food, and out of concern for the health of Gerov. Nineteen days later, Scott, Wilson and Bowers died 11 miles (18 km) south of the One Ton Depot in a blizzard.
Cherry developed clinical depression as well as irritable bowel syndrome shortly after returning from Antarctica. His lifespan preceded the description and diagnosis of what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although his psychological condition was never cured, the explorer was able to treat himself to some extent by writing down his experiences, although he spent many years bed-ridden due to his afflictions. He many times revisited the question of what might have been done differently to save the South Pole team — most notably in his 1922 book The Worst Journey in the World. The book remains a classic, having been acclaimed as the greatest true adventure story ever written.
In 1939, Cherry-Garrard married Angela Turner. He chose not to have children for fear of passing down mental health issues.
[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]Final resting place of Father & Son and other members of the Cherry Family.Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire