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Petty Officer Alfred R. Pearce, Royal Navy, who was one of Commander Markham’s ‘Furthest North’ sledging party in the Expedition of 1876, and later died whilst serving with Active’s Naval Brigade in the Zulu War
Abyssinia 1867 (A. Pearce O.S. H.M.S. Spiteful); South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1877-8-9 (A. Pearce, P.O. 2Cl. H.M.S. “Active”); Arctic 1876 (A. R. Pearce, A.B. H.M.S. Alert)
62 Arctic Medals 1876 awarded to H.M.S. Alert. Only 111 ‘1877-8-9’ clasps issued to the Royal Navy, all but three being to H.M.S. Active.
Alfred Robert Pearce was born at Kennington, Surrey, on 13 September 1848, and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class on 24 February 1863, volunteering for Continuous Service for 10 years on his 18th birthday. He served aboard Spiteful from September 1865 for the next four years, including the Abyssinian Expedition in 1867. Alfred Pearce re-engaged for a further 10 year period of Continuous Service in September 1876 whilst serving aboard the Alert in Arctic waters.
In 1875 Captain G. S. Nares was given command of the Alert and Discovery to make an attempt to reach the North Pole. At Lady Franklin Bay on the Ellesmere Coast the Discovery took up winter quarters, whilst the Alert established herself in winter quarters further north through the Robeson Channel at Floeberg Beach. Spring sledging trips to be carried out from the Alert were planned with the objectives of tracing the coast of Ellesmere Island and the coast of Greenland to establish how far north land existed, and to see if it was possible to reach the North Pole over the Polar Seas. Food depots had to be laid down during the autumn of 1875 and accordingly three sledges left the Alert on 25th September; the sledge Marco Polo, under Commander A. H. Markham, with seven men; the Victoria, under Lieutenant A. A. Chase Parr, with seven men including Alfred Pearce; and the Hercules, under Lieutenant W. H. May, also with seven men. The three sledges, having made their drops, returned on 15th October, but not without hardship. Lieutenant Hay and two men suffered amputation as a result of frost-bite, and two other men were similarly affected, though not seriously enough to require amputation.
Two sledges were chosen for the attempt to reach the North Pole in the spring of 1876; the Marco Polo, again under Commander Markham but this time with Alfred Pearce (now promoted to Mate) as one of his eight men, and the Victoria, with Lieutenant Parr and seven men. The sledging party was handicapped by having to pull boats, which they took in case they reached the open sea. Their journey was painfully slow, abandoning one boat on their journey north, and eventually utterly exhausted, with men going down with scurvy, they turned back on 12th May, 1876, Markham flying Marco Polo’s sledge flags at 83° 20’ 26” N, their furthest north. On the journey back, as the party got weaker, a second boat had to be abandoned. By 5th June, the returning party were only some 30 miles from the Alert but they were so weakened by scurvy that Lieutenant Parr, the fittest man, went on alone to seek help from the Alert. Three days later one of the men, George Porter of the Victoria sledge, died, but on 14th June, Lieutenant Parr having been successful in his mission, the party returned to the Alert without further loss. They had been out for 72 days and had travelled a total of 600 statute miles.
Alfred Pearce’s next overseas service was in somewhat warmer climes when he formed part of Active’s Naval Brigade, as Coxwain of a Cutter, during the Kaffir and Zulu Wars of 1877-79. Sadly, he was struck down by dysentry and died on 22 April, 1879, at Lower Tugela. He is commemorated by name on the monument erected in Victoria Park, Portsmouth, which bears the following inscription:
“This monument is erected by the Officers and Ship’s Company of H.M.S. Active, late Flag Ship on the West Coast of Africa and Cape of Good Hope Stations, to perpetuate the memory of their Shipmates who perished while gallantly doing their duty with the Naval Brigade of that Ship, during the Kaffir War of 1877 and 1878, and the Zulu War of 1879.”