Masculinity and Religion in the Life and Posthumous Representations of Antarctic Explorer H. R. Bowers, c.1902 - 1939

UoM administered thesis: Master of Philosophy

  • Authors:
  • Kellie Vernon

Abstract

This thesis is the first academic study of the life of Lt. Henry Robertson ('Birdie') Bowers, the fifth man of Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole of 1910 - 1913. Bowers played a central role in Scott's last expedition and the famous Cape Crozier Expedition with Edward Wilson and Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Scott included him in the final party of five that marched to the South Pole in January 1912, only to discover they had been preceded by a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen. Bowers died alongside Scott and Wilson on their return journey from the Pole at the end of March 1912. This thesis presents the first academic analysis of Bowers in relation to three bodies of scholarship. Firstly, the thesis examines the specialist polar literature to map how Bowers has been represented. Secondly, the thesis engages with scholarship on gender, to situate representations of Bowers within broader trends in the history of masculinities in the first-half of the twentieth century, and to reveal how Bowers conceived of himself as man. Finally, the thesis uses a study of Bowers' faith to intervene in debates about the history of religion on the eve of the First World War.Chapter one demonstrates that Scott's representation of Bowers as described in his 1913 journals as strong, reliable, indefatigable and cheerful, became the de facto one echoed by Bowers' contemporaries. Chapter two shows that Scott's representation persisted in expedition narratives during the 1920s and 30s, culminating in the Reverend George Seaver's 1938 biography, Birdie Bowers of the Antarctic. Chapter three is the first study to analyse Bowers' correspondence in detail. It reveals a very different Bowers engaged in family life and expressing complex ideas on many subjects including sexuality, the role of women, politics and the passing of Empire. Chapter four charts Bowers' extensive, peculiar, and hitherto undocumented personal engagement with faith and, in particular, with the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and the work of its founder Charles Taze Russell. It reveals a complex character whose actions, including his decision to remain in the tent with Scott at the end, cannot be fully understood, without an appreciation of his faith.The implications of this research for historians are three-fold, demonstrating the significant interplay between faith, manliness and identity in the period. Firstly, Bowers offers a valuable case study in how representations become fixed, and subsequently remain unchallenged. Secondly, the analysis of under explored personal correspondence of a well-known heroic figure reveals the importance of subjective experience through autobiographical writings. In keeping with other historians, this thesis supports the emerging focus on the individual nature of masculinity. Thirdly, a consideration of the personal faith of significant historical characters cannot be overlooked. An exploration of men's religious faith and its effects on their subjective experience of being male is under explored. A detailed appreciation of Bowers' faith provides a new perspective not only on his role in the final few months of the Terra Nova expedition, but more generally in charting the nature of religion in subjective masculine experiences.

Details

Original languageEnglish
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Award date31 Dec 2014