Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Greenock: Birdie Bowers

The Antarctic explorer, Lt. Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers (1883-1912 ) was one of the group of four who trekked with Robert Falcon Scott to the South Pole in March, 1912. All five tragically died on the return journey and the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found in their tent in the November of the same year, eleven miles from their supply camp.

He was born in this house at the corner of North Street on The Esplanade in Greenock. It was known as 'Bower's Folly' as it was set well apart from the other villas.

Bowers was brought up by his mother after his father died in Rangoon. He went to sea first on the Worcester and sailed around the world five times on the Loch Torridon. He was then in the Royal Indian Marine Service, commanding a river gunboat on the Irrawaddy before serving on the H.M.S. Fox in the Persian Gulf. Although Bowers had no previous polar experience, he met and impressed Sir Clements Markham who recommended him to Scott for his next exploration.

Bowers was a short man, only five feet four inches high, and had a distinctive beak-like nose which gave him the nickname of "Birdie". The English explorer, Apsley Cherry-Garrard said that his "capacity for work was prodigious", and that "There was nothing subtle about him. He was transparently simple, straightforward, and unselfish". Scott wrote in his diary of Bowers: "As the troubles have thickened about us his dauntless spirit ever shone brighter and he has remained cheerful, hopeful, and indomitable to the end".

When I visited the Esplanade last and took these photos, I could see no plaque or other memorial to Bowers there. However, there is an impressive memorial to him in St. Ninian's Church, Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute, where his mother later settled and where he spent much time.

There's more detailed information about his life in the Wikipedia entry here

Since I wrote the above, I have heard from Robert of Greenock who has told me that there is, in fact, a plaque which I had missed!

At the bottom it can just be seen that it was donated by John S Thomson and placed there by the Cloch Civic Society in 1973. Many thanks to Robert for this information and for allowing me to use his photo in the blog!


Anonymous said...

Great find! why do we never put plaques up?I have always been fascinated with the story of Scott and the Antarctic .
I recall watching at a young age Sir John Mills in the film about their adventure,its a great film,such bravery.
"Good,great and joyous, beautiful and free,
This is alone life, empire and victory".

The music for the film was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams,he eventually turned into a symphony his seventh, guaranteed to chill you to yer bare bane,its preferable to listen to a copy with the spoken dialogue as its very atmospheric.

and to think I walked past that building many a time!


Jane said...

Thanks Gerry, I couldn't agree more about the plaques - there are so many I'd put up to commemorate different people, given the chance! I remember that film too, it was superb, would be good to see it again. I'd forgotten about the music, I'm sure it would be very atmospheric with that dialogue.

Anonymous said...

Hi. The last time I was along that part of the Esplanade there was a small plaque on the wall outside the villa indicating it as the residence of the Bower family.
Regards, Robert.

Jane said...

Thanks for this Robert - I must have missed the plaque. I'll try to get a photo next time I'm there!

Robert Stephenson said...

The Bowers' House is a double house and given where the plaque is (at the bottom of the stairs leading up to No 57), I've always assumed it's the left-hand portion of the overall structure. Your second photo is the right-hand portion. Perhaps you know something I don't.
You can see this and other Bowers sites on the England, Scotland and Wales Google map at the bottom of http://www.antarctic-circle.org/llag.htm

Robert Stephenson
The Antarctic Circle

Jane said...

Thanks for your message Robert. I've taken note of what you say - I certainly don't know more than you about this. Perhaps I should remove the second photo. Many thanks for the link.

Jane said...

The book I consulted before I took my own photos showed the more of the right side of the house than the left, which is why I assumed Bowers lived there.

Anonymous said...

Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club named a new rowing boat after Birdie Bowers on Saturday. The clubhouse is a few hundred yards West of the house on the river side of The Esplanade. You can read about the launch at http://www.rwsabc.co.uk/news/

Adam Graham
Rowing Convenor

Jane said...

Great to read about the new boat - thanks Adam for adding the link here. I found it very interesting and I'm sure others will too!

Anne S said...

I'm literally just finishing writing a new biography of Birdie Bowers which will be out next year (probably September). It's called 'Birdie Bowers: Captain Scott's Marvel' and Greenock and Scotland will feature strongly in it. There's a little about the book up on www.amazon.co.uk already but more details will be out in during the first part of next year, including on The History Press (publishers) website. I've found some great photos of Birdie, including one of him in a kilt! Best wishes, Anne Strathie

Jane said...

Thanks for this fantastic information Anne, shall definitely look for your book! Good luck with sales, I'm sure there will be a lot of interest.
Best wishes, Jane

grianaig said...

1498 vibvdHi Jane, Thought you might be interested to read this. From the Greenock Telegraph Saturday 25th.
He will be joined by Anne Strathie
Regards, Robert Currie.

Jane said...

Many thanks Robert, I am indeed very interested and wasn't aware of it. It's very kind of you to let me know,
Very best wishes, Jane