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International Polar Year
To the Ends of the Earth:
Norfolk's place in polar exploration
Updated on 19/9/07

Rear-Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham

British Navy Officer and Arctic Explorer

Albert Markham was born at Bagnères-de-Bigorre, France in 1841. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15 and served for eight years on the China station fighting pirates. After being posted to the Mediterranean, Markham was then sent to Australia, where he was involved in suppressing the illegal slave trade in South Sea Islanders to the Australian mainland. In 1873 he became a Commander, but because the Navy turned down his requests to organise an official Arctic expedition he took leave to sail onboard the whaling ship Arctic in the Davis Strait and Baffin Bay in search of routes for further Polar research (Markham wrote a book about his voyage called A Whaling Cruise to Baffin's Bay).

During 1875-1876, Markham commanded HMS Alert under the ultimate command of Captain Sir George Nares; in which they sailed to the Polar Sea in order to explore and collect scientific information. Whilst on the voyage (and despite suffering from scurvy and not having the appropriate clothing for the harsh Arctic climate), Markham and his sledging group reached the furthest North that anyone had ever been at the time (83° 20' N). However, the group failed in their ultimate goal of reaching the North Pole.

Markam next returned to Arctic waters in 1879, when he accompanied Sir Henry Gore-Booth on a cruise to Novaya Zemlya. In 1886 he surveyed ice conditions in Hudson Straight and Hudson Bay for the Canadian Government.

Captain Markham was stationed in the Pacific Ocean from 1879-1882. Markham’s list of Pacific Gulls was published in 1882 by the British Ornithologist, Howard Saunders (with a further publication by the Osbert Salvin in 1883). Salvin even named a bird after Markham in honour of his contribution to science: Markham’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma markhami).

In 1883 Markham became captain of HMS Vernon, the naval torpedo school in Portsmouth. From 1886 to 1889 he was Commodore of the Training squadron. In 1891 Markham was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral, and in 1892 became second in command of the Mediterranean Squadron. Markham's career was marred by an unfortunate accident that cost 358 men their lives: whilst attempting a manoeuvre under direct orders of his commanding officer, Markham’s battleship – the Camperdown – rammed the flagship Victoria. However, at a court martial, Markham was cleared of any wrongdoing as he was merely obeying his orders.

In 1894, Markham married Theodora Gervers from Ross-shire, Scotland (they had one daughter). In 1901, Markham became ‘Commander-in-Chief at the Nore’ – a position of seniority in the Navy with responsibility for the protection of the port of London as well as merchant traffic along the East coast of Britain.

Three years after receiving a knighthood in 1903, Markham retired from the Navy to devote himself to writing books on geographical and biographical subjects. He also wrote many articles for magazines. During the First World War, Markham was involved in the Mine-Sweeping Service. He died in London in 1918 at the age of 77.

A little known fact about Captain Markham is that he was responsible for designing the New Zealand flag (or national ensign). The Governor of New Zealand in 1869 is often credited with the creation of the ensign, however it was Markham (during his time on the Australian Station) who came up with the idea of using the Southern Cross constellation on a blue background next to the Union Flag. Governor Bowden merely approved Markham’s design.

The New Zealand national ensign, as
designed by Markham in 1869.

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