Markham, Clements Robert

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(b. Stillingfleet, Yorkshire, England, 20 July 1830; d. London, England, 30 January 1916)


The second son of David F. Markham and the former Catherine Milner, Markham attended Westminster School for two years before joining the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1844. By the time he left the service in December 1851, he had acquired various technical, nautical, and geographical skills, which were the extent of his formal education. After a year in Peru (1852–1853) studying Inca ruins, he spent most of the next two decades in the service of the India Office. In 1860 Markham planned and executed a project for the acclimatization of Peruvian cinchona in India, an enterprise which had immense significance for public health and for the Indian economy. During this period he wrote extensively on topics in geography, economic botany, and technology related to the development of the British Empire. Combining these pursuits with a historical interest in the diffusion of Islamic technology, he studied the irrigation systems of southeastern Spain with an eye toward the agricultural development of the Madura district of India.

Markham left the India Office in 1877 and devoted the rest of his life to the promotion of geographical research, exploration, and education. He considered himself a comparative and historical geographer and stressed the value of historical records for the study of physical geography. Markham was secretary of the Hakluyt Society (1858–1886) and then president (1889–1909). Under his direction the society published a series of historical accounts of exploration. Markham edited twenty volumes of the series himself and was responsible for editions of several important treatises in the history of science, including a reedition of Edward Grimston’s translation (1604) of José de Acota’s Natural and Moral History of the Indies; Robert Hue’s Tractauts de globis coelesti et terrestri ac eorem usu conscriptus (1594); and Garcia da Orta’s Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, the latter in Markham’s translation.

Markham’s major work took place in the Royal Geographical Society, which he had joined in 1854. As a secretary from 1863 to 1888 and as president from 1893 to 1905, Markham helped to found a school of geography at Oxford; and it was under his aegis that the Geographical Journal became “the chief repository of geographical information from all parts of the world” (“Presidential Address,” in Geographical Journal, 22 [1903], 1).

As president he enjoined both the Geographical Society and the nation to embark upon what he called an “Antarctic crusade” (Geographical Journal, 14 [1899], 479). He believed that the polar regions, particularly the southern one, comprised the single great geographical problem left for England to solve. Markham’s program for polar exploration was carefully conceived. His chief arctic canons were that progress should always be made along the coastlines and that in order to be successful, an expendition had to remain over at least one winter in order to collect significant meteorological and magnetic data. Polar research should have two principal focuses: work conducted on the shore and that carried out aboard ship along the coasts. Research on shore would include (1) geographical exploration, (2) geology, (3) studies of glaciation, (4) magnetic observations, (5) meteorologicalical observations, (6) pendulum observation, (7) studies of tides, and (8) inshore and land biology. Shipboard tasks would comprise (1) surveying coastlines, (2) magnetic observations, (3) meteorological studies, (4) deep-sea sounding, and (5) marine biology (see Geographical Journal, 18 [1901], 13–25). As president of the Geographical Society, he established a research committee for polar exploration designed to ensure the maximum preparation and planning toward the accomplishment of these goals.

Not interested in promoting a mere race to the poles, Markham frequently stressed that the aim of such expeditions was to “secure useful scientific results” (“Presidential Address,” in Geographical Journal, 4 [1894], 7). Although he worked closely with the Royal Society in the planning of polar expeditions, Markham always favored navy men over scientists to lead expeditions.

The last part of Markham’s career was linked to the fortunes of Commander Robert F. Scott, whose first Antarctic expedition (voyage of the Discovery, 1901–1904) was the crowning achievement of Markham’s exploration program. He continued writing on the subject and played an active role in the planning of Scott’s fatal expedition on the Terra Nova (1910–1912). Described by a navy colleague as a “peripatetic encyclopedia,” Markham’s scholarship suffered from overextended interests and hasty research. His organizational and promotional talents, however, sufficed to make him the leading figure of Victorian geography.


I. Original Works. Markham’s main scientific work divides into three primary categories: writings relating to Indian problems, those describing or promoting polar exploration, and essays concerning the nature and history of geographical research.

On the acclimatization of cinchona, see Travels in Peru and India While Superintending the Collection of Chinchona Plants and Seeds in South America, and Their Introduction Into India (London, 1862); and Peruvian Bark (London, 1880). See also his treatise on the diffusion of irrigation practices, Report on the Irrigation of Eastern Spain (London, 1867).

Of the Arctic literature, the important titles are Franklin’s Footsteps (London, 1853); The Threshold of the Unknown Region (London, 1873); Arctic and Antarctic Exploration (Liverpool, 1895); Antarctic Exploration: A Plea for a National Expedition (London, 1898); “The Antarctic Expeditions,” in Geographical Journal, 14 (1899), 473–481; “Considerations Respecting Routes for an Antarctic Expedition,” ibid., 18 (1901), 13–25; “The First Year’s Work of the National Antarctic Expedition,” ibid., 22 (1903), 13–20; and his posthumous book, Lands of Silence (Cambridge, 1921).

For geographical history and theory, see “The Limits Between Geology and Physical Geography,” in Geographical Journal, 2 (1893), 518–525; Major James Rennell and the Rise of Modern English Geography (London, 1895); “The Field of Geography,” in Geographical Journal, 11 (1898), 1–15; “View of the Progress of Geographical Discovery,” in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th ed. (1875), under “Geography”; and “The History of the Gradual Development of the Groundwork of Geographical Science,” in Geographical Journal, 46 (1915), 173–185.

On Markham’s role as a geographical entrepreneur, see The Fifty Years’ Work of the Royal Geographical Society (London, 1881); “The Present Standpoint of Geography,” in Geographical Journal, 2 (1893), 481–504; Hakluyt: His Life and Work. With a Short Account of the Aims and Achievements of the Hakluyt Society (London, 1896); Address on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Foundation of the [Hakluyt ] Society (London, 1911); and his presidential addresses to the Royal Geographical Society, all pub. in Geographical Journal, esp. those of 1894 (4 , 1–25), 1899 (14 , 1–14), 1901 (18 , 1–13), and 1903 (22 , 1–13).

II. Secondary Literature. Antonio Olivas, “Contribución a la bibliografia de Sir Clements Robert Markham”, in Boletin bibliográfico (Lima), 12 (1942), 69–91, is adequate for secondary literature about Markham emanating from Latin America but is deficient otherwise. The standard biographical source is Albert H. Markham, The Life of Sir Clements R. Markham (London, 1917). On Markham’s role in the Antarctic expeditions, see Robert F. Scott, The Voyage of the “Discovery” (dedicated to Markham as “the father of the expedition”), 2 vols. (London, 1905; repr. New York, 1969); Margery and James Fisher, Shackleton and the Antarctic (Boston, 1958); and L. B. Quartermain, South to the Pole (London, 1967), which cites the relevant earlier bibliography. On Markham’s deficiencies as a translator, see Harry Bernstein and Bailey W. Diffie, “Sir Clements R. Markham as a Translator” in Hispanic American Historical Review, 17 (1937), 546–557.

Thomas F. Glick

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Markham, Clements Robert

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