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Cheetham, Alfred Buchanan

Cheetham, Alfred Buchanan

Alias: Alf

Title: Mr

Rank: Second Officer (Royal Naval Reserve)

Dates: 1867-1918

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Polar Medal (bronze)

Alf Cheetham was born in Liverpool, but spent his formative years in Hull, where he developed a love for things nautical. As a teenager he began working in the North Sea fishing fleets, and he later joined the merchant navy. He married Eliza Sawyer, and they had 13 children together.

Cheetham's first experience of the Antarctic came as a sailor on Morning, one of the two relief ships for Robert Falcon Scott's British National Antarctic Expedition 1902-04 (Discovery). Several years later he returned as third officer and boatswain on Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09 (Nimrod). The boatswain was in charge of the ship's rigging, anchor, general equipment, and deck crew. Although Cheetham was not part of the shore party, he assisted some of the sub-Antarctic oceanographic and geographical research conducted on the voyage back to London under John King Davis.

Cheetham next served as the boatswain for Terra Nova on Scott's last expedition British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 (Terra Nova). By the time he was named third officer of Endurance on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he was one of the most experienced Antarctic hands in the world.

After the abandonment of Endurance in October 1915, there was a shortage of matches and tobacco. Frank Worsley, the captain, described one episode in which Cheetham was desperate to get a match: 'On this particular night Cheetham the third mate let his pipe go out in the height of the gale, and persuaded me to give him a match to himself. The others were so indignant at this that later, when misfortune had again overtaken his pipe and he tried to cadge another, I refused. Seeing how crest-fallen he was, however, I had not the heart to keep one from him, and said, "Look here, I’ll sell you one." "Right, sir," said Cheetham; "what price?" "A bottle of champagne," I replied, laughing in spite of myself. "Done, sir," he retorted; "as soon as I get back to Hull and open my little pub the champagne's yours." Unfortunately the debt was never paid' (Worsley, 'Endurance', 1931: 75).

Upon his return from the expedition, Cheetham learned that his 16-year-old son William had died while serving on SS Adriatic. Cheetham himself quickly enlisted in the merchant marine. He was serving as second officer on the minesweeper SS Prunelle when she was torpedoed in the North Sea shortly before the Armistice, and he was lost with the ship.

Cheetham was awarded the Polar Medal four times, making him one of the most decorated Antarctic sailors. He received the Polar Medal in bronze for the voyage of Morning and a bronze clasp for the Nimrod Expedition. He received the Polar Medal in silver for the Terra Nova Expedition and a silver clasp for the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition

Two Antarctic landmarks were named after Cheetham. The Cheetham Ice Tongue (75°45'S, 162°55'E) is a small ice tongue projecting from the coast of Victoria Land into the Ross Sea. Cape Cheetham (70°18'S, 162°42'E) is an ice-covered cape forming the northeast extremity of the Stuhlinger Ice Piedmont.


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