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Clark, Robert Selbie

Clark, Robert Selbie

Alias: Bob

Title: Dr

Rank: Lieutenant (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve)

Dates: 1882-1950

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver)

Robert Selbie Clark was born in Aberdeen and attended Aberdeen Grammar School and Aberdeen University, receiving two degrees from the latter. He then took up a position as zoologist at the Scottish Oceanographic Laboratory in Edinburgh, which had been founded by William Speirs Bruce to store and study the botanical, zoological, and geological collections brought back by his Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902–04). Clark worked on the zoological collections and assisted in editing the expedition reports.

Although the image of the 'dour Scotsman,' with an intense work ethic and a seeming lack of interest in enjoying a laugh or a joke, Clark was an exceptional sportsman and was chosen to play cricket for the Scottish National Team in 1912. He was also an excellent golfer and angler. In 1913 Clark was appointed as a naturalist for the Plymouth Marine Biological Association (PMBA).

Shackleton's selection of Clark as biologist for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was reputedly made at the recommendation of Bruce. But Clark did not immediately accept Shackleton's offer and waited to join the expedition until just an hour before the ship departed. Once aboard, Clark earned the respect of the other members of the expedition by his willingness to volunteer for any job that needed doing, no matter how unpleasant. At the same time, he carried out extensive scientific work during the early part of the expedition and then during Endurance's drift in the Weddell Sea. This included studies of penguins and the collection of specimens from different ocean depths.

When Endurance was abandoned, Clark had to leave behind his entire collection. Undeterred, during the four and a half months on Elephant Island, he continued to examine the penguins that were killed for food and fuel. For his invaluable contributions to the expedition, Clark was awarded the Polar Medal in silver.

Soon after his return to Scotland, Clark married Christine Ferguson. Joining the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, he served as a lieutenant on a mine-sweeper during the First World War. He returned to the PMBA in 1919, where he continued his study of the larval and post-larval stages of teleostean fishes, skates, and rays. In 1923 he returned to Scotland, and the next year he was again selected for the Scottish National Cricket Team, finishing his career playing in two matches and four innings, scoring 19 runs, and making two catches. The next year he was awarded a DSc and was also named director of the Fishery Board Research Station in Torry, Aberdeen. In 1934 he was appointed superintendent of scientific investigators under the Fishery Board for Scotland.

During the Second World War, Clark served on a number of important committees, including the Interdepartmental Committee on Overfishing, a report from which formed the basis of negotiations at the International Overfishing Conference of 1946 and subsequent meetings of the Standing Advisory Committee. Clark retired in 1948 and died two years later at his home outside of Aberdeen.


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