My interest in the Antarctic began when I discovered that a distant relative Dr. John Stanley Cumpston of Australia, a 4 x cousin once removed, wrote the definitive book on Macquarie Island for the Antarctic Division of the Department of External Affairs, Australia.
Published in Canberra in 1968, it describes Macquarie Island, situated some thousand miles south of Tasmania. It was not discovered until 1810, and over the next 100 years the island’s great natural wealth was exploited by both the fur and the oil industries. The ‘Perseverence’ a Sydney sealing vessel discovered it, abounding in fur seals and sea elephants, and despite its bitter weather, it attracted ventures from Australia and New Zealand, at first seeking fur skins, and then valuable sea elephant oil. The oil industry lasted for over a hundred years.
In 1890 the killing of penguins for oil began but in 1919 the Tasmanian Government called a halt following representations from a number of scientific organizations.
His book tells the story of the ships that visited the island and the men who manned them. 'Macquarie Island' is a definitive work in the field of Sub-Antarctic history and takes its place as a classic in the Antarctic story, and I am delighted to own a copy.
John Stanley Cumpston and I share a 3 x great grandfather William Cumpston born about 1769 in Hull...
In the introduction to his book JS Cumpston described how there was no available useful history of any of the Sub-Antarctic Islands. ‘Standing in splendid isolation in the stormy Southern Ocean these islands form a ring of tiny stepping stones between more temperate lands and the ice-covered slopes of the Antarctic Continent. They offer only a precarious foothold and little shelter to those who seek to tarry there’.
The original draft of the text was written in New Zealand between 1950 and 1953.
Dr John Cumpston was a graduate of the University of Melbourne in Arts and Law and a Doctor of Letters in Political Geography. He was an historian in the Department of External Affairs in Canberra. A member of the Department since 1935, he had followed developments in the Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic, and assisted the chief cartographer to prepare the first reliable map of the area, published in 1939. As an Intelligence Officer with the Allied Geographical Section, he compiled a number of topographical studies for use in operations planning. He died in 1986.
I was delighted to find on my visit to Macquarie that a wooden house for researchers has been named in his honour and photographs can be seen in the Photo Gallery. All the staff we spoke to were conversant with his work and made us most welcome.