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British Arctic Expedition 1937


  • Led by David Haig-Thomas the men spent a year in northwest Greenland and Ellesmere Island.
  • Whilst here they undertook meteorological measurements and surveyed the southern Ellesmere Island.
  • They were assisted by the local people or Kalaalit during their journey.

Please note the photographs for this expedition are forthcoming.

This was a small expedition consisting of only three members: David Haig-Thomas, John Wright, and Richard Hamilton. Led by David Haig-Thomas the party spent a year in northwest Greenland and Ellesmere Island. The grand sounding name of the British Arctic Expedition was chosen for the trip as the name would sound more prestigious to potential sponsors.

They arrived in Thule in the northwest of Greenland in August 1937. Here they landed their equipment, and Hamilton began meteorological measurements and busied himself making preparations for the coming winter. Meanwhile Wright and Haig-Thomas stayed on board the ship going northward to Robertson Bay to lay a depot for their spring sledging journey. From Robertson Bay, Wright and Haig-Thomas continued northward in an 18-foot boat but they found the ice so tightly packed that a crossing to Ellesmere Island was not possible. Instead they lay their depot near Cape Hatherton, returning to Thule on 3 September.

They spent the dark winter months hunting, skiing and sledging to pass the time. After Christmas two short sledging trips were made: Wright went back to Robertson Bay to buy skins for clothes; whilst Haig-Thomas visited Melville Bay to study the habits of polar bears.

Once the sun returned plans to explore Ellesmere Island were made, accompanied by a Kalaallit (a local indigenous person), they formed two parties: Hamilton and Wright were to survey the southern Ellesmere Island; whilst Haig-Thomas and Nukapinguaq were to cross Ellesmere Island to follow up rumours of a prehistoric skeleton. Unfortunately it had been ten years since Nukapinguaq had sited the skeleton and they were unable to locate the area in which he had seen it, however, they travelled around the area surveying it in the process, returning to Robertson Bay on 15 May.

Meanwhile the surveying party mapped a large proportion of the area. Whilst they did not have a local guide permanently as part of their party they were assisted by various Kalaallit people on their way. They successfully returned to Thule on 29 May.

They spent the rest of the summer at Thule undertaking scientific experiments. When a Danish ship came to collect them, all were eager to head home having heard of the imminent break out of World War Two.

Further Information

Haig-Thomas, D (1939) Tracks in the Snow: London: Hodder & Stoughton.

The Geographical Journal 1940, 95 (4): 265-277.