Bertram Armytage, carer for the ponies of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, was born 29 September, 1869, in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Armytage attended Geelong Grammar School as well as Melbourne Grammar School before travelling to England for further education. He matriculated in Jesus College, University of Cambridge, for the Michaelmas term of October, 1887. During his year in Cambridge, Armytage took to rowing and was often in the role of coxswain.
In 1900, back in Australia, Armytage became an officer in the Victorian Permanent Artillery. Though he soon gave that up, he resumed the military life when he joined the 6th Dragoon Guards, receiving a commission, to serve in the Boer War. At the end of hostilities, he resigned and returned home. He was decorated for his service in South Africa. Following the war, Armytage spend his time between London and Melbourne and was an active sportsman.
T.W. Edgeworth David assisted Shackleton in obtaining a £5,000 grant from the Australian government and this money allowed Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition 1907- 1909 aboard Nimrod to take on three more members—T.W. Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Armytage. Initially Armytage was signed on as a general helper but assumed responsibility for the care of the Manchurian ponies of the expedition.
Following Armytage’s death not long after the end of the expedition, Shackleton characterized Armytage as a ‘loyal and zealous associate, good for any emergency that, might arise; and always ready to undertake the hardest work that could face them down south.’
His fellow Australian, T.W. Edgeworth David, spoke about Armytage as ‘one of the most conscientious, dutiful, and unselfish members of the [Antarctic expedition’s shore] party. He was a man absolutely without fear for his personal safety, and ever ready to give his life for his flag. He was also a most loyal colleague to all of us. His services to the country in the South African war had given him a keen sense of discipline. Both on board ship and at our winter quarters near Mount Erebus, also on the sledging expeditions, he was most punctilious in carrying out instructions in the minutest detail.’
Following the end of the Nimrod expedition, Armytage received the silver Polar Medal at Buckingham Palace from King Edward VII.
Having returned from the ice, Armytage, desiring a new military appointment, visited the War Office on one of his trips to London. Despite his South African experience, not to mention that of Antarctica, he was unsuccessful in his request.
Bertram Armytage shot himself in his bedroom at the Melbourne Club, Melbourne, at 20 minutes past 6.20pm, Saturday, 12 March, 1910.
Armytage and Rose Watson were married and had one daughter of about four years of age at the time of her father’s death.
‘Armytage, Bertram (1869–1910)’, Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University:
The Age (Melbourne), 14 March, 1910.
Evening Journal (Adelaide), 15 March, 1910.
The Star (Sydney), 15 March, 1910.
Burke, D. Body at the Melbourne Club: Bertram Armytage, Antarctica’s Forgotten Man. Adelaide, 2009.
Sledge – Bertram Armytage, British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909:
Medals Awarded to Bertram Armytage, Como Collection, National Trust of Australia: