William Speirs Bruce didn’t die heroically after reaching the South Pole like Captain Scott and didn’t get his ship stuck in the ice, forcing him to make an epic sea journey like Shackleton.
But they are famous and Bruce, one of the greatest polar explorers, is largely forgotten. He may have been too good to achieve public recognition – there was rarely much drama on his trips because they were so well organised. He is said to have advised Scott that his supply dumps were too far apart and Scott’s party succumbed 11 miles short of food that may have saved them. Bruce was also a Scottish nationalist, which didn’t go down well with the British establishment.
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Now a new book claims he may have been on the autism spectrum at a time when the condition was not really understood. The odds were stacked against him but we can still give Bruce the posthumous recognition he deserves by telling his story.
And, despite the rivalry, we should not forget the camaraderie of polar explorers. After Scott’s death, Bruce said: “The wonder of Scott is he almost succeeded.”