Roamer: Two Ulstermen who stamped world history with hugely individual aplomb

Ernst Clark
Ernst Clark

Two Ulstermen who played a very distinctive and significant role in world history were introduced to us by News Letter readers earlier this month.

Two Ulstermen who played a very distinctive and significant role in world history were introduced to us by News Letter readers earlier this month.

One was Arctic explorer Edward Bingham from Dungannon who, from the 1930s, charted countless miles of ice-clad coastline on the north and south poles and later devised life-saving cold-weather clothing for Allied sailors on WWII’s arctic convoys.

The other was Ernest Clark, born of Ulster stock in Plumstead, Kent, a businessman, lawyer, banker, top civil servant and Governor of Tasmania from 1933.

Several (presumably) pet-loving readers were intrigued with the short reference to Edward Bingham’s widely-acclaimed expertise at husky sledging and others noted Ernest Clark’s glowing record as Secretary of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance and Head of the Civil Service from 1921 to 1925.

I’ve been sent more information about both of these historic figures, first from Patrick Neill in Portstewart:“Sir Ernest Clark was appointed assistant under-secretary of Ireland in 1920 with the task of establishing the completely new administrative structure of the Government of Northern Ireland under the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

“Working in conjunction with Sir James Craig he devised a scheme for establishing the new Northern Ireland government and administration. The scheme was agreed and ready to be implemented by May 1921 and the first N.I. Parliament met in June 1921.

“This ensured that the formation of the Government of NI was not delayed. A delay would have had major repercussions for the fledgling entity of Northern Ireland. Establishing the new N.I. government depended to a large extent on obtaining staff, records and finance from Dublin Castle - the headquarters of the British government in Ireland.

“As long as the establishment of NI remained a priority Dublin Castle tended to cooperate. When establishing a truce (which was agreed in July 1921with the IRA and creating a ‘Dominion’ government within the British Empire in Southern Ireland, the establishment of N.I. was no longer as great a priority for the UK government.

“The work of Clark in conjunction with Craig the Prime Minister of N.I. in dealing with Dublin and London ensured that a N.I. government was exercising most of its powers prior to the signing of the Treaty establishing the Irish Free State in December 1921.

“Clark was appointed Secretary of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Finance and head of the NI Civil Service in 1921-1925.

“He had a congenial manner and was both popular and influential. It was largely due to his skill that the severance of financial relations between the governments in Dublin and Belfast was so amicably achieved. He also helped Craig negotiate favourable financial provisions for the new NI government with the UK government.”

Patrick Neill ended his e-mail to Roamer “I hope this helps.” It most certainly does, and he also pointed me to a source of further information about Sir Ernest’s lengthy tally of industrial triumphs as Governor of Tasmania which will be shared here in the near future.

On Wednesday, March 4 this page opened “Edward W. Bingham, born in 1901, was the son of the greatly respected headmaster of Dungannon Royal School, Robert W. Bingham.

Along with amazing exploits as an arctic explorer, Edward Bingham developed the kit and clothing that became standard weather-wear for WWII sailors on ferociously cold arctic convoys.”

During the hair-raising accounts here of Bingham’s ice-cap expeditions, his expertise with huskies was mentioned, and I’ve received more details about his (apparently greatly acclaimed) dog-handling accolades.

In late 1936 he took part in a charting survey of Graham Land, the closest part of Antarctica to South America. This expedition finally confirmed that the area was a peninsula, and not, as was previously thought, an archipelago.

It also established Captain Bingham as sledge-dog maestro!

Several of the sledging journeys used four or five sledges each with a team of seven, eight or nine dogs.

This called for much training and care for the dogs. On one occasion there were over 100 huskies on the base!Bingham had a great affinity with them and put an immense amount of time and work into canine health, education and welfare.

He became a talented dog driver, a skill that became invaluable to him when he was appointed to command the then newly created Falkland Islands Dependencies Surveyin 1945.

The Falklands Survey was set up to continue and expand the work of a small wartime security expedition that operated in the northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was a mammoth task for Bingham to organise the stores and equipment for the domestic and scientific requirements,

not to mention arranging for dogs to be purchased and transported from Labrador in the immediate post-war conditions.

How it was achieved is summarised in a quotation from Sir Vivian Fuchs’ book Of Ice and Men:

“Bingham...used his knowledge of how the Services worked to pressurize or cajole shocked and reluctant naval storekeepers into giving him what was needed without wasting time going through the normal channels – frequently without the blessing of official sanction.”

As well as Sir Vivian Fuchs’ account, a book ‘Of Dogs and Men - Fifty Years in the Antarctic’ with a foreword by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales was published as “a tribute to the late Ted Bingham whose skill and enthusiasm for dog driving became a tradition.”