Written by Jo Woolf, RSGS Writer-in-Residence

This is an attempt to explain why there are no newspaper cuttings in the RSGS archives from early 1904 until late 1905. This is approximately the length of Shackleton’s tenure as Secretary.

But first, imagine the RSGS offices within the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, sometime in January 1904...

“Morning, Finlay!”

“Good morning, Mr Shackleton!”

“What the blazes are you up to? Looks like there’s been a wedding, with all this confetti strewn about the place.”

“I’m collecting cuttings from this morning’s newspapers, sir.”

“What the deuce are you doing that for?”

“It’s one of the tasks that Mr Bailey, the last Secretary, explained to me, sir. It’s so that the Society has a written record of lectures and important events. He said…”

“Never mind what he said. The man’s a doddering old fool. Tell me, Finlay, why did you take this job as office assistant?”

“Well, I, ah… I suppose I took it because I want to help advance the cause of geographical science, sir. Exploration, adventure, and discovery, and all that.”

“And do you think you’re going to achieve that by pasting down newspaper cuttings?”

“Er, well, probably not, sir.”

“See here, Finlay. Imagine this golf ball is the Earth. And with this golf club… let’s see, this one has a good grip… with this golf club, you’re taking hold of your destiny. Well, if you dribble the ball around the carpet you’ll be doing that until the end of your life. The end of your life, man! And you’ll go no further than the fireplace, or that bust of old Livingstone over there! What you’ve got to do is seize the opportunity, and take a damn good swing at life. It’s your life, damn it, Finlay! No one else’s!”

“Indeed, sir. But do have a care…”

“Let’s see, we’re facing north here, aren’t we? Well, never mind. Imagine the South Pole lies ten thousand miles in that direction, beyond Queen Street Gardens. How are you going to get there?”

“Well, first I would consult a map, and then…”

“Oh, maps! Yes, yes, of course you’d need a map. You don’t have to go far to find one of those! We’re surrounded by the damn things! What I’m getting at is that you need to have a dream. Be bold, Finlay. Take a stand. Imagine this golf ball is the task you’ve taken on. You’ve got to give it some momentum! So… with this club… let’s say this club is your determination… you must reach right back, and then, with all the force you can muster, you must hit the task hard… I mean hard, like so…”

There is a resounding smash.

“Oh… damnation!”

“Mr Shackleton, sir! The window! I hope no one…”

“Good heavens, no. There’s nobody in the street. Stop flapping, Finlay. Of course, I took the precaution of looking. There’s no one about at all. No harm done. Might have knocked a modicum of sense into them, anyway.

"Well, well… but do you see? That golf ball, now… it’s winging its way towards that glorious flag, that triumph, that undiscovered Pole… whatever you like to call it. There are barriers, Finlay, and it’s your job to break through them. If you want to make discoveries, embellish the field of geographical science, as you put it, you can’t be afraid of smashing a few windows. There’s folk that look through them, and there’s folk that break them and fly through. So do away with the newspaper cuttings, man. Heaven preserve us. That’s a job for the dotards. Do I make myself clear?”

“Of course, sir. Anything to oblige. Forgive me, but may I have a cigarette?”

“Feel free, my dear chap. Don’t mind if I join you. Then we’d better look sharp and tidy things up a bit. Don’t want Mr Geikie standing in a draught, do we? It might do untold damage to his constitution. And, ah, Finlay…”

“Yes, sir?”

“While you’re at it, get on the blower to Mr Bartholomew. Ask him if he knows any glaziers.”