April 30, 2020

Captain Sir Jameson Boyd Adams, KCVO, CBE, DSO, RD, died on 30 April, 1962.

Jameson Boyd Adams—Bill Adams or ‘The Mate’—was born on 6 March 1880, in Rippingale, Lincolnshire. Adams joined the Merchant Navy in 1893 and by 1902 he had gained the Master’s ticket. He joined the Royal Naval Reserve and in 1906 he was commissioned Lieutenant and served on HMS Berwick. On their first meeting in the summer of 1906, Adams asked Shackleton that if he was planning a polar expedition to consider taking him along.

Marshall (standing) and Adams (sitting) on deck of SS Runic, December, 1907. Scott Polar Research Institute.

Although he was in line for a promotion to the Royal Navy, Adams accepted the offer to be second-in-command of the shore party of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica. Adams was in command of the support party for the Mount Erebus summit party and reached the summit on 10 March, 1908. He was also part of the southern party of the expedition and, along with Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall, reached 88°23’ South.

A week or so before the polar team left Cape Royds, Shackleton put his financial arrangement with Adams (and others) into writing to cover him in the case of his death on the trek to the Pole. Shackleton distributed responsibilities for lecturing, Antarctic specimens, photo/film rights and other details that would arise following the completion of the expedition. Shackleton also generously distributed money to his men whether he had it or not. He increased Adams’s salary from £200 to £300 a year supposed that there would be funds to pay him a bonus of £3,000 and a later additional £1,000.

On the southern voyage, the four men had frequent falls through weak ice covering deep crevasses. Wild wrote that the

first few falls are decidedly upsetting to the nerves and heart…but after a few dozen falls (I have had hundreds), the nervous shock lessens.

He wrote that Adams was one of those men who never overcame the horror of such falls. As the southern voyage continued, and particularly after the ponies were dead, Wild thought that neither Adams nor Marshall were pulling their weight and generally thought that Ernest Joyce and George Marston would have made better choices as members of the polar party rather than Adams and Marshall.

Adams seems to have held a respect for the timing of Shackleton’s decision to order the polar team to turn back when he did. Decades after the expedition, he calculated that another hour’s march south would have resulted in the death of all four men.

Roland Huntford wrote that Adams was ‘[t]all, rough-spoken and very much the seadog’ and W. J. Mills has written much the same but in different words commenting that his polar colleagues noted Adams for ‘his colo[u]rful language and a sharp temper, but no one had more grit.’ Eric Marshall seemed to get on best with Adams during the expedition with whom he shared his thoughts about the ‘uselessness’ of Shackleton’s initial idea of having six men and six ponies for the southern journey. Even of Adams, though, Marshall was critical as he wrote that Adams was ‘argumentative, childish, hopeless; idiot at critical times’.Raymond Priestley, Nimrod’s geologist, wrote of Adams:

We didn’t like him very much but he clearly had his points: some of them, indeed, were very sharp.

Despite this, Priestley was friendly with Adams later in life and they lunched together in London often.


Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams aboard Nimrod after their polar journey. National Library of Australia.

Following the end of the expedition, Adams joined the civil service and was appointed as a Divisional Officer in the Labour Exchange and Unemployment Insurance Branch of the Labour Department.

It appears that Adams had a brief time in the army, being granted a commission in the West Riding Royal Horse Artillery as Second Lieutenant on 4 March, 1913. Adams and Phebe Carnac Thompson Fisher were married in the latter half of 1914—a notice was placed in ‘The Times’ that ‘a marriage had been arranged’ in August, 1914. Phebe’s father was the Right Reverend George Carnac Fisher who served as Bishop of Southampton and later as Bishop of Ipswich. In 1900, he had the fourteenth-century tower of Burgh St Margaret church in Fleggburgh, Norfolk, repaired and restored as well as having the three ancient bells re-cast and re-hung. The family lived in nearby Burgh Hall.

In the early stage of World War I, Adams served as a Flag Lieutenant to Rear Admiral Sir Horace Lambert Alexander Hood. In 1915 he was recalled from naval service, however, an undertook a time of special work in Prime Minister Lloyd George’s newly formed Ministry of Munitions. He returned to military service and was Commanding Officer of the battery Carnac of the Royal Navy Siege Guns at Nieuport, Belgium. Here, Adams was wounded and this brought an end to his service for which he was granted the Distinguished Service Order and the Croix de Guerre.

Shackleton and Adams munching sandwiches on the deck of Nimrod. Scott Polar Research Institute.

Following the war, Adams returned to his civil service career and seems to have performed very well as he was appointed Commander of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire on 4 June, 1928. He is named as ‘Jameson Boyd Adams, Esq., D.S.O., Divisional Controller. North Eastern Division, Ministry of Labour’. He left this employment in 1935 to become Secretary of King George’s Jubilee Trust for Youth. The trust was established by Edward, Prince of Wales, as a tribute to the King to mark the twenty-fifth year of his reign. The trust was to provide funds to voluntary youth organisations around the United Kingdom. Adams had previously been involved in youth organisations and then took on this nationwide responsibility. He continued in this role until his retirement in 1948. It is, presumably, for his work with the trust that Adams was appointed as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in in 1938 and then promoted to Knights Commander of the order in 1948.

Adams served again during the Second World War with HMS Sheba at the Royal Navy base, Aden on the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula and then with HMS Cormorant at the Royal Navy base at Gibraltar. Adams’ papers and notes relating to the Antarctic expedition with Shackleton were all lost when his London home was hit by a bomb during the Blitz of the city in 1940.

Later in his life, Adams was a member of the exclusive gentleman’s club, White’s in St James’s, London. Even after his retirement, Adams continued working and was honorary appeals secretary for the King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officers in Marylebone, London.

Phebe, Adams’s wife, died in 1952. The couple had two children—a son and a daughter.

Adams maintained links to the King George’s Jubilee Trust after his retirement. He attended a luncheon given the by trust at St James’s Place on 12 May, 1953, to mark the publication of the programme for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, presided over the event.

Adams, The Times, 1 May, 1962.

Adams died on 30 April, 1962, in Westminster, London. He is buried at Golders Green Crematorium, London.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester unveiled a memorial window was erected by the council of King Edward VII’s Hospital for Officer, Sister Agnes Founder, to perpetuate the memory of Adams. The ceremony was brief and attended by a small number of people but the window was later placed in the entrance hall of the hospital’s Beaumont House.

Adams left an estate of £31,526 upon his death.

Adams in The Antarctic Book Winter Quarters 1907-1909.



Butler, A. The Quest for Frank Wild. Radway, 2019.

Daly, R. W. The Shackleton Letters: Behind the Scenes of the Nimrod Expedition. Eccles, 2009.

Huntford, R. Shackleton. London, 2000.

jmc4 – Church Explorer, Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/52219527@N00/35007355665

Jubilee Trust. H.R.H. the Prince of Wales makes personal appeal through Pathe Gazette, British Pathé: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/jubilee-trust

The London Gazette, 6 February, 1906; 2 April, 1912; 16 May, 1913; 1 June, 1928; l0 June, 1938; 4 June, 1948.

Mills, L. ‘Polar Friction: the relationship between Marshall and Shackleton’. 2012.

Mills, W. J. Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia Vol. I. Santa Barbara, 2003.

Priestley, R. E., ‘Obituary: Commander Sir Jameson Boyd Adams, K. C. V. O. C. B. E. D. S. O.’, The Geographical Journal, Vol. 128, No. 3 (1962), p. 367.

Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) Officers 1939-1945: https://www.unithistories.com/officers/RNR_officersA.html#Adams_JB

Shackleton, E. H. (ed.) The Antarctic Book Winter Quarters 1907-1909. London, 1909.

Shackleton Online, Scott Polar Research Institute: https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/shackleton/biographies/Adams,_Jameson_Boyd/

Smith, M. ‘Nimrod: The British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-09’, The James Caird Society Journal No. 4 (2008).

The Times (London), 24 August, 1914; 13 May, 1953; 1 May, 1962; 26 June, 1962; 10 May, 1963.

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