Dick Barton, the mapping of South Georgia… and a solitude experiment

In 1951 Duncan Carse, the voice of ‘Dick Barton – Special Agent’, a BBC serial thriller with a huge daily audience, abruptly gave up his radio acting career to lead a six-man private Antarctic expedition during 1951-52 that planned to make the first accurate map of South Georgia. It failed to achieve this, but Carse organised a second party in 1953-54, and then a third in 1955-56. Finally, his persistence was rewarded in 1958 by the publication of a map by the Directorate of Overseas Surveys which remained the definitive map of the island until 2004.

Alec Trendall was geologist on the South Georgia Surveys. Between 1954 and 2002 he lost contact with Carse, but met him again in Sussex in 2003. Recognising that the South Georgia Surveys merited a proper written record, after Duncan’s death in 2004 he began to write Putting South Georgia on the Map which was published in 2011. Carse’s abandonment of his professional career to become a freelance explorer is explained for the first time. As an apprentice on a square-rigged ship, then as a seaman on an Antarctic research vessel, and later on a British expedition to the Antarctic peninsula, he had developed a burning ambition to lead a trans-Antarctic expedition. He never fulfilled this desire, and died in 2004 a disappointed man. But his contribution to Antarctic exploration was rewarded by the award of a second clasp to his Polar Medal by Queen Elizabeth II in July 1982.



In the midst of this story, Carse embarked on a 18 month solitude experiment in 1961, becoming a hermit at Ducloz Head on the south coast of South Georgia. The 1976 documentary Survival in Limbo is an account of the remarkable story directed by David Cobham for the BBC, and relived by Carse.

The Edgar portrait head of Carse is now cast in bronze at South Georgia Museum, South Atlantic and in the Scott Polar Research Institute collection. (The SPRI web archive includes several images of Carse and Trendall from the 1950s expeditions.) The original terracotta remains at Carse’s former home in Sussex where the sculptor now lives.

This Guardian article on Carse by Jon McGregor (2007) is also worth reading.