DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY. Supplement 1912-21. Pp. 367-68
MARKHAM, SIR CLEMENTS ROBERT (1830-1916), geographer and historical writer, was born at Stillingfleet, Yorkshire, 20 July 1830, the second son of the Rev. David Frederick Markham, vicar of Stillingfleet and canon of Windsor, and grandson of William Markham [q.v.], archbishop of York. His mother was Catherine, daughter of Sir William Milner, fourth baronet, of Nun Appleton Hall, Yorkshire. After two years at Westminster School he entered the navy in 1844 and spent four years in H.M.S. Collingwood on the Pacific station, mainly in South American ports, where he picked up a working knowledge of Spanish. He devoted his leisure to reading books of travel and writing accounts of the countries which he visited. Many things in the service were distasteful to him, but he remained in it three years longer in order to join H.M.S. Assistance as a midshipman under Captain Austin on his Franklin search expedition of 1850-1851. After a visit to William Hickling Prescott, the historian, at Boston, Markham enjoyed a year of wandering (1852-1853) among the Inca ruins in Peru, which made him a lifelong friend of the Peruvian people, while South American history and politics never lost their fascination for him.
In 1853 Markham entered the civil service, and next year was transferred to the board of control of the East India Company, which in 1858 was incorporated in the new India Office. He married in 1857 Minna, daughter of the Rev. James Hamilton John Chichester, rector of Arlington and Loxhore, near Barnstaple. She was an accomplished linguist, devoted to literary pursuits, and worked with him in perfect accord for nearly sixty years. They had one daughter.
In 1860 Markham was charged with the collection of young cinchona trees and seeds in the forests of the Eastern Andes, and with the acclimatization of the plants in India. The difficulties were great, but the result was a complete success, leading in time to the supply of quinine at a very low price. From 1867 to 1877 he had charge of the geographical work of the India Office. In 1868 he accompanied Sir Robert Cornelis (afterwards Baron) Napier [q.v.] as geographer on the Abyssinian campaign; he was present at the capture of Magdala, and it was he who discovered the body of the Emperor Theodore. In 1871 he received the C.B. and in 1873 was elected F.R.S. He took an active part in promoting the revival of Arctic exploration, and sailed in 1875 as far as Greenland with the expedition of (Sir) George Strong Nares [q.v.], on which his cousin (Sir) Albert Hastings Markham [q.v.] was second-in-command.
In 1877 Markham left the India Office and retired from official life, only to redouble his geographical and historical activities, travelling widely and writing incessantly. He had joined the Royal Geographical Society in 1854, and was one of its honorary secretaries for twenty-five years (1863-1888). He became president in 1893 and during his twelve years' tenure of this position he imposed his personality on the society, concerning himself with every detail of its work and vigorously directing its policy of encouraging exploration and geographical education. His influence maintained the popularity of the society and did much to foster the rapid growth of its numbers. Markham was frequently consulted by the government, as, for example, on the difficult question of the boundary between British Guiana and Venezuela. He received the K.C.B. in 1896.
For the next few years Markham threw his whole heart into the promotion of Antarctic exploration, securing funds by urgent appeals to public and private sources. On the joint committee of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, which was responsible for the National Antarctic expedition of 1901, he opposed the proposal to appoint a man of science as leader and insisted that the expedition should consist of naval men under the sole command of a naval officer, accompanied by a small civilian scientific staff. Markham selected Commander Robert Falcon Scott [q.v.] as leader, and the expedition was highly successful. Upon the officers Markham impressed the traditions of the old Arctic service, but he admitted improvements in details. In later South Polar achievements he took but little interest until Captain Scott planned the expedition in the Terra Nova in 1910, when his former ardour was rekindled.
The Hakluyt Society drew from Markham equally hearty support. He served it as secretary for twenty-nine years (1858-1886), as president for twenty more (1889-1909), and he edited for it fully twenty volumes of old travels, translating most of these afresh from the Spanish. He died in London as the result of an accident 30 January 1916, in his eighty-sixth year.
For many years Sir Clements Markham's reputation was established throughout the world as the leading British geographer. Although apt to be obstinate in his opinions and vehement in his likes and dislikes, he had a genius for friendship especially with the young. Westminster schoolboys, cadets of the nautical training colleges, and, above all, young naval officers, found in him a tireless friend, abounding in sympathy and help. In addition to translations and official reports, some of great value, he published fifty volumes. Among these are eighteen biographies (which illustrate his love of paradox and his tendency to hero-worship), twenty historical or ethnographical works, several records of polar discoveries, and three historical romances. It was inevitable that much of his published work should show signs of over-hasty production. His translations sometimes take short cuts through difficulties, and although assiduous in consulting authorities, he often accepted their data uncritically, for he was in all things an enthusiast rather than a scholar.
[Sir Albert Hastings Markham, The Life of Sir Clements Markham, 1917; Sir John Scott Keltie, memoir in the Geographical Journal, vol. xlvii, 1916; private information; personal knowledge. Portrait, Royal Academy
Pictures, 1922.] H. R. M. [Hugh Robert Mill]