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Futility Closet

Aug 7, 2017

In 1930, British explorer Augustine Courtauld volunteered to spend the winter alone on the Greenland ice cap, manning a remote weather station. As the snow gradually buried his hut and his supplies steadily dwindled, his relief party failed to arrive. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Courtauld's increasingly desperate vigil on the ice.

We'll also retreat toward George III and puzzle over some unexpected evidence.


Rudyard Kipling hid messages in his illustrations for the Just So Stories.

In the early 1900s, Danes bred pigs colored to resemble the Danish flag.

Sources for our feature on Augustine Courtauld:

Nicholas Wollaston, The Man on the Ice Cap, 1980.

Mollie Butler, August and Rab, 1987.

"Augustine Courtauld," Encyclopedia Arctica (accessed July 23, 2017).

"Augustine Courtauld," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (accessed July 23, 2017).

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 76:1 (July 1930), 67-68.

"British Air Route to the Arctic Regions," Science, New Series, 72:1857 (Aug. 1, 1930), 108-109.

"Swedish Flier Ready to Hop for Greenland to Rescue Courtauld, Young British Explorer," New York Times, April 27, 1931, 4.

Svend Carstensen, "Ahrenberg to Start Rescue Flight Today," New York Times, April 29, 1931, 12.

Svend Carstensen, "Ahrenberg on Way to Save Courtauld, Lost in Greenland," New York Times, April 30, 1931, 1.

"Rescuers Race to Locate Lost Arctic Explorer," China Press, May 2, 1931, 13.

E. Lemon, "Plane in Greenland to Hunt Courtauld," New York Times, May 3, 1931, 2.

Percy Lemon, "Ahrenberg Ready to Fly to Ice Cap," New York Times, May 5, 1931, 6.

"Courtauld Hunted by Sea, Air And Land: Area of Great Arctic Search," New York Times, May 8, 1931, 12.

"Courtauld Rescued," Los Angeles Times, May 8, 1931, 3.

Percy Lemon, "Courtauld Is Found Safe on the Greenland Ice Cap," New York Times, May 8, 1931, 1.

Albin Ahrenberg, "Ahrenberg to Guide Courtauld To Camp," New York Times, May 9, 1931, 1.

Percy Lemon, "Courtauld Back Safely on Greenland Coast," New York Times, May 12, 1931, 1.

H.G. Watkins, "Courtauld Search a Surprise to Him," New York Times, May 14, 1931, 12.

"Courtauld Buried in Igloo 2 Months," Associated Press, May 15, 1931.

"Arctic Burial Escape Told," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1931, 4.

"Courtauld Tells Story of Long Imprisonment," China Press, May 15, 1931, 1.

"Rescued From Greenland's Icy Cap," Sphere 125:1634 (May 16, 1931), 278.

"Courtauld to Sail Home on First Ship," New York Times, May 17, 1931, 2.

T.J.C. Martyn, "Greenland Is Still a Scientific Puzzle," New York Times, May 24, 1931, 4.

Augustine Courtauld, "Courtauld's Story of the Five Months He Spent on Ice Cap," New York Times, May 29, 1931, 1.

"The Ice-Cap Hero," New York Times, May 30, 1931, 8.

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 77:6 (June 1931), 551-554.

"From the Four Winds: Mr. Courtauld's Arctic Vigil," China Herald, June 30, 1931, 459.

"The British Arctic Air Route Expedition," Geographical Journal 78:3 (September 1931), 291.

F.S. Chapman, "Watkins and Aides Held in No Danger," New York Times, Sept. 19, 1931, 17.

"Explorers Return From Greenland," New York Times, Nov. 14, 1931, 8.

William Goodenough, Augustine Courtauld, Lauge Koch, J.M. Wordie, and H.R. Mill, "The British Arctic Air Route Expedition: Discussion," Geographical Journal 79:6 (June 1932), 497-501.

Percy Cox, Helge Larsen, Augustine Courtauld, M.A. Spender and J.M. Wordie, "A Journey in Rasmussen Land: Discussion," Geographical Journal 88:3 (September 1936), 208-215.

Henry Balfour, E.C. Fountaine, W.A. Deer, Augustine Courtauld, L.R. Wager, and Ebbe Munck, "The Kangerdlugssuak Region of East Greenland: Discussion," Geographical Journal 90:5 (November 1937), 422-425.

"Augustine Courtauld Dies at 54: Explored Greenland in Thirties," New York Times, March 4, 1959, 31.

L.R. Wager, "Mr. Augustine Courtauld," Nature 183:4666 (April 4, 1959).

Quintin Riley, "Obituary: Augustine Courtauld 1904-1959," Geographical Journal 125:2 (June 1959), 286-287.

Ronald Porter, "Lady Butler of Saffron Walden,'" Independent, April 1, 2009.

Listener mail:

Matthew J. Kinservik, Sex, Scandal, and Celebrity in Late Eighteenth-Century England, 2007.

Chris Best, "Watch: Hungry Bear Opens Fridge, Rummages Through Home,", July 6, 2017.

"NC Bear Opens SUV Door, Climbs Inside and Destroys It,", July 8, 2017.

Mark Price, "NC's Bears Are Now Opening Car Doors, Leading to Strange Driveway Encounters," Charlotte Observer, July 9, 2017.

"Bear and the SUV," Sylva Herald, June 21, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Sharon. Here are three corroborating links (warning -- these spoil the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

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