Augustine Courtauld | Lives well Lived

Augustine Courtauld

Augustine Courtauld (26 August 1904–3 March 1959), often called August Courtauld, was a yachtsman and British Arctic explorer, best known for serving as the solo meteorologist of a winter observation post, Icecap Station, located in the interior of Greenland in 1930-1931. He was the son of British industrialist Samuel Courtauld.

During the pioneer powered flights over the Atlantic Ocean in the 1920s, it was already clear that an all-ocean route was suboptimal, especially when flying from east to west. The Great Circle routes from much of Europe to much of North America approach or pass over the island of Greenland, and strong jet stream winds are a further incentive to the westbound flier to take a northern route. During the 1920s, however, little was known of climatic conditions on the coastline of Greenland, and almost literally nothing was known of the weather in the interior of Greenland during the polar winter. The Gino Watkins-led expedition of 1930-1931, the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, was intended to gather data aimed at solving these puzzles.

Augustine Courtauld, a young City stockbroker and graduate of Cambridge University, joined the Watkins/BAARE expedition and volunteered to conduct meteorological observations at Icecap Station, a purpose-built post atop the Greenland ice cap, 8,600 feet (2,600 m) above sea level and 112 miles (180 km) west of the expedition’s main base. Courtauld volunteered and served as a solo observer at this post for a five-month tour of duty during the height of the 1930-1931 winter. Watkins and other expedition members relieved him on May 5, 1931, just as Courtauld’s food and fuel were running out. Courtauld was a member of the party to make the first ascent of Gunnbjorn Fjeld (3963m), the highest mountain in the Arctic in 1935.

Upon his return to England, Courtauld was awarded the Polar Medal.

Personal life

Courtauld married Mollie Montgomerie in 1932. The couple raised six children at their seat, Spencers, in Great Yeldham, Essex. In later life (1953), Courtauld served for a year as High Sheriff of Essex, and also turned to what become his first love, yachting; Mollie was to later recall that “life with August was to consist largely of life at sea.” Augustine became ill with multiple sclerosis in 1953, and died as a result of complications of this illness in March 1959.