History - Augustine Courtauld Trust
About Augustine Courtauld
1904 - 1959
Augustine Courtauld ("August", as he was always called) was a very unusual man. An idealist who followed his star all his life: explorer, sailor, navigator, climber, countryman, his life was full of adventure.
On the title page of his autobiographical memoir Man the Ropes (1957) he quoted Masefield's words:
The power of man is as his hopes. In darkest night, the cocks are crowing. With the sea roaring and the wind blowing; Adventure. Man the ropes.
Many of his adventures were in the Arctic where he was an outstanding explorer, taking part in four expeditions to Greenland in the 1920s and '30s. The most notable of these was Gino Watkins' British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-31.
With the expansion of air travel the possibility opened up of an air route to North America, the quickest route being via Iceland and Greenland. But no one knew what the weather was like over the Greenland ice cap, particularly in winter. This expedition went to find out. A station to observe and record the weather was established at an altitude of over 8,000 ft up on the ice cap, some 140 miles inland from the coast. Jimmy Scott (another member of the expedition) wrote in his Foreword to Man the Ropes that August
"had travelled in from the coast with a party which was to stock the weather station adequately for two men to stay there. Atrocious weather had so slowed down the journey that most of the food intended for the station was eaten on the way there. It looked as if the place would have to be closed down and the series of observations broken.
'I worked out,' Courtauld writes, 'that I could last out alone for five months. As I had frostbite in my toes, I had no wish to make the journey back. So I decided to stay on my own and keep the station going.'
A touch of frostbite is an original reason for choosing a winter of solitary confinement in a place where anything might happen since no one had ever seen it at that season before."
Man of Essex
Born and brought up in Essex, where his family had lived for generations, he was a true man of Essex, of whom his county can be rightly proud. He took a leading part in a number of charitable causes there; sat as a JP on the local bench; for ten years he was a member of Essex County Council and in 1953 served as High Sheriff of the county.
He was a countryman who loved his native county, and even more he loved the seas round its coast and beyond, exploring them in his boat Duet, never happier than when under sail. He was married in 1932 and had six children.
Before World War II he joined an organisation which later became known as SOE and in the summer of 1939 he was asked by Naval Intelligence to take Duet up the Norwegian coast from Bergen north to Trondheim, to gather all the information he could about harbours, lengths of quays, sites of factories, etc.
He was a brilliant navigator at sea and the return journey across the North Sea to the Shetland Islands provided a remarkable example.
As they were leaving the Norwegian coast a thick fog came down, only giving August one short glimpse of a misty sun before it was blotted out. The fog persisted but next day, still in thick visibility, he brought Duet right into Lerwick harbour, an astonishing achievement.
Later that year on the outbreak of World War II he was summoned to work in Intelligence at the Admiralty. At the time of Dunkirk his frustration and longing to be at sea led him as a Lieutenant in the RNVR to change to Coastal Forces, which he served with his usual gallantry and dash in small MTBs, MGBs and MLs, and later in larger ships in Atlantic convoys.
After the war he was able to fulfil a long term interest, putting together an anthology of polar writings. With the help of a young researcher from Oxford, he produced From the Ends of the Earth, a fascinating collection of writings ranging from Homer and a 1st century BC Greek writing on Thule, to the explorers of his own day.
In his late 40s he was cruelly afflicted by multiple sclerosis and increasingly disabled. He died when only 54 and was buried at sea from the Lifeboat he had given (in memory of his mother) to the Walton and Frinton station.
The Augustine Courtauld Trust
Among the many good causes which he supported were organisations to promote the welfare of the young, the handicapped, the countryside, certain churches, as well as Arctic exploration and the RNLI. He always hated any sort of fuss and when he established this Trust in 1956 he wrote to the Trustees indicating the kind of charitable objects he was keen on, saying simply "My idea is to make available something that will do some good". The Trustees have always been mindful of the causes close to his heart.
Quoting again from Jimmy Scott's Foreword to Man the Ropes:
"Courtauld has had many adventures of a different sort, fearlessly and obstinately crusading for the good of his fellow men." The Trust, which bears Augustine Courtauld's name, seeks to follow its founder's lead and inspiration, and to continue "crusading for the good of his fellow men."