1936 Royal Society Expedition to Montserrat - The Archibald Gordon MacGregor Archive - Documents

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The 'letter of instruction' from the Royal Society to A G MacGregor

This material consists of 40 letters (totalling 80 pages) and assorted reports (96 pages) relating to the expedition arrangements and the geology of the islands visited during the expedition. It also includes MacGregor's lecture notes to a number of learned societies and the diary (96 pages) and associated notes (54 pages) he kept while on the expedition. Two sample documents are provided for display.

  • The 'letter of instruction' from the Royal Society to A G MacGregor
  • The first Interim Report written by A G MacGregor on 4th April 1936

The 'letter of instruction' from the Royal Society to A G MacGregor[edit]

The Royal Society Burlington House London, W 19th February 1956

Regent 5865 Enclosure

Dear Sir,

Letter of Instructions

The object of your visit to the island of Montserrat is to make a geological reconnaissance of the island to determine as far as possible the sequence and arrangement of the rocks, and the geological history, with more detailed examination of typical or key sections.

To determine whether there is evidence of recent volcanic activity; whether any of the surface features represent ancient craters or loci of recent eruption. The southern parts of the island with the soufrières should be examined first; then the central mountains and such parts of the distant coast as may seem necessary. You will be met on arrival at Plymouth and you should report to the Commissioner who will give you all facilities, so far as he is able, for carrying out your work during your stay in the island.

Interim Reports - If your work has progressed sufficiently interim reports should be sent to the Secretary of the Montserrat Committee at the Royal Society at the end of each month. If it is possible to insert in such reports material which would be of use to issue to the press, such should be inserted. 2. Press - no information should be passed to anybody in the island or elsewhere in relation to your work, all reports being addressed to the Royal Society. Expenses - A sum of money has been transferred to the Royal Bank of Canada at Plymouth and a letter authorising you to draw on this account for your living and travelling expenses is attached hereto. It will be necessary for you to hire porters and transport. You are authorised to charge a maximum of £14 for services during the sea voyages, i.e. £7 for outward and homeward passages respectively. You should keep a strict account of all your expenses and divide them into subsistence and travelling expenses.

Return Passage - You will be responsible for making arrangements for booking your return passage at the end of about 3 months, i.e. about the beginning of June, and notification of your date of sailing should be sent to the Secretary of the Committee as soon as possible.

Yours faithfully,

[signed S Chapman]

Chairman, Montserrat Committee.

A G MacGregor, Esq., Passenger per SS Venezuela, Cabin 21, c/o George Hammond & Co., 3 Strond Street, Dover.

First interim report written by A G MacGregor on 4th April 1936[edit]

Cocoanut Hill Hotel, Montserrat, BWI April 4th 1936

The Secretary, Montserrat Committee, Royal Society, London

Dear Sir

I beg to submit the following interim report.

I arrived at Barbados on Mar 6th, and on the way from there to Montserrat took motor trips in the islands of St. Lucia and Dominica, as well as in Barbados, in order to get an idea of the local geology. These excursions were made at my own expense.

I arrived at Montserrat as anticipated on Mar 9th and took up my quarters at the Cocoanut Hill Hotel. The Governor of the Leeward Islands, Sir Gordon Letham, had been paying his first visit to Montserrat, and saw me for a few minutes before he left by the boat on which I had arrived. Mr Baynes, Commissioner for Montserrat went with him to Antigua, and remained there for a fortnight. The acting Commissioner, Dr Margetson, and Mr Gomez Curator of the Botanical Station, gave me every facility for a general tour of the island, and placed a room at the Grove Botanical Station at the disposal of the expedition.

The soufrières of the island are all in the Soufrière Hills district; much the most impressive is Galways, situated to the south of the summit of the Soufrière Hills. Gas and steam are here being emitted with a continuous roar, like that produced by the release of steam from a high-pressure boiler. This is however said to be the normal condition of the soufrière. The gas and steam at Gages Lower Soufrière, where Mr Perret's investigations have been carried out, are emitted continuously but quietly. Two small areas of mild soufrière activity, previously unvisited, have been located; here hydrogen sulphide gas is emitted without steam in the bottom of dry gorges. There is no evidence of recent explosive activity at any of the soufrières. The 'bombs' mentioned by Mr Perret at Gages Lower Soufrière appear to be andesite fragments weathered out of the local agglomerate of the gorge walls. Three expeditions have been made to Mr English's alleged crater on the Tar River side of the Soufrière Hills. I enclose a panoramic photo taken from close to Tar River (which is a house) looking south-westwards. The dark forest-clad hill in the centre of the picture (about 2530 ft high) known locally as Castles Peak or Castor and Pollux, is composed, at least in the main of porphyritic andesite (probably hornblende-andesite) of a very pale grey colour. A deep valley separates it on the north, the west and the south from some of the main ridges of the Soufrière Hills, which are regarded by Mr English as crater walls, and extend from Hill 1885 through Hills 2725, 3002 (Chance's Mountain), 2860, and 2600. The 'crater' thus has a diameter of a little less than ¾ mile, and is supposed to be breached between Hills 2600 and 1885.

The central Castles Peak was ascended and a complete traverse made along the bottom of the encircling valley. The whole area is densely forested, and little or no rock would be seen but for recent great rockfalls due to the earthquakes, Rock-falls are much more numerous in the Soufrière Hills than in the other mountain regions. The 'crater rim' is partly composed of agglomerate and partly of porphyritic andesite of a type which does not closely resemble that of Castles Peak. I have not yet been able to make out the arrangement and relationships or these rocks. At present I have not sufficient definite evidence to decide if this area represents the eroded relics of a crater with a central plug of andesite. Observation is greatly impeded by the difficulties introduced by tropical vegetation, trade wind clouds, precipitous slopes and deep gorges. Much the greater part of the island is built up of beds of unconsolidated or partly consolidated volcanic agglomerate tuff or sand. At the extreme south of the island, however, a preliminary ride across the southern slopes of the South Soufrière Hills shows that here there are numerous basic lava flows (probably basalts) interstratified with basic tuffs. The age of this series relative to the agglomerate deposits further north has not yet been investigated.

I anticipate that all the time I have available in the island will be fully occupied in attempting to solve the problems set out in my letter of instructions. Details of the mode of occurrence of rock types and of the dip of agglomerate beds can only be obtained by physical exertion too great, as a rule, to be undertaken continuously on successive days in a tropical climate.

For an understanding of the physical features of Montserrat I still consider that it is essential that I should visit other West Indian Islands where very recent eruptions have occurred. I would select Martinique and St Vincent as well as the adjacent island of Nevis, as the most suitable. Accordingly I shall find out as soon as possible how visits to some or all of these islands can be worked in towards the end of my stay, when I shall be returning to Barbados to get the steamer for England. I should like to have as early as possible official sanction for such visits as I consider necessary and practicable. If the Committee can name a sum to be regarded as the maximum to be allowed f or expenses connected with these visits, I am prepared, if it should prove necessary, to defray any extra expenditure myself.

I hare asked His Honour The Commissioner to book my passage home by the Royal Netherlands boat sailing from Barbados on June 9th,and due in England on June 21st. I was advised to book as early as possible because delay might mean failure to obtain a passage. Returning by the Dutch line will mean a 10% rebate on the return single fare.

MR Perret is expected to arrive in Montserrat shortly and would be able to give me full information as to how to make the best use of my time if I go to Martinique.

When I arrived in Montserrat the acting Commisioner Dr. Margetson was under the impression that the Local Government would pay for such motor transport as was necessary for the expedition in Montserrat. There are, however no official motor cars or lorries in the island and all Government motor transport is arranged by contract with private hirers. Under the proposed arrangement, therefore, the cost of transport would probably have fallen eventually on the Colonial Office. As the Committee made it clear that the cost of hired transport was to be paid for out of the Bank credit of the expedition, I thought it better to carry out this plan. There has been a certain amount of difficulty, partly due to the absence of the Commissioner for the first fortnight, in getting what Dr Powell and I considered to be reasonable hire rates, but we have now got what appear to be fairly reasonable terms, considering the mountainous nature of the country and the bad road surfaces. The Grove Botanical Station is situated about a mile from the Hotel and this necessitates a good many short trips through the town.

His Honour the Commissioner has undertaken to defray the cost of my preliminary trips round the island, when I was accompanied by the acting Commissioner or his representative.

The expedition is taking advantage of all offers of transport from private individuals, and the officials of the Montserrat Company have been especially helpful in this connection with both motor and horse transport. It seems likely that all the horses we require will be lent to us by private persons or by Government officials free of charge. Everyone has been most helpful in this connection. I have received your letters of Mar 4th and Mar 19th. I do not think I shall require any more film-packs for the Thornton-Pickard, as it is quite unsuitable for mountaineering. I am making my own arrangements about films for my Leica camera, but would be obliged if you will, ring up Wallace Heaton in New Bond St and see if they have sent off the Agfa Isopan 'F' Leica films I ordered. I have received none so far. If through some misunderstanding none has yet been despatched, get them to send off all the 10 Leica films I ordered (and paid for at once. They were to have been sent out in batches. I enclose a summary of the financial position of the expedition, up to March 31st. Do you wish us to keep receipted bills or send them periodically?   I am,


Your Obedient Servant,

[signed AGM]