Nigel Bonner

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Nigel Bonner
Nigel Bonner


Nigel Bonner's relationship with South Georgia began in 1953 when he spent 15 months studying elephant seals at the Bay of Isles. He returned to South Georgia in 1956 as Government Biologist and Sealing Inspector, charged with implementing a management plan that would successfully rescue the elephant seals from years of overhunting. Nigel also visited Bird Island on several occasions to study fur seals and investigated the introduced reindeer as a sideline. The garden shed occupied by Nigel on Bird Island was affectionately known as Bonner's Bothy. It was demolished only in recent years.

In December 1989 David Wynn-Williams, a BAS scientist, wrote to the Commissioner of South Georgia, William Fullerton, suggesting the creation of a whaling museum at South Georgia. Click here for Wynn-Williams letter. Nigel took up this idea with Fullerton and when he accompanied a team clearing some of the environmental hazards at the abandoned whaling stations he was able to collect material for a museum. With funding from the South Georgia Government and the enthusiastic assistance of a small team, the whaling museum was set up in 1991 in the manager's house (Villa) at Grytviken. Nigel Bonner remained Director of the museum until his death in August 1994.

Lecture to the Kendall Whaling Museum on the beginnings of South Georgia Museum by Nigel Bonner, 16th October 1993

The following text is an excerpt from Nigel's diary as he went about setting up the museum, courtesy of his wife Jenny. It's fascinating to read about Nigel, Ian Hart and Bob Klusniak's daily life as they created the museum from the old villa.

Friday 6th November 1992

We had a reasonable day's work at the Villa. I walked over with the hoover, leaving Ian to follow later with the rations (Bob, of course, was already at work having left at 0600). I finished scraping the window in the Larsen Room and used the hoover to pick up the pieces from the cracks in the mouldings, ready for me to prime it. I found an old inch brush, managed to clean it up a bit and smudged on some primer - not high class work, but it will do. I then set about the window in the Ringdal Room. By tea time I had scraped this down and primed it. It is wretched work scraping. The little bits of brittle paint fly everywhere and I suppose it is all lead based. This will probably hamper my intellectual development.

Bob pottered about, making pales for the cemetary and, at my suggestion, trying to hook up wiring from the genny to the Villa on a more permanent basis, so we don't have to have the doors open all the time. It has been pretty cold today with a brisk wind and incessant light rain.


I had a miserable shower as someone was using the washing machine in the Customs House, as I later discovered. Still, I got most of the paint chips out of my hair and came out considerably fresher. Dinner (if one can call it that) was as usual at 1800.

Monday 9th November

I got back in time for lunch and in the afternoon undercoated the Wilson Room window and main door. Bob had finished his lining and had gone up to the graveyard to mend the gate and the fence. Ian was writing labels for the Larsen Room, a cold job on a day like this.

After dinner I chatted in the mess with Alastair McDonald, the harbour master, for a couple of hourse and then returned to my room to do some writing.

Tuesday 10th November

Today was lino day at Grytviken. I walked over after breakfast in a cold bright morning and found Bob had already painted the ceiling of the Wilson Room. I started lining the floor of the Larsen Room and that done solicited Bob's help in bringing in the lino.

It is not linoleum, of couse, but vinyl, industrial vinyl at that, the surface loaded with carborundum grains to provide a non-slip surface. This it certainly does, but it makes it impossible to cut from the top. It is also exceedingly heavy. Bob and I manhandled a roll in the materials store so that we could unroll 4 metres, which I cut off. We carried two pieces like that into the Larsen Room and then Bob left me to fit it while he set about preparing battens for the Wilson Room's walls.

It was not a very difficult floor to cover but lino laying is not my forte. In the end I achieved a reasonable result, particularly as all the cuts had to be made from the reverse side. I was quite pleased with it as it is noticeably better than the lino we laid last time.

When I went back to the workshop I found Bob trying to plane the edges of his battens single handed. As they are about 16 feet long this is very difficult, so I did the planing while Bob steadied them on the bench. This also served the useful purpose of getting me warm again.