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Bertram Armytage (1869–1910)

Mr Bertram Armytage, well known as a member of the Shackleton Antarctic Exhibition, and a popular clubman in Melbourne and London, shot himself in his bedroom at the Melbourne Club at 20 minutes past 6 o'clock on Saturday evening. The affair was deliberately planned, though the motive which seems to have prompted it was of no great importance.

It is only about six weeks since Mr. Armytage returned to Australia from London, where the members of the Shackleton party had met to bring together the threads of the expedition. He was staying at Menzies' Hotel, except during occasional absences in Sydney. Always a somewhat moody man, he betrayed no unusual signs of depression or mental trouble. He entertained his friends there in the ordinary way, though the servants noticed that at times he paced about the hotel in a lonely, hopeless fashion.

"He always used to do that," said one of the hotel attendants yesterday. "He was always a lonely sort of man; but there was a queer, miserable look in his eyes the last few days. He left the hotel on Saturday afternoon, and seemed cheerful enough then. He was going to stay at the Melbourne Club, and he gave me a tip and said good-bye in the heartiest way. No one would guess that there was anything serious the matter. He used to go out cycling by himself a good deal, and, now I think of it, it did seem as though there was something preying on his mind that he was trying to shake off."

After leaving the hotel on Saturday he went to the Melbourne Club, and took up his quarters there. When it approached dinner-time he dressed, and the club valet who brought him hot water shortly before 6 o'clock was the last to see him alive. He seemed cheerful enough then.

At 20 minutes past 6 o’clock there was a loud report. Many members of the club heard it, but all put it down to a tyre blowing out in the street outside. One of them remarked, "There goes another tyre." It was not a tyre, it was Mr. Bertram Armytage's pistol. The valet heard the report, and traced it to Mr. Armytage's room. The door was shut, and he could get no answer. He alarmed Mr. Cornish and some of the members, who rushed to the room. They found the door propped, shut with a chair. This was removed and inside Mr Armytage was found dead.

He was in full dinner dress. The counter-pane had been removed from the bed and spread on the floor. Mr. Armytage was lying in this with two pillows under his head. Both hands were lying at his sides, while, a few inches from his left hand lay a Colt's patent automatic revolver with one chamber discharged. A bullet hole in his forehead showed what had happened.

Dr. Brett was sent for. He examined the body and pronounced life extinct. The coroner was then communicated with and consented to the removal of the body to Sleight's private mortuary, where he will inspect it prior to opening the inquest today. The funeral is to be a private one, leaving "Como," Toorak-road, at half-past 3 o'clock this afternoon for the Boroondara Cemetery.

A letter, addressed to Mr. Robert Cornish, was found on the dressing-table. It threw no light upon the tragedy except to show that Mr Armytage had apparently fully made up his mind about what he was going to do. The letter asked Mr. Cornish to settle certain accounts and reward the servants.

It is difficult to discover any adequate motive for the suicide. Mr. Armytage was a wealthy man. He was 41 years of age, and married, his wife being a sister of Mrs. George Chirnside. She is at present in London. He had a daughter, four years of age. He has always been a most energetic man and was proud of his great muscular strength. One of the aims of his life was "to keep fit." He seems to have longed for something definite to do. He was a splendid shot, and has roamed the world in search of sport. It was this that drew him from a deer-stalking expedition in New Zealand to join the Shackleton Antarctic expedition three years ago. He was a great success with the expedition, earning the praises and confidence both of his chief and his comrades. He was however, a most reticent man, shy and diffident and subject to all kinds of varying moods.

Though a charming man personally, there was always a trace of eccentricity about him. He loved to do things which other men feared. On one occasion he paddled a canoe from Melbourne to Geelong, had it carried across to the Barwon River, and then paddled down the Barwon across the open sea, through the Rip, and right round Port Phillip Bay to Melbourne. He was educated partly in Australia and partly in England. In 1885, after three years at the Geelong Grammar School, he went to the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, and was a pupil there for two years. He left to go to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he won his oars. He returned to Australia, and was on his father's station—Wooloomanannta—for some years, and afterwards on a station in Queensland.

He was always interested in soldiering and joined the Artillery in Victoria. After some experience is an artillery man he went to England and joined a cavalry regiment He was in Australia when the Boer war broke out and he went to Africa as an Imperial officer. There he served for some time and obtained a Queen's medal with three clasps. After the war he resigned his commission and spent his time—when not out on sporting expeditions—in Melbourne and London. He was equally familiar with and well known in both cities. During his last trip to England his great ambition was to obtain from the War Office a military appointment which would give him some definite occupation. He urged his South African experience, as well as his share in the Antarctic expedition in support of this request but, though Major General Sir Edward Hutton assisted him, he failed. The reply of the military authorities was that he was too old.

This failure was a great disappointment to him and seems to have been what drove him to take his own life. He came back to Australia gloomy and discontented. At his dressing table on Saturday night were found his three-clasp African medal and the two medals presented to him for his work in the Antarctic while pinned to his coat were three silver medals presented to him by the Royal Geographical Society. He had apparently been gazing at them for the last time. He had hoped great things from those medals and what they stood for. His hopes had all been dashed and his lonely introspective habits had magnified the disappointment until he could endure it no longer.

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Citation details

'Armytage, Bertram (1869–1910)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 June 2024.

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