War records describe him as “a fine big man... always willing, always obliging and very zealous” – and now a memorial has been unveiled to a relatively unknown Arctic explorer from Skegness who served with Captain Scott on his Discovery expedition.
An information board relating to the ‘son of Skegness’ Jesse Handsley was unveiled by Mayor Carl Macey in Compass Gardens last week, close to the statue of a figure until now more associated with the town, the Jolly Fisherman.
The board has been funded by Skegness Town Council and the Civic Society and the ceremony coincided with the 100th anniversary of Jesse’s death in Gibraltar in 1916.
In attendance were representatives from the Civic Societies in Skegness and Grantham, who it was revealed during research also had a local hero, Arthur Blissett, town councillors and Jane Handsley, who has strong ancestral connections to the area.
For Jane, discovering her family link with Jesse was a discovery of a different kind. She said: “I uncovered Jesse’s story during my family research in which I discovered, with the exception of Jesse, my ancestors stayed close to home all within a 30 mile radius in Lincolnshire, with burials discovered in Irby, Wainfleet, Burgh-le-Marsh and Skendlby.
“I was so taken with Jesse’s story and in awe of the bravery of the men on Discovery that I concentrated my research on his story visiting Dundee Heritage Museum, where Discovery is in dry dock, and the Royal Geographical Society to uncover more of the story of the heroes of their time.
“My husband and I visited his grave in the North Front Cemetery in Gibraltar and left a poem I wrote on his grave.”
Jane contacted Skegness historian Angela Gooch to try to discover more about his story and also got in touch with Steve Kirk of the Skegness Civic Society as she felt Jesse should be recognised in some way.
The result is the memorial in Compass Gardens sponsored by the Skegness Civic Society, that tells Jesse’s story.
Jane said: “The family are delighted and honoured that Skegness have taken their hero to their hearts. Jesse’s naval records show us what kind of man Jesse was, receiving good conduct badges, but I believe a lovable rogue, losing them for escapades whilst on shore leave then working hard to win back the award.
“We would also like to thank the council and Civic Society members who were not only dedicated to getting a memorial for Jesse but have also been captured by Jesse’s story and taken him to their hearts and their hopes are that this is just the beginning of the recognition of a local hero.”
Jesse Handsley was born on March 29, 1876, into a Winthorpe family who ran a bakery on Lumley Road.
His service with the Royal Navy began in 1893 and he served with distinction in the British National Antarctic Expedition, the Discovery Expedition, from 1901-04.
During the two years that the Discovery was in the Antarctic regions he was a member of Scott’s elite support party for his southern trip.
Captain Scott commended his endurance in his book The Voyage of the Discovery published in 1905.
He was promoted to Petty Officer in recognition for his services with Discovery and honoured by Britain with a silver Polar Medal.
New Zealand also honoured him both in 1969, by naming a rock peak (Mount Handsley) after him, and again in 1993 by naming a small, nearby valley Handsley Valley.
For his general Navy service, Jesse was also awarded the War and Victory medals.
The record of medals records that he was “a fine big man ... always willing, always obliging and very zealous”.
He died on June 3, 1916, and is buried in Gibraltar North Front Cemetery.