COLUMN: Digging up the secrets of our fascinating family tree

Jessica gets down to unearthing the secrets of her explorer ancestor.
Jessica gets down to unearthing the secrets of her explorer ancestor.

To look at her, you wouldn’t think my daughter had any of my genes.

With gorgeous brown hair and eyes, she is definitely daddy.

But she is proving to be my ‘mini me’ in other ways. She is a bookworm who adores school and has a thirst for learning, which led to an amazing discovery about an ancestor last week.

Hubby was in hysterics when we first got together and someone let slip that I was one of those geeks at school who did homework that hadn’t been set. He ribbed me about it for years … until Jessica started doing it, and now he couldn’t be prouder.

Last week she was so inspired after writing her first report at school that she came home and started work on another.

At six years old, she blew us away with everything she had been learning about great explorers like Captain Scott, and it jogged my memory about a conversation I’d had with my late nanna, about a relative of hers who had sailed with the Arctic explorer on his fateful final expedition.

The story of Joseph Leese caught my imagination at the time, but because information was so much harder to come by back in the 80s it was one I never got around to looking into, but within seconds of tapping his name into Google, his fascinating tale began to unfold.

Mr Leese, an Able Seaman aboard the Terra Nova, survived the expedition, which began in 1910, when Scott and his crew set out with the aim of being the first to reach the South Pole.

They arrived in Antarctica in January 1911 and decided to wait until spring to begin their trek because the harsh winter was about to descend.

Sadly, the delay cost them dearly, as after a 950-mile trek with four of the boat’s crew, Scott’s worst nightmare was realised… he had been beaten to the accolade by a matter of days, by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

Bitterly disappointed, the men began to make the treacherous journey back to the boat, but never made it. As one of the lucky survivors, Mr Leese gave talks at universities and other venues and although he didn’t trek to the pole, he wasn’t short of adventure stories, including that of a lucky escape when he came under attack from killer whales.

To Jessica’s delight, we found a photograph of him with the rest of the Terra Nova crew, along with newspaper cuttings and snippets of his life story.

She couldn’t wait to get to school to tell her teacher about it.

The whole experience made for a truly special mummy and daughter moment; and her little face when she ran out of school with the news that she had been awarded 100 house points for her efforts was a sight to behold.

We have since learned that some of Mr Leese’s belongings are at the National History Museum and cannot wait to visit, but it’s exciting to think that we haven’t even scratched the surface of mum’s side of the family tree and who knows what we might discover on dad’s, with our German and Polish roots to investigate?

It’s such an intriguing project it has even sparked interest from hubby’s inner geek - who knew?