Herwil Bryant


East Base




By Stephen H. Bryant, Ph.D

Herwil McClure Bryant was born on 29 January 1916, in Berkeley, California. His father, Dr Harold Child Bryant, was at the time working for the California Fish and Game Commission, after having finished his PhD under Prof. Joseph Grinnell at Berkeley.  Herwil was the first of four children, the others being born in 1918, 1920 and 1922.   The family lived on Hill Court, several blocks north of the UC Berkeley campus.  One of Herwil's early memories occurred in the first grade, in 1923.  To quote Wikipedia, which is in perfect alignment with Herwil's  memories:

"The 1923 Berkeley Fire was a conflagration which consumed some 640 structures, including 584 homes in the densely-built neighborhoods north of the campus of the University of California in Berkeley, California on September 17, 1923. Although the exact cause was never determined, the fire began in the undeveloped chaparral and grasslands of Wildcat Canyon, just east of the ridgeline of the Berkeley Hills, and was propelled over the ridge and southwestward just south of Codornices Creek by a strong, gusty, and intensely dry northeasterly wind. The fire quickly blew up as it swept through the La Loma Park and Northside neighborhoods of Berkeley, overwhelming the capabilities of the Berkeley Fire Department to stop it. A number of UC students fought the advance of the fire as it approached the north edge of the University of California campus at Hearst Avenue. The other edge of the fire was fought by firefighters as it advanced on downtown Berkeley along the east side of Shattuck Avenue north of University Avenue. Firefighters were rushed in from neighboring Oakland while San Francisco sent firefighters by ferry across the bay. The fire was halted when the gusty northeast wind was suddenly stopped by the cool, humid afternoon seabreeze."

Herwil was in first grade just a couple blocks from his house, when the entire elementary school was evacuated to the fire-proof buildings down the hill on the UC campus.  His mother also evacuated to his father's office on campus, taking essentially nothing but the three other children.  Students from the University gathered a few belongings from the house, and these were piled on the university campus with other belongings from threatened houses; Herwil said it was quite a chore for North Berkeley residents to sort through the piles to find their own belongings.  The house on Hill Court was destroyed, with only part of the fireplace remaining (Fig 1).  The family was exceedingly fortunate, though, as they had already contracted a larger house to be built further north, with the front of the new house on Laurel and the back of the house, garage and driveway on Euclid; they were renting the Hill Court house from the people to whom they had sold it.  Thus, although most of their belongings were lost, they didn't suffer a real estate loss.  Herwil was sent to his relatives on a farm in Los Gatos (where his parents had been married on 01 August 1914) for 6 months or so while the new house was finished.  The family (the rest of whom stayed locally with friends) had one of the first houses to be built after the fire, and were protected from the post-fire price-gouging, since they had already signed a fixed-price contract for the new house.

Herwil built an early version of a skateboard at the new house, and often told of having grand times rolling down Euclid Avenue.  In addition, starting about 1919, Herwil's father started teaching summer courses in Yosemite Valley; these courses were taught to train naturalists for the National Park Service, and Herwil's father is known for founding the natural history interpretation service of the National Park Service.  Herwil thus spent a decade of summers based at Camp 19 in Yosemite Valley, where he became a well-trained naturalist, learning from the 10 summers of instruction given to students by his father.  Herwil also did a lot of hiking and rock climbing in Yosemite, including almost daily hikes from near Camp 19 straight up to Glacier Point for ice cream (4.7 miles each way, 3200' elevation gain, on what is now called the "Four-mile Trail").  Herwil was also fond of telling of his climb of Half Dome outside the railings.  He said he would run up the rock a distance, then jam his hands under a rock flake to take a short rest, then repeat; he said that if he fell, he hoped he could roll towards the railings and grab one to save his life.  But he didn't fall, and made the climb successfully.  The 30 or so months spent in Yosemite was one of the great highlights of Herwil's life. 

In 1929, Herwil's family moved to Washington, DC, where his father was called as Associate Director of the National Parks, with his mission being to expand the Yosemite naturalist training to the entire National Park Service system.  Herwil thus went to high school (Central High) and later college (American University) in Washington, DC.  Although he had been interested in radio in Berkeley, this interest really bloomed in Washington (there weren't any mountains there, after all). Herwil built several amateur radio sets, and became a very proficient "ham" (amateur radio operator).  As a physics major during college, Herwil spent the summers in Rocky Mountain National Park, doing various chores, being assistant radio operator and fixing radios, and eventually becoming Fire Guard on top of Twin Peaks.  During his summer on Twin Peaks, dances were held each Saturday evening at a ranch near the bottom of the trail, so Herwil would run down the trail after his lookout duties were over for the day, change into his dancing clothes in his backpack, attend the dance, change again, and run back up the trail to his hut -- and he always remembered having to pass a large overhanging rock, which on the way back up at night he always imagined might have a mountain lion ready to pounce on him. During high school and college, Herwil also became a proficient photographer; in those days, that meant also being able to develop and print one's own films.

After graduating from college, Herwil attended graduate school in Physics at the University of Toronto.  With war looming, and graduate studies not going as well as he hoped, when his father mentioned that Admiral Byrd was looking for a biologist and assistant radio operator for an Antarctic expedition, Herwil jumped at the chance.  (Herwil's father may have had something to do with getting the job description written so Herwil would be the perfect fit!)  Herwil was selected to go on the expedition, formally as "Junior Biologist" under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution, details of which are found in his journal.

After returning from the Antarctic, Herwil had about two months of leave to use up; with his earnings from the Antarctic, he bought a new Buick automobile, and, with his brother and one sister, took a trip to California and back in the Summer of 1941.  By Fall 1941, Herwil had largely completed his Antarctic reports, and was working on radio and radar projects for the government, which he continued for the duration of the war.  In 1944, Herwil married Genie Ulmer Crooks, who was from Kingstree, Williamsburg Co, South Carolina.  Son Stephen was born in 1947, and daughter Cheryl was born in 1949.  Herwil continued to work for the government, now in the Bureau of Standards, until he heard of a position doing similar work at the newly established Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOLC) in Corona, California (actually in Norco (ie, NORth COrona, an unincorporated suburb). Since his wife's parents were no longer living, and Herwil's parents were planning to retire from Grand Canyon National Park to Orinda, California, Herwil and Genie decided to "move back home" for Herwil.  Herwil and Genie bought a new house in the first tract development (called "Sungold") in Riverside, California in the summer of 1951; Herwil worked at NOLC until 1971, when he retired.  During this time, NOLC underwent various changes, finally becoming the Naval Weapons Center, Corona.  Herwil retired as head of the Testing and Evaluations Division of the Fuse Department, having spent much of his last two decades of work on increasing the reliability of missile fusing.  After retirement, he worked for about three years for a private contractor at the Naval Weapons Center, China Lake, commuting home on weekends, and enjoying hikes in the Sierra foothills in the summer evenings. 

From 1951 on, Herwil kept busy with family, Boy Scouts, Sierra Club, gardening, church, photography, Ham radio and other electronics activities including building a professional weather station. He has an Eagle Scout son, a Silver Beaver and Woodbadge for himself, and also received awards from the Sierra Club.  Herwil also kept busy giving slide shows about his Antarctic experiences.  He took his family on several memorable cross-country driving trips, so that by the end of 1958, the family had been to all 48 states, most state capitols, and many flagship state university campuses.

In the late 1980s, Herwil and Genie took a cruise to Alaska; one of the passengers had just been to Antarctica on a Society Expeditions cruise, and mentioned to Herwil that his personal experiences in Antarctica would have been an outstanding addition to the cruise.  Herwil wrote Society Expeditions in the Fall of 1988, and was hired as a lecturer for three successive Antarctic cruises organized by Lindblad Expeditions in December 1990 and January 1991.  During these cruises, he gave talks on Antarctic history ("Wooden Ships and Iron Men"), as well as talks about his own expedition ("The Expedition of the Bear" and "Life at East Base").  Herwil spent the last years of his life transferring his electronics knowledge to computers, walking, gardening, enjoying his children and grandchildren, and just being with the love of his life, his wife Genie.  After a long, adventurous, and extraordinarily wide-ranging life, he died peacefully from flu in December, 2003.

Job Description: Biologist


Geographical Feature: Cape Bryant









Bryant, H. M. 1945. Biology at East Base, Palmer Peninsula, Antarctic. (U. S. Antarctic Service Exped., 1939-41). Amer. Philos. Soc, Proc. 89 ( 1 ) : 256-69, 29 figs. (Field notes on Collembola: "Proisotoma", and mites : Halozetes spp. and Stereotydeus). Link





Full Photo/Films/Video Library:



These are large files and will take some time to download.  Some are 50mb

Herwil Bryant - Antarctic Journal 1939-1941 Volume 1 of 4  

Herwil Bryant - Antarctic Journal 1939-1941 Volume 2 of 4

Herwil Bryant - Antarctic Journal 1939-1941 Volume 3 of 4

Herwil Bryant - Antarctic Journal 1939-1941 Volume 4 of 4

Herwil Bryant - Final Color Drawing