‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
“The sight of land scarcely raised our spirits at all, for it is generally reckoned impossible for us to reach it… Hunger is now our lot, not starvation but real hunger all day long. For breakfast we have a seal steak and half a mug of very weak milk…”, Thomas Orde-Lees Endurance storekeeper, near the Antarctic peninsula 24 March 1916 (from John Thomson Elephant Island and beyond 2003).
The next day a blizzard set in, icebergs jostled and floes swirled rapidly around the fragile floating camp of 28 men as it drifted slowly north-west past the islands off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton kept a watchful eye on the danger, with the three lifeboats poised for launch should the ice break up beneath them.
By end of March 1916, a hundred years ago, in the Weddell Sea Antarctic adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men had been trapped in ice for 14 months. In January 1915 his expedition ship Endurance was beset in Vahsel Bay, en route to Antarctica in his attempt to make the first crossing of the continent, by foot, with dogs and sledges, nonetheless.
Down in Antarctica there are penguins, bergs and impasto blue skies; ice white shores, swirling winds and wondrous wilderness. This month we’ve been inspired by the sublime land and seascapes of the polar South in our beautiful Painting for Antarctica exhibition—works by Wendy Sharpe and Bernard Ollis—to create some painted polar pillow crafts of our very own.
On 24 April 1916, 99 years ago, Antarctic expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton, his Endurance skipper Frank Worsley and four of his crew loaded into the seven-metre lifeboat James Caird and set sail from the rocky spit of the sub-Antarctic Elephant Island to reach help across the treacherous southern oceans, leaving 22 men behind on the barren outcrop.
Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica opens on 2 April, and loan objects have been arriving steadily over the past few months.
Alexandra Shackleton is a special addition to the exhibition. The 7.6-metre boat is a replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat Sir Ernest Shackleton used to seek the rescue of his stranded expedition members after the expedition’s ship Endurance sank, crushed by ice in Antarctica.
All wonky eyes, felted flippers and blanket stitched bellies, what better use for scrap fabrics than a cuddly, crafty, cute-as-a-button-eyed penguin softie? This month’s craft spot was inspired by the Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic exhibition. What can we say – Chinstraps, Gentoos, Kings or Adelie’s – we are smitten with Antarctica’s most adorable inhabitants.
Antarctica, a place I dream of exploring, but like so many of us, it seems so out of reach. That’s why I can’t wait to for the exhibition Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic to open at the museum this Saturday.
The exhibition follows a team of 57 explorers from 18 countries that set out on a unique scientific and artistic expedition to Antarctica in 2010 to document the environment and record any evidence of climate change. Continue reading
I have always been an avid reader, the type of kid that disappeared at Christmas to read the books left by Santa or being told turn off the light and sneaking a torch under the covers just to read just a little bit more.
As I have gotten older my love of a good story hasn’t waned, just adjusted to my busier life so it takes an extraordinary tale to keep me turning the pages late into the night. It really doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me that I work in a museum surrounded by thousands of stories.
One adventure that has recently kept me up to the wee small hours is Shackleton’s boat journey written by a New Zealand ship’s captain FA Worsley, originally published in 1940. The most incredible thing about this book was that it was a factual account of the Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica, and the journey undertaken to save the lives of his men after the ship Endurance became stuck and crushed in the ice in the Wendell Sea on his way to Antarctica.
If I had been given the narrative without knowing a little of the background, I would have thought it was an amazing story full of heroism, determination and leadership. However, as part of my research the book provided a compelling and valuable insight as to conditions the men endured. Written today, editors would have labelled it not believable and a work of fantasy, nobody could survive in the conditions they endured (certainly not me, give me a tropical island any day). But of course, just to prove my thinking wrong, Australian environmental scientist and adventurer Tim Jarvis and his team have just recreated the sea and land crossing Shackleton undertook in his traditional gear.
I came across the Ernest Shackleton expedition and polar explorers late last year when I was asked to write some educational resources to support Tim’s re-creation of Shackleton’s expedition. You could say that was a fascinating process for me to explore the history of the original expedition, collaborate with Tim’s Shackleton Epic team and to have access to some of their amazing images of Antarctica. (Antarctica is now moving up on my list of places to travel to one day if I can just get around the, it’s freezing issue).
I’m conscious of not spoiling the whole story to those uninitiated with the tale and to always leave your audience wanting more, I will finish here with a link to Shackleton Epic webpage. For teachers interested in the education resources they can be found on the museum’s teacher resources webpage.
Out of those entries we have a winner! Congratulations Nicole!
Nicole came to see Scott’s Last Expedition with her boyfriend and his parents, who were visiting Sydney. Nicole and her boyfriend are frequent visitors to the museum, so were thrilled to find out she’d won.
Nicole is 25 years old and works locally in Pyrmont. She likes to travel and recently came home from a holiday in South-East Asia, so is really excited that she now has another holiday coming up to plan for.
The prize she won is a Junior Suite for two people on the ‘Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctica – Ross Sea’ expedition from Orion Expeditions, departing 25 January 2013 (valued at just under $60,000). This voyage covers some of the polar regions famously charted during the first race to the South Pole by pioneering explorers Scott and Shackleton 100 years ago. Nicole will voyage across the Ross Sea coast which extends from the ice shelf northwards until it reaches the very tip of Victoria Land and Cape Adare. The trip will also take in the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island with its large colonies of penguins and elephant seals and Campbell Island. Having seen the recreation of the hut in the museum’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, Nicole will have the opportunity to visit the real hut at Cape Evans as well as Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.
Nicole’s first question when she found out was what she needed to pack!
Of course the next question is: Who will you take with you Nicole? I know of a certain ‘someone’ who would love to go to Antarctica…*wink* *wink*
Scott’s Last Expedition is now open at the Natural History Museum, London until 2 September 2012. It will then travel to the Canterbury Museum, NZ. It was developed through a collaboration between Natural History Museum, Canterbury Museum and Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.
Author: John Kemister, Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ Conservator
These two interesting objects from Scott’s Terra Nova base at Cape Evans have been conserved at the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s conservation lab at New Zealand’s Scott Base ready for return to the hut in the summer.
The first is a well made double sheave pulley block that could have been utilised either on the ship Terra Nova, or in other situations where additional lifting or pulling force was required. The assembly consists of two galvanized pulley wheels mounted in a wooden block. A spliced steel wire bridle, wrapped with tarred rope, supports the block and connects it via a steel thimble to the hook. This bridle is held tightly around the block and thimble with tarred choker wrapping.
The second object is a remnant from an identical block, consisting only of the wrapped steel wire bridle, a distorted thimble and the remains of a fractured hook.
While working on conserving these it was interesting to conjecture (and unless historic records provide a clue it will only be conjecture) what task Scott’s men were performing when this damage occurred.
If only it could talk.
John is Australian and is currently working as a Conservator over summer for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. To follow what he and the rest of the team are working on to conserve Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s heroic era base at Cape Evans, and to experience a slice of life on the Ice, visit the conservators’ permanent blog on the Natural History Museum website.
Read more guest blog posts from the Antarctic Heritage Trust:
Conservation in Antarctica
Antarctica’s first bicycle
The Australian National Maritime Museum thanks Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ and Natural History Museum London for their recent guest blog posts in celebration of Scott’s Last Expedition, here at the museum until 16 October 2011.
Author: Jane Hamill, Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ Winter Conservator
The Antarctic Heritage Trust‘s winter conservation team has been working on conserving the first bicycle in Antarctica as part of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. The bicycle originally belonged to the mechanic Bernard Day. It came to Antarctica on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910 – 1913) but was first used by the geologist Thomas Griffith Taylor on the 8th of October 1911. Scott granted Taylor permission to cycle from Cape Evans out to Turk’s Head, although he actually cycled as far as the Erebus Glacier Tongue. Taylor carried out a rough survey of the area and then, exhausted, began the return journey to Cape Evans carrying the bicycle over his head. It seems that it was never used again.
The bicycle was stored on the roof of the garage at Cape Evans after Taylor’s little expedition and was probably moved indoors in the 1960s during work on the hut. We began conservation work on the bicycle last year and are now finishing it up. The metal is very heavily corroded and the bicycle is in many pieces but we are hoping to put it back on display in the stables this summer. For more information on our conservation work and life on the Ice, take a look at our blog which is hosted on the Natural History Museum’s website.
Read another guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Why did Amundsen survive and Scott perish? Was Scott really a failure? Who made the greater contribution in the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery?
Join our online debate with Pulitzer prize-winning author Professor Edward Larson and gastronomic academic Diana Noyce. Ask your question or let us know what you think in the comment section of this blog post.
So… what do you think? Was Scott a failure or a hero?
In 1912 Norway’s Roald Amundsen and Britain’s Captain Robert Falcon Scott set off across 500 miles of snow and ice in the first race of its kind to the South Pole. In appalling weather conditions, Scott and the other four members of his team perished on the return leg of their journey. Amundsen returned to his native Norway a hero.
Professor Edward Larson: ‘Given the drama of the British death march, the remarkable efficiency of the Norwegian effort, it should not be surprising that historians and popularizers alike have focused the narrative of these expeditions on the quest for the Pole. As a historian of science, however, I’m drawn to science. Researchers on Scott’s two Antarctic expeditions and the intervening one led by Ernest Shackleton opened an unknown continent to science and enriched our understanding of global meteorological, biological, and oceanographic systems. For the first time, they proved that the southern continents were once linked and offered surprising evidence of climate change. To me, not only are these stories of doing science in extreme conditions at least as gripping as those about getting to the Pole, they are part of a more significant narrative that continues today in the vast amount of research still conducted in the Antarctic…
The polar trek of Amundsen and his men was a remarkable human feat. Scott and his men, however, contributed something more than gaining the Pole. They advanced human knowledge of an unknown continent and its place in global systems.’
Read an edited transcript of Professor Larson’s talk:
Scott, Amundsen and Science 100 Years Later
Order Professor Larson’s book Empire of Ice from the Museum Store
Diana Noyce: ‘In summary, food played a vital role in the race to the South Pole. A mere glance at Scott’s diet reveals that it was inadequate, completely lacking in vitamins and low on calories…Scott’s men ate white bread. Amundsen’s team ate brown bread fortified with wheat germ and leavened with fresh yeast, as well as Lindström’s buckwheat cakes, all good sources of B vitamins…
Moreover, being Norwegians, Amundsen and his men were more inured to the climate, both physically and mentally, as well as the long months of winter darkness, and the long summer days. Skiing was second nature to them. Some commentators have argued that Scott’s Polar clothing was inadequate. However, it has been recently proven that Scott’s woollen and Burberry clothing was suitable for manhauling. The fur anoraks that Amundsen’s men wore and which was suitable for sledging, would have been too hot for Scott’s manhauling team. In the end it was the dogs that Amundsen took to the Pole that contributed to his success. They were not only their means of fast and efficient transport, but they also provided companionship for the men, as well as providing fresh meat, a valuable source of nutrition…
In conclusion, to quote Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the 16th century adventurer, explorer and soldier—He is not worthy to live at all, who for fear and danger of death shunneth his country’s service or his own honour, since death is inevitable and the fame of virtue immortal—were these words on Scott’s mind as he lay dying in his tent with his two companions? Was his immortality assured by dying, rather than returning home a defeated man? He certainly knew of these words as they are to be found in his journal.’
Read an edited transcript Noyce’s talk:
Hoosh, Dogs and Seal Meat: The Role of Food in the Race to the South Pole
To commemorate the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition and celebrate its achievements the Natural History Museum, London, the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand, have collaborated to create Scott’s Last Expedition, an international travelling exhibition.
This online debate follows on from talks held at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 31 July 2011 by Professor Edward Larson and Diana Noyce in conjunction with the exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition. The talks generated a lot of debate and strong opinions across the floor about the successes and failures of the Terra Nova expedition.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be hearing from the Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ in celebration of the current exhibition at the museum Scott’s Last Expedition.
Author: Sarah Clayton, Antarctic Heritage Trust Winter Lead Conservator – Artefacts
Each year, since 2006, an international team of conservators has ventured to Antarctica in both summer and winter to work on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project, conserving artefacts from the heroic era sites managed by the Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.
These are the bases left standing in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica that were built by Ernest Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott and used during their expeditions.
Each summer, a team of conservators travel to the heroic era bases and live in the field. They conserve artefacts that cannot be moved from the hut and carry out simple treatments that can be undertaken with limited water and supplies. They also pack and return artefacts to Scott Base, New Zealand’s scientific research base which is relatively close to the huts. The winter conservation team then works on the artefacts, in easier conditions, with access to plenty of water and with other supplies more readily available.
I am a textile conservator and I manage the winter team; two archaeological conservators, Jane and Julie; and a timber conservator, Martin.
As well as undertaking conservation work, from the beginning of the project, each group of Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators has contributed to a blog about our work and life on the Ice, hosted by the Natural History Museum, London.
I was lucky enough to be part of the first team of winter conservators in 2006, and I have returned again this year to work on textiles from the Terra Nova hut. The textiles vary greatly, from commercial thermal underwear from Scott’s expedition to home-made boots from the Ross Sea Party of 1914, part of Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic Expedition.
The team has also had the privilege to work on a number of other artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova hut, including the first bicycle to be used in Antarctica by Griffith-Taylor and photography equipment from Herbert Ponting’s dark room. Take a look at Jane’s blog, Filming in Antarctica, on the Natural History Museum website for an insight into some of the equipment that Ponting used.
Our current exhibition from London – Scott’s Last Expedition – has given me the opportunity to check out our own Antarctic collection to see what we have. And we have a surprising amount of material relating to Antarctic exploration covering some four centuries. It includes maps and charts, including an Ortelius view published in the 16th century, a 1714 view of the southern hemisphere, and one that shows the 1870s Challenger expedition of 1872-1875 which was a scientific expedition funded by the British Admiralty and the Royal Society. It made many discoveries that laid the foundation of modern oceanography and was named after the expedition ship HMS Challenger – which had been deployed to the Australia Station at one time. One of the Space Shuttles was named Challenger in honour of this expedition.
The collection also houses engravings of the usual suspects associated with southern voyaging including Magellan and Cook and a wonderful map with Cook’s three voyages which dates to 1784 and includes “other modern voyages”. And what collection would be complete without Cook’s two volume publication “A Voyage towards the South Pole and Round the World performed in His Majesty’s Ships the Resolution and Adventure”?
Something quite different is the artwork for a costume designed by Frances Rouse for the play ‘Counting Icebergs’, about the life of Captain James Cook’s wife, Elizabeth. It has a map of Antarctica and Cook’s voyages on the skirt. (see image)
As well as Cook’s books we have the first of the French contributions to Antarctic exploration – that of Dumont D’Urville’s 1837-1840 expedition which included an attempt to discover the south magnetic pole and claim it for France. It was a horrid journey for them – trapped in ice, harsh conditions on board, scurvy. They retreated to Chile to recover and had another attempt via Hobart. This time they crossed the Antarctic Circle, saw one of the US Exploring Expedition Ships and, incredibly, hurried away. And speaking of the US expedition – the 1838-1842 voyage led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes – we have the volumes published by this exploration and survey expedition of the Pacific Ocean. The museum also commissioned two models to be made relating to the US expedition – the Flying Fish and Wilkes’s flagship the Vincennes.
Robert Falcon Scott is of course one of the names synonymous with Antarctic exploration and we have two published volumes from his first British Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 – which included an attempt at reaching the South Pole. The relief voyages are also important to document and the Morning made two voyages to resupply Scott’s expedition in 1902 and then in 1903. One of the officers – Gerald Doorly – published a lively account of his time on the ship.
A second French expedition was undertaken in 1908-1910, under the command of Jean-Baptiste Charcot. It was his second expedition to Antarctica and he also undertook nine North Pole expeditions. The name of his ship was the Pourquoi-pas?– the Why-Not? The expedition charted some 1,250 miles of coastline, took 3,000 photographs, wrote 28 volumes of scientific data and during winter did courses in grammar, English, geography and first aid to pass the time. The ship had a library of some 1,500 volumes – they were certainly prepared to winter over! Our Antarctic collection includes a published account – in French – of the expedition.
Certainly the most talked about expedition was Scott’s second and fatal Terra Nova expedition of 1910-1913 when the Norwegian Roald Amundsen beat him to the prize of being first to the South Pole. Herbert Ponting was the first professional photographer to be taken on any Antarctic expedition and he recorded the voyage south on the Terra Nova and became a member of the shore party. Ponting took black and white and colour photographic stills, and recorded short clips, becoming one of the first to use a movie camera and to take colour photographs in Antarctica. A number of his more famous photographs were reprinted using the original glass plate negatives and we acquired a fine selection of them. We also recently acquired a series of 35 stereoscopic cards that featured different aspects of Scott’s expedition, especially the second western party to Cape Geology. (see image)
The other great Antarctic story is that of the crushing of the Endurance and Ernest Shackleton’s remarkable journey to safety and eventual rescue – all caught on camera superbly by Frank Hurley. Again, his original negatives were used to produce some fine reprints and have added nicely to our collection. Shackleton’s great leadership skills and survival against all odds was used in many ways – including a pamphlet encouraging Australians to enlist in WWI.
The collection covers more than the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Hubert Wilkins is relatively unheralded but was a major star in his time. This South Australian was a polar explorer, pilot, soldier, geographer, war photographer and ornithologist. In his latter guise he joined the Shackleton-Rowett expedition on the Quest in 1921-1922.
The Royal Australian Navy has been involved with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions as early as 1947 with the landing ship HMAS Labuan taking the first contingent to Heard Island. Sailing on this ship was described as “a caterpillar in motion, rippling from bow to stern”. A crew member kept newspaper clippings and various other ephemera relating to the voyages and these were acquired in 2002.
Philately is big in most areas, none more so that the Antarctic – especially with special air polarogrammes and First Day Covers and we have a fine selection from all the major Antarctic bases. (see image)
So you can see that we cover a broad range of Antarctic history and the good news is that we are progressively putting it up on our eMuseum site. So don’t forget to visit Scott’s Last Expedition and to also browse our collection on-line.
Lindsey Shaw, Senior Curator
Everyone here at the museum is extremely excited about our new winter exhibition Scott’s last expedition. This amazing exhibition takes over 600 square metres of our galleries and is filled to the brim with photographs, artefacts and specimens that document Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s famous expedition to the South Pole, where tragically he and four of his men lost their lives almost 100 years ago.
This unique exhibition goes beyond the fatal tale of the expedition to celebrate the achievements and scientific discoveries made by the expedition team. Among some of the impressive objects on display you will find specimens such as sea sponge (Haliciona (Gellius) rudis) collected during the expedition, still green over 100 years on; and Brittle Star (Astrotoma agassizii), a star fish that sports long flexible arms to capture prey, a species found throughout Antarctica and the Antarctic peninsula.
At the centre of the exhibition is a representation of Scott’s base camp at Cape Evans. Visitors can walk inside the life-size hut and get a sense of the everyday realities for the 25 expedition members, from the cramped conditions and homeliness of the hut, to the wealth of specimens collected and experiments conducted.
This comprehensive exhibition follows the journey of Scott and his men from start to finish, and displays original artefacts, equipment, clothes and personal effects for the first time in Australia.
To commemorate the centenary of the expedition and celebrate its achievements the Natural History Museum, London, the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand, have collaborated to create this international travelling exhibition. Australian National Maritime Museum is the premier venue for the exhibition.
Join Lindsey Shaw, ANMM senior curator, for a talk about this outstanding exhibition on Friday 12 August. For booking information, visit our website.
Exhibition now open until 16 October 2011.
Learn more about the exhibition at www.anmm.gov.au/scott