Midwinter in Antarctica with Roald Amundsen

With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.

Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, a panel exhibition on display in ANMM’s Vaughan Evans Library from the Fram Museum in Norway, explores life for those men on their incredible journey. Catch it until June 30, while the sun is low in the sky and think of those men on midwinter day 1911.

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Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘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.

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Antarctica’s first bicycle – Guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust 2/3

Author: Jane Hamill, Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ Winter Conservator

Jane conserving bicycle parts

Jane conserving bicycle parts. Photo: nzaht.org

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 today

The bicycle today. Photo: nzaht.org

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.

 
Taylor’s map Cape Royds to Hut Point
Taylor’s map, Cape Royds to Hut Point. Photo: nzaht.org

Read another guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Great Scott! The online debate

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?

Scott and the Polar Party at the South Pole.

Scott and the Polar Party at the South Pole. Licensed with permission of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.


Background

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
Empire of Ice by Edward Larson


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.

We invite you to contribute to the conversation… Share your comments.

Conservation in Antarctica – Guest Blog from Antarctic Heritage Trust 1/3

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

Sarah working on a garment

Sarah working on a garment. Photo credit: nzaht.org

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.

Home-made boot

Home-made boot, from the Ross Sea Party. Photo credit: nzaht.org

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.
 

Map of Antarctica

Map of Antarctica. Credit: nzaht.org

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Map of Ross Sea region

Map of Ross Sea region. Credit: nzaht.org

Antarctica at the museum

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.

Stereoscopic Card Terra Nova 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

Scott’s last expedition – now open

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.

Scotts last expedition preview
Image: Peter Dexter, Chairman, ANMM at the opening of Scott’s Last Expedition.

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.

Scotts last expedition (detail)
Image: Inside the representation of Cape Evans Hut (detail).
Scotts last expedition (detail)
Image: Inside the representation of Cape Evans Hut (detail).

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.

Win a trip of a lifetime to the Antarctic with Orion Expeditions! You can enter the competition on our website or at the museum.

Exhibition now open until 16 October 2011.

Join the conversation on Twitter, use #Scott2011

Learn more about the exhibition at www.anmm.gov.au/scott