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Archive for the 'Cape Evans' Category

Antarctic dogs

Lucy, Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Temperature: -2 degrees
Windspeed: 2-5 Knots
Blue skies, bright sunshine.

I have heard that Captain Scott was opposed to the idea of using dogs as the main means of transport to the South Pole. Nevertheless, his 1910-13 Terra Nova Expedition included a large team of dogs and a dog handler which came down on the ship and lived at their base at Cape Evans.

Captain Scott's base at Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust, L Skinner

Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust, L Skinner

Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-17 Ross Sea support party also had a small team of dogs. 10 members of this expedition were marooned at Cape Evans when their ship, the Aurora, still containing the majority of their supplies and equipment, broke anchor and was swept away from shore. Ernest Joyce, who was the leader of the sledging party, and his sledging team relied heavily on their surviving dogs to bring their weakened scurvy-ridden bodies back home after their journey across the Ross Ice Shelf to lay depots of stores.

Last month I spent 2 days archaeologically excavating the remains of a sledge dog which is chained to the North wall, outside the stables of the Terra Nova Hut. The stables are undergoing some essential repairs after Christmas, so the skeleton had to be removed.

The century-old remains of one of the expedition dogs © Antarctic Heritage Trust, L Skinner

The century-old remains of one of the expedition dogs © Antarctic Heritage Trust, L Skinner

There are photographs of the dog from the 1950s. Back at this time the skin is dry but the body is still whole and covered in fur. Since then, the ravages of the elements and disturbance of the corpse by opportunistic Skuas (scavenger birds which live in abundance around Cape Evans) have caused almost complete disintegration and decay of the dog’s flesh and skin and scattering of the exposed bones.

Lucy working on the dog skeleton © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Lucy working on the skeleton, located outside the stables where the expedition ponies were housed © Antarctic Heritage Trust

We have been speculating as to the identity of this mystery dog, which expedition it belonged to, how it died and why it ended up chained to the wall. There are no signs that it was shot or intentionally killed and no surviving records which mention it either.

Currently, the carefully labeled remains of ‘Mummy’, so named because he/she resembles an Ancient Egyptian dog mummy, are lying on a purpose-made tray inside the hut. Once the repairs to the stables are complete Mummy will find his/her final resting place within one of the pony stalls inside the stables. The dogs of both Scott’s and the Ross Sea Party’s expeditions were allowed to roam freely around in the stables so it seems to be the most appropriate location to place the dog to prevent continued disintegration of the body.

Found object, missing owner

George, Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

One set of pastels. Well used. Check. Found at Captain Scott’s 1910 – 13 base at Cape Evans. Good condition. Check. Owner … er … oh … unknown.

The box of pastels © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The box of pastels © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Unfortunately this brilliant and evocative object can offer a tantalising insight into life on the early polar expeditions, but we have no hard and fast answers as to who might have used it, why and when.

There are of course likely suspects who might have been the owner of such artist’s materials. The first that springs to mind is Edward Wilson, affectionately known as Uncle Bill for his kindly manner and ability to mix with all ranks; he was surgeon, scientist and artist on both the 1901 Discovery expedition and the 1910 Terra Nova expedition, and produced many illustrations of the voyages, including pastels of the Antarctic landscape, the auroras at night and the wildlife.

Antarctica this winter - Edward Wilson was renowned for capturing the colours of Antarctica © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Antarctica this winter - Edward Wilson was renowned for capturing the colours of Antarctica © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Although the pastels were located at Cape Evans, the men often visited or used the other two expedition bases in the area so it’s not unconceivable that the pastels were associated with earlier expeditions. Perhaps they were used by Michael Barne – a member of Commander Scott’s 1901 Discovery expedition who was the in-house cartoonist and caricaturist (although he appears to have worked predominantly in ink and watercolour).

The Barne Glacier, named after Michael Barne, is a predominant feature in the landscape near Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Barne Glacier, named after Michael Barne, is a predominant feature in the landscape near Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

So who did the set belong too? One imagines that the officers were more likely to indulge in this sort of arty pastime over the more hardy seafaring types, but in reality they could have belonged to anyone who wanted to record their experiences. Nicola and I are looking forward to going South in February; and we’ll be sure to include paints and pencils of our own, as well as a digital camera!

Story of a tent

Nicola, Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

This week we began treating one of the largest objects that we have in the Reserve Collection – a canvas expedition tent used on sledging trips across the ice.

The dome tent opens up like a concertina and is supported by 4 arched iron poles sewn into the canvas. The round entrance is protected by a fabric tunnel which would have been tied up on the inside to keep out wind and snow.

The tent partially open © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The tent partially open © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The tent is associated with the Ross Sea Party which supported Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 – 17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton, who had led an earlier expedition to Antarctica in 1907, planned to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. The expedition would begin in the Weddell Sea and end in the Ross Sea.

However, the expedition was abandoned when Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’ was crushed in ice in the Weddell Sea. Unaware of this, 10 men, who were located in the Ross Sea area, continued to lay supply depots for Shackleton along the last leg of the proposed route.

The Ross Sea Party had their own challenges - they had been stranded with few rations when their ship Aurora was blown out to sea during a storm, leaving them stranded for nearly 2 years at Cape Evans (the home of Captain Scott’s expedition base for his attempt on the South Pole). With barely any provisions, the Ross Sea Party were forced to shelter in Scott’s hut where they used the stores, clothing and equipment left behind by Scott and his men.

A pair of improvised boots made by the Ross Sea Party, which would have been made from whatever they could scavenge from Captain Scott's base at Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

A pair of improvised boots made by the Ross Sea Party, which would have been made from whatever they could scavenge from Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The tent was used on their long sledging expeditions, covering almost 2,000 miles. The inside is black with soot from the primus stove, and small holes in the canvas have been patched and hand-stitched to prevent snow leaking into the tent during the blizzards that kept them confined for days at a time.

Several of the iron poles have been repaired with lengths of bamboo and twine and this reminded me of the shocking conditions, illness, starvation and exhaustion that the men endured. Not only did they suffer from painful frost bite and snow blindness but also acute scurvy caused by lack of vitamin C in their diet.

Ernest Joyce is quoted as saying ‘Scurvy has got us, our legs are black and swollen, and if we bend them at night there is a chance they will not straighten out. So, to counteract that, we lash pieces of bamboo to the back of our knees to keep them straight.’ They also tried to alleviate the pain by massaging the affected areas with methylated spirits.

Ultimately, Reverend Spencer-Smith died of scurvy and was buried in the ice, and later Mackintosh and Hayward were also lost whilst trying to cross thin sea ice in poor weather.

The Aurora returned with Shackleton aboard in January 1917 and rescued the 7 survivors of the original shore party.

Captain Scott's base at Cape Evans where the Ross Sea Party based themselves © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans where the Ross Sea Party based themselves © Antarctic Heritage Trust

If you want to read more about the Ross Sea Party, Kelly Tyler-Lewis has written a great account in her book The Lost Men (Antarctic Heritage Trust staff pick!).

Sea ahoy

Lucy, Friday, November 27th, 2009

A couple of days ago, Lucy, Fran and I packed up 1,500 artefacts associated with Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 – 13 expedition base at Cape Evans. They were conserved by 4 of our conservators over the Antarctic winter and we intend to return them to Cape Evans. But first we will be spending a couple of days on conservation work at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition base at Cape Royds.

We took off from Scott Base (New Zealand’s science facility) with a small team of helpers, a hagglund (an all terrain vehicle) and a train of sledges laden with all our belongings, plus a little green portable cabin which is to be our home for the next 3 weeks while we are working at Cape Royds.

Hagglund used to transport artefacts and our team across the frozen sea ice © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Hagglund used to transport artefacts and our team across the frozen sea ice © Antarctic Heritage Trust

At present the frozen sea between Scott Base and Cape Royds is stable and safe for driving on. This year however the sea ice is breaking up early. One of the first things we did when we arrived at Cape Royds was to walk up to the top of the hill between our camp site on the ice and the historic hut. We were pretty surprised to see open water and pack ice floating 500 metres out from the shore.

The open sea with its mountain backdrop is quite a spectacular site to behold – each morning the sea is getting noticeably closer.

The Trans Antarctic Mountain Range with open sea water © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Trans Antarctic Mountain Range with open sea water © Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Adelie Penguins nesting on rocks nearby will probably reap the benefits of having their fishing grounds within easily waddling distance this early in the breeding season. The closeness of the open sea may be more of a concern for our operation however, because we shall be moving our conservation camp south again in 2 days time, to Cape Evans.

Camping in Antarctica © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Camping in Antarctica © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Supposedly hagglunds do float! Never the less we are not that keen to check out the vehicle’s capabilities.

If we do get stranded we will have to be taken out of Cape Royds by helicopter and may have to leave some provisions behind.

We will keep you posted!

Homes from home

Lucy, Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Weather: clear blue skies; -18 degrees C; less than 10 knots of wind.

When I first looked at a map of Ross Island, Antarctica, I was surprised to see that the historic huts of Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton at Cape Evans and Cape Royds are only about 5 kilometres apart. They are both built by the seashore of McMurdo Sound, convenient locations for the expedition members when they were off-loading the ships. For us living at Scott Base (New Zealand’s science base) the huts can be easily visited in a day by hagglund (an all terrain vehicle) - provided the sea ice is thick and strong enough to drive across.

Last weekend we took a trip to see the historic huts. It was a visit which both Fran and I have been looking forward to impatiently since arriving.

I have seen so many photos of the huts that when the time came to visit them I had the impresion they might seem somehow familiar. In reality, the huts and settings are quite different from expected.

Shackleton’s 1908 hut at Cape Royds is smaller, more sheltered and much cosier than I ever thought possible in Antarctica. Whereas the hut at Cape Evans, built by Captain Scott in 1911, is much larger and the outlook is more open than the impression I had from the photographs. Standing in front of the hut, the vista is wide open, over the Ross Sea towards the Royal Society mountain range and Mount Erebus (the southernmost active volcano) towers behind.

Inside the galley area at Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1908 base © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Inside the galley area at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 base (note the ‘graffiti’ was written by the original expedition members) © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Inside Scott’s hut it is quite messy, which gave the slightly eerie feeling that the survivors of the expeditions were in such a hurry to leave Antarctica on their ship, the Terra Nova, that they didn’t have a chance to tidy up. Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds on the other hand is much more orderly and still feels almost lived in.

Captain Scott's 1910 base at Cape Evans with Mount Erebus in the background © Antarctic Heritage Trust

Captain Scott’s 1910 base at Cape Evans with Mount Erebus in the background © Antarctic Heritage Trust

I don’t know which of the 2 huts I like the best at the moment but I am sure that after living at both for 3 months, by the end of the summer I will have made up my mind.

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