Chris, Monday, August 6th, 2007
The straw object that we discovered under the floor of Mawson’s Lab is a protective bottle wrapper, not a broom as you might have guessed.
Although it looks flat, its broad base opens up to form a cone and it was made to fit over the top of the bottles of fruit which were shipped down to the hut. These have been found on examples of bottles of preserved gooseberries, bottled by the London based firm of John Moir and Son, who supplied the bulk of the foodstuffs for the Nimrod expedition.
The image below of bottles at the hut shows some of them with their packaging at Royds, before the conservation project started at the hut. The bottles began their journey from London to Antarctica at the end of the summer of 1907 via Christchurch, New Zealand, from where they were transferred onto the Nimrod to arrive in Antarctica some five months later.
For this long sea passage a traditional protective material for bottles like straw was the packaging of choice for such a fragile cargo.
Chris, Tuesday, July 24th, 2007
Over the last fortnight we have been working our way through some of the finds that were excavated during last summer’s conservation programme at Cape Royds. The finds came from three locations: beneath the stables, under the floor of Shackleton’s Hut and buried within 40cm of ice on the scoria floor of Mawson’s Laboratory.
We found a wide variety of artefacts, which only came to light because of the need to excavate under the hut for the structural work that was being carried out by the carpenters. As the items were buried in ice the only way they could be removed safely was by gently melting the ice away, using industrial warm air blowers. In the early 1960s, when the first serious attempts were made to remove ice from the huts, this was done with pick axes and shovels, and the gauge marks in the floors are evidence of these earlier, more direct, methods.
We found over 300 objects including:
• 143 cans of consolidated pea soup
• 22 tin boxes containing phosphorus matches (which we’re planning to write about shortly)
• Two knee high Russian felt boots and a fine rubber Wellington boot
• Remains of cloth including a woollen T-shirt with the name tag ‘B.Armytage’
• Several rectangular cotton sledging ration bags
• Copper pipes from a Nansen cooker
• And a seal skull
The latter item proved to be particularly unpleasant to deal with as it had clearly missed the cooking pot and had fats and tissue still attached.
But one of the most puzzling items in this collection proved to be something made of straw.
This very delicate object was remarkable not only to have survived destruction at the time the hut was in use but also to have survived in the intervening years. Like much of the organic material that was buried it was in an excellent state of preservation and it is likely to have been completely buried in snow soon after the huts were occupied and with time the surrounding snow then turned to ice. Other organic items which were only partially covered with ice or subject to a regular freeze/thaw cycles fared less well and show all the signs of extreme weathering.
The object is only just over a foot long and consists of a bundle of straw bent in two bound tightly with twine at the short end and splayed out at the other with two rows of looped stitches to keep the structure together. I was puzzled about the function of this object for some time, until Nigel Watson, Director of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, told me what it was.
What do you think it is?
Amy, Tuesday, January 9th, 2007
We found a surprise while undertaking our conservation work at Shackleton’s hut. Hidden inside the plywood venesta crate among the many tinned cans of Symington’s Pea Soup and the surrounding sawdust packing material were a number of paper artefacts that we hadn’t encountered before.
These turned out to be items that were originally used as promotional material, including a small recipe booklet with a lovely bright purple coloured cover, a postcard and three Symington’s Pea Soup advertisements.
All the artefacts were damp, fragile and covered in sawdust and dirt. They were generally creased and stained and some had a few tears. The first remedial action was to remove the sawdust and dirt, using a soft paintbrush. We then flattened the paper and allowed it to dry out between sheets of cotton blotting paper and Reemay® (a spun polyester fibre sheet material used to stop the sheets of paper sticking together).
After flattening, we repaired the paper tears using Japanese tissue paper and wheat starch paste, then lined the three advertisements using the same materials that were used for the tear repairs.
These artefacts will be returned for display in Shackleton’s Hut.
Amy, Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007
It’s great to have four new faces from the carpentry team joining us for the last leg of the 2006/07 Antarctic Heritage Trust Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project summer programme.
We will be camping at Cape Royds again. January will be an extremely busy month for all of us - the carpentry team will focus on conserving the structure of the hut and Robert and myself will concentrate on conserving a variety of artefacts including in-situ conservation of the cooking stove and acetylene lighting plant.
The new team, left to right:
Al Fastier (Programme Manager); Robert Clendon, Amy Ng (conservators); Steve Brown, Charley Brentnall, Gordon McDonald (carpenters); James Blake (general hand).
Robert, Thursday, December 21st, 2006
We’ve had feedback from some of you that you’d like to see what Shackleton’s hut looked like before and after we reconfigured it. These photos aren’t identical before and afters, but should give you some sense of the changes.
I’ve also included a photo of Shackleton’s signature on his bedhead – Shackleton was here!