Earlier this month I met the lovely Graham family who live in Sydney. They paid a special visit to see our current exhibition, Scott’s Last Expedition. You see, they have a unique connection to a particular object in the exhibition – the penguin menu. The penguin menu is one of my favourite objects in the exhibition, so I was delighted to meet the family and hear how this piece of history stumbled into their lives.
Graham Family with the penguin menu. From left to right: Neil, Ann Marie, Mary, and Jenny.
The penguin menu is a hand painted cardboard cutout of an emperor penguin, made in 1912 by Edward Nelson, a member of the Terra Nova expedition team. On the belly of the penguin, a ‘Midwinter’ menu is listed and on the back, a number of signatures of the Terra Nova expedition team can be read.
Menu in the shape of an emperor penguin. Made by Edward Nelson for the Midwinter’s Day dinner in the Cape Evans Hut, 22 June 1912.
During 1988 in Glasgow, Vincent Burns, the brother of Mary Graham (see image) and an avid believer that another man’s trash, is another man’s treasure, happened upon a framed watercolour in an industrial bin. Vincent took the frame home thinking he could use it to frame his own artwork. When he dismantled the frame, he discovered a cardboard menu, in the shape of a penguin between the watercolour and the backing board. Vincent gave the menu to his brother Harry, who was quite fond of unusual objects. For ten years Harry kept the menu under his mattress and when he passed away, the menu was returned to Vincent. It was only then, that Vincent and his son Gary took a closer look. Something struck them when they read the words ‘Cape Evans 1912’ at the bottom of the menu. Gary promptly searched the internet and discovered this quirky object could have been part of Robert Falcon Scott’s famous expedition to Antarctica. As it turned out, it was! The family decided to auction the menu at Christie’s, London and later discovered it had found a home at Canterbury Museum, New Zealand.
The object not only represents a piece of Antarctic exploration history, it is also now a part of the Graham and Burns family history. For the family, the menu serves as a reminder of Vincent, who sadly passed away recently.
Australian National Maritime Museum
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 this international exhibition, which will be touring between 2011-2013.