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Natural Remedies

Posted by Conservators Jun 29, 2012

Author: Susanne

Date: 22 June 2012

Temperature: -28.2C

Wind Speed: 2 knots

Temp with wind chill: -65C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



This week I am conserving some textiles from Cape Evans. Textiles are one of my favourite items to treat because they are familiar and tend to be related to clothing or utilitarian purposes. Therefore, I was completely surprised to find a small playing card shaped textile that was related to medicinal purposes.


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Mustard Plaster © AHT/Susanne


When someone experienced a cut or infection, mustard plasters were used to stimulate healing. They generally consisted of mustard powder (blended with other natural powders such as flour or egg whites) which was packed between two pieces of fabric. This plaster states “Application. Immerse the Sinapism in water for one second only and apply it directly, covering it with a cloth or napkin.” 


This plaster doesn’t appear to have been used, but it is an interesting reflection of some of the early medicinal cures they used. Have you ever used one?


Author: Gretel

Date: 20 June 2012

Temperture: -28C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



With only one day to go until the mid-winter solstice, Antarctica is a whirlwind of fun and festivities.


24-hour darkness has been upon us since 20 April when we watched the sun disappear below the horizon, not to be seen again until 19 August. The solstice on 20 June marks the half-way point in our winter so it is widely celebrated by many of the crews at international bases throughout Antarctica.


One of the main ways of celebrating is with a feast of food. Scott Base had an amazing 7 course dinner featuring scallops, venison and chocolate mousse cake to mention but a few.



Scott Base Mid-Winter dinner menu


Another tradition is the polar plunge. A crazy custom whereby participants take the opportunity to jump into the sea through a hole cut through the sea-ice in temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius.


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Polar plunger reclines in the freezing waters


We know that these activities go on throughout the Antarctic continent (and are not just confined to crazy Kiwis) as the many international bases send mid-winter greeting e-cards boasting of the delights of their base and mid-winter feast, usually extending an open invitation to all to attend. This irony isn’t lost on those who appreciate that travel to Antarctica is out of the question during the mid-winter (unless it is a question of life or death) so to travel thousands of miles across it is a wistful idea for the sake of attending a mid-winter dinner party.


Drink or Die

Posted by Conservators Jun 18, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 7 June 2012

Temperature: -34C

Wind Speed: 17 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Water melting can be a frustrating chore when out in the field. It seems to be required almost constantly. As our primus stoves are designed to be light weight and small, the water melting pots in turn have a limited capacity. As you might expect Scott and his team at Cape Evans hut had a great many more important things to be filling their time with so a giant water melter was fitted to the central stove, allowing them probably two days grace, before having to shovel in a fresh batch of snow.


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Conservation of Cape Evans snow melter © AHT/ Stefan


In visiting the hut you realise the ribbed cast iron stove is like the heart of the building, and the re-installation of the water melter is going to give a great deal of interpretational focus back to the hut.


Unfortunately the melter had been left outside Cape Evan’s hut for decades and has been badly corroded in the freeze thaw cycles. Although we try to ensure no modern materials are visible in the conservation of these works, it’s necessary to incorporate a mount for the melter (ensuring that the corroded base doesn’t take the weight of the main structure). I’ve currently treated the corrosion, and have fitted a reversible support to the base. The next step will be the creation of a Perspex mount which will slot into the rebate of the base, and allow the sturdy edge of the metal to support the weight. When finished the melter will be re-installed at Cape Evans, and the supports will not be visible.


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Meares at the Pianola, the melter to his left, wired to the stove  © SPRI


Stormy Greetings

Posted by Conservators Jun 15, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 6 June 2012

Temperature: -32C

Wind speed: 26 knots

Temp with wind chill: -49C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A


Amongst this season’s artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans are some commercially produced Christmas cards. Unfortunately, most of these are unused, so it seems they were brought along on the expedition but were never signed and given out.

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Two Christmas cards before and after treatment © AHT/Georgina


Two of the cards, as seen here in the photos, were in very poor condition, with heavy wrinkling and ingrained surface dirt. When the cards were separated and opened, it turned out that one contains handwriting, and had been inscribed from ‘Your Mother, Xmas 1910’.

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Detail showing handwritten inscription © AHT/Georgina


The Terra Nova expedition had set sail from Cardiff, Wales on 15 June 1910; so one imagines that one of the men’s mothers had written them the card before departure, probably with instructions not to open until Christmas day. In the event, a rather uncomfortable Christmas that year was spent on the ship. Still suffering damage from a serious storm at the beginning of the month, the SS Terra Nova had met and been halted by the southern pack ice on 10 December and was unable to break clear for the next 20 days. The delay, which Scott attributed to "sheer bad luck", had consumed 61 tons of coal, whilst the storm had lost 2 ponies, a dog and numerous stores.

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The SS Terra Nova halted by pack ice, photograhed in December 1910 by Herbert Ponting


After cleaning and separating the cards, they were washed in water, and an alkaline buffer imparted to neutralise the natural acids occurring in the paper.  After drying, the paper was humidified and the creases gently eased out before pressing.  Afterwards, the paper and card layers were lined from behind with thin Japanese tissue, whilst all lacunae (holes) were filled in with acid-free paper repair patches toned with acrylic paint to closely match surrounding areas.


Erebus – son of Chaos

Posted by Conservators Jun 13, 2012

Author: Gretel

Date: 30 May 2012

Temperature: -18C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -40C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A


Scott Base stands in the shadow of Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s southernmost active volcano.  Mount Erebus was discovered on January 27, 1841 (and observed to be in eruption) by polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross who named it after one of his ships. In Greek mythology Erebus was a primordial god of darkness and the son of Chaos – perhaps Sir Ross had this in mind when he named the volcano.


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Erebus Discovered  © State Library of South Australia.

The first ascent of Mount Erebus was made in 1908 during Shackleton’s British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition of 1907-1909. On reaching the summit, the party measured the altitude with a hypsometer - a small cylinder in which distilled water is boiled and the temperature measured (as the temperature at which water boils drops with altitude). Meteorological experiments were carried out and rock samples taken. The ascent took 5 days and on return the 6 men were said to be ‘nearly dead’. This was the first ascent of any peak on Antarctica and was made with improvised equipment such as crampons fashioned out of leather and nails.

Today, Mount Erebus is still a feature of attraction for scientists as the most active volcano in Antarctica. The summit has a permanent magma-filled lake, one of only a few in the world. The volcano produces Erebus crystals, which grow in the magma and are ejected during eruptions. So rare are these crystals they are only found in one other place in the world, a long long way away on Mount Kenya.


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Mount Erebus © AHT/Gretel


Crevasse Training

Posted by Conservators Jun 7, 2012

Author:  Susanne Grieve

Date: 29/05/12

Temperature: -16c

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -43c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A  


Last week, I finished reading the journals of Dr. Edward Wilson and Lt. Birdie Bowers (members of Captain Scott's 1911 expedition). These primary resources can be important for conservators as they describe how certain objects were used and the importance they had to the men. One of the most striking descriptions is when the men fell down crevasses. In one example during the Worst Journey in the World sledging trip, Birdie fell through the ice into a crevasse below and Wilson calmly threw down a rope.


Nowadays, we use numerous safety precautions to ensure that when we are travelling across icy terrain or exploring the landscape that we don’t fall or get injured. Part of training for this environment is to learn how to abseil and climb safely in or out of a crevasse. Among our Scott Base team are several members of the Search and Rescue team, one of which, Jeff, taught us the basics of abseiling.


The Hilary Field Center at Scott Base is the main building that houses field support services and provides a great platform in which to train. After getting safely rigged up, I was ready to make an attempt.


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   Jeff rigging me up safely. © AHT/Susanne


After gently stepping up to the edge (and making sure that Jeff had a good grip on the belay), I turned and leaned back. This is a very strange experience if you have never tried it! Eventually I was able to find a rhythm and the confidence to lower myself down into the open space below.


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Making my way into the void below! © AHT/Susanne


With no where to place my feet, my heart beat was racing! Once I reached the bottom I was thankful that I didn’t have to have my first abseiling experience in a real crevasse like Birdie!