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Women on the Walls

Posted by Conservators Jul 31, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 25/07/12
Temperature: -25c
Wind Speed: 36 kts
Temp with wind chill: -39c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A  

This season, some of the paper items from Scott’s hut at Cape Evans provide personal insights into the lives of the expeditioners, showing some of the things they liked and what they did with their spare time.

In addition to a range of adventure stories and military novels, there are a surprising number of paperback romances which, judging by the degree of wear and sooty fingerprints, were rather well read! The stories seem to reflect the sensibilities of the era, and are of variable quality – although almost all seem to feature prolonged bouts of blushing between the chief protagonists. One of the best (or worst) involves a hero called Dr Love who finds he has feelings for an impoverished actress and resolves to free her from the profession. The end pages are unfortunately missing, so we can only hope that it ends like a proper romance should.


Romance novels; popular in a harsh continent (Credit: AHT/Georgina)

Many of the magazines too, manage to combine stories of popular interest with the frivolous and banal (not to mention articles on fashion for the ladies). To Scott’s men, who often had to survive gruelling conditions, such throwaway reading matter was likely valued as a diversion.

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Scrapbook-style wall decoration (Credit: AHT/Georgina)


Along the same lines, there is a montage that looks like a page torn from a scrapbook.  This appears to have been found tacked to the end wall of Birdie Bower's bunk bed.  It is a wonderful selection of images – all cut from magazines - mainly of women in hats and big hair, but also of Australian Aboriginals and a large cartoon cat. In the bottom left corner is a small illustration of a rather exotic-looking half-naked lady with a snake (Cleopatra?), which in its very charming way manages to be about the most risqué artefact I have seen from the huts to date!  My favourite personalised item however, also found by the officers’ tenements, is a hand-made collection of cut-out pictures of dogs - presumably by someone very fond of man’s best friend, or else missing his dog back home.


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Dogtastic! The modified wooden lid of a venesta case. On the reverse is printed: 'B.A.E. MARGARINE LYTTELTON’. (Credit: AHT/Georgina)


Author: Stefan

Date: 25July 2012
Temperature: -23 deg C
Wind Speed: 22 knots
Temp with wind chill: -54 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a


Oil painting by George Marston (1882-1940) entitled Aurora Australis


Now then, one of the obvious draws of experiencing an Antarctic winter is witnessing the Aurora Australis. My father is a wonderful photographer, and provided me with a great deal of information on how to capture this phenomenon, but I must confess that once the right conditions (or a sighting) are announced over the tannoy, all preparations fall out the window, and everyone is allowed to pile out of the base into the freezing temperatures to try their hand, quite literally ( ‘at -50C hands and fingers become clumsy from cold in a matter of minutes’).



Aurora Australis  taken a few weeks ago AHT Stefan

The majesty of this vision is hard to encompass in words. You’re desperate to focus and chart the swirling radiating lines, but no sooner do you capture a fragment of the formation in your stare than it instantly shifts and dissipates Much like a magic eye, you have to train your eye on  the middle-distance, and then the show begins.

100yrs after the heroic era, more scientific findings have allowed us the understanding that the auroras are charged particles from the solar winds colliding with atoms in the high atmosphere, but in the early 20th century the scientists of the expeditions like Simpson were still mulling it over. Earlier in the Discovery expedition, one of the men was thoroughly spooked by the vision, and used to leave cigarettes as an offering to gods, to try and make the aurora go away.

Here’s an exerpt from Scott’s journals that indicates why some might have found the aurora supernatural
“There is argument on the confession of Ponting’s inability to obtain photographs of the Aurora” “It is all very puzzling”  R.F.Scott


Balaclava borrowing

Posted by Conservators Jul 24, 2012

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: 24 July 2012

Temperature: -22 °C

Wind Speed: 30 knots

Temp with wind chill: -50 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Currently we are working on the conservation of artefacts from Cape Evans, the base hut built by Captain Scott for the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-13). I recently had the pleasure of conserving a balaclava, which came from the vicinity of Nelson’s bunk, (Nelson was the biologist with the expedition). The balaclava is knitted from dark blue wool, with a black trim around the face aperture, and has a piece of cotton sewn into the inside around the forehead/crown area. This particular item has been identified from its pattern as dating from 1907-1909 and originating from Cape Royds – the base hut built by Sir Ernest Shackleton for the Nimrod Expedition. It is not known who brought the balaclava to Cape Evans, unfortunately there is no name tag within as with some of the other items of clothing left in the huts. With the in-built neck gaiter preventing heat loss from the chest and neck area, and the extra insulation the sewn-in cotton piece provided by protecting the forehead from the biting Antarctic winds, it was no doubt a useful and treasured item.

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Balaclava before conservation Credit:AHT/Gretel


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Balaclava after conservation Credit: AHT/Gretel


Wear Patterns

Posted by Conservators Jul 22, 2012

Author: Susanne Grieve

Date: July 18, 2012

Temperature: -39°C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -85°C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A


An important part of the conservation of the material culture from the historic huts is maintaining evidence of use. A lot of times, conservators use their own experience to determine how an object was used and identify wear patterns. In many ways this is similar to experimental archaeology where sites or techniques are recreated using techniques that are similar to the methods that people used in the past. A common example of this is the manufacturing of stone tools in which archaeologists try to identify how various stones were knapped by using similar knapping techniques.


In the historic huts we often see a lot of wear patterns with the tools and clothing that early explorers used  since these were utilitarian items that were used until they were worn out or broken. This week I am treating an iron feed box that was used in the stables at Cape Evans. During conservation I noticed that there were several holes in the back panel of the metal in an inconsistent pattern.

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Back panel of the exterior on the pony feed box. Credit: AHT/Susanne


These were obviously intentionally made holes, but didn’t seem consistent with any design or planned placement. During a recent open house one of the Scott Base crew was examining the box, and because of his experience with farming, he thought the holes may have been caused by a pitchfork when the box was filled with feed.


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A pony feed box in situ with a rake at Cape Evans. Credit: AHT/Susanne


Anything that humans use can have wear patterns. Sometimes it is up to the conservator to identify them to aid in the interpretation of the object. What kind of wear patters do the objects you use everyday have?


Meat and Two Veg/Lemons

Posted by Conservators Jul 17, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 11 July 2012

Temperature: -22C

Wind speed: 15 Knots

Temp with wind chill: -38C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Food and drink, fascinating as a standard, becomes that much more intriguing in Antarctica. Deep into the season as we are now, when you consume something you can feel its positive or negative effect almost immediately. Vitamin C and the inclusion of ascorbic acid in the diet are ‘no-brainers’ these days, but frustratingly the battle against scurvy was still dangerously present for both Shackleton and Scott. 


As early as 1614 the East India Company’s pamphlet “The Surgeons Mate” was rightly advising the consumption of citrus fruit as a cure for scurvy. Unfortunately the trade route through the West Indies, and the mass availability of limes, saw to the reducing and boiling down of this potential cure, removing the vitamin C and just souring the taste of an already excruciating death.



Illustration from Henry Walsh Mahon ‘A Case of Scurvy Journal’


It was this confusion which meant that 300 years later the jury was still out for Scott and his men. Thankfully some focus was placed on the possible effect of eating rotten/tinned meat and the wasting effects of scurvy. Hence eat fresh (slightly raw) meat and you’ll be fine (with the raw meat containing the essential vitamins).


Modern day Scott Base is now well out of the grips of scurvy, but we do feel this pinch of cravings for food high in vitamin C. Trips to the lush wilds of McMurdo’s Hydroponics Unit give us a regular fix of green smells. My flat leaf parsley habit is getting way out of control, finger pointing to whom is snaffling the foliage can’t be far off.



Simon inspecting McMurdo Station's 2012 crop


Ice Climbing

Posted by Conservators Jul 16, 2012

Author: Susanne

Date: 4 July 2012

Temperature: -38C

Wind Speed: 10 Knots

Temp with wind chill: -83C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



You would think in the middle of winter with consistently cold temperatures that we wouldn’t go outside unless it was necessary, but everyday we venture out to either perform work duties or for recreation. With the right equipment and safety precautions we can easily spend a few hours outside in -38°C. This week my fellow Scott Base residents and I decided to venture out to try ice climbing in the crevasse simulator that the Search and Rescue team uses for training.


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Crevasse Simulator on the Ice Shelf © Simon


A crew of eight took a Hagglund on to the Ross Ice Shelf for about a 20 minute drive away from Scott Base. Several members of the Search and Rescue team accompanied us and set about rigging up the ropes and anchors. We were all rigged up and fitted with harnesses and then lowered down over the edge for some fun abseiling. Then the time came to climb back up! This was my first time climbing a wall of ice! Using two ice picks and crampons, I slowly eased my way up the wall, really getting a feel for the teeth of my feet and arms gripping in the ice.


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Scott Base crew climbing the Ice wall © AHT/Susanne


While our trip was recreational, I could not help but think of the early explorers and how this experience could have been a part of survival for them. There are a few pairs of crampons in the historic bases and I now have a true appreciation for how they were used!


The previous crevasse training held at Scott Base became very helpful.


Author: Gretel

Date: 3 July 2012

Temperature: -31C

Wind Speed: 10 Knots

Temp with wind chill: -50C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Conservation isn’t just about cleaning. During the course of conserving an artefact we look for information about its manufacture, history and use. Conservators have to use their skill and judgement when deciding whether to remove material or preserve it.


I was presented with this task recently when I came to conserve an enamelled iron mug. The photograph taken before treatment shows that the mug is both corroded (from the deterioration of the iron) and soiled.

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Enamel mug before conservation treatment


While carefully removing the iron corrosion, without causing damage to the flaking and fragile enamel, I determined that the soiling  inside the cup was evidence of its history of use.  It was in actual fact the ‘tidemark’ left by the last contents of the cup – much like you would get today from an unwashed mug. This evidence was left in-situ to show the use of the mug. Future analysis of the residue could even indicate what the owner of the mug enjoyed the last time this mug was used.


Enamel mug after conservation treatment


Author: Georgina

Date: 27 June 2012

Temperature: -21C

Wind Speed: 10 Knots

Temp with wind chill: -28C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



One of the books this season from Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans is unusual amongst the ones I have worked on for having a British Antarctic Expedition bookplate. This seems to suggest that it was somehow formally acquired for the expedition, or belonged to someone in the habit of marking their books this way. Could the use of official stationary indicate that this was Scott’s own copy? It is always tempting to try and ‘place’ an artefact with a specific expedition member (and usually one of the more famous ones), but in reality comparatively few artefacts can ever be positively linked to an individual, and usually only then because it has been signed or had a name tag sewn on.


The book is ‘The Green Flag’ by Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and is a compilation of short stories about army life. Back in England, Captain Scott was a member of Sheringham Golf Club, and it just so happened that the author was a member at the same time too – so presumably they knew each other.  Interestingly, there was also a member there called Moriarty!


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Book after treatment, showing bookplate; British Antarctic Expedition, 1910 © AHT/George


And what about the initials printed in blue ink at the corner of the book plate; ‘R.J.S.’? The only luck I have had so far in finding an R.J.S. in relation to the expedition is Robert Falcon Scott’s cousin; Robert Julian Scott. Born at Plymouth, Devonshire in 1861, Julian later immigrated to New Zealand where he became professor of engineering at Canterbury College in Christchurch. It is known that Scott visited him before heading south.


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Scott's cousin, Robert Julian Scott, lived & worked in Christchurch, NZ


So, in the tradition of the great detectives, has the case of the mystery book been solved? Well, no, not really. The evidence is scant and circumstantial at best, and, for the moment at least, the investigation remains open.


Author: Stefan

Date: 27 June 2012

Temperature: -26C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -30C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



As a profession, conservators often have a soft spot for certain objects. Many choose the bejeweled glitzy golden things, but I’ve always been fascinated with the craft movement, and anything that combines a beauty of aesthetic and function.


I’m currently conserving a ‘range’ of stove parts from Cape Royds that don’t really typify the style, but definitely the concept of the Craft Movement. During this period, high design and crispness of detail in cast iron was common and expertly executed. It’s depressing these days that little love of artistic expression goes into the design of such utilitarian objects. It’s pretty hard to imagine buying a washing machine that would be jaw droppingly gorgeous, whilst also performing a spin cycle…… if only.

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A few stove parts, awaiting lacquering


It’s pretty sad, but as a conservator you often research incomplete objects in the vain hope that you’re going to find an example of an original, and you often leave the computer/library depressed and empty handed. By extraordinary chance, and little skill, we’ve managed to find an image of an original stove of the exact patent.


Please feast your eyes on the stunning “Model Parlor #2” manufactured by Pratt and Weeks. Made in Boston between 1840-1860, this gothic looking heat emitter, came with a heat control vent to the rear, and a foot rest……these guys really knew what people wanted out of life.

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The original patented stove, in mint condition


In conserving our stove, the smell of golden syrup was thick in the air when removing corrosion. All visible staining has been left intact, but that faint whiff evoked warm memories of Britain and the good life. I imagine a tin or two were being warmed nearby and burst open. A doubtless scalding goof at the time, but well done boys, you made my day.


I implore you, throw out the TV and get a stove with all the trimmings.