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Sleuthing signatures

Posted by Conservators May 28, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 24/05/12

Temperature: -12c

Wind Speed: 15  kts

Temp with wind chill: -28c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A

 

It’s pretty rare when conserving the objects from Cape Evans to find something that has a personal touch you can pin to one of the shore party with full confidence. Nearly everything has evidence of human interaction but, (as Scott did with Shackleton’s hut) subsequent explorers have moved a great deal of the objects around, making it difficult to have full confidence an item has providence to a particular individual.

 

In a crate of McDoddie’s dehydrated rhubarb tins, it was immediately obvious that two had been signed with blue crayons (a few of which still lie on Scott’s table). Reading “R F Scott” on one and “Brown” on the other, I got busy rooting through handwriting samples from the expeditions and quickly concluded Bowers signature accurately matched the tin marked “Brown” (thought to refer to Browning, in the northern party). This would make sense as in being the storesmen Bowers would have been most likely to ration and name supplies.But what of the other tin? It’s obviously different handwriting, and does have characteristics both similar and dissimilar to Scott’s signature.

 

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Tins of dehydrated rhubarb with ‘R F Scott’ and ‘Brown’ written on the label with blue crayon. © AHT/Stefan

 

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Signatures from the Cape Evans shore party

 

Life in Antarctica doesn’t make solving this conundrum easy. There are numerous reasons why you might not write as you normally would, mental fatigue, lack of hand dexterity in the cold, over compensating in writing clearly to ensure no mistakes were made in rationing etc. I for one believe this is Scott’s handwriting. There were no other ‘Scott’s’ in any of the crews and in wouldn’t come naturally to include ‘R F’ if it was somebody else.

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Toothache Plasters

Posted by Conservators May 24, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 23/05/12

Temperature: -22c

Wind Speed: 56  kts

Temp with wind chill: -35c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset N/A

 

Everyone who comes to Antarctica has to undergo medical testing which includes a full dental assessment so that any necessary work can be carried out before arrival. We have a dentist here during the summer at McMurdo station, but in the winter months there isn’t one, and so toothache is something best avoided!

 

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Tooth powder. © AHT/Susanne

 

This season we have had various items from Scott’s Terra Nova hut relating to dental hygiene, including a broken toothbrush (stored in a broken pipe), tooth powder (like tooth paste) and toothache plasters. The plasters are little rubber caps (concave ovals) in a paper/card packet. Their instructions prescribe: 'Place a plaster in position (hollow side toward the gum) directly over the roots of the aching tooth. With a slight pressure of the finger expel the air from under the plaster and it will remain in position. Remove plaster when tooth stops aching.’  

 

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Packet of Toothache Plasters before conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

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After conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

Some of the plasters are missing, and it is not clear whether they were used by the British Antarctic Expedition or simply lost. We are also not sure how much relief they could have practically afforded a raging tooth, although by temporarily sealing a cavity from the air, perhaps some. Interestingly, we know that during Shackleton’s aborted attempt on the pole in 1908, the metereologist Jameson Adams was unable to sleep for days from toothache so allowed it to be extracted in the field without equipment or anaesthetic.

 

As for myself, after experiencing the discomfort of a fractured wisdom tooth during my 2010 season here, I’ll definitely be looking after the pearlies I have left, and so hopefully avoid any more association with either plasters or pliers.

 

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Toothbrush. © AHT/Stefan

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Author: Susanne
Date: May 16, 2012
Temperature: -13.4°C
Wind Speed: 9knots
Temp with wind chill: -36°C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


Some of the best moments in the lab are when we discover a hidden message or drawing on an object. This week, on what I thought may have been just another tobacco tin, was an advertisement for Albany Cigarettes printed on the back of a cigarette case.

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Albany cigarette advertisement on the back of a tin. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

I was curious to know the history of the cigarette company and the details behind the design of the advertisement. The “Albany Cigarette” was made by F.L. Smith Ltd. in London at No. 5 Burlington Gardens. According to this New Zealand cigarette pack below, the Albany Cigarette was first made by hand in the building that is shown above, perhaps by the very dapper gentlemen pictured in front.

 

 

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Packaging from the predecessor company to F.L. Smith in New Zealand with the Albany storefront shown. Credit: http://www.zigsam.at/C_NewZealand.htm

 

A brief search also revealed this letter written by British Captain Edward Hulse in World War I to his mother asking her to obtain the handmade cigarettes: “Please ask F. L. Smith, 12 Burlington Gardens (Albany Cigarette people) to send me twice a week a box of 25 of the cigarettes which they supply me with generally.” Source: http://www.archive.org/stream/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich_djvu.txt


It is often these small connections that are provided by material culture that reflect the greater stories of heroism from the exploration of Antarctica to the battlefields of World War I.


  

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Soup in an Instant

Posted by Conservators May 18, 2012

Author: Gretel

Date: 16 May 2012

Temperature: -17 deg C

Wind Speed: 15 knots

Temp with wind chill: -35 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Symingtons Pea Flour was a great invention. Patented by William Symington in 1852, pea flour was the forerunner of instant soup. The addition of hot water enabled the soup to be ready in one minute.

 

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Tins of Symingtons Pea Flour © AHT/Gretel

 

These tins were recovered from Captain Scott’s base at Cape Evans which he used for the British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole (1910-12). Scott commented in his diary that ‘a lot can be done with the addition of a little boiled pea meal’.

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Tin label © AHT/Gretel

 

The tin label shows that as well as being part of the supplies in Scott’s previous National Antarctic (Discovery) Expedition in 1901-04, it was utilised in countless army expeditions. It seems that even 100 years ago, PR gurus didn’t miss an advertising opportunity.

 

The label even goes so far as to state that the soup ‘never causes unpleasant feelings after eating’ – which is reassuring to know! And the proof of this pudding could be in the eating…when it was discovered in one of Scott’s food stores 50 years on it was said to still be edible.

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Mans Best Friend

Posted by Conservators May 15, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 10/05/12
Temperature: -7C
Wind Speed: 10 kts
Temp with wind chill: -20C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

 

Huskies, or any breed of dog, were officially removed from Antarctica after concerns were raised about distemper possibly being transferred to Weddel seals. The Antarctic Treaty stated that “dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs currently in those areas shall be removed by April 1994.”


It’s fascinating to learn the history of dogs at Scott Base/Antarctica, The majority of the 61 that set paw down on ice in 1956 were said to have descended from an original bloodline of Admiral Richard Byrd’s 1928-30 expedition to Antarctica. From this point the dogs travelled around numerous bases on the continent, mixing the stocks base-to-base.

 

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Photo © Frank Hurley 1911

 

It’s amazing to hear of how fondly all of the expeditioners talked of these often brutal tempered animals. My belief is many people who end up visiting Antarctica have a natural affinity with the attributes of these dogs i.e. needing little to survive, loyal, hardworking, and dependable.

 

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Dog collar and leash chain © AHT/ Stef

 

In preparing to conserve a dog collar from Scott’s Cape Evans hut, I can’t help but feel a certain sadness, that the efforts and achievements of these beasts haven’t as yet been properly commemorated or recognised.

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Author: Georgina
Date: 09/05/12
Temperature: -11c
Wind Speed: 70  kts
Temp with wind chill: -26c
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A


Each member of the AHT team specialises in different areas of material conservation; Gretel is objects/archaeological, Stefan is metals/stone, Susanne is objects/maritime and mine is paper. Many artefacts this season are multi-media, which often gives us a chance to share the work and collaborate with each other. Commonly, collaborations involve paper components such as wrappers around bottles and labels on tins. One nice recent job was this little card of safety pins where I dealt with the paper element and Stefan worked his magic on the metal pins.

 

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Card of safety pins before conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

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After conservation. © AHT/Georgina

 

Safety pins were a humble but useful piece of kit for the early explorers, and today we are still supplied with them by Antarctica New Zealand in our field sewing kits. Many of the photos from Scott’s Terra Nova expedition show the men having them pinned to their jumpers and jackets, no doubt coming in handy for quick repairs on the hop.

 

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In addition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard notes that the men were keen to have large safety pins on hand “with which to hang up our socks” (The Worst Journey in the World”).

 

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This can be seen in Ponting’s famous photo of Captain Scott writing in his den; where there is a row of socks behind him, each pair being attached at the top with a safety pin and hung from nails in the wall. Nevertheless, the frequency with which we see the men wear them on their chests is notable, either singularly or in little rows like badges - and one wonders if it might have even been a kind of utilitarian expedition fashion; the popular choice for the man about base.

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Author: Susanne Grieve
Date: May 5, 2012
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -72°C
Sunrise: --
Sunset --


As conservators we are often asked what our favourite object has been to treat. While I have been fortunate enough to preserve a variety of material culture from prehistoric Native American pottery to modern rubber, there has been one type of object that has always been my favorite: shoes! These unique items are very special to work with since they can represent personal choices in style and function.


This week, I conserved two pairs of leather boots from Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans that were found near Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s bunk area. The leather on the shoes was well worn and told a story on its own with numerous cuts and scrapes along the surface. The heel areas have buckles and straps that were used to secure early style crampons to the boot to increase grip on the ice. The most interesting feature however, was the sole area where the bottommost heel lifts had been worn away and the toes reinforced with extra layers of leather. For insulation, the early explorers used straw and newspaper which is still found inside the shoes.

 

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Pair of leather boots tied together at the laces. © AHT/Susanne

 

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Sole of one of the boots with the heel lifts worn away and a reinforced toe area. © AHT/Susanne

 

For me, the ability to preserve these personal items that were once used to cross some of the toughest terrain on earth is humbling and I appreciated the opportunity to “walk a mile in their shoes”.

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Author: Gretel
Date: 2 May 2012
Temperature: -32 deg C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -48 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

 
If you’re an avid reader of our blogs you may wonder what we do with our spare time when we’re not playing golf, attending ceremonies, enjoying dinners and going on day trips. Well, we like to fit in some conservation from time to time.


This season we are extremely fortunate to be conserving a huge variety of interesting artefacts from the expedition bases.  Over winter the team will conserve around 1200 objects. I have been dealing with the items on a desk outside the dark room in Captain Scott’s hut at Cape Evans where there are a number of items relating to communication and one of these is this telegraph key.

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Telegraph key before conservation © AHT

The image of the key before conservation shows that the metal components are obscured by corrosion. Careful removal revealed that the screws are constructed from brass and that there is a layer of gold on the surface of the iron key mechanism. This isn’t unusual bearing in mind that electrical components today are still gold-plated to prevent the base metals oxidizing.


It was essential to reveal, but not remove, the gold layer. So after cleaning the metal it was coated with a lacquer to prevent the iron from further rusting and losing any more of the gold-plate.

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Telegraph key after conservation © AHT

 

Conservation also revealed drops of wax on the wooden base. Although they are not an original component of the object these were retained as they tell a story about the history of use of the artefact and are preserved to retain its historical integrity.