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The product sells itself

Posted by Conservators Aug 23, 2013

Author: Marie


Wind speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -29

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A


We have been enthusiastic about conserving 100 year-old food products: the great wrappers and labels, the inventive marketing and all the types of lid, cork and sealing we discovered. Even then, companies were offering freshness, purity, expertise and the latest scientific research and up-to-date technology to put on your plate.

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An unopened egg powder carton


What a relief to know that 'The operations are under the supervision of a trained staff of experts with the result that important improvements are constantly being made' to your table salt composition. You can be sure that the salt in the tin is the best possible for your ‘bones, brain and nerves'. You can also rely on pickles, as they are 'recommended by the faculty of digestion'.  And, indeed, some of the food is beautifully preserved and looks incredibly fresh.

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Some of the sales pitches


But, the top of the range was reached last week by egg powder in cardboard cartons, both for its persuasive sales pitch and actual quality. It is 'not a substitute but pure eggs without shell or moisture', in a new-style patented cardboard carton!  I'm not trying to sell the product, but even the most damaged carton (the one we had to open, sample and empty since it was leaking its contents) was in incredibly good condition. 

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The actual pure fresh hens eggs in powder form

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Leaflet detailing conditions of use


The leaflet inside was in such brilliant condition that our loud and repetitive 'Oh! My! Gosh!' made our colleague in the next office rush in to check if everything was alright with us.  And, that was the very last artefact I had the chance to conserve at Scott Base before leaving the ice - lucky me!


Leaving a mark

Posted by Conservators Aug 20, 2013

Author: Stefanie    

Date: 20 August 2013

Temperature: -15.3

Wind speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Andrew Keith Jack, part of the Ross Sea Party, owned a yellow oiled jacket and slept in the same bottom bunk bed as Thomas Griffith Taylor had in 1911 in the Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans. We know this because his name is inscribed with the same hand on both: 'A K Jack' has been written in thick bold letters on the inner collar of the yellow jacket and on the wall beside the bunk in the Hut. Thomas Griffiths Taylor also wrote his initials at the same bunk. The names on the walls continue to mark a presence, promoting historical value. 

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A K Jack's yellow oiled jacket

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A K Jack's mark in bunk


For most, wintering over in the Antarctic is a once in a lifetime opportunity and therefore leaving ones mark behind can be significant and meaningful. At Scott Base we cannot write our names on the walls beside our beds or leave our belongings behind when we depart. Rather, we leave behind a mark in the form of a winter-over photo, which depicts each member of our 2013 winter-over team and hangs on the winter-over wall of fame.


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Winter-over wall of fame


With the ever increasing light on the horizon, we can see the end of winter and anticipate the first sun rise, flight and fresh food with great excitement. But we must also prepare to say our farewells and leave. Last Wednesday, we celebrated our last supper together as a team and the following day Stefan and Marie left us. It is oddly reassuring that they remain with us in the form of floating heads in the 2013 winter-over photo…


The meat packing district

Posted by Conservators Aug 12, 2013

Author: Stefan

Date: 12 August 2013

Temperature: -20C

Wind speed: 11 knots

Temp with wind chill: -32C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A


Working as a team to conserve and restore Bower's Annex, is extremely challenging. Making sense of the mass of wood and its brooding contents often has us scratching our heads. Recently Jaime arrived at the door to my cage (working area) and 'gifted' me a piece of timber. Neither from a Venesta nor a Coleman's solid timber box, the section of wood, would now become an object, and my responsibility to conserve. Jaime had noticed it had some semi-legible bleached print on the surface, where the original paint had eroded away.

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Piece of loose timber, suspected to be from a mutton packing crate © AHT/Stefan


After perusing the print again and again, the "From Tho#,  Bor###### & Sons" led me to see if a company called Thomas Borthwick & Son's was registered at the time. By a stroke of luck one of my searches led to a brilliant history of frozen meat suppliers in Australia and New Zealand.


It appears most likely the section of wood came from a packing crate containing frozen mutton. There are many accounts in the mens’ diaries as they set sail from Christchurch on the Terra Nova of mutton dinners and the gifted carcasses from the Lyttleton community that hung from the rigging.

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Mutton carcass in Discovery Hut's store room © AHT/Stefan


There is still 2 freeze dried sides of mutton that reside in a store room at Discovery hut: although butchery styles and size/maturity of mutton will be similar the world over, it's spooky the similarity between the carcass at Discovery hut, and those hung in the Tomoana Freezer Works in Napier, New Zealand.

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Tomoana Freezer works, Napier, New Zealand


Thomas Borthwick & Sons are still trading today in Mackay, Queensland, Australia, and are still very much in the meat business.  Sadly however, both then and now, there is no spring Welsh lamb in Antarctica, a far superior beast, especially on the plate.


Author: Stefanie

Date: 8 August 2013

Temperature: -38.2

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -62

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A



Over the last few weeks our workload has dramatically increased as we frequently conserve over a hundred objects a week. This is due to our current conservation treatments of the contents of Venesta food storage boxes. Many are being looked into for the first time since leaving their manufacturer in England over 100 years ago and hold different quantities. Some boxes can contain over 70 objects in just one box while others can hold 30 objects. Most objects are food products that require various degrees of conservation assessment and treatment. The food products uncovered are in various conditions and although some are badly deteriorated, festering and leaking from cracked, corroded or broken containers, others are in astoundingly good condition remaining very well persevered in their original packaging with some still maintaining perfect form and smell.

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Raspberry, Blackberry & Apple jam manufactured by Beach & Son

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Ground Cinnamon and Ground Ginger manufactured by Griffiths McAlister & Co.'s


There were many commercial sponsors for the Antarctic expeditions. Scott lists these in an appendix to his journal and of these, this week, we have opened boxes manufactured by John Burgess & Son, Gillard & Co., Beach & Sons and Fry & Sons, finding exceptional examples of unopened fine and luxurious food products. A pick of which includes Raspberry and Strawberry Jams, Ground Cinnamon, Ground Ginger and the essence of vanilla,  French Olives, Devilled Ham Pate, Potted Beef Pate, Turtle Soup, Pickled Onions, Gorgona Anchovies, Meat loafs, sauces, pickles, condiments…

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Essence of Vanilla, Savoy Sauce, pickles and meat pate manufactured by John Burgess & Son

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Historic Pickles Onions...


Lights on

Posted by Conservators Aug 5, 2013

Author: Marie

Date: 5 August 2013

Temperature: -33.9

Wind speed: 13 knots

Temp with wind chill: -51

Sunrise: Will be soon

Sunset: N/A



As we start getting ready for the end of the third act, winfly, the sky is turning purple or red from time to time, towards Mount Erebus. If you drive up in the direction of Arrival Heights, it feels like someone has turned the light on. Suddenly, you get a stunning panorama. We haven't seen much landscape these last three months, and no sky line. The great mountains have appeared again on the continent, and seem closer and taller than when they disappeared. It's spectacular and it seems to have happened all of a sudden, as a Deus ex machina. Out of the dark at least, we are 'somewhere' again, after a few months feeling we’re in an orbital station. With the light coming, the colours change and so do the hearts, everyone is feeling lighter and happier.

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A three weeks long sunrise starts behind Mount Erebus



Then, alas, the darkness takes over again. After these few hours of discreet light, the stars now look paler. We're waiting for the next day, for more horizons.

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Daylight on Arrival Heights



But just when the light will be illuminating the stage, the curtain will fall for Stefan and me, as will be leaving on the very first flight out of Antarctica, just before the sunrise.


Author: Sue

Date: 2 August 2013


Researching my cans of margarine seemed to be looking increasingly like a can of worms … or at least a can of misinformation! If many internet sites are to be believed, margarine production and sale was banned in New Zealand under The Margarine Act, 1908, repealed sometime after 1974. So how did Captain Scott come to have a case of what appeared to be NZ margarine in 1910?


Tracking down the said Act, I discovered that it didn't actually ban margarine at all. Designed to protect New Zealand's dairy industry—which, it was believed, would take a battering if margarine coloured to imitate butter, was readily available as a low-priced butter substitute—the Act actually banned the addition of yellow colourants in margarine.

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Margarine tins before the contents were emptied


And other countries including Australia, France, Denmark and some US states were doing the same. While allowing the supposedly appealing yellow colouring of butter (which they still do, for that matter … after all, have you ever seen yellow milk?), prohibiting the colouring of margarine was designed to greatly reduce its popularity with consumers. Some companies in the US got around the ban by including sachets or capsules of yellow colouring with their margarine, to be stirred or kneaded through before serving.  


But back to New Zealand and to Captain Scott ...


In addition to banning colourants, I found that The Margarine Act, 1908, also strictly regulated margarine production and packaging. It stipulated that margarine could only be legally produced under an annually renewable licence, for a fee, and that every package had to be "distinctly and durably branded or marked 'MARGARINE' on the top and on one side, in printed capital letters not less than one and a half inches square …" And so that accounts for the unusual appearance of Scott's margarine tins … on which the letters are just under the compliance size. But should I mention that the margarine was a deep rich yellow colour, reminiscent of mango ice-cream? Or was that just the result of 100 years in the great freezer of Antarctica, perhaps?

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Samples of lard and margarine


Oh, and a final colourful little twist to the story …


When NZ's Margarine Act, 1908, was finally repealed in 1989 allowing colourants to be introduced, the dairy industry cheekily lobbied the government to force all margarine manufacturers to colour their product blue … but, if that's to be believed, it clearly, and thankfully, failed!