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Antarctic conservation

31 Posts tagged with the cape_royds tag
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Author: John  Date: 12 September 2011
Temperature: -19.4oC
Wind Speed: 22Kts
Temp with wind chill: -320C
Sunrise: 7.50am
Sunset 5.52pm

Sometimes when an artefact eludes description or exact function we just need the right expert at the right time. This item from Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds was initially described as an ‘Urn and Lid’. Last week, while this artefact was being treated in the Conservation Lab at Scott Base, Jane invited our Base chef, Lance, down for a look over what we were doing. He walked into the lab looked at the ‘Urn and Lid’ on the bench and immediately said ‘That’s a stockpot, they have not changed much over the years have they?” and proceeded to describe how one was used!

 

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Urn and lid aka Stockpot © AHT

 

Pieces of meat were put into the pot and boiled down to make stock for soups and such. The fat floated to the top and could be separated off as required while the juicy stock could be tapped off via the brass tap at the bottom. A woven wire filter gauze behind the tap strained out any unwanted solid pieces.  The pot could be kept simmering continually on the stove, stock drawn off as necessary, and the pot topped up with more meat pieces or bones and water as required.


There are still food particles remaining inside the pot, and soot and fat all over the outside showing that this stockpot was well used – seal or penguin meat perhaps? Heated by burning blubber, hence the soot? All this evidence was kept intact on the pot.


Lance also made the comment that the chef’s working space in the hut was very cramped. 
So, many thanks to Lance, for being ‘the right expert at the right time’!

 

 

 

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Boxes repaired by Martin

Posted by Conservators Jun 12, 2011

Author: Julie

 

Date: 8/6/11
Temperature: -17.8
Wind Speed: 42 kts
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: August
Sunset August

 

 

 

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Repaired historic boxes in situ at Cape Royds © Michael Morrison

 

As Martin has written in previous blogs, his job is to repair deteriorated historic wooden food crates so that they are structurally stable.  If sections of the timber boards are missing, Martin remakes the missing sections and inserts them back into the box like puzzle pieces.  The fills make the boxes more weathertight, and, together with other structural repairs to the box interiors, allow the boxes to carry the necessary weight and to withstand extreme wind and temperature differentials.  As is considered ethical in the field of conservation, the fills amalgamate visually with the original box, but remain distinguishable as new material (they are marked on their interior faces).  In that way there is no confusion about what is original to 1911 and what AHT has added in 2011.

 

 

 

 

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Missing section of timber replicated on box AHT9043.1. © AHT

Martin is using Scott’s Pine (Pinus sylvestris) for the box repairs.  The growth rings of that timber are very close together, making it particularly stable.  Additionally, Scott’s Pine is compatible with the species identified as having been used for the historic boxes, including spruce, pine, and fir. What Martin hasn’t talked about is how aesthetically striking some of his repairs are.  Over time, the new wood will weather to match the old, and the repairs will not stand out visually.  However, when Martin first repairs the boxes, the new and old wood contrast, and the effect can be quite beautiful, like elegantly crafted pieces of sculpture.

 

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Repairs to box AHT9251.1: from an aesthetic standpoint, my favorite box so far.  © AHT

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A Box of History

Posted by Conservators May 15, 2011

Author: Guest blogger Jana


Date: 10/5/11
Temperature: -21
Wind Speed: 8 knots
Temp with wind chill: -27
Sunrise: August
Sunset

 

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A box of mystery tins from Cape Royds © AHT

 

A Box Of History

 

A box made of wood,
At first glance rather ordinary,
With a closer look,
Steeped in history,
Shrouded by mystery,
An artefact, a reminder of the past,
Of the hardship endured down South.

One of many to be conserved by Sarah, Julie, Martin and Jane,
A task fit only for the patient or perhaps a Saint.

Huddled around this box of hidden treasure,
Meat, medicine or soap? Hard to gather,
Ready to unleash what dormant for decades has been,
Martin with his tools and utmost care breaks in,
And we all peek in.

At the history that lies within…

 

Author Bio:
Jana is the Scott Base first aider, domestic, and a member of the Search and Rescue team.  She was present at the opening of a box of tins from Cape Royds, opened for the first time in 100 years.  We are still trying to identify the contents of the tins.


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Freezing Antifreeze

Posted by Conservators May 10, 2011

Posted by Jane

 

Date: 4th May 2011
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -45°C


I have been working on a can of what we believe is antifreeze from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds. It was probably brought for use on the Arrol Johnson car, the first vehicle in Antarctica.


I wanted to find out what I could about the liquid in case it had any health and safety implications in the lab or in the hut. I also wanted to add as much information to the records as possible for future reference. We are limited in how much we can find out here as we do not have the equipment to do sophisticated analysis. I was able to carry out a few simple tests, but these have not provided us with any conclusive answers.

 

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The can of anti-freeze from Cape Royds, after conservation © AHT


I ruled out alcohols and salt solutions straight away as these would have evaporated off. The liquid is oily brown and I initially thought it was ethylene glycol, a substance still used as antifreeze today. It has a sweet smell which is characteristic of ethylene glycol.


I put our local environment to use in my efforts and tried to freeze the liquid. Outside it was -35°C but the liquid did not freeze, although it did become quite syrupy. Our base mechanic gave me a refractometer which he uses to test the antifreeze in our  vehicles. We found that if it is ethylene glycol, it is at least 70% pure and will prevent freezing down to at least -50°C.
Impressive for antifreeze that is over 100 years old!

 

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The handwritten label from the can which reads ‘a little of this amongst the water helps prevent freezing’ © AHT


If anyone out there has any ideas about what our antifreeze might be, please send us a comment.

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Mysterious white powder

Posted by Conservators May 4, 2011

Posted by  Julie


Date: 26/4/11
Temperature: -20
Wind Speed: 22
Temp with wind chill: -40
Sunrise: August
Sunset


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Americans invade the conservation lab and Sarah keeps them enthralled with fun facts about old textiles.  © AHT/Julie

There is a good deal of interest in our conservation work from the Americans working four kilometers away at McMurdo Station.  In response, one night after dinner the AHT conservators ran tours through the conservation lab for a total of about 30 visiting Americans.

 

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Tin of mysterious white powder. © AHT/Julie

One of the objects we showed on our tour was a tin from Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.  Full of white powder with a little handmade scoop (made from the lid of a ‘round fifties’ carton of cigarettes), the tin has a handwritten label that is only partially legible.  We asked the Americans: can you read this label?  It was a genuine question as we hadn’t completely deciphered it ourselves. - We had done some chemical tests on the powder and it was not reacting as it should have based on our guesswork.

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Detail of label. © AHT/Julie

The Americans came through!  A couple of people on the tour read the label as, ‘French chalk’.  (French chalk is another name for talcum powder.)  Mystery solved!  Talcum powder could have had a number of uses: not only was it used as a skin and foot powder, it could have been used as a lubricant for machinery (it is helpful in the repair of tyres) and can also be used to remove grease.

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Boxes 3. Installment

Posted by Conservators Apr 20, 2011

Posted by Martin

 

Date: 20.4.2011
Temperature: -23degree C
Wind Speed: 5knots
Temp with wind chill: -30 degree C
Sunrise: 10:49
Sunset 14:54


Photo Description & Credit 1: Snow drift in front of container line ©
Photo Description & Credit 2: Snowed in box

Well, rather than another box installment, this could more fittingly be called ‘Boxes Stalling’. About a week ago we had a storm that really earned its name. Gusts up to 65 knots and enormous amounts of snow blown around the base and dumped in various places.

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Snow drift in front of container line © AHT/Martin

Eager to get to my next historic box, once it was over, I found myself shoveling snow for the next hour. In order to get to our outside storage container door, I had to cut a trench into a big snow drift right in front of the container line. I got my box in the end, worked on it, but then had to store it over night.

 

 

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Snowed in box © AHT/Martin

Being sure that all the wild weather was gone I put it into an open crate just outside our back door, only to find it in the morning completely buried under another lot of snow. Rescuing it yet again, I reminded myself that you never, ever trust the weather in Antarctica. Luckily these historic storage boxes have been in this climate outside Shackleton's Nimrod Hut for about 100 years and have become quite used to it.         

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Posted by Martin Wenzel


Date: 6.4.2011
Temperature: -23 Degree C
Wind Speed: 5 to 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35 Degree C
Sunrise: O8:39
Sunset 17:10

 

As they say: “You can never have enough clamps”. It is certainly true while I am conserving hundreds of wooden food storage boxes here at Scott Base in Antarctica. After transporting them from the expedition bases of R.F.Scott and E. Shackleton to Scott Base, we have temporarily stored them in unheated containers outside the base.

 

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Box before treatment © AHT / Martin

 

From there I take them one by one into our heated lab space and work on them as quickly as possible. In order to avoid splitting, distorting and delaminating, it is important to reduce to a minimum the time they are exposed to the warm and dry atmosphere inside.  It almost becomes a game to try to do simultaneously as many gluing steps as possible.

 

 

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Clamping © AHT / Martin

Once the clamps are off after about 2 to 3 hours, parts get reassembled, nailed joints strengthened and contents returned. Depending on the condition, a box will be out of the lab the same day, stored again at -20 to -30 degree C and waiting to be transported back to its original location.  

 

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Treated box © AHT/ Martin

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Catching Plankton

Posted by Conservators Apr 12, 2011

Posted by Sarah

 

Date: 6 April 2011
Temperature: -22
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -35
Sunrise: 08:39
Sunset 10:10


Science was at the forefront for Captain Scott's 1910 Terra Nova Expedition. Seven scientists made up the expedition crew, looking at every aspect of science in Antarctica.  When I opened a large package marked ‘net’, I was intrigued to find a large plankton net.

 

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Plankton Net from Cape Evans © AHT


Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the assistant Zoologist, in the ‘The Worst Journey in the world’ writes ‘The diatoms were so abundant in the Ross Sea, that the large plankton net (18 meshes to an inch) became choked in a few minutes, with them and other members of phytoplankton’. The plankton net that is currently sitting on my desk has 27 meshes to an inch! One can only imagine how choked it may have become.


There is a picture by Herbert Ponting depicting Nelson the Zoologist preparing a townet for use on the 15th March of 1911. Edward Wilson in his diary of the 24 October 1911, talks about Nelson, ‘all through the winter kept a good hole in a shelter off the end of the cape which he visited and worked at every day…. Here plankton samples were taken as short intervals with townets of various meshes.’


I think this is the only remaining complete plankton net from Cape Evans. It is in remarkably good condition, still structurally strong, the mesh I suspect is made of horse hair. I wonder how many times it was used and what secretes of the deep it revealed?

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Boxes Waiting

Posted by Conservators Mar 10, 2011

Author: Martin

 

Date: 9.3.2011
Temperature: -18 Degree Celsius
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -43
Sunrise: 06:14
Sunset 21:49

Tools are a bit like dear old friends. You might not see them for quite a while, but if you do it is as if you have never been apart. So it was with a great deal of excitement and relief to see my own workbench and a box of tools arrive with the yearly supply ship at Scott Base in Antarctica. The trusty workbench, which I built 28 years ago as an apprentice piece, is quite a seasoned traveller by now, having come from Germany to New Zealand and now Antarctica.

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Workbench waiting for action © AHT/Martin

Glad to be reunited, we had a fully operational little woodworking shop up and running in no time. Sarah, Julie and Jane , the three object conservators on the team have their own lab where they conserve a whole variety of artefacts, but will also help me conserving a large number of wooden food storage boxes. Literally thousands of these boxes have been used by R.F. Scott and E. Shackleton on their Polar Expeditions. Apart from transporting and storing food, they were also used as building blocks. Full of food and having been out in the harsh Antartic environment for a hundred years, a couple of hundred of them are in desperate need of some care and will be my companions throughout the coming winter month.

 

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Foodbox in need of some care © AHT/Martin

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Storms

Posted by Cricket and Diana Jan 31, 2011

 

Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 15 January 2011
Temperature: -2
Wind Speed: 7 knots
Temp with wind chill:

 

 

Weather is one thing you can never rely on down here.  In December, at Sir Ernest Shackleton's base at Cape Royds in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica, we had a 5-day storm of biting winds, cold temperatures and snow.  It was exciting at first, but then the daily buildup of snow in my tent and constant winds just lost their magic.  For some reason, I believed that that storm was our first and last.  I guess I thought that we’re in summer now and the weather should be sunny and even balmy during our last couple weeks here.  And, for the most part it has been, but just this week the winds shifted to the south, the temperature rose and we all realized we were in for another one.  This storm was a small one, mostly of blowy snow, and lasted just 2 days. Now that it’s over, it’s amazing to think how such a thing like a small storm affects your psyche.


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Tentsite in the storm © AHT /Cricket


It’s only after a storm that you realize how tiring living through one is.  Working outside is a bother and even the short commute between your tent, the kitchen wannigan, the conservation lab and the hut takes its toll.  It’s a quiet struggle, with your back hunched over and face scrunched up against the wind.  Your clothes get wet from all the snow, you wear your big issue boots, which weigh over 3kg, and everything seems a wee bit more of an effort.  And, when the storm finally leaves, there is a big relief.  The first sight of blue sky and sunlight seems like a marvelous gift that makes you smile.  It’s like seeing things for the first time, and suddenly everyone is just that much happier.  It’s been interesting living and working outside for just that reason – your life is not about news and events but more about what is going on in your immediate world and how vulnerable you are to it all.

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Barne Glacier just after the storm © AHT /Cricket
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Just in case!

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 23, 2010

Posted by Lizzie

 

Date: 23 December 2010
Temperature: -2.5C
Wind Speed: 4 Knots, North-East
Temp with wind chill: -3.3C
Sunrise: 24 hour daylight
Sunset
 
This season at Cape Royds, much of our work has revolved around the historic wood and ply cases of food used on Shackleton’s 1907-08 expedition. With the Nimrod moored at the foot of the cliffs, the heavy wooden boxes, sacks of coal and bales of fodder were hoisted up to the cliff-top plateau using a derrick, and the vast majority of the some 2000 boxes were moved down to the hut.

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Shackleton’s team man-hauling food stores © Canterbuy Museum 1981_110_30


Previous posts have mentioned the high risk of fire in Antarctica, with conditions being so dry, and water not being widely available. Shackleton and his team were well aware of the risk and took the extra precaution of staging a cache of food supplies up on the plateau above the hut. Over the last hundred years, the cache of boxes and tins has gradually corroded, eroded, become buried by scoria, tins have been blown hundreds of metres down the coast by the wind and at times been carried off by skua for lunch.


This season, to remove temptation from the skua, and to prevent contamination of the local environment, the food cache was excavated, documented, and then re-housed in boxes at the cache site.

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Cricket excavating food tins © AHT 2010

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Posted by Cricket


Date: 11 December 2010
Temperature: -3C
Wind Speed: 11 knots

 


The storm Lizzie talked of lasted five days, beginning Wednesday evening and ending the following Monday morning.  High winds and blowing snow reduced visibility and made working, getting around camp and in and out of our tents a true effort.  Though exciting to have a good storm – there are several of us who enjoy such and secretly hoped for one down here – it was a relief for it all to be over and to finally get a chance to dry out our clothes and tents.

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Carpenters working in the snow © AHT/Cricket

We are starting to wind down our time here at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut Cape Royds and this week we’ll be finishing up various conservation projects.  For the last several days we have been steadily working in the stables area, sewing down a cover over a stack of fodder bales to help preserve what remains and prevent further erosion from the wind and snow.

 

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Covering fodder bales © AHT/Cricket


Over the next couple days we’ll pack up camp and move to Captain RF Scott’s hut at Cape Evans.  We have almost a week at Cape Evans before returning to Scott Base for two weeks and Christmas.  I know I’ve said it before, but it is fantastic here at Cape Royds and I’m keenly aware of the time quickly ticking by.

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100 year old oil

Posted by Cricket and Diana Dec 16, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: December 4, 2010
Temperature: -6.8 degrees Celcius
Wind Speed: 16 knots with gusts of 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -16 degrees Celcius


We are working at Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut built at Cape Royds for his Nimrod expedition 1907-09. This Expedition brought an Arrol-Johnston Automobile to Antarctica in the hopes of using it to reach the South Pole.

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Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, showing the stables and garage, photographed 1907-1909 by an unknown photographer. The expedition's Arroll-Johnston motor car may be seen inside the garage. © Alexander Turnbull Library


The oil was a special blend created for the harsh Antarctic climate by the Price Patent Candle Company. The Automobile did not prove to be as useful as they had hoped so they did not use all the motor oil brought down. However, the crates of oil were very useful and created the walls for the garage that housed the automobile. These crates are still in place today but it was suspected that some of the cans may have started to leak as there was evidence of oil on the boxes. We did not want this oil to leak into the Antarctic environment so the crates were opened and discreet holes were made in the cans to drain the contents out. The cans have been placed back into the crates with the nest of straw they originally were packed in and once again create the walls of the garage.

 

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Prices fuel tins in the crate. © AHT/Diana

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Posted by Cricket

 

Date: 30 November 2010
Temperature: -6C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -13C

 

 

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Campsite at Cape Royds © AHT/Cricket

 

Our camp at Cape Royds sits over the hill and due east of Sir Ernest Shackelton’s Hut from his 1907 Nimrod Expedition.  We are nine, 6 carpenters and 3 conservators, and we each sleep in our own bright yellow polar tent, like the ones the early explorers used on their expeditions.  I am 5’6” tall and can just stand up straight at the center of the tent, which makes dressing into our bulky Carhartts and big Sorrel boots relatively easy.  The tent’s yellow fabric creates a strong warm light inside, which makes it nearly impossible to tell colours apart.  We laugh at how disorienting it is to know what a colour should be and see something entirely different.  Blues look like black, and purples are a horrible brown, etc.  The tents are remarkably comfortable, and though not as warm as the lower-to-the-ground Mountain tents, are wonderfully pleasant for longer field trips like our 4-week-long stay at Royds.

 

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Polar Tent © AHT/Cricket


We have the luxury of having a good sized mess created by two wannigans joined together at the side.  The wannigans are new this year and are retrofitted hydroponics containers from the days when vegetables and herbs were grown at Scott Base – we use many of the plant hooks and ceiling wires to hang our clothes and towels.  We have a propane stove for cooking, a small diesel stove for heat and melting snow for water, and a sink that is fed by a Coleman cooler and drains into a bucket.  It’s a relatively simple life here of work, base chores, relaxing in the evening and sleep.  It’s amazing how quickly one forgets about the clutter and noisy details of normal life like tv and telephone calls, and rediscovers how great good company and good books really are.

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Cape Royds

Posted by Cricket and Diana Nov 30, 2010

Posted by Diana

 

Date: November 25, 2010
Temperature: - 6 degrees  c
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Sunrise: Sun is up
Sunset

 

We have been working at Cape Royds on the hut built in February 1908 by the British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition of 1907-09, which was led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It was also periodically used by the Ross Sea Party of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917.

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Royds in Snow - Circa 1908 Photographer unknown © Alexander Turnbull Library

 

It is a lovely setting for a hut, nested in hills of volcanic rock which have been scoured by glaciers and the harsh Antarctic weather.


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Metal cladding on Stables © AHT/Diana

 

When we have visitors to the site one of the questions frequently asked is why is there metal sheeting on the side of the building?  It is hard to tell but this area used to be the stables. If the visitor looks closely they will see the feed troughs. Shackleton had taken ten white Manchurian ponies to Antarctica because they were know to work well in cold conditions and it was hoped they would be of great assistance in sledging to the South Pole. The stable walls were constructed of wooden cases filled with food and the roof was canvas, with sledges used over the top to assist in supporting the roof. The metal sheets were put up to protect the wooden cladding on the hut from the ponies kicking. Today the canvas is gone but some of the cases and the feed troughs remain.

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Feed troughs in Stables area © AHT/Diana

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