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Antarctic conservation

74 Posts tagged with the captain_scott tag

Author: Gretel Evans

Date: Wednesday 1st August 2012

Temperature: -26 deg C

Wind Speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a


Among the utilitarian objects that we conserve there are also many weird and wonderful items. Objects from the expeditions have often been adapted or re-used in another form during their lifetime.  I have come across a pair of boot liners with a strange addition. The liners are made of cotton but have pieces of caribou fur sewn on to the heel. This gives them a particularly warm and comfortable look, but I’m not sure about the effectiveness or even purpose of this addition.

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Boot liners before conservation  Credit: AHT


Boot liners after conservation.jpg

Boot liners after conservation Credit: AHT


I can only think this would have made them uncomfortable to wear inside a boot - although as a colleague pointed out, they may have prevented rubbing and blisters forming on the heel. The boot liners prompted a story about Thomas Griffith Taylor, Senior Geologist with Scott’s Terra Nova expedition who apparently sewed canvas heel tips to his socks and called them Taylor’s Patent Heel Tips. I wonder what the purpose of the fur heels was and what they may have been called at the time. Answers on a postcard to Antarctica.


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.

Balaclava before conservation.jpg

Balaclava before conservation Credit:AHT/Gretel


Balaclava after conservation.jpg

Balaclava after conservation Credit: AHT/Gretel


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




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.


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.’  


Toothache plasters before treatment.jpg

Packet of Toothache Plasters before conservation. © AHT/Georgina


Toothache plasters after treatment.jpg

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.



Toothbrush. © AHT/Stefan


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.

Albany Cigarette Company Advertisement.jpg

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:


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:

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.



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.


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.


Man's Best Friend.jpg

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.


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.


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.

Telegraph key before conservation.jpg

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.

Telegraph key after conservation.jpg

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.


Author: Gretel
Date: 18 April 2012
Temperature: Minus 17 deg C
Wind Speed: 4 knots
Temp with wind chill: Minus 21 deg C
Sunrise: 10.34am
Sunset 3.09pm



In my last blog I posted the Scott Base winter crew recreation of Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner. Apparently some people thought that we did a great job with Photoshop. In fact the entire affair was created from scratch and took many late evenings of hard work by some very talented people. Here I shall give away some of our secrets…


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Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner recreated © Steve Williamson


The setting for the photo is not the original base hut at Cape Evans but the warm and comfortable lounge of Scott Base. The interior of the hut was recreated by our base carpenter Jodie, using tongue and groove for the wall, and modern pine for the antiquated shelving. Our artistic director, George, stained wallpaper to mimic the ceiling and painstakingly painted the sledging flags with a helping hand from Susanne and myself. Old bed linen was utilised for these and the Union flag, which Naomi very accurately recreated (for an Australian), while overseeing the whole project. Shane utilised the photocopier to reproduce the backdrop from the original image on a large scale from many sheets of A4 paper and a lot of sticky tape. Stef was a master of illusion magicking jugs from blotting paper and aluminum foil, salt cellars out of laboratory glassware and bent aluminium wire, and bone-handled knives from sponge and masking tape; but his pièce de résistance were the soda siphons fashioned from thermos flasks, papier mâché and copper gauze. In fact the only ‘real’ items in the photo, apart from the people were the food and chocolates made especially for the occasion by our chef Bobby. The whole team pulled together to set-up and recreate the scene and get into character for the final photo, captured on camera by Steve the sparky. So much effort went into the mock-up that for now we’ve decided to keep that corner of the lounge as it is.
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Stef and George lounge about © Gretel


Remembering Scott

Posted by Conservators Apr 10, 2012

Author: Gretel
Date: 6 April 2012
Temperature: -15 ° C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -25 ° C
Sunrise: 8.46am
Sunset: 7.07pm

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Captain Scott’s last birthday dinner 6 June 1911 © Herbert Ponting

On Thursday 29th March 100 years ago, Captain Scott made the last entry in his diary before succumbing to starvation and exhaustion in the freezing cold, on his return trek from the South Pole.

"Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.
It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.


For God’s sake look after our people."

At Scott Base we marked the momentous occasion with a commemorative dinner. It was a solemn and yet celebratory affair. Speeches  and toasts were made and remembrance given not only to Captain Scott but to all those whose lives have been claimed by Antarctica.

Earlier in the day the Scott Base winter team posed for a photograph to mark the event. We recreated from scratch the scene of the last birthday dinner for Captain Scott, held at Cape Evans on 6 June 1911. According to his diary, that night Scott and his men dined on ‘Clissold’s especially excellent seal soup, roast mutton and red currant jelly, fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate’. Comparing menus I think we at Scott Base had the better cuisine. I’ll leave you to compare the photographs...


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Recreation of Scott’s birthday dinner at Scott Base 29 March 2012 © Steve Williams


Author: Susanne
Date: April 4, 2012
Temperature: -24.7°C
Wind Speed: 19 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60°C
Sunset: 5:20PM

We all have a special connection with Antarctica, whether it is through a love of the environment and wildlife or in the stories of the early explorers. I always listened in admiration to people who had an even closer connection by being related to members of the early expeditions such as Captain Scott's grandson, Falcon Scott.

After my first season with the Trust in 2008, The Mariners’ Museum, America's national maritime museum, where I worked, hosted an exhibit on some of the early American expeditions and displayed Antarctic material from the collection. One of my favorite pieces was the figurehead from the Bear of Oakland. A fantastic name like that has to have a great story, but little did I realise it would create my personal Antarctica connection.



USS Bear after World War II

The vessel Bear was constructed in Scotland in 1874 as a precursor to modern icebreakers and over the years was used for sealing, commerce, and exploration of the polar regions (most notably on the Admiral Byrd expeditions). Many sources regard her as one of the most enduring and notable polar exploration ships.  She was eventually sold to Oakland, California as a museum ship earning her the name Bear of Oakland. The Bear was originally owned by W. Grieve and Sons in Scotland, which is where my connection lies. The surname Grieve has a strong Scottish history in my family and while I haven’t yet been able to trace myself to the Bear, I still find it very serendipitous!


What is your link to Antarctica?


Author: Stefan Strittmatter
Date: 06/02/2012
Temperature: -11C
Wind Speed: 9kn
Temp with wind chill: -19C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

Life in Antarctica is a very human endeavor. For Captain Scott and the men of the 1910-13 expedition, and (to a much more flimsy degree) we four conservators, food (and its preparation) becomes of upmost importance very quickly.

Scott and his team were well placed at both Cape Evans and Discovery Hut to take advantage of the abundance of Weddell seals and their blubbery bounty. Al Fastier and his summer team of conservators have done a wonderful job of conserving an epic slab of this oozing mass of fat, (still present in the Cape Evans hut stables). Indeed a slight lean of the trough means there’s a filtered cup of oil slumped to the edge, making it effortless to visualize a frost bitten face swinging round the corner to scoop up and replenish a gasping stove.



Seal blubber trough outside Cape Evans Stables © AHT/Stefan

Nowhere near as hardy, Susanne, Gretel, George and I were happy to ditch the heroic approach, and cook with soot free faces on the nifty ‘Primus’ stoves,  Scott Base has kindly supplied us with for AFT (Antarctic Field Training). A bit of a fiddle at first, but once the white gas starts to roar and the first brew is at the boil, you can’t help but feel a certain bond and romance, about the hardship and fun this wonderful place can offer.


Cooking during winter AFT (Antarctic Field Training) © AHT/Stefan

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