Our current exhibition from the Natural History Museum, Scott’s Last Expedition, has given me the opportunity to check out our own Antarctic collection to see what we have. And we have a surprising amount of material relating to Antarctic exploration, covering some four centuries. We have maps and charts, including a wonderful map of Captain James Cook’s three Antarctic voyages which dates to 1784. We have documentation of the first French contributions to Antarctic exploration – that of the Dumont D’Urville’s 1837-1840 expedition, which included an attempt to discover the south magnetic pole and claim it for France. And something quite different is the artwork for a costume designed by Frances Rouse for the play Counting Icebergs, about the life of Captain James Cook’s wife, Elizabeth. It has a map of Antarctica and Cook’s voyages on the skirt (see image).
Painting. Costume design for Elizabeth Cook, 'Cross Antarctic Circle' 1985. Maker: Frances Rouse
Robert Falcon Scott is of course one of the names synonymous with Antarctic exploration and we have two published volumes from his first British Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904, which included an attempt to reach the South Pole. We have also acquired a fine selection of Herbert Ponting’s more famous photographs from the Terra Nova expedition. Ponting was the first professional photographer to be taken on any Antarctic expedition. He took black and white and colour photographic stills, and recorded short clips, becoming one of the first to use a movie camera and to take colour photographs in Antarctica. But he couldn’t be everywhere, so others were given lessons in how to use the photographic equipment.
The museum has a collection of 35 stereoscopic cards which we are gradually identifying and adding to our eMuseum collection. Here's one taken by the Australian geologist Frank Debenham – see the string he’s using to operate the camera? This happy bunch were celebrating Christmas Day 1911 out at Granite Harbour.
Stereoscope card. Second Western Party at the Cape Geology Christmas Party, 1911. Photographer: Frank Debenham
Lindsey Shaw, Curator
Australian National Maritime Museum
To commemorate the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition and celebrate its achievements the Natural History Museum, London, the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand, have collaborated to create this international exhibition, which will be touring between 2011-2013.