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Antarctic conservation

80 Posts tagged with the conservation tag
1

Author: Karen

Date: 2 December 2012

Temperature: -7°C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -15°C

 

After over six years with the Trust as Administration Officer, I was given the opportunity to visit Antarctica to assist the team during a busy period.  I was both extremely excited and concerned at the same time, since I was told that the majority of my time involved camping in a tent at Cape Evans (the site of Captain Scott’s second expedition base).  Having never camped before, this was worrying, but I was not going to let that get in the way of such a remarkable opportunity.

I arrived at Cape Evans by Hagglund, it took approximately one and half hours from Scott Base.  Walking into Scott’s hut for the first time was very emotional: even after seeing thousands of photos, they did not prepare me for the feelings stirred.  When I stepped inside I immediately noticed a distinctive smell, it took a few seconds before I realised it was the blubber stack, (left behind by the Ross Sea Party) stored in the western annexe.  After over 100 years the smell was still extremely strong. It was like I’d been transported back in time and I was back in 1911, all was very real, in fact I was expecting to turn around and see Scott or one of the men from his party sitting at the wardroom table. 

Walking around Scott’s hut I found myself thinking how noisy it must have been with 25 men living in the hut when it was first built in January 1911, but today it was eerily quiet, all I could hear was the wind howling around outside.

 

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Stack of blubber in the Western annexe, Cape Evans

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Veiw of the Western annexe, Cape Evans

1

Freezer Ingenuity

Posted by Conservators Dec 13, 2012

Author: Kevin

Date: 28 November 2012

Temperature: -4 degrees celcius, sunny and bright

Wind speed: 5 knots

 

We have now been at Cape Evans, the site of Captain Scott's Terra Nova hut for the last three weeks or so. Our daily work pattern is now well established. Morning meeting and radio schedule with Scott Base at 07.30am, then off to work until 11.00am when we stop for first lunch, then work again until 3.00pm when second lunch beckons. Final work period is over at 7.00pm with dinner at around 7.30pm.

 

We take it in turns to cook, so as there are only four of us on site, it comes around pretty quickly, with some people looking forward to it more than others, as spending your day digging out one hundred year old marrow fat lard from tins has been known to dampen the appetite!

 

Over the last week or so we have been lucky to have good weather with temperatures above -5 and lots of sunshine, giving us beautiful views of Mount Erebus and the Barne Glacier. Whilst this may seem good to those far away, it leaves us with a dilemma. We rely on snow banks for our fresh water and keeping our fresh food frozen. The fine weather sees the banks literally melting away in front of our very eyes and we still have two more months on site.

 

This morning our "freezer" was looking decidedly worse for wear so it was time for improvements. More snow was packed on top and around the sides and a better door was fitted. All courtesy of the carpenters used timber stack.

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Freezer looking a bit sorry for itself

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Freezer on its way to a new look (Barne Glacier in the background)

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The Little Joys

Posted by Conservators Dec 3, 2012

Author: Martin Wenzel

Date: 20/11/2012

Temperature: -6 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 14 knots

Wind Chill : -20 degrees celcius

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

About a week ago I started  working on fuel storage boxes found  around Robert Falcon Scott's expedition hut at Cape Evans. They were used to transport fuel tanks for the motor sledges that turned out to be not very  successful in Antarctic conditions. Conserving large numbers of these and other historic boxes which are in all states of disrepair, and come in a variety of styles and conditions, requires a lot of patience. And yet it is still fascinating when boxes have little surprises in store, provide a new structural challenge or show a particular nice piece  of wind sculpted timber.

 

Missing part of a board yesterday, and contemplating how to secure what was left over, I started looking through some debris found around the box. And there it was - clearly the missing piece but looking quite different. The piece attached to the box was weather worn and had lost up to 2mm of thickness through abrasion while the found piece had been protected for a hundred years and looked almost new. Joining them again looked a bit unusual but provided  the structural integrity needed. It is only a matter of time until the found piece will adjust its appearance.

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Same board, but a different look

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One board again.

2

Dig, dig, dig!

Posted by Conservators Nov 28, 2012

Author: Jana

Date: 12 November 2012

Temperature: -12 °C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -38 °C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

One of the first tasks that we usually tackle when we arrive at the historic huts is to remove some of the massive amount of snow that has accumulated around the buildings during the  winter.  At both Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, drifting snow piles up each year in the lee of the buildings, burying artefacts and pushing up against the walls of the structures themselves.  If this snow is left in place, it can turn into a thick layer of ice that becomes nearly impossible to remove, or it melts slowly in the summer sun, which can cause water damage to the walls of the buildings and to the objects sitting outside.  That’s why we make sure to dig it out while it is still in a perfectly snowy, shovel-able state! 

It usually takes several days of dedicated digging to remove all of the snow in question: we take turns hacking away at the deeper parts of the drifts or gingerly brushing where we know the artefacts are buried, and then we haul all of the loose snow by wheelbarrow or sled away from the building so it can melt where it won’t cause any damage.  As anyone who has shovelled out their driveway after a snowstorm knows, it is hard work wielding a shovel all day long, and we definitely feel like we’ve earned our lunches on digging days!photo 1.JPG

Snow on the north side of Scott's hut upon our arrival

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A day's worth of digging got us this far!

1

Cape Royds

Posted by Conservators Nov 23, 2012

Author: Lizzie
Date: 1 Nov 2012
Temperature: -18.2C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -18.2°C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a
Photo Description & Credit 1: Mt Erebus in light and shadow c . Lizzie, AHT
Photo Description & Credit 2: Lizzie back inside the hut at Cape Royds

We’re back at Cape Royds after a year, this time just a short visit for 5 days to complete the annual maintenance and inspection programme. This year’s summer Antarctic Heritage Trust team consists of Jana (objects conservator, Canada), Martin (timber conservation carpenter, NZ), Kevin (timber conservation carpenter, UK) and myself (Programme Manager-Artefacts, AHT): a mix of skills, ages, nationalities and experience in both the Arctic and Antarctic.


There’s a list for me of things to do as soon as I get to Cape Royds:
1. Check the hut is OK after winter and spring storms…it is, bar a couple of things. We find a Colman’s flour box and a pony fodder box blown loose from their usual positions. In the case of the flour box it has been picked up by the wind from the south side of the building, rolled around the east side, and then blown a further 80m north of the building, where I spy it in its own lonesome wee drift of snow. Remarkably the box is completely undamaged despite its travels. Martin fixes it back more firmly in position on the south wall.


2. Say hello to the penguins…. It’s early in the season. Over at the rookery only a couple of hundred Adelie penguins are in and beginning the business of stone gathering – trotting back and forth with one stone at a time in their beaks.


3. Say hello to Mt Erebus – sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t. Tthe day after we arrive, Erebus is playing hide and seek, high wind clouds shifting and stacking up in sharp curves, in and out of light.
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4. Haul the gear up and over the hill ready for several days of snow digging, photography, minor repairs and treatments.


5. And last but not least, walk inside the hut, check all the artefacts are OK, drink in the smell, the light, the distinctive small sounds, and the incomparable atmosphere of this 1908 expedition base.
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A Few of My Favorite Things

Posted by Conservators Aug 17, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: Wednesday 15th August 2012
Temperature: -34 deg C
Wind Speed: 10 knots
Temp with wind chill: -75 deg C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a

 

Sadly, this will be my last blog with the Antarctic Heritage Trust as our season on the ice is coming to an end. It has been an incredible journey and I will be forever changed by the experience. In this blog I pay tribute to my three favorite objects from Cape Evans that I treated this season, each with their own challenges. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

 

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Copper Alloy Candle Holder Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

This copper alloy candle holder lived a hard life and was heavily used. In addition to the soot covering the surface, there are multiple layers of wax which contain unknown pigments and a match. This object was difficult to treat because I wanted to retain the wax and features that were encapsulated all the while removing the corrosion products that were forming. In the end, I was able to remove superficial corrosion and enhance the original polished brass appearance in some areas.

 

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Cooker with Four Wicks Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

When I first discovered this object, I wasn’t sure what its purpose was. Sometimes objects can become corroded in positions that are unnatural to how they were used which can hide details of use. This is a cooker that would have been used to heat pots. There are four wicks in the center that can be raised and lowered independently operating as a sort of heat control similar to a gas stove element. The iron was badly corroding, but I enjoyed the challenge of bringing life back to an object that would have been so critical to survival in Antarctica.

 

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Pillow from Cherry-Garrard’s Bed Before and After Treatment. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

This object was by far one of my favorite personal items that I was able to work on this season. Upon first visiting Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, I was completely humbled to see the sleeping conditions of the men. This pillow in particular is from Cherry-Garrard’s bed. It was a very intimate thing to be able to work on an object that provided some degree of relief from a hard day’s work. The wear marks were still visible from a lack of being washed for several years. This object only required a light surface clean and mold mitigation while leaving the soot in situ. 

I hope you have enjoyed the blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them and I wish the future teams of conservators the best of luck in their seasons!

0

Hoofbeats on Ice

Posted by Conservators Aug 15, 2012

Author: Susanne

Date: Wednesday 8thst August 2012

Temperature: -34 deg C

Wind Speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -75 deg C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset n/a

 

Since the age of three, I grew up riding horses and quickly gained an appreciation for the gentle yet strong traits that these animals possess. Looking at images of the Manchurian ponies that were hand selected for the early Antarctic expeditions, reminded me of my own pony Goldie that has long passed on.

 

The first expedition to take ponies to the Ross Sea region was Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition. After choosing 10 Manchurian ponies, Shackleton and his crew set sail for New Zealand and then Antarctica, concluding a several month long journey in their stalls in stormy seas.  Scott’s Ponies on Board the Terra Nova

 

Upon arrival, the ponies were unloaded using a specially constructed box. They quickly adapted to their new home and stables were built to house them at Cape Royds. Scott also built stables at Cape Evans. Shackleton describes their diet in the “Heart of the Antarctic” as fodder, corn, and a specially purchased pemmican called Maujee rations.

 

While the ponies were an important part of the South Pole exploration stories, they weren’t as successful as Shackleton and Scott had hoped in reaching the South Pole. I am fortunate enough to be retelling their story through the conservation of several artefacts that were used to care for the ponies.

 

During the conservation treatment of several small iron horseshoes, I came across a rather large horseshoe that was different in shape and size to the others. I started to imagine why it was there and what it was used for. Perhaps they brought a variety of shoe sizes for the horses?

 

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Small and Large Horseshoes from Cape Evans. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

Another really interesting object is this curry comb. There are several steps to grooming a horse or pony and the curry comb helped to reach dirt and debris that was trapped further down in their coat. This comb still has the pony hair and dirt trapped in the teeth. One of the challenges we face as conservators is how to retain that evidence while still preserving the artefact underneath.

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Curry Comb from Cape Evans. Credit: AHT/Susanne

 

What do you consider to be important to keep?

2

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

 

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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.

0

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.

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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)

0

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.

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Balaclava before conservation Credit:AHT/Gretel

 

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Balaclava after conservation Credit: AHT/Gretel

1

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.

2

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

0

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.

0

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.

0

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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