Date: 25 July 2013
Our work on the unconsumed food stores from Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans is keeping us busy indeed. As case-after-case of food is opened, assessed, documented and stabilised (before being repacked into its restored wooden case), we are greeted with a constant stream of surprises and delights ... oh, and some unpleasantries too as we deal with leaking tins of 100-year-old meat, fish, and dairy products. Can you imagine what a tin of cod roe, turtle soup or anchovy sauce looks and smells like 100 years on? Best you don't.
Sue with margarine tins before treatment
One particular case piqued my interest this week—a case containing six large tins decorated with a gridded star-and-dot pattern, and the word 'MARGARINE' printed very boldly on each top, bottom and side. Margarine had been patented 40 years earlier by a French chemist and was, at that time, made predominantly of animal fat. The six tins were packed in sawdust in a plywood case on which the stencilled letters 'LYT …' were still legible, suggesting they had been taken on board Scott's ship, 'Terra Nova', in the NZ port of Lyttelton. Captain Scott's journal more-or-less confirmed this with his mention that, while in Lyttelton in 1910 making their final preparations for the voyage south, "the various gifts and purchases made in New Zealand were collected—butter, cheese, bacon, hams, some preserved meats, tongues".
Margarine tins before treatment
Curious as to why there was no maker's name on the tins, I did a bit of internet research to see who was making margarine in New Zealand at that time in the hope of identifying the brand. And what many internet sites (including the NZ Government's Te Ara site) led me to believe was that it was no-one. I found quite a number of references stating that production of margarine was illegal in New Zealand between 1908 and the '70s or '80s. Hmmm … Scott, 1910 … bootleg margarine? Must look into this a little further …
Margarine tin after treatment
Find out more in Part 2 of the blog, following in the coming weeks.