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Antarctic conservation

262 Posts
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Drink or Die

Posted by Conservators Jun 18, 2012

Author: Stefan

Date: 7 June 2012

Temperature: -34C

Wind Speed: 17 knots

Temp with wind chill: -55C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Water melting can be a frustrating chore when out in the field. It seems to be required almost constantly. As our primus stoves are designed to be light weight and small, the water melting pots in turn have a limited capacity. As you might expect Scott and his team at Cape Evans hut had a great many more important things to be filling their time with so a giant water melter was fitted to the central stove, allowing them probably two days grace, before having to shovel in a fresh batch of snow.

 

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Conservation of Cape Evans snow melter © AHT/ Stefan

 

In visiting the hut you realise the ribbed cast iron stove is like the heart of the building, and the re-installation of the water melter is going to give a great deal of interpretational focus back to the hut.

 

Unfortunately the melter had been left outside Cape Evan’s hut for decades and has been badly corroded in the freeze thaw cycles. Although we try to ensure no modern materials are visible in the conservation of these works, it’s necessary to incorporate a mount for the melter (ensuring that the corroded base doesn’t take the weight of the main structure). I’ve currently treated the corrosion, and have fitted a reversible support to the base. The next step will be the creation of a Perspex mount which will slot into the rebate of the base, and allow the sturdy edge of the metal to support the weight. When finished the melter will be re-installed at Cape Evans, and the supports will not be visible.

 

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Meares at the Pianola, the melter to his left, wired to the stove  © SPRI http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/

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Stormy Greetings

Posted by Conservators Jun 15, 2012

Author: Georgina

Date: 6 June 2012

Temperature: -32C

Wind speed: 26 knots

Temp with wind chill: -49C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

Amongst this season’s artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans are some commercially produced Christmas cards. Unfortunately, most of these are unused, so it seems they were brought along on the expedition but were never signed and given out.

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Two Christmas cards before and after treatment © AHT/Georgina

 

Two of the cards, as seen here in the photos, were in very poor condition, with heavy wrinkling and ingrained surface dirt. When the cards were separated and opened, it turned out that one contains handwriting, and had been inscribed from ‘Your Mother, Xmas 1910’.

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Detail showing handwritten inscription © AHT/Georgina

 

The Terra Nova expedition had set sail from Cardiff, Wales on 15 June 1910; so one imagines that one of the men’s mothers had written them the card before departure, probably with instructions not to open until Christmas day. In the event, a rather uncomfortable Christmas that year was spent on the ship. Still suffering damage from a serious storm at the beginning of the month, the SS Terra Nova had met and been halted by the southern pack ice on 10 December and was unable to break clear for the next 20 days. The delay, which Scott attributed to "sheer bad luck", had consumed 61 tons of coal, whilst the storm had lost 2 ponies, a dog and numerous stores.

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The SS Terra Nova halted by pack ice, photograhed in December 1910 by Herbert Ponting

 

After cleaning and separating the cards, they were washed in water, and an alkaline buffer imparted to neutralise the natural acids occurring in the paper.  After drying, the paper was humidified and the creases gently eased out before pressing.  Afterwards, the paper and card layers were lined from behind with thin Japanese tissue, whilst all lacunae (holes) were filled in with acid-free paper repair patches toned with acrylic paint to closely match surrounding areas.

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Erebus – son of Chaos

Posted by Conservators Jun 13, 2012

Author: Gretel

Date: 30 May 2012

Temperature: -18C

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -40C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

Scott Base stands in the shadow of Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s southernmost active volcano.  Mount Erebus was discovered on January 27, 1841 (and observed to be in eruption) by polar explorer Sir James Clark Ross who named it after one of his ships. In Greek mythology Erebus was a primordial god of darkness and the son of Chaos – perhaps Sir Ross had this in mind when he named the volcano.

 

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Erebus Discovered  © State Library of South Australia. www.slsa.sa.gov.au


The first ascent of Mount Erebus was made in 1908 during Shackleton’s British Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition of 1907-1909. On reaching the summit, the party measured the altitude with a hypsometer - a small cylinder in which distilled water is boiled and the temperature measured (as the temperature at which water boils drops with altitude). Meteorological experiments were carried out and rock samples taken. The ascent took 5 days and on return the 6 men were said to be ‘nearly dead’. This was the first ascent of any peak on Antarctica and was made with improvised equipment such as crampons fashioned out of leather and nails.


Today, Mount Erebus is still a feature of attraction for scientists as the most active volcano in Antarctica. The summit has a permanent magma-filled lake, one of only a few in the world. The volcano produces Erebus crystals, which grow in the magma and are ejected during eruptions. So rare are these crystals they are only found in one other place in the world, a long long way away on Mount Kenya.

 

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Mount Erebus © AHT/Gretel

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Crevasse Training

Posted by Conservators Jun 7, 2012

Author:  Susanne Grieve

Date: 29/05/12

Temperature: -16c

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temp with wind chill: -43c

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A  

 

Last week, I finished reading the journals of Dr. Edward Wilson and Lt. Birdie Bowers (members of Captain Scott's 1911 expedition). These primary resources can be important for conservators as they describe how certain objects were used and the importance they had to the men. One of the most striking descriptions is when the men fell down crevasses. In one example during the Worst Journey in the World sledging trip, Birdie fell through the ice into a crevasse below and Wilson calmly threw down a rope.

 

Nowadays, we use numerous safety precautions to ensure that when we are travelling across icy terrain or exploring the landscape that we don’t fall or get injured. Part of training for this environment is to learn how to abseil and climb safely in or out of a crevasse. Among our Scott Base team are several members of the Search and Rescue team, one of which, Jeff, taught us the basics of abseiling.

 

The Hilary Field Center at Scott Base is the main building that houses field support services and provides a great platform in which to train. After getting safely rigged up, I was ready to make an attempt.

                      

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   Jeff rigging me up safely. © AHT/Susanne

 

After gently stepping up to the edge (and making sure that Jeff had a good grip on the belay), I turned and leaned back. This is a very strange experience if you have never tried it! Eventually I was able to find a rhythm and the confidence to lower myself down into the open space below.

 

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Making my way into the void below! © AHT/Susanne

 

With no where to place my feet, my heart beat was racing! Once I reached the bottom I was thankful that I didn’t have to have my first abseiling experience in a real crevasse like Birdie!

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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.

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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

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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.

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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: http://www.zigsam.at/C_NewZealand.htm

 

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: http://www.archive.org/stream/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich/letterswrittenfr00hulsrich_djvu.txt


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.


  

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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.

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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.

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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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Author: Susanne Grieve
Date: May 5, 2012
Temperature: -32°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -72°C
Sunrise: --
Sunset --


As conservators we are often asked what our favourite object has been to treat. While I have been fortunate enough to preserve a variety of material culture from prehistoric Native American pottery to modern rubber, there has been one type of object that has always been my favorite: shoes! These unique items are very special to work with since they can represent personal choices in style and function.


This week, I conserved two pairs of leather boots from Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans that were found near Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s bunk area. The leather on the shoes was well worn and told a story on its own with numerous cuts and scrapes along the surface. The heel areas have buckles and straps that were used to secure early style crampons to the boot to increase grip on the ice. The most interesting feature however, was the sole area where the bottommost heel lifts had been worn away and the toes reinforced with extra layers of leather. For insulation, the early explorers used straw and newspaper which is still found inside the shoes.

 

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Pair of leather boots tied together at the laces. © AHT/Susanne

 

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Sole of one of the boots with the heel lifts worn away and a reinforced toe area. © AHT/Susanne

 

For me, the ability to preserve these personal items that were once used to cross some of the toughest terrain on earth is humbling and I appreciated the opportunity to “walk a mile in their shoes”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Hibernation Hinterland

Posted by Conservators Apr 29, 2012

Author: Georgina
Date: 24/04/12
Temperature: -20c
Wind Speed: 5 kts
Temp with wind chill: -30c
Sunrise: 12:31 pm
Sunset 1:10pm


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The sun says ‘goodbye’ for the next 4 months (photo by S. Shelton, ANTNZ)

 

Yesterday, some lucky members of Scott Base went to an area called Castle Rock to toast the final rising and setting of the sun, with only 39 minutes in-between dawn and twilight. Over the past month or so, the days have been getting progressively shorter, but now the sun will not return above the horizon until late August. It is a big moment for all those living and working here, as it heralds the start of the long dark night of the Antarctic winter.

We drove to the spot in a hagglund, (a Swedish snow-tank) found a good picnic place and put up our deckchairs to admire the scenery and take photos. On the drive back, we made a brief stop to ‘Igloo City’ which is comprised of 5 igloos which were built over the summer and are now largely collapsing. A couple of them still had roofs, so we excavated the doorways and climbed in! It was a welcome break from work, and a good reminder of the amazing environment we live in.

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Igloo City! (photo by G. Evans, AHT)

 

As the light closes in, our base crew of 14 will be drawn ever more together. 24 hour darkness can produce interesting effects in people, and as the winter progresses, some may expect disturbed sleep patterns, forgetfulness, tiredness, general annoyance, and an increased tendency to put on weight; it’s an experience that none of us would miss for the world!

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Lest We Forget

Posted by Conservators Apr 27, 2012

Author: Stefan
Date: 25-04-2012
Temperature: -20C
Wind Speed: 15knts
Temp with wind chill: -32C
Sunrise: NA
Sunset NA

Today Scott Base held a service in remembrance for all the brave Antipodean men and women who have served in conflicts around the world. Anzac Day, first held in 1916, has a strong focus on the thousands who fought and died in Gallipoli  fighting the Turkish. But with New Zealanders and Australians still serving around the world, the emotive effect of the day is still very present and humbling.

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Simon (Base Leader) raising the flag from half mast. © AHT/Stefan

 

Back in the UK I have been involved in the restoration and conservation of many war memorials, and with military service in my family history, I’m always taken aback by how sad and grateful I am for the greatest sacrifice, that continues to be made around the world.


War had its impact on the expeditioners in Antarctica. The diminishing British Empire seeking pride in the achievements of both Shackleton and Scott, applied an undesired pressure on their progress. Lawrence “Titus” Oates served with 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons in the Boer War and was severely injured (a gunshot shattering his left leg and foreshortening it by an inch, once healed). Some historians believe that this war wound greatly affected Oates’ chances of making the return journey to Cape Evans.

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Painting of Lawrence Oates’ last moments by John Charles Dollman

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Preservation Week

Posted by Conservators Apr 26, 2012

Author: Susanne
Date: April 18, 2012
Temperature: -16.3°C
Wind Speed: 11knots
Temp with wind chill: -20°C
Sunrise: 10:33am

Sunset 3:09pm

 

 

Starting next week, museums, libraries, and archives all over the United States will be celebrating Preservation Week. This annual event promotes conservation for collections of all sizes from museum collections to personal family heritage. Objects are the only tangible evidence we have of the past and the work of conservators and preservation specialists is critical to saving these irreplaceable treasures of human and family history. While the remote locations of the huts prohibit large amounts of visitors, the Trust has developed other resources that you can use to “visit” the huts and see the conservation work.

 

To check out a virtual tour of the huts visit the Trust’s webpage at http://www.nzaht.org/AHT/PhotoandVirtualTour/.


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Stefan and Susanne discussing the conservation of tins with a lab visitor. © AHT / Gretel

 

One way that we share the conservation projects taking place on the huts is through public tours during the winter season. We invite our friends from McMurdo Station, located 4km away, to visit the laboratory and view some of the artefacts undergoing conservation work. These tours are always a fun way to talk with people and explain the processes used to protect this iconic collection. We all feel very fortunate to be a part of this project and it’s a great reward to be able to share it with you!

 

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Woollen sock from Cape Evans after conservation.

Note the repair to the heel area and how even the repair has worn through from wear © AHT

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