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Author: John K
Date: 15 December 2011
Temperature: 0oC
Wind Speed: 1.8 Knots
Temp with wind chill: 0oC
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

While investigating a box of miscellaneous mechanical components outside the hut I came across this interesting little object, function unknown.

It is a flat sheet metal stylised figurine, 155mmm high and 75mmm wide, one arm outstretched, with one leg only that slides vertically with about 5mm travel. Behind the top of the leg is a punched hole, 6mm diameter. The original outline of the figure appears to be exaggerated front and back, possibly for balance?


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Mystery object, front view. © AHT / John


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Mystery object, back view.  © AHT / John


At the bottom of the leg are two cleats, possibly to hook over or on to something.


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Mystery object, side view. © AHT / John

The figure is rusted and no markings or paint layers remain.

What is the function of this intriguing object? I have had suggestions such as: a child’s toy; an indicator that some process is completed, or some mechanical decoration on a clock.

Any suggestions as to its identity and function will be greatly appreciated.

Author: John
Date: 13 December 2011
Temperature: -7.2°C
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: °C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset: N/A
Part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust conservation programmme is to conserve artefacts from Scott’s Terra Nova Hut over the winter. Artefacts are carefully packed and transported back to Scott Base where a team of four conservators will work on the artefacts in a specially provided conservation laboratory for return the following summer. Where the early explorers transported their supplies man hauling sledges, we use plastic cubers on sledges towed behind Hagglunds (tracked vehicles). The trip from Cape Evans back to Scott Base  is 25 km, travelling at 10 kph to ensure safe travelling for sometimes fragile artefacts.
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Loading artefacts in cubers on sledge © AHT/John
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Approaching Scott Base over the Sea Ice © AHT/John

Full circle

Posted by Conservators Dec 22, 2011

Author: Lizzie Meek
Date: 1 December 2011
Temperature: -1.4 oC
Wind Speed: 3 Kts
Temp with wind chill: C
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

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Cape Evans and snow © AHT/Lizzie


During the months of January-October whilst working in the AHT offices in Christchurch, I am often emailed queries and photographs (or as I like to think of them ‘presents’) relating to artefacts the conservators are working on at Scott Base over the winter months. But I still only see a small percentage of the some 1300 artefacts the team has handled during that time.
Now, here we are at Cape Evans in December, it’s snowing outside, and all of a sudden it feels like Christmas: John and I are unwrapping hundreds of objects to return them to their hut locations.

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A woollen jersey returned to Cape Evans this season © AHT/Lizzie


You get a very unique and interesting perspective on life in Antarctica 100 years ago when you see about 60 different pairs of socks in a row, some hand knitted, some machine-made, most of them darned or patched. We’ve been commenting on the limited colour palette of brown, grey, khaki, black and dark blue, and get quite excited by small flashes of bright colour. I like to think they took their polka dot Sunday socks home with them on the ship.


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A Wolsey sock on Day’s bunk © AHT/Lizzie


There’s a great sense of completion as we see objects returned to their place in the hut, with form and detail more fully revealed, but without removing the signs of age and use from the heroic era. So to the winter conservators, Sarah, Martin, Julie and Jane, thank you for your skill and hard work, and for my early Christmas presents!


Author: Martin

20 November  2011
Temperature: -1.5 degree C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -1.5 degree C
Sunrise: n/a
Sunset n/a



130 boxes and a year later, I am back at Cape Royds returning to the north wall all of the food storage boxes I excavated last summer and then conserved over winter at Scott Base.


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Back again © AHT


Beautiful weather and little wind makes it even more enjoyable and satisfying to look at them again, back in their own environment. Ernest Shackleton's men used these boxes to build pony stables and even a garage for the first motor car in Antarctica. Never intended to last for a hundred years, they were in desperate need of treatment and I am confident they will now last for many more years to tell such an important part of the history of the early explorers.

Up to 2000 stores boxes were loaded on the expedition ship Nimrod and it is always fascinating to see the countless creative ways they have been used in and around the hut.  Apart from being building blocks, they have supported bed frames, served as shelves and wall cladding and even provided the cover for the first ever book printed in Antarctica, The Aurora Australis.


All I am left wondering now is what my colleagues in another hundred years might do with them.


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  Martin working on boxes © AHT


Stormy Weather

Posted by Conservators Dec 8, 2011

Author: John
Date: 27 November 2011
Temperature: -2.1oC
Wind Speed: 8.5Kts
Temp with wind chill: -10oC
Sunrise: N/A
Sunset N/A

One of the aspects of Antarctica that fascinates me as a relative newcomer is the changeability of the weather conditions, sometimes over periods of less than an hour.

After spending two weeks working at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, our camp transfer by helicopter to Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans was disrupted by wind and low visibility, and our team was split in half for 24 hours, Monday and Tuesday.

The Icebreaker, Kapitan Khlebnikov, kindly offered the team some showers, but even that was disrupted by changeable weather and low visibility. We all managed to have our showers though, and that was bliss after two and a half weeks without!

On Thursday and Friday we had very strong winds that make working outside at Cape Evans challenging, and sleeping ‘interesting’ with the wind noise and the tents flapping. Interestingly, the Scott Polar Tent double walled design has changed little from the original as used by Scott and has proved itself over the years well able to withstand strong winds.  I am very happy about that!


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Stormy Morning, Saturday. © AHT/ John


Yesterday morning things calmed down again, with only a slight breeze blowing.

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After the Storm, Sunday. © AHT/ John


This Sunday evening the wind is picking up again with the weather forecast to turn.

The transitions from wind and whiteout conditions (like being inside a ping-pong ball) to crystal calm and peaceful can sometimes be quite startling.


Author: John

Date: 13 November 2011
Temperature: -3.20C
Wind Speed: 12.5 Knots
Temp with wind chill: -6.7oC
Sunrise: None, the sun is always up in the sky in Antarctica at this time of the year.
Sunset None.



While undertaking conservation work at Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica, I noticed this example of the expedition making do with whatever spare materials that were at hand. It highlighted for me the remoteness of the location, the distance from resupply sources, and the resourcefulness of the expedition members, This makeshift hoe was made from a spare mattock handle with part of a broken shoe last carefully and securely lashed to the end with rope. To tension the lashing a disused metal file was driven under the lashing. For some reason, this resourcefulness appealed to me.

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Improvised hoe © AHT/John.

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Detail of last and lashing method © AHT/John.


Author: Lizzie

Date:  12 Nov 2011
Temperature: -7.7
Wind Speed: 14.9 gusting 20 SE
Temp with wind chill: -19

Last night we had the neighbours around for dinner ….yes, despite the isolation there is another camp about 500m away from us, where the American Penguin Scientists Dave, Katie and Jean will be based from mid November through to late January. They are part of an ongoing research programme which studies the penguin populations of Ross Island, looking at breeding habits, population statistics, feeding and foraging patterns and general health and habits of the birds. The colony here at Cape Royds is relatively small, being only about 2000 breeding pairs, but with the ice edge close by this year (about 1km from the colony), food is abundant, and the penguins are sleek and fat and just starting to lay their eggs.
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The sea ice and sea ice edge, Cape Royds © AHT/Lizzie

We enjoyed listening to Jean and Katie tell us about the penguins, and if you would like to know more they have an excellent website, including several penguin web-cams, which can be found at
Meanwhile, whenever we have a calm evening you will find us out after work on the rocky outcrops above the penguin colony, watching the Adelies on their nests, and looking out for the smaller numbers of Emperors who come in to the sheltered spots below the Adelie colony to rest and preen.

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Emperor penguins through binoculars © AHT/Lizzie


Author:  Al

Date:    25 November 2011

“It blew and blew and when he thought it could blow no more the wind picked up and it blew some more!”

The bright yellow polar tents greeted their old friend from the south by quivering in excitement.  Each gust tug, tug, tugging at the cold metal tent pegs firmly hammered home into the frozen scoria at Cape Royds.

As the Tormentor violently shook the tent canvas, the guy ropes hung like the rigging in a sailing ship riding out a storm in the roaring forties.  BLOW YOU *#@#* BLOW!  If we could only reef in the sails so we could get some sleep.  Peace, peace.

After unrelenting days of being buffeted you feel like screaming into the cold face of the Tormentor, STOP!  But your words would only get carried away in the next gust before they can be heard.  Frayed canvas and frayed nerves, tired but unable to get a restful night’s sleep, never asleep or never awake as the tent flaps against your sleeping bag cocoon.  In this slumberland you can’t help but ponder the thought of the thin canvas fabric being ripped away leaving you exposed and naked to the elements while your cold weather clothing is whipped across the thin white frozen skin of the Ross Sea.


The wind stops as suddenly as it starts, the loud silence is a foreigner in the field camp. Only the chatter of the neighbouring Adelie penguins can be heard.  It will be impossible to get to sleep with this deathly silence. Every slight movement, cough or scratch will be amplified to the field camp in the stillness of the night, all privacy lost.

Where is the crazy Tormentor from the south?  No-one to sing and sway us to sleep tonight. Then there is a gentle breeze, a cold lick to the cheek, followed by the first gust from the south. Once again the tents begin to quiver in excitement.  Welcome back my friend from the south.  WELCOME BACK.  It’s a love hate relationship we have.


Author: Paula
Date: 15 November 2011

The Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators have recently moved from the confines of their conservation lab at Scott Base, to their Antarctic field camp at Cape Royds.


John bid farewell to winter conservator Sarah and welcomed the incoming team of conservation carpenters who work over the summer months on the buildings left behind by the heroic-era explorers.


The team is currently working at Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic (Nimrod) expedition 1907-1909 at Cape Royds. Communication is patchy when the team is out in the field. Although there is a satellite (sat) phone, the team relies on visitors who do literally ‘just drop in’ by helicopter with supplies and mail and who in turn relay information (including blogs) to Scott Base and New Zealand.


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Ernest Shackleton's base at Cape Royds.  Credit:  G Rowe


The conservation team are completing a few tasks at Cape Royds, including relocating the Arrol Johnston wheel and Mawson’s Dredge which were conserved over winter 2011, before they move on to their main work programme this summer season conserving Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Terra Nova Expedition 1910- 1913 base at Cape Evans.


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Each summer the team returns the artefacts that have been conserved during winter at the conservation laboratory at Scott Base back to the historic bases before packing up another 1,000 or so objects destined for conservation over the following winter. This continuous cycle of removal-conservation-return has led to over 5,400 artefacts from Cape Evans alone being conserved.


Cape Evans in Context

Posted by Conservators Oct 20, 2011

Author: John

Date: 19 October 2011
Temperature: -27°C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -27°C
Sunrise: 3.42am
Sunset 11.47pm


In 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the British Antarctic Terra Nova Expedition. One of the aims was to reach the Geographical South Pole. A hut at Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island was the base for this expedition. In September 2011, as part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s responsibilities, Scott’s Terra Nova Hut was visited for the first time after yet another Antarctic winter, to provide a report on the building’s condition and snow buildup.

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Terra Nova Hut from the Sea Ice, 17 September 2011. © AHT/John

While overcast, this image is from the sea ice looking east to the southern flanks of Mt Erebus. Wind Vane Hill is just appearing to the right.

The second image is from the southern flanks of Mt Erebus, at a locality called ‘Room with a View’, looking west over the start of the Erebus Glacier.

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View West from the Southern Flanks of Mt Erebus, 16 October 2011. © AHT/John


On a beautifully clear and sunny day, this image looks over McMurdo Sound to the Antarctic Continent. Inaccessible Island is to the left, with Little Razorback Island in front. Behind the dark bluff of Turk’s Head to the right is the thin strip of Cape Evans, with a grounded iceberg just off the Cape.
The two images complement each other well and accurately depict the loneliness and isolation of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut, particularly in 1910 with no communication back home, and the beauty and vastness of the Antarctic continent.


Antarctic Field Training

Posted by Conservators Oct 12, 2011

Author: John

Date: 12th  October 2011
Temperature: -19°C
Wind Speed: 8knots
Temp with wind chill: -29°C
Sunrise: 5.00am
Sunset 10.27pm

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Camp set up © AHT/John

All staff at Scott Base are required to undertake Antarctic Field Training. This includes conservators working on the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project, who often are required to work on-site at the historic huts. Training includes setting up an overnight camp, cold weather survival techniques and familiarisation with the environment.

Training is scheduled in advance, and the weather is the luck of the draw.

Our set up weather was benign, with -22oC temperatures and light wind conditions, but preparations need to be made for changes. Tents were erected, guyed and snow shovelled over the tent skirt to keep the wind out. A foot trench was dug inside the tent, a tarpaulin laid out on the snow and sleeping gear set up on either side of the trench. These tents have not changed much in design over the years, and are good at withstanding strong winds.

Our comfortable night’s sleep was awoken around 4.00am by a 20Kt wind blowing snow against the tent, with very white conditions outside.

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The morning after © AHT/ John

Breakfast was held inside the ‘kitchen’ shelter prepared the previous day, and we were grateful for the protection from the wind.
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The Kitchen © AHT/John


This was a very valuable experience in being prepared for, and respecting, the Antarctic environment.


Water and Fire

Posted by Conservators Oct 6, 2011

Author: John
Date: 5th October 2011
Temperature: -24°C
Wind Speed: 0knots
Temp with wind chill: -24°C
Sunrise: 6.01am
Sunset 9.28pm

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Liquid water! © AHT

Liquid water in Antarctica is an uncommon commodity in winter, unless it is sea water, and even then it is mostly under thick ice.

Today for the first time since I came to the Ice on the 20th August I saw liquid water in the outside environment, even at an air temperature of  -27 degrees C. With the lengthening daylight incident solar energy increases. This is absorbed by any surface facing the sun, enough to melt snow on the northern walls of Scott Base. The water ran down the wall and then immediately refroze into icicles.


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Acetylene generator (very corroded, and supported upside down for stability). © AHT

Yesterday I commenced treating an acetylene generator from Scott’s Terra Nova expedition hut at Cape Evans. This generator used water dripping onto calcium carbide to generate acetylene gas. The gas was then piped through the hut to be lit in various lamp fittings to provide illumination during the dark winter months. It was important that liquid water is available for this process to work.  So, even though the reaction generated heat, the tank needed to be insulated with Gibson quilting to prevent the water freezing. This was a layer of sea grass held between layers of hessian.


Liquid water was, and still is, very important to life in the Antarctic!


Sea Ice Formation

Posted by Conservators Oct 4, 2011

Author: Jane
Date: 30 September 2011
Temperature: -26°C
Wind Speed: 12 knots
Temp with wind chill: -40°C


This has been an unusual year for the sea ice around Scott Base. In March it broke out in front of the base for the first time since 1997. The sea ice began to form again soon after the ice floes were washed out of McMurdo Sound. It is now around 1.8m thick in front of the base.


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The ‘Big John’ crack extending out from Hut Point into McMurdo sound. This crack is now impassable. Mount Discovery to the right and Black Island to the left, with a mirage visible along the bottom.  Photo AHT/ Jane



Further North the sea ice is still moving, causing the formation of large cracks. We managed to get to Cape Evans to do our Winter Hut Inspection on September 17th, but we had to park the Hagglund a few hundred metres out from the shore due to cracks in the sea ice which were not safe to cross in a vehicle. A few days later it was impossible to get to this area, as cracks along the flagged route had opened up substantially. One of the cracks we crossed is now about 2.5m wide.


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Looking down on Terra Nova hut from Windvane Hill with the Barne Glacier in the background and the Hagglund parked out on the Sea Ice.
Photo AHT/ Jane

The edge of the sea ice is now close to Cape Royds which is much further South than it has been in recent years. It has been very warm this winter, with temperatures often in the range of  -10°C to -20°C.  This combined with the frequent stormy conditions has hindered the sea ice formation. The cut-off date for sea ice growth is usually mid-October so it is unlikely to improve enough to allow for vehicle travel in the area over the summer season. This will have an impact on our work.

To see out what our weather looks like on Ross Island you can check out the webcams at Scott Base, Arrival Heights and the windfarm by clicking on this link:


Author: Jane
Date: 22nd September 2011
Temperature: -41°C
Wind Speed: 0 knots
Temp with wind chill: -41°C
Sunrise: 06.42am
Sunset 06.54pm

I have just finished treating two boxes of ‘Tabloid Potassium Metabisulphite’. It was used in the developing of photographs, probably by Herbert Ponting, the photographer on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition.

The staples holding the boxes together were completely corroded away with just corrosion staining remaining. One of the boxes had leaflets describing the types of chemicals available and what they were used for. There was even a ‘Special Caution’ note on the risks of buying inferior products.


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One of the boxes before conservation.  © Jane/AHT

The brown glass bottle inside contained tablets of the chemical. It was sealed with wax over the cork.



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A leaflet from one of the boxes.  © Jane/AHT

The surface of the cardboard and paper was blistering due to the presence of salts so I decided to wash them. I did this in a bath of water, with the paper and card supported on a piece of spun-bonded polyester. I then allowed them to dry before humidifying them and reassembling the box.

I consolidated the wax on the cork stopper as it was flaking. I also consolidated the surface of the cardboard as it was quite friable, probably as a result of the salt damage.


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A box after conservation.  ©  Jane/AHT


With the individual elements stabilized, I was then able to put the bottles and leaflets back into the boxes.


Author: John  Date: 12 September 2011
Temperature: -19.4oC
Wind Speed: 22Kts
Temp with wind chill: -320C
Sunrise: 7.50am
Sunset 5.52pm

Sometimes when an artefact eludes description or exact function we just need the right expert at the right time. This item from Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds was initially described as an ‘Urn and Lid’. Last week, while this artefact was being treated in the Conservation Lab at Scott Base, Jane invited our Base chef, Lance, down for a look over what we were doing. He walked into the lab looked at the ‘Urn and Lid’ on the bench and immediately said ‘That’s a stockpot, they have not changed much over the years have they?” and proceeded to describe how one was used!


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Urn and lid aka Stockpot © AHT


Pieces of meat were put into the pot and boiled down to make stock for soups and such. The fat floated to the top and could be separated off as required while the juicy stock could be tapped off via the brass tap at the bottom. A woven wire filter gauze behind the tap strained out any unwanted solid pieces.  The pot could be kept simmering continually on the stove, stock drawn off as necessary, and the pot topped up with more meat pieces or bones and water as required.

There are still food particles remaining inside the pot, and soot and fat all over the outside showing that this stockpot was well used – seal or penguin meat perhaps? Heated by burning blubber, hence the soot? All this evidence was kept intact on the pot.

Lance also made the comment that the chef’s working space in the hut was very cramped. 
So, many thanks to Lance, for being ‘the right expert at the right time’!




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