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Passing Through

Posted by Conservators Jul 8, 2014

Author: Stefanie White

Date: 25t June 2014

Temperature: -22.4 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 7.7 kts 40 NE

Temp with wind chill: -31.7 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

Passing through the conservation laboratory at Scott Base is a memorable and extraordinary experience. There is continuously a spectacular display of different objects in various stages of conservation treatment.

Image 1.JPG

Working Lab

One bench displays the mid-treatment of metal food liners and boxes, another bench reveals 32 ration bags filled with cocoa powder, flour, cereals and curry powder and another bench modestly exhibits penguin skeletons.

Image 2.JPG

Sledging ration bags containing cocoa powder, cereals, flour and spices

Every day each one of us is presented with challenges and discussion in material science and the conservation of such objects. Meg is currently conserving a wooden tent frame, 2 penguin skeletons and a box of cement for a seismograph.

Image 3.JPG

Meg conserving two Penguin skeletons

Sue is carrying out the conservation treatment of an iron alloy supply box filled with sugar cubes that are largely dissolved and recrystallized into a solid mass, and I am working on the 32 ration bags, a wooden stool and lead bucket with layers of paint on its surface.

Looking around the lab today it reminds me of how fortunate object conservators are to work on such a large and varied selection of materials.

Image 4.JPG

Stefanie conserving Lead bucket and Sue conserving sugar in metal liner.

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Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 02/07/2014

Temperature: -28 degrees Celcius

Windspeed: 0kts

Temperature with Wind Chill: -28 degrees Celcius

Sunrise: NA

Sunset: NA

 

 

Let there be light… and heat!

The flick of the switch is usually all it takes for us to enjoy a good read on the couch in a warm room on a cold winter evening. There may be a wood fire or central heating, an electric blanket, underfloor heating or even a lovely heated towel rack in the bathroom. A microwave is a handy way to warm the hot chocolate and the light dimmers can create some ambiance. And everything smells as good as the roast that comes out of the oven. Ahhh…

Back to reality. Lucky for me, my reality is most of the above combined with corrosion removal during the day. And I've just completed conserving a fabulous large Homelight Lamp Oil fuel can from Discovery Hut which was a provision of the British Antarctic Expedition.

Homelight Lamp Oil can.JPG

Homelight Lamp Oil can

 

The same brand of oil was also sent down in this beautiful wooden box.

 

Wooden Box.JPG

Wooden Box

 

I've also recently worked on small oil cans containing oil in remarkably good condition. There were many types of oils and fuels, including calcium carbide for acetylene lighting, brought down on the historic expeditions to create heat and light for the long winters, with seal blubber as the final resort.

 

Small Oil can.JPG

Small Oil can

At Scott Base today we have all the heat and lighting required to live an exceptionally comfortable winter existence provided mostly by diesel fuel generation with an impressive 22% of delivery by wind power. Plus a toasty gas powered 'log' fire to read Scott's Journal in front of.

 

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Midwinter

Posted by Conservators Jun 25, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 18 June 2014

Temperature: -31°C

Wind speed: 15 knots

Temperature with wind speed: -46°C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Midwinter is upon us, for those in the southern hemisphere at least. For those of us in Antarctica, midwinter is traditionally a time of celebration and feasting. We've reached our shortest day—our darkest day—and now we move towards the return of the light and the return of the sun in a couple of months' time. Definitely a milestone to be celebrated!

 

But where did this 'tradition' begin, on a continent with a very short history? Certainly not with the members of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition who, in 1898, became the first expeditioners to winter in Antarctica after being trapped in the ice aboard their ship 'Belgica'. For them it was all doom and gloom, with tales of 'dreary, cheerless days', of hardship, extreme discontent, illness and tragedy. Midwinter was described as 'the darkest day of the night; a more dismal sky and a more depressing scene could not be imagined'. And, to add 'another cloud to the hell of blackness', their beloved cat, Nansen, succumbed to the long darkness at midwinter, and died.

 

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Nansen, the 'Belgica' cat

 

The midwinter tradition should probably be credited to Robert Falcon Scott, who on his first expedition just four years later describes the festivities of midwinter 1902 in some detail. There were decorations 'with designs in coloured papers and festooned with chains and ropes' and 'the tables were loaded with plum puddings, mince pies, and cakes'. There were speeches, presents, sing-songs, champagne, and great revelry, with which, Scott records, 'we agreed that life in the Antarctic regions was worth living'.

 

As we at Scott Base hung the decorations, opened gifts and tucked into our 9-course midwinter dinner, shared with some good friends from neighbouring McMurdo Station, we couldn't have agreed more. Salute!

 

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Scott Base midwinter dinner 2014

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Recently, a nice coincidence occurred in the lab while we were beginning conservation work on a new series of objects from the collection at Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Hut at Hut Point.

As I was documenting this French cognac bottle,

AHT11088_1!_Side1_BT (Medium).JPG

Picture of  French cognac bottle, before treatment.

My colleague Sue, object conservator, came to me with an unidentifiable paper fragment that she found in one of the objects she was treating (a billy, repurposed from a food tin by a member of Captain Scott's party). As the paper conservator of the team, I am in charge of the conservation of every paper artefact.

AHT11064_1!_Side1_AT (Medium).JPG

Picture of a billy, where the paper fragment was found.

 

But how big was my surprise when I realised that this fragment of paper was actually the missing part of the label from this bottle!

What are the chances of that happening? How incredible is it that on this particular day I actually had on my bench the bottle from which this paper fragment originated? Especially when you consider that 50 artefacts pass through the lab each week, every week! Thanks to this coincidence, we have been able to re-assemble and give back to an artefact a part of its history and identity that had been lost.

During the last 100 years, the environmental conditions within the huts have been harsh and damaging to the paper objects. Sometimes parts are lost, as the paper is very light and becomes very brittle and fragile in this environment. I felt a great sense of satisfaction in being able to re-construct the label on this bottle and keep its history and memory intact.

 

AHT11088_1!_Side1_AT (Medium).JPG

Picture of a French cognac bottle, after treatment.

1

Author: Stefanie White

Date: 11 June 2014

Temperature: -22.4C

Wind Speed: 7.7 knots 40 NE

Temp with wind chill: -31.7C

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

My grandmother, my mother and even my best friend have been heard announcing the old view that 'you can tell a man by his shoes' implying that shoes can portray a man's moral character. Today that view may be mostly obsolete, especially in the Antarctic.

 

In the Antarctic, where there is little room for fashionable and aesthetic footwear, our shoes and boots are practical. Designed for Extreme Cold Weather, they are big, sometimes knee high, and insulated with high soles and thick layers of fleece. With wear and tear, we repair them and with decreasing temperature and new demands, we alter them.

Image 1 (Large) (Small) (2).jpg

Meg, Sue, Stefanie and Aline with their Extreme Cold Weather boots

 

This was also the case for Scott and his men. They patched, re-stitched and altered their boots often adding hobnails to increase grip for walking on ice and stuffing insulating sennegrass inside to help overcome freezing temperatures.

 

One may interpret that these men stayed true to their old boots, maintaining and caring for them. These men were professional and practical yet display chaotic domestic habits in the scruff and buildup of dirt on the boot soles. Perhaps, pronate distortions in the boots tell that they were sometimes stressed and exhausted with sore and cold feet.

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Above and below: Historic boots from Cape Evans with additional Sennegrass inside and hobnails in sole

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It was sometimes the case that the historic explorers wore less practical and fancier shoes. Uncovered from under Wilson's bed, in Scott's Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans, a black patent leather pomp, with a decorative grosgrain bow, was found. This rather fancy shoe is completely unsuitable for the harsh Antarctic conditions and may perhaps lend a tale about a man's more sensitive character. The owner of this shoe was a man with grounded feet; a man with a sense of vanity, style and perhaps even artistic humour.

Image 3 (Large) (Small).JPG

Black patent pump or court shoe with decorative ribbon

 

Overall, we can be sure of one thing: Practical and durable boots are a necessity for surviving the harsh Antarctic conditions and equally as important is  the superficial and impractical accessory that can sometimes lift a man's moral and make him feel at home.

0

Author: Stefanie White

Date: 27 May 2014

Temperature: -13

Wind speed: 20 / 18 kts

Temp with windchill: -25

Sunrise: 9.30am

Sunset: 3.38pm

 

 

The Ross Sea Party of Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) is one of the most fascinating groups of explorers to stay at, and make extensive use of, Discovery Hut. Their mission was to lay depots to aid Shackleton's planned traverse of Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to Ross Island via the South Pole. After laying depots, one group waited over two months at Discovery Hut for the sea ice to harden so to be able to walk back to Cape Evans and join the rest of the team. During these months the stranded men recovered from ill health and as they were also ill-equipped, improvised games and made tools out of salvaged materials.

 

Lamps that were made out of old food tins and fueled with seal blubber offered 'a flickering glimmer of light in the dark interior'.

 

Discovery Hut was an important staging post for the Ross Sea Party. Stranded inexperienced men with inadequate equipment and a determination to complete their mission were forced to improvise clothing and equipment in order to survive. Some of these artefacts are currently in the lab. 

 

Clothing was repaired with materials and fabrics salvaged from inside the hut.

 

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Jacket worn and heavily repaired by a member of the Ross Sea Party

 

Image 3 (Small).JPG

An Improvised snow shoe made out of a plywood supply box

 

Snowshoes were made out of plywood from Venesta supply boxes that, in the example above, originally contained Spratt's Special Cabin Biscuits. The resourcefulness, creativity and determination of the Ross Sea Party is seen every day in the lab as we continue to conserve artefacts from Discovery Hut.

 

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Macro Magic Moments

Posted by Conservators May 20, 2014

Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 20 May 2014

Temperature: -38.2

Wind speed: 10kts

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

As AHT conservators we're always marvelling, ooh and aaahing at objects from Discovery Hut as they pass over our work benches. In many cases we can directly identify what we're working on as the same object shown in the historic photographs. There are many iconic objects from Discovery Hut which give the viewer a strong sense of connection to the heroic expeditions, particularly objects that are complete or in surprisingly good condition.

 

Such objects include cooking pots, hand-made tools and clothes, shoes and long-johns and beautiful boxes of Fry's cocoa tins. Working close-up with objects gives an altogether different experience and connection with these objects. As you document, repair or prepare surfaces at close range the finer details of the materials, use or re-use becomes apparent. The beautiful patina or severe delaminating corrosion that develops on metal that has been sitting in the Hut for over 100 years;  the stitch pattern on a home-altered mitten; or the cutting and reshaping of bits and pieces to form an object for which purpose we may never be too sure. It’s this type of detail which sparks the imagination and appreciation for beauty in the macro world. To me this is just as rewarding as seeing the objects in the broader picture. Who had a hand at this object? Who lit this burnt-out match? Whose ideas transformed the object in front of me?

 

On the rusted metal edging of a biscuit supply box I recently worked on I happened to notice the stamped letter 'B' in the rivets securing it to the box. No more than 3mm's it seemed like a little gem among the rust.

B Rivet (Small).jpg

'B' Rivet

 

 

I'm currently working on a Nansen cooker, a type of aluminium cooking pot system designed to work with a spirit fuelled primus stove, and whilst removing corrosion realised that the scrape marks on the side of the pot were left there by the last cook. Who was the last person to cook that day? How awful was the concoction and how hungry were they?

 

Scrape the pot (Small).jpg

Scrape the pot

 

Then to the small and sweet. This tiny stamped markers mark, The Gutta Percha Company London, is all but 10mm across on a sweet little bottle only 12cm high. In the age of big bold logos this is a refreshing company sign.

The Gutta Percha Company (Small).jpg

The Gutta Percha Company

 

I'll continue to look out for more magical macro moments and keep you posted.

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Celebrating Easter

Posted by Conservators May 6, 2014

Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 23/04/14

Temperature: -26 degrees

Wind speed: 11 mph

Temp with wind chill: - 38 degrees

Sunrise: 11.42am

Sunset: 2.00pm

 

 

The week before Easter in the Antarctic Heritage Trust lab, I had been working on chocolate. Not because I was excited about Easter and hoping to get the traditional magical chocolates, but because a wooden box of Fry's Cocoa tins came into the conservation lab for treatment. A large paper label remains on the side of the box, still clean and brightly coloured, an element that usually disappears because of age and weather conditions. The five tins inside were in good condition and unopened, still full of their contents.

AHT11209_1-6!_Side1_BT (Small).JPG

Box of Frys Cocoa tins (side 1)  before treatment

AHT11209_1-6!_Side2_BT (Small).JPG

Box of Frys Cocoa tins (side 2) before treatment

 

Captain Scott’s National Antarctic Expedition brought quite a lot of cocoa to Antarctica in 1901, as a healthy and also sweet, delicious drink. It is true that chocolate is very enjoyable, especially when you are in this climate and landscape. It seems that the explorers were consuming cocoa often, and having chocolate during Easter made me think about them, how a simple drink or meal can become a golden distraction and delicacy!

cocoa tins (Small).JPG

Tins of Frys Cocoa

 

For Easter at Scott Base we all wrote clues for each other and Sunday was animated by people running from one side to another, hunting for their eggs. I really enjoyed this way of combining a social event with all the team down here and to remember what is happening in the "real world"! Finding our chocolate eggs at the end of the game was delightful! And it made this sweet very special.

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Open Water

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 09/04/2014

Temperature: -24 degrees C

Windspeed: None

Temperature with wind chill: -24 degrees C

Sunrise: 0905

Sunset: 1643

 

One of the highlights (so far) of this winter on the ice has been, without doubt, the opportunity to observe the effects of having open water in front of Scott Base. Usually a year-round frozen ice shelf, the open water has brought some spectacular sea mists and not just the usual populations of Weddell seals and Adelie penguins, but large numbers of killer whales and Emperor penguins (and even the occasional cruise ship!) … to literally right outside our windows. Beats television!

Morning sea mist.JPG

Morning sea mist

 

Cruise ship.JPG

A cruise ship takes advantage of the open water to take a closer look at Scott Base

 

 

Each day we have had the pleasure of watching a group of about 50 Emperors (all adolescent males, I'm told) huddle, fish, play, squawk, dive and scoot around (belly down) on the ice edge. And occasionally they'll take a long walk across the ice to what seems like nowhere in particular, usually in single file and in a very determined fashion, only to huddle for a while before returning again by foot or from beneath the ice through an open pool or crack. But, alas, as we head into our last fortnight of daylight before the austral winter darkness sets in, the sea now looks to have frozen over and, sadly for us (and perhaps also for them, as they may have been equally fascinated by the behaviours of Scott Base residents) the last of the Emperors have walked off … to somewhere else.

Emperors huddling.JPG

Huddling

 

Emperors off for a walk.JPG

Off for a walk

0

Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 02/04/2014

Temperature: -34 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 0 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -34 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 0926

Sunset: 1826

 

Oh the frustration of losing things. It's a bit late for the owner now but it's nice to have found his second sock. Of course it couldn't have been in the washing machine, and it wasn't under the bed. It was in fact under the floorboards of Discovery hut. Why and how did it get there is anyone's guess. The magical mystery of missing things may never be understood. Interestingly though, the sock was also under the floorboards with other objects including empty ration bags, twine and cordage, a dust-brush, sardine can and safety pin.

 

SECOND SOCK.jpg

Second sock

 

The objects were recovered from under the floor by the outgoing AHT summer team who were undertaking structural stabilisation work on the hut which involved lifting some of the floorboards. So how did these objects manage to find their way there? Of course we can only speculate but it's likely they were simply swept into a hole in the floor which had been created by the Ross Sea Party.

The empty ration bags are unmarked and so we can't ever know what meal they contributed to. One of the bags is still tied at the top and ripped open down the side. One appears to be covered in cocoa and white crystalline grains, perhaps sugar. Taste testing is not advised for obvious reasons. Others contain a soft waxy substance also of unknown identity. I'm curious as to what they actually contained and what the men were up to on the day they emptied those bags. The image below shows the ration bags drying after being washed to remove damaging acids and salts. All stains, soot and contents are retained as important historic information.

 

RATION BAGS DRYING.jpg

Ration bags drying

 

Another interesting part of the underfloor assemblage of objects is a beautifully retained length of twined rope with a particularly strong smell. The smell isn't altogether unpleasant but it's distinctive as you open the door to the workspace each morning. The smell is very similar to pine tar which was used to saturate hemp fibres for pre-prepared wooden ship caulking, which is likely the purpose of this rope.

 

CAULKING.jpg

Caulking

It's been an interesting week contemplating the discarded or lost objects under the hut and I wonder if the loss of that sock was ever of torment to its owner.

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