“It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more”: Scott’s last expedition

26 November 1902 Robert Falcon Scott left Christchurch on the Terra Nova. Few could have predicted what would befall his expedition to the South Pole or that it would continue to fascinate 110 years later.

“These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale” reads Scott’s last journal entry, but  Scott’s Last Expedition, the major international touring exhibition now showing at Canterbury Museum, uses so much more.

It’s a tale we think we know; endurance, bravery, fortitude in the face of certain death. I well remember a print of Captain Oates walking away from the tent into a blizzard hanging on the wall of my girls’ school (wouldn’t Edith Cavell facing the firing squad have been more inspiring to the girls?) but I don’t remember ever thinking much about why the expedition was trying to get to the South Pole.

Scott’s Last Expedition answers the questions I never thought to ask, by bringing the scientific specimens gathered at such cost together with the artefacts familiar from the photographs of the expedition and of the huts that still stand.

Edward Wilson, who died in the tent along with Henry Bowers and Scott, struggled through advanced frost bite to bring back specimens that included a grey rock . He didn’t make it back but the rock did and it’s in the exhibition. It might not seem that exciting at first sight, until you notice the red lines of fossilised seed ferns that helped to prove the theories of continental drift.

There’s something here for everyone; the irremediably trivial like me, transfixed by the sled flags, and those who can appreciate the sheer scope of the science.  Also a very nice line in merchandise.

You will have a chance to see the statue that stood on the banks of the Avon until 22 February 2011 at closer quarters than you are ever likely to experience again.

And if you want to know more, there is lots of stuff in the library.

Christchurch – this week in history (26 November – 3 December)

26 November 1857
Opening of the first building (long since demolished) on the present Christ’s College site. The school’s original planned site was in Cathedral Square, but the land had been exchanged for the present Hagley Park site to allow room for expansion.

26 November 1959
Memorial Avenue (a memorial to airmen killed in W.W.II) officially opens.

27 November 1985
Remains of swimming pool uncovered when excavating behind No 1 stand at Lancaster Park. Pool used as venue for 1907 Australian and New Zealand Swimming Championships.

28 November 1893
Women vote for the first time in parliamentary elections.

28 November 1908
Work begins on the Summit Road, the first part of Harry Ell’s obsessional dream.

28 November 1964
Opening of Cashin Quay, Lyttelton Harbour. The engineering techniques used in reclaiming this area were unique in the world.

29 November 1901
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition arrives at Lyttelton in “Discovery”.

29 November 1978
Concert at Q.E.II Park by rock singer David Bowie.

1 December 1949
Sidney G. (later Sir Sidney) Holland (Fendalton) becomes Prime Minister.

2 December 1866
Moa bones discovered at Glenmark. The international sale and exchange of these helped Haast, the Canterbury Museum’s first Director, to finance the new museum.

2 December 1960
Rehua meeting house opens, the first new meeting house in the South Island for over 100 years.

More November and December events in our Christchurch chronology.