Frank Worsley – a local hero

It is just over a century since Frank Worsley, Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean reached a whaling station on remote South Georgia following a daring 16 day voyage to alert the world to the loss of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition‘s ship Endurance. Because of this journey the rest of the crew – stranded on Elephant Island – were all saved.

Worsley was born in Akaroa in 1872 and the New Zealand Antarctic Society has republished an epic poem about him ‘Worsley Enchanted‘ written by New Zealand-born poet Douglas Stewart and illustrated by Myra Walton. The poem takes readers through his experiences on the Endurance Expedition – which has become legendary – and reflects on his relationship with the rest of the crew.

Frank Worsley. Smythe, P :Photographs of Frank Worsley. Ref: 1/2-182002-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Frank Worsley. Smythe, P :Photographs of Frank Worsley. Ref: 1/2-182002-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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A small piece of Christchurch’s Antarctic heritage

Christchurch has many links with Antarctica, both modern and historic. This November sees the 105th anniversary of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition sailing from Lyttelton. Led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and officially known as the British Antarctic Expedition, the expedition ended in disaster when the polar party perished on their way back from the South Pole, having discovered that Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian party had made it there before them.

Scott and his men had spent some time in Lyttelton and Christchurch before setting sail on the last leg of their sea voyage from the UK. Scott first came to the region in 1901 when he also used Lyttelton as last port of call on his way to Antarctica. This was the British National Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Discovery expedition.

A typescript letter signed by Robert Scott, thanking the City for the gift, from Mr. H. Greenbank, of a mounted horseshoe.
Letter, 15 Nov. 1910, from Robert Falcon Scott, CCL-Archive18-003

Our digital collection includes a couple of nice mementos of these two expeditions, which highlight the Christchurch connection. On both occasions the people of Christchurch gave a gift to the expedition – firstly some sheep and secondly a mounted horseshoe. Scott wrote thank you letters to the town clerk and these are now part of the library’s archives collection and have been digitised.

  • For everything you could ever want to know about Antarctica, take a look at the extensive links on our Antarctica web page.
  • Find out about the Antarctic Heritage Trust‘s quest to restore the historic Ross Island huts of Scott, Shackleton and others

“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.

“Only the unknown frightens men…

But once a man has faced the unknown, that terror becomes the known.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

CoverI can’t wait to see The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton & Antarctic Photography at the Canterbury Museum (the library has copies of the book).

H. G. Ponting’s images record Scott’s Terra Nova expedition of 1910 – 1913 and F. Hurley’s icescapes were taken during Ernest Shackleton’s polar expedition on the Endurance in 1914-16. They were presented to King George V and today belong to the Royal Photograph Collection.

From 20 August 2010 to 20 February 2011 Canterbury Museum is the only venue for this exhibition outside the Queen’s galleries. Not bad, eh?

I’m amazed by how they managed to get such good photos in such weather conditions, it demonstrates that it’s not the equipment that matters but the photographer’s ability (remember to breathe in when you press the shutter!).

If you want to hear and see how Antarctic photography works nowadays, book your spot at the Canterbury Museum for New Zealand’s independent publishing mogul, photographer and conservationist Craig Potton‘s presentation on the 26th of August 2010.

Or perhaps you might prefer to listen to the Curator of the Royal Photograph Collection on the 24th of August 2010.

Who is your favourite great outdoors photographer?

I am very fond of Light and Landscape by Andris Apse, beautiful New Zealand. And it’s hard not to be moved by Ansel Adams‘ black and white masterpieces.