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

So brilliantly clever

Photo of Peter Graham signing copies of "So brilliantly clever"
Author Peter Graham signs copies of his book "So brilliantly clever"

When you emigrate, you lose your history and are painfully aware that you need to get to grips with the past of the place that you now call home.

Last night at The Press Literary Liaison, I felt immersed in a tiny aspect of Christchurch history for the very first time. Author Peter Graham chatted to a full house on his book So brilliantly clever in which he has done further research on the 1954 murder that shocked Christchurch and the world, the Parker-Hulme murder.

Under flying albatrosses in the Bird Room at the Museum, I sat behind a woman who had been a classmate of the two girls. Five rows back sat a couple who had visited the small town where Juliet Hulme (now well-known author Anne Perry) currently lives. Right next to us sat a terrifically fidgety lady who still had unanswered questions – but  Graham himself was relaxed, chatty and happy to answer any questions that we could muster.

This was real life history about an iconic murder which Graham had felt needed more research before all the contemporaries started dying off. Not everyone wanted to  answer his questions though, and he said it was almost as if they felt :

They may be murderers, but they are our murderers

Graham will be talking at three libraries around Christchurch over the next few days. You are sure to find some aspect of this matricide absolutely compelling. For myself, I am intrigued by the murals drawn on Pauline Parker’s cottage walls in her home in Scotland – only discovered by the new owner when he moved in. As  a person who thought it quite dashing to paint her living room in a shade called Enchilada, I am moved by the woman who tells her life story in a mural such as this. But if murals don’t float your boat, how about: troublesome teenagers, inept parenting, clandestine love affairs, murder most foul and prison life?

So brilliantly clever has it all and is an exposé into a life and time in our city that is both far enough back to be almost gone and yet close enough to be terribly real.