100 years ago today: Antarctic explorers remembered

A hundred years ago, on 9 February 1917, two very different Antarctic stories were being celebrated in New Zealand.

Robert Falcon Scott statue
Robert Falcon Scott memorial, Scott Reserve, corner of Worcester Boulevard and Oxford Terrace [ca. 1917] File Reference CCL PhotoCD 4, IMG0033
In Christchurch on 9 February 1917 a statue to honour the Antarctic explorer Robert Scott was unveiled.

The Scott Memorial Statue stood on the corner of Worcester Street and Oxford Terrace and had been commissioned by the Council in 1913. Sculpted by Scott’s widow Kathleen, the 3-tonne, 2.6 metre high white marble statue of Scott in polar dress stood on a plinth inscribed with words from Scott’s farewell message ‘I do not regret this journey which shows that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past.’ A bronze plaque records his name and those of his companions who died on the expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Scott’s statue remained in place until it was thrown off its plinth and damaged during the 22nd February 2011 earthquake. The broken statue was removed and in January 2016 it was put on display again at Canterbury Museum’s special exhibition, Quake City. Today, on the centenary of its unveiling, restoration plans for the repair of the statue were announced.

Meanwhile in another part of New Zealand a group from a very different Antarctic expedition were being welcomed to Wellington. On 9 February 1917 the Aurora arrived in New Zealand after returning from a rescue mission of the Ross Sea party from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

This group had been tasked with laying a series of supply depots for the final part of Shackleton’s proposed route across Antarctica, with the Aurora used for transport and carrying supplies. While anchored at Cape Evans in May 1915 the Aurora became frozen into the shore ice and after a severe gale it broke its moorings and was carried out to sea attached to an ice-floe. This left a ten-man sledding team marooned ashore where they would remain for nearly two years. The Aurora eventually broke free from the ice but then had to sail to New Zealand for repairs.

The ship Aurora at Port Chalmers , 1916
The ship Aurora at Port Chalmers. Ref: 1/2-012189-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22592954

In December 1916, after repairs, and under the command of Captain J.K. Davis, the Aurora returned to rescue those left behind, leaving Port Chalmers bound for McMurdo Sound. The Aurora arrived at Cape Evans on 10th January 1917, and found seven surviving members of the Ross Sea party. You can read news reports of the ship’s arrival on Papers Past.

Further information

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

NZ IceFest – dust off your ice skates!

NZ IceFest is a celebration of New Zealand’s relationship with Antarctica and of Christchurch’s history as a gateway to the Antarctic. This festival includes many events, as well as interesting speakers, documentaries, and exhibitions.

Cover: Still LifeThe ‘Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton’ exhibition (based on the book of the same name), is a series of Jane Ussher’s photos (accompanied by a soundtrack) of objects inside and around the huts. It provides an interesting glimpse into what life may have been like for these explorers.

If you are keen to find out more about Scott and Shackleton we have a lot of books (including ebooks and audiobooks) detailing their remarkable lives. I am currently reading about Shackleton’s amazing survival story surrounding his ship Endurance. It became trapped in the ice and he managed to lead his men to safety through several incredible journeys over land and sea. At IceFest there’s a replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat used by Shackleton and some of his men in their efforts to be rescued, and it was seeing this and the accompanying notes alongside it that prompted me to get reading.

Photo: Statue of Robert Falcon ScottAlso on display at the IceFest is the magnificent marble statue of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, sculpted by Scott’s widow, Lady Kathleen Scott. It was sad to see it in several pieces (it sustained earthquake damage); I do hope that it can be restored. It is an eerie reminder of the earthquakes, and seems very symbolic, shattered but hopefully restorable.

Onto cheerier thoughts… If you’re hungry, I can recommend a West Coast whitebait fritter, and there are also some other great food options available from the stalls at the Icefest. If it is a chilly night and you need some warming up,  then that wintery treat, mulled wine, is available.

The ice skating rink at IceFest looks like fun (if you are more coordinated than I am!), and was getting a lot of use the night we visited. See the IceFest website for pricing and special offers.

NZ IceFest runs from 14 September to 14 October in Christchurch’s Hagley Park (next to the tennis courts that are close to Victoria Lake), and is definitely worth a visit, especially at night when you’ll see the twinkling lights surrounding the ice rink and lighting up the trees. Some activities within the Ice Station have an associated cost, but entry is free and there is plenty to see and do free of charge. For more details, visit the IceFest website.

“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.