“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.

Heritage through photography

CoverStill Life : inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton by Jane Ussher is a gem of a book.

New Zealand photographer Jane Ussher was allowed to photograph the huts of Antarctic explorers Scott and Shackelton, a privilege rarely accorded.

A tactile experience from the moment you touch the book, the cover is made of hessian-like material, with muddy and muted colours. When you delve inside, the colour palette is mostly restricted to cool tones of brown, blue and white.

The uniqueness of this remote location and the history of these buildings is evident in every shot. I was fascinated by the intimacy of the photographs , from clothing still on hooks, to shaving brushes, to pictures of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, to unopened bottles of food on the bench.

To hear Jane Ussher talk about her experiences of being in Antarctica to shoot the images for this book, you can go to lunch on Sunday 7 November at Baillies Bar, Christchurch.

Megan Ingle