I had the privilege of documenting and registering the museum’s recently acquired collection of 184 glass lantern slides and 107 positive transparencies by Herbert Ponting, Charles Reginald Ford and others who documented Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13 and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16.
Looking through these images I fell in love with the determination, loyalty and adventurous spirits of these early explores that went to that great white unknown called Antarctica, in the name of science, discovery and also in search of glory.
The slides tell the stories of Scott’s first Antarctic exploration onboard Discovery in 1901-04. They also highlight the ill-fated second Antarctic expedition and first attempt by the British to reach the South Pole onboard Terra Nova in 1910-13, where Scott himself, Oates, Bowers and Wilson all lost their lives.
There are breath-taking images of Adelie penguins, skua gulls and leopard seals and also of the cruel, inhospitable but stunning Antarctic landscape. We get glimpses of the life of the explorers inside and outside their huts, the conditions when camping on ice and the strenuous sledging parties that made possible the collection of invaluable scientific samples that formed the basis of what we now know about Antarctica.
I was very moved by one of the least spectacular slides depicting the rations for the men going into the sledging expeditions where they not only had to walk for kilometres in sub zero temperatures, but also haul the jammed-packed sledges. The image depicts a stack of eight dry biscuits, half a block of butter, a few sugar cubes and a handful of each tea and coffee. These men went on days and weeks of exploration and camping on the ice just living of those rations, but always, as seen in the photos, keeping hope and most importantly, a brave face despite being sun-burnt, frost bitten, wet, cold and hungry.
“We gather around the fire seated on packing cases with a hunk of bread and butter and a steaming pannikin of tea, and life is well worth living”
(Robert Falcon Scott, July 1911, during the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13.)
It was this ration, the lack of knowledge in calorie counting, low GI and rich energy foods (that now, even my 5 year old knows about), poor decisions and extreme bad weather that caused the very well-documented death of the South Pole Party on their return trip to the base camp.
If you, like me, find these stories of the early explorers fascinating, make some time to visit the museum’s Ernest Shackleton exhibition, coming soon.