HMAS WYATT EARP: Australia’s earliest national Antarctic research vessel

Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship - with a very unlikely name - pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445[076].

Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445[076].

Remembering the ‘Twerp

On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.

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Midwinter in Antarctica with Roald Amundsen

With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.

Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, a panel exhibition on display in ANMM’s Vaughan Evans Library from the Fram Museum in Norway, explores life for those men on their incredible journey. Catch it until June 30, while the sun is low in the sky and think of those men on midwinter day 1911.

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A Poignant Remnant from the ‘Plucky little Ship Aurora’

20 June 2017 marked 100 years since the famous polar vessel Aurora left Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of coal, never to be seen again.

The museum recently accepted the gift of the ship’s lifebuoy, recovered from the seas six months later.

A powerful emblem, with the ghost lettering of its famous Antarctic expeditions on its rim, it acts as a lifeline to all the sailors, whalers, scientists, workers, expeditioners and sealers whose lives, toils and achievements were entwined with it.

Importantly, the lifebuoy connects all of us to the tragic loss of its captain and 20 officers and crew in 1917. This is the incredible story of a powerful wooden ship and its men.

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Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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Marooned on disintegrating ice: Catch Shackleton at the museum before it disappears

The Deck of Endurance 1915, Frank Hurley photographer, courtesy Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales

The Deck of Endurance 1915, Frank Hurley photographer, courtesy Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales

“The sight of land scarcely raised our spirits at all, for it is generally reckoned impossible for us to reach it… Hunger is now our lot, not starvation but real hunger all day long. For breakfast we have a seal steak and half a mug of very weak milk…”, Thomas Orde-Lees Endurance storekeeper, near the Antarctic peninsula 24 March 1916 (from John Thomson Elephant Island and beyond 2003).

The next day a blizzard set in, icebergs jostled and floes swirled rapidly around the fragile floating camp of 28 men as it drifted slowly north-west past the islands off the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton kept a watchful eye on the danger, with the three lifeboats poised for launch should the ice break up beneath them.

By end of March 1916, a hundred years ago, in the Weddell Sea Antarctic adventurer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men had been trapped in ice for 14 months. In January 1915 his expedition ship Endurance was beset in Vahsel Bay, en route to Antarctica in his attempt to make the first crossing of the continent, by foot, with dogs and sledges, nonetheless.

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How to make painted polar pillows

The finished penguin pillow

Painting of South Georgia by Bernard Ollis, 2014

Painting of South Georgia by Bernard Ollis, 2014.

Down in Antarctica there are penguins, bergs and impasto blue skies; ice white shores, swirling winds and wondrous wilderness. This month we’ve been inspired by the sublime land and seascapes of the polar South in our beautiful Painting for Antarctica exhibition—works by Wendy Sharpe and Bernard Ollis—to create some painted polar pillow crafts of our very own.

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James Caird into the southern oceans – Shackleton’s carpenter’s view

Lantern glass slide depicting a painting of James Caird by George Marston

Lantern glass slide depicting a painting of James Caird by George Marston. ANMM Collection, 00054094

On 24 April 1916, 99 years ago, Antarctic expedition leader Sir Ernest Shackleton, his Endurance skipper Frank Worsley and four of his crew loaded into the seven-metre lifeboat James Caird and set sail from the rocky spit of the sub-Antarctic Elephant Island to reach help across the treacherous southern oceans, leaving 22 men behind on the barren outcrop.

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Shackleton’s lifeboat replica arrives in Australia

Shackleton Epic expedition vessel Alexandra Shackleton splashed down near Arctowski Base, King George Island.

Shackleton Epic expedition vessel Alexandra Shackleton splashed down near Arctowski Base, King George Island. © Alex Kumar, Shackleton Epic Expedition Pty Ltd.

Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica opens on 2 April, and loan objects have been arriving steadily over the past few months.

Alexandra Shackleton is a special addition to the exhibition. The 7.6-metre boat is a replica of the James Caird, the lifeboat Sir Ernest Shackleton used to seek the rescue of his stranded expedition members after the expedition’s ship Endurance sank, crushed by ice in Antarctica.

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Make your own penguin softie

All wonky eyes, felted flippers and blanket stitched bellies, what better use for scrap fabrics than a cuddly, crafty, cute-as-a-button-eyed penguin softie?  This month’s craft spot was inspired by the Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic exhibition. What can we say – Chinstraps, Gentoos, Kings or Adelie’s – we are smitten with Antarctica’s most adorable inhabitants.

penguin softies

Make your own cute and cuddly penguin softie at home.

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Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic – opens 13 April

Antarctica, a place I dream of exploring, but like so many of us, it seems so out of reach. That’s why I can’t wait to for the exhibition Elysium Antarctic Visual Epic to open at the museum this Saturday.

Photo of man in icy water

Videographer braves below-zero waters, Danco Island. Steve Jones/

The exhibition follows a team of 57 explorers from 18 countries that set out on a unique scientific and artistic expedition to Antarctica in 2010 to document the environment and record any evidence of climate change. Continue reading

An epic Antarctic inspiration

I have always been an avid reader, the type of kid that disappeared at Christmas to read the books left by Santa or being told turn off the light and sneaking a torch under the covers just to read just a little bit more.

Photo of

Tim Jarvis (middle) at the museum with our director Kevin Sumpton (L) and Michael Harvey, head Audience, Outreach and Exhibitions (R).

As I have gotten older my love of a good story hasn’t waned, just adjusted to my busier life so it takes an extraordinary tale to keep me turning the pages late into the night. It really doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me that I work in a museum surrounded by thousands of stories.

One adventure that has recently kept me up to the wee small hours is Shackleton’s boat journey written by a New Zealand ship’s captain FA Worsley, originally published in 1940. The most incredible thing about this book was that it was a factual account of the Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica, and the journey undertaken to save the lives of his men after the ship Endurance became stuck and crushed in the ice in the Wendell Sea on his way to Antarctica.

If I had been given the narrative without knowing a little of the background, I would have thought it was an amazing story full of heroism, determination and leadership. However, as part of my research the book provided a compelling and valuable insight as to conditions the men endured. Written today, editors would have labelled it not believable and a work of fantasy, nobody could survive in the conditions they endured (certainly not me, give me a tropical island any day). But of course, just to prove my thinking wrong, Australian environmental scientist and adventurer Tim Jarvis and his team have just recreated the sea and land crossing Shackleton undertook in his traditional gear.

I came across the Ernest Shackleton expedition and polar explorers late last year when I was asked to write some educational resources to support Tim’s re-creation of  Shackleton’s expedition. You could say that was a fascinating process for me to explore the history of the original expedition, collaborate with Tim’s Shackleton Epic team and to have access to some of their amazing images of Antarctica. (Antarctica is now moving up on my list of places to travel to one day if I can just get around the, it’s freezing issue).

I’m conscious of not spoiling the whole story to those uninitiated with the tale and to always leave your audience wanting more, I will finish here with a link to Shackleton Epic webpage. For teachers interested in the education resources they can be found on the museum’s teacher resources webpage.

Education officer

Antarctic voyage winner…

During last year’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, we ran a competition to win a trip for two to Antarctica with Orion Expeditions. We received over 6,000 entries over four months!

Out of those entries we have a winner! Congratulations Nicole!

Antarctic Voyage winner

Nicole came to see Scott’s Last Expedition with her boyfriend and his parents, who were visiting Sydney. Nicole and her boyfriend are frequent visitors to the museum, so were thrilled to find out she’d won.

Nicole is 25 years old and works locally in Pyrmont. She likes to travel and recently came home from a holiday in South-East Asia, so is really excited that she now has another holiday coming up to plan for.

The prize she won is a Junior Suite for two people on the ‘Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctica – Ross Sea’ expedition from Orion Expeditions, departing 25 January 2013 (valued at just under $60,000).  This voyage covers some of the polar regions famously charted during the first race to the South Pole by pioneering explorers Scott and Shackleton 100 years ago. Nicole will voyage across the Ross Sea coast which extends from the ice shelf northwards until it reaches the very tip of Victoria Land and Cape Adare. The trip will also take in the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island with its large colonies of penguins and elephant seals and Campbell Island. Having seen the recreation of the hut in the museum’s exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition, Nicole will have the opportunity to visit the real hut at Cape Evans as well as Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds.

 Nicole’s first question when she found out was what she needed to pack!

 Of course the next question is: Who will you take with you Nicole? I know of a certain ‘someone’ who would love to go to Antarctica…*wink* *wink*

Scott’s Last Expedition is now open at the Natural History Museum, London until 2 September 2012. It will then travel to the Canterbury Museum, NZ. It was developed through a collaboration between Natural History Museum, Canterbury Museum and Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ.


Pulley blocks from Cape Evans – Guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust 3/3

Author: John Kemister, Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ Conservator

These two interesting objects from Scott’s Terra Nova base at Cape Evans have been conserved at the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s conservation lab at New Zealand’s Scott Base ready for return to the hut in the summer.

The first is a well made double sheave pulley block that could have been utilised either on the ship Terra Nova, or in other situations where additional lifting or pulling force was required. The assembly consists of two galvanized pulley wheels mounted in a wooden block. A spliced steel wire bridle, wrapped with tarred rope, supports the block and connects it via a steel thimble to the hook. This bridle is held tightly around the block and thimble with tarred choker wrapping.

Double sheave pulley block

Double sheave pulley block. Photo: John/

The second object is a remnant from an identical block, consisting only of the wrapped steel wire bridle, a distorted thimble and the remains of a fractured hook.

Damaged pulley block remnants

Damaged pulley block remnants. Photo: John/

While working on conserving these it was interesting to conjecture (and unless historic records provide a clue it will only be conjecture) what task Scott’s men were performing when this damage occurred.

If only it could talk. 

About John
John is Australian and is currently working as a Conservator over summer for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. To follow what he and the rest of the team are working on to conserve Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s heroic era base at Cape Evans, and to experience a slice of life on the Ice, visit the conservators’ permanent blog on the Natural History Museum website.

Read more guest blog posts from the Antarctic Heritage Trust:
Conservation in Antarctica
Antarctica’s first bicycle

The Australian National Maritime Museum thanks Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ and Natural History Museum London for their recent guest blog posts in celebration of Scott’s Last Expedition, here at the museum until 16 October 2011.

Antarctica’s first bicycle – Guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust 2/3

Author: Jane Hamill, Antarctic Heritage Trust NZ Winter Conservator

Jane conserving bicycle parts

Jane conserving bicycle parts. Photo:

The Antarctic Heritage Trust‘s winter conservation team has been working on conserving the first bicycle in Antarctica as part of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. The bicycle originally belonged to the mechanic Bernard Day. It came to Antarctica on Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910 – 1913) but was first used by the geologist Thomas Griffith Taylor on the 8th of October 1911. Scott granted Taylor permission to cycle from Cape Evans out to Turk’s Head, although he actually cycled as far as the Erebus Glacier Tongue. Taylor carried out a rough survey of the area and then, exhausted, began the return journey to Cape Evans carrying the bicycle over his head. It seems that it was never used again. 

The bicycle today

The bicycle today. Photo:

The bicycle was stored on the roof of the garage at Cape Evans after Taylor’s little expedition and was probably moved indoors in the 1960s during work on the hut. We began conservation work on the bicycle last year and are now finishing it up. The metal is very heavily corroded and the bicycle is in many pieces but we are hoping to put it back on display in the stables this summer. For more information on our conservation work and life on the Ice, take a look at our blog which is hosted on the Natural History Museum’s website.

Taylor’s map Cape Royds to Hut Point
Taylor’s map, Cape Royds to Hut Point. Photo:

Read another guest blog from the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Great Scott! The online debate

Why did Amundsen survive and Scott perish? Was Scott really a failure?  Who made the greater contribution in the Heroic Age of Antarctic discovery?

Join our online debate with Pulitzer prize-winning author Professor Edward Larson and gastronomic academic Diana Noyce.  Ask your question or let us know what you think in the comment section of this blog post.

So… what do you think? Was Scott a  failure or a hero?

Scott and the Polar Party at the South Pole.

Scott and the Polar Party at the South Pole. Licensed with permission of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.


In 1912 Norway’s Roald Amundsen and Britain’s Captain Robert Falcon Scott set off across 500 miles of snow and ice in the first race of its kind to the South Pole. In appalling weather conditions, Scott and the other four members of his team perished on the return leg of their journey. Amundsen returned to his native Norway a hero.

Professor Edward Larson:
‘Given the drama of the British death march, the remarkable efficiency of the Norwegian effort, it should not be surprising that historians and popularizers alike have focused the narrative of these expeditions on the quest for the Pole.   As a historian of science, however, I’m drawn to science.  Researchers on Scott’s two Antarctic expeditions and the intervening one led by Ernest Shackleton opened an unknown continent to science and enriched our understanding of global meteorological, biological, and oceanographic systems.  For the first time, they proved that the southern continents were once linked and offered surprising evidence of climate change.  To me, not only are these stories of doing science in extreme conditions at least as gripping as those about getting to the Pole, they are part of a more significant narrative that continues today in the vast amount of research still conducted in the Antarctic…

The polar trek of Amundsen and his men was a remarkable human feat.  Scott and his men, however, contributed something more than gaining the Pole.  They advanced human knowledge of an unknown continent and its place in global systems.’

Read an edited transcript of Professor Larson’s talk:
Scott, Amundsen and Science 100 Years Later
Order Professor Larson’s book Empire of Ice from the Museum Store
Empire of Ice by Edward Larson

Diana Noyce:
‘In summary, food played a vital role in the race to the South Pole. A mere glance at Scott’s diet reveals that it was inadequate, completely lacking in vitamins and low on calories…Scott’s men ate white bread. Amundsen’s team ate brown bread fortified with wheat germ and leavened with fresh yeast, as well as Lindström’s buckwheat cakes, all good sources of B vitamins…

Moreover, being Norwegians, Amundsen and his men were more inured to the climate, both physically and mentally, as well as the long months of winter darkness, and the long summer days. Skiing was second nature to them. Some commentators have argued that Scott’s Polar clothing was inadequate. However, it has been recently proven that Scott’s woollen and Burberry clothing was suitable for manhauling. The fur anoraks that Amundsen’s men wore and which was suitable for sledging, would have been too hot for Scott’s manhauling team. In the end it was the dogs that Amundsen took to the Pole that contributed to his success. They were not only their means of fast and efficient transport, but they also provided companionship for the men, as well as providing fresh meat, a valuable source of nutrition…

In conclusion, to quote Sir Humphrey Gilbert, the 16th century adventurer, explorer and soldier—He is not worthy to live at all, who for fear and danger of death shunneth his country’s service or his own honour, since death is inevitable and the fame of virtue immortal—were these words on Scott’s mind as he lay dying in his tent with his two companions? Was his immortality assured by dying, rather than returning home a defeated man? He certainly knew of these words as they are to be found in his journal.’

Read an edited transcript Noyce’s talk:
Hoosh, Dogs and Seal Meat: The Role of Food in the Race to the South Pole

To commemorate the centenary of the Terra Nova expedition and celebrate its achievements the Natural History Museum, London, the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand and the Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand, have collaborated to create Scott’s Last Expedition, an international travelling exhibition.

This online debate follows on from talks held at the Australian National Maritime Museum on 31 July 2011 by Professor Edward Larson and Diana Noyce  in conjunction with the exhibition Scott’s Last Expedition. The talks generated a lot of debate and strong opinions across the floor about the successes and failures of the Terra Nova expedition.

We invite you to contribute to the conversation… Share your comments.