The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration began in the late 1890’s and ended in 1917 with the safe return of Shackleton’s Trans Antarctic expedition. Between these years, explorers such as Gerlache (1897-99), Borchgrevink (1898-00), Drygalski (1901-03), Nordenskjöld (1901-03), Charcot (1908-10), and Mawson (1911-14) mounted expeditions to explore this hitherto unknown continent, and Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton began their fierce race to become the first men to stand at the South Pole.
Of these expeditions, it is the tragic story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his Terra Nova Expedition of 1910-13 that captured the imagination of the public. He became a national hero, his story ‘South with Scott’ by expedition second in command Edward Evans, was read by school children throughout Great Britain in the 1920’s and 30’s as an aspirational example of British pluck. In his last letter, written as he lay dying inside a blizzard bound tent, Scott wrote
Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.
The Terra Nova Expedition hut at Cape Evans, built early in 1911, was used as a base by Captain Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913. A utility room was added by subsequent expeditions, but today, with Mount Erebus in the background, the hut has hardly changed.
Captain Scott stands in front of Mount Erebus, and today, a more recent explorer recreates the picture.
Walls of packing cases and storage shelves were built to divide the hut into sections and separate the officers and scientists quarters from those of the ratings. As a Royal Navy man, Scott believed this was a more comfortable arrangement for all the men, and no one seems to have disagreed with him. The scientists got on with their science on one side of the partition, and the men took care of equipment, stores, and housekeeping on the other.
“At the end of the north wall in the officers’ quarters was an open-ended enclosure of the most modest architectural merit. This, in great simplicity, housed Cavalry Captain Oates, Lieutenant Bowers, Dr Atkinson, the zoologist Garrard and the dog expert Meares.” – Tryggve Gran, diary
Apparently, Oates’ bunk was so unsteady that he preferred to spend his time with the horses in the adjacent stables.
Captain Scott making notes in his private quarters. His socks, finnesko boots, and hot water bottle on the shelves behind him, are still in place.
This famous photograph was taken by Herbert Ponting during a dinner celebrating Scott’s birthday on June 6th, the menu consisted of seal soup, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fried potatoes and brussel sprouts. Mid- winter celebrations were also held on 22nd June, when plum-pudding, mince pies and savoury of anchovy and cod’s roe were served. Some of the enamel dishes and jugs used by the expedition, can still be seen on the table.
Catering for the expedition must have been a difficult job for the cook, Thomas Clissold, who experimented endlessly to find creative recipes using seal and penguin meat that would appeal to the men. The galley shelves hold many brands that are still available today; Marmite, Heinz Beans & Tomato Ketchup, Colmans mustard, Fry’s cocoa, Lyle’s sugar and Golden Syrup, Lipton Tea and coffee, as well as canned fruit and vegetables.
Meteorologist George Simpson, or ‘Sunny Jim’ as he became known, set up the first meteorological stations on the Antarctic continent, making meticulous observations of temperature and wind speed at Cape Evans. He was the first person to launch a weather balloon in order to study the effects of altitude on temperature. Some of his equipment is still in the hut.
Edward Atkinson was bacteriologist and parasitologist on the Terra Nova Expedition. He took command during the last year at Cape Evans and succeeded in maintaining morale amongst the shore party after the tragic discovery of the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers.
The photographs taken by Herbert Ponting ,’Camera Artist’, have brought the Terra Nova Expedition to life for many generations. This is his darkroom in the expedition hut, still full of the chemicals and equipment he used to process his films. Ponting also slept in this room, giving him some measure of privacy that not all members of the shore party enjoyed.
Adelie penguins apparently have a taste for Golden Syrup. There is still plenty of syrup left in the hut, but these days the penguins have more sophisticated tastes.
The crew of the Terra Nova enjoying scenes of sea ice on their voyage. The passengers of Ortelius also spent many hours enjoying breathtaking scenery and looking out for seals and penguins on the sea ice.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust began a programme of conservation of the hut at Cape Evans in 2008. This has included making the hut structurally sound, weather proof and conserving over 11,000 artefacts that were found inside the hut. This New Zealand based charity looks after five historic huts in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica with the aim of conserving Antarctica’s heritage for future generation, and sharing the stories of these great explorers for education and inspiration.