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First Across:
1955-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition

An exhibition to mark its 50th anniversary

17 January-26 April 2008
See: Opening times for the exhibition and the Museum

First Across poster

The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1955-58 (TAE) successfully completed the first overland crossing of Antarctica, via the South Pole. This journey of 3,473 km (2,158 miles) from the Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound took just ninety-nine days, from 24 November 1957 to 2 March 1958. It was timed to capitalise on the global interest already generated by the International Geophysical Year programme of 1957-58.

The Commonwealth-sponsored expedition was funded by the governments of the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, as well as private and corporate donations, under the patronage of Queen Elizabeth II. It was headed by British explorer Vivian Fuchs, with New Zealander Edmund Hillary leading the supply support team. The parties also included scientists participating in International Geophysical Year research, carrying out seismic soundings, glaciology, meteorology and geology. The continent was not crossed again until 1981.

The TAE consisted of two teams: the Crossing Party, led by Dr (later Sir) Vivian Fuchs and the Ross Sea Party, led by Sir Edmund Hillary. The Ross Sea Party was responsible for supporting the Crossing Party, by building a base at McMurdo Sound, laying supply depots and establishing a vehicle route from the Polar Plateau through the Western mountains and back to Ross Island.

Of all the achievements during the International Geophysical Year, the TAE particularly captured the imagination of the world. This exhibition brings together the personal memorabilia of Sir Vivian Fuchs with items from the Scott Polar Research Institute museum and archive collections.