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SPRI Review 1995: SPRI Review 1995

SPRI Review 1995

Archives and Museum

R.K. Headland, Archivist and museum curator
A. Billinghurst, P. Hogg, R. Wilbraham

The services of both the museum and archives continued to cater to a very wide variety of inquirers. This was made easier and more efficient because revenue continued to be available to employ an assistant, Phillipa Hogg, on a regular basis. Much volunteer help was provided by Mr Tony Billinghurst with the photographs and Mr Ron Wilbraham with archival and museum work.

The occasion of the centenary of the International Geographical Congress, which adopted the resolution initiating a major concentration on Antarctic exploration, was commemorated by a colloquium in Sandefjord, Norway. This provided another opportunity to reinforce links with Norwegian activities, especially as the new Director of the South Georgia Whaling Museum was also able to attend. The occasion was also that of founding of an 'Antarktisk Forum' with the object of centralising information held privately by several families descendent from those involved in the exploration at the beginning of this century. Copies of certain material held at the Institute have been provided to Norwegian organizations, and a list of archives held there is in preparation. Requests to lecture aboard passenger vessels were again accepted, which, as well as maintaining practical contact with the polar regions, allowed direct experience of the changing state of affairs in the Arctic.

The number of readers requesting documents and callers to see artifacts was approximately the same as in the previous year. Visitors came from many associated institutes, including representatives from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage, Terres Australes et Antarctiques Française (for Iles Kerguelen historical material), Estonian Academy of Sciences, Russian Institute of Geography, and Roald Amundsens Minne. Questions in correspondence continued to be voluminous, although a proportion of inquirers were advised to visit to conduct their own research.


A somewhat greater number of readers were accommodated than during the previous year and, even with additional staff, the importance of the booking system became apparent. A small increase in general inquiries also occurred and the customary information requests from Crown Agents and various others continued.

John Béchervaise's biography of John Rymill was published in the spring, and the work by Admiral James Ross on the two polar Rosses (John and James Clarke), based to a great extent on material held by the Institute, appeared shortly afterwards. The regular work in maintaining the Antarctic chronology also continued (it now exceeds 3800 entries).

Several important acquisitions were made during this year, including the research collections of Mr Alan Crawford, a most comprehensive set of material about Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Bouvetøya, the Prince Edward Islands, and other parts of this region. These papers came in excellent order, which allowed them to be catalogued quickly. Rev Gavin White kindly gave his research papers concerning the Canadian Arctic, which were also incorporated quite rapidly. Gifts of original and copied manuscripts were received from several other sources, which gave constant reminders of the generosity of benefactors and their consideration of the Institute.

For many years papers from the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition have been received from several sources. A review of these confirmed that the principal set was correct and provided a reasonably complete set of duplicates. These, with the consent of Sir Vivian Fuchs, were offered to the New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme, which is maintaining one of the original 'Scott Base' huts on Ross Island, from where the New Zealand contingent of the expedition worked. It is intended that these papers make their way to the island to be part of the historical information available there.

The monitoring of environmental conditions and conservation work continued. A new supplier of acid-free folders, suitable for the document cabinets, was found. Contributions from the Friends of SPRI for archival conservation were particularly useful.


Visitor numbers were slightly greater, particularly because of the new 'Science at the Poles' exhibition maintained in cooperation with the British Antarctic Survey. This was improved with large colour prints generously provided by the Survey. The publication of Admiral Ross' book was a timely excuse for a display on 'The Polar Rosses.' This exhibited a range of published and manuscript works, including a flag and a pennant that flew over the Arctic and the Antarctic approximately 150 years ago. A small exhibition to show some of the history of Scott Polar Research Institute was arranged prior to the seventy-fifth anniversary commemorations.

Several visiting groups were again accommodated and a small increase in booked school parties occurred. Attention was drawn to the state of Edward Bransfield's grave in Brighton and 'redevelopment' of the cemetery. Liaison with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments may help its preservation. The largest gift received, from a physical aspect, was a portrait of the Arctic explorer Frederick Jackson, given by his regiment. He appears in polar clothing; the portrait awaits cleaning and display in a Franz-Josef Land exhibition. Plates of some of the Institute's scrimshaw were made available for a comprehensive work on the subject by Dr Janet West, prepared in cooperation with the Hull Maritime Museum.

Useful revenue was received from the public donation box, but there was one unfortunate occurrence. A large plate window was smashed by thieves and the box robbed. Much stronger glass and other precautions are now present. As for many years previously, the contribution from several of the Friends of the Institute in invigilating the museum and assisting with sales was invaluable, especially during the busy summer and tourist season.