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SPRI Review 1996: Archives and museum

Archives and museum

R.K. Headland

The accustomed levels of activity continued with these divisions with a wide variety and geographical extent of requests. Liaison with several associated institutes continued and, in one case, was established. The latter was the Roald Amundsens Minne, which is preparing a new display at his birthplace (polar maps and material representing Captain Scott's expeditions were provided). Photographs, textual information, and several accumulated items for return were provided for the South Georgia Whaling Museum at Grytviken.

It was a good period for anniversaries. Sir Raymond Priestley's lecture notes and lantern slides were used to present his Antarctic lecture on the occasion of the Institute's seventy-fifth anniversary. They were projected with the original 'magic lantern' purchased by Professor Frank Debenham. Both the Australian and French Antarctic institutes were celebrating 50 years, and it was possible to provide tabulated historical information for each dating from the earliest records of relevant activities. An archaeological examination of the several French peri-Antarctic islands (Îles Kerguelen, Crozet, Saint-Paul, and Amsterdam) also benefited from these data.

Lectures were delivered to several organizations, both locally and in their premises; these included the National Maritime Museum, Royal Geographical Society, Society for Visiting Scholars, and Polar Postal History Association. The archivist and curator was requested to lecture on polar journeys; one of these reached the South Pole and another was aboard the first surface vessel to reach the northern Pole of Inaccessibility (during a very favourable ice year). The reinforcement of theory by experience of these regions was greatly appreciated.

The organizations for which information was provided included: Eton College (Sir John Phipps), the Bulgarian Antarctic Club (maps and toponomy), Crown Agents (stamp design), the Hydrographic Office (revision of the Arctic and Antarctic planning charts), New Zealand television (the sub-Antarctic islands), the National Geographic Society (several biographical inquiries), and the Royal Geographical Society (polar traverses). There was a peculiar concentration on the Bering Strait: three members of the public arrived with long inquiries about crossing it by various methods.

Among the many visitors received was the former Curator of the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, Mr David Harrowfield, who undertook an amount of research on documents and artifacts during what was his first visit. He indicated an intention of making several subsequent ones.

The electronic age continues its advance; thus a selection of information about the Archives and museum is now displayed on the internet systems. The series of 'fact-sheets,' derived from the Antarctic chronology and several other sources is also presented.

Cataloguing continued and the availability, for the year, of a part-time assistant, Mrs P. Hogg, was a great asset. Miss Jan Nonely also continued helping catalogue the Frank Illingworth papers, which include a rather large range of subjects. The backlog remains but is much reduced.


A vast order for copying the diaries of Jane, Lady Franklin was completed for the Mitchell Library in Sydney; as well as providing a copy for conservation purposes, this is of assistance to antipodean scholars. Similarly, copies of many documents were supplied for the Fridtjof Nansen centenary exhibition in Oslo. Others were exchanged for copies of material held at Dulwich College when an exhibition of 'Shackletoniana' was presented by the James Caird Society.

Acquisition of archival items by purchase was also a major work, especially because prices showed an prodigious increase during the year. Sales at Exmouth and London were attended with mixed success - some national funds were available but proved inadequate for several items.

The continuing generosity shown to the Institute enabled several major acquisitions to be made. Mr Alan Crawford deposited his extensive collection on Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island, Bouvetøya, and the Prince Edward Islands. This arrived most efficiently catalogued, a matter most appreciated, which allowed it to be accessible rapidly. Other gifts included a detailed series of Icelandic notes received courtesy of the Photogrammetric Society; Mr Richard Milwood gave some photographic albums of the voyages of William Scoresby; the archivist of Peterhouse College lodged the diaries of L. Hugh McCabe, which cover Iceland and Svalbard; a set of British North Greenland Expedition photographs were given, and several welcome contributions came from Miss Fauno Cordes.

Readers arrived, as usual, from around the world. During this year the comprehensive set of Antarctic Treaty documents was frequently consulted by readers from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sweden, as well as Britain. Maintaining the chronological records of Antarctica was assisted by much information from these visitors as well as from Argentina and the Netherlands.