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SPRI Review 1998: Library and Information Service

Library and Information Service

Archives and Museum

Archivist: R.K. Headland

Despite some problems during the construction of the extension, the 1997-98 period was another active year, although services to visitors became somewhat restricted during its course. Although the Museum was closed for the entire academic year, much work was done in preparation for re-opening and several gifts were received.

Lectures were delivered to several organizations, both internally and elsewhere; these included the Belgica Symposium in Brussels commemorating the centenary of that expedition, O/yas Venne (Oslo), the Britain-Australia Society, the Polar Postal History Society, and the Society for the History of Natural History, as well as one of the public lectures at the Institute and lectures to student associations. Productive liaison was maintained with several organizations that it had been possible to visit last year, including the Canterbury Museum and the Antarctic Centre (Christchurch) and the Alexander Turnbull Library (Wellington).

The AAP Mawson's Hut Project has done well after much work in the 1997-98 austral summer. A visit by Mr David Jensen allowed improvement of coordination with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Subsequently, the New Zealand AHT was involved and useful cooperation developed; we all have essentially similar problems with historic structures in Antarctica. Some liaison with the Instituto Antartico Argentino is also becoming practicable; they have done much work with the three huts of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1902-04) and the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-04). Meetings of Mawson's Hut Foundation and the New Zealand AHT were attended in Sydney and Christchurch, respectively. At the latter the opportunity was taken to present, on behalf of Sir Vivian Fuchs, some instruments from the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58) for display in the TAE Hut at Scott Base, Antarctica.

The archivist and curator was again requested to lecture on history and geography during voyages to polar regions. The Antarctic one was useful in examining some of the South Shetland Islands sites described in Charles Poynter's recently discovered diary from Edward Bransfield's voyage (to be published by the Hakluyt Society). Opportunities to visit the Antarctic museum in Ushuaia, in a refurbished former prison, and the Instituto Antartico Argentino in Buenos Aires were taken. The former is exhibiting some fascinating displays in individual cells. From the Arctic voyage, direct information regarding the state of the Russian Arctic was obtained; this indicated deepening financial problems with the polar stations and many related services. Research continues to suffer severely from extreme financial constraint.

Information was provided for the usual selection of organizations, which included: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Royal Navy (for HMS Endurance), Crown Agents (stamp design), the Royal Geographical Society (polar records), the National Geographic Society (several historical inquiries and a Shackleton exhibition), South African National Antarctic Expeditions, and the South Georgia Whaling Museum. Harry King and the archivist contributed to making a television film that made an efficient examination of some of the problems experienced by Captain Scott's last expedition. A major polar display in Bonn, to be in the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle, was supplied with much information and advice. One of the results of this was the publication of an encyclopaedia Arktis Antarktis. Polar artifacts gathered from collections in many parts of Europe are displayed in this exhibition. Similarly a Belgian Antarctic exhibition was assisted with information about several British expeditions.

The series concise notes and information papers were maintained and distributed both as paper and electronic forms. Preparation for the revision of the Antarctic Chronology continued, incorporating much useful information came from the South African Navy. An analysis, helped by the International Whaling Commission, allowed much information to be incorporated for the whaling fleets including correction of falsified data previously submitted by the Soviet Union whaling expeditions.


The prodigious increase in prices for documents and artifacts with a polar association, mentioned in SPRI Review - 97, continued. Despite the building works, the Archives were available to booked readers throughout the year with an exception of several weeks when work in the immediate vicinity of the repository was underway (during this the door was sealed with adhesive tapes). The subsequent cleaning was much easier than anticipated, as ingress of dust was, most fortunately, minor.

Facilities for readers were, to say the least, less than fully comfortable during the building (one resorted to use of ear protectors) but they arrived, as usual, from all continents. 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 several of these visitors, as well as from Argentine and Netherlands sources.

Norwegian contact, particularly with O/yas Venne (Friends of South Georgia), continued to be productive. The organization is now planning a visit to South Georgia in the 1998-99 austral summer. The previously strong interest in Shackleton expeditions increased this year with the prospect of a major exhibition in the American Museum of Natural History. This has been deferred six months and is now planned to open in 1999. One consequence was the number of readers specialising in associated papers; almost half of the longer term readers were working on Shackleton papers. Several visits allowed a former student, Mr Damien Gildea, to complete a detailed chronology of Antarctic mountaineering, which he published in October 1998.

A major acquisition was the papers of Mr A.G.E. Jones, a long-established and indefatigable investigator of biography and many related subjects. This includes two full filing cabinets of research papers, extensive card indices, maps, books and other publications, and much else. Voluntary assistance came from several persons who assisted with cataloguing material: Mr A. Billinghurst helped with several projects, including transport and preparation of the large amount of material received from Mr Jones.


The Museum was closed for the entire reporting period while its space was occupied by offices, the map collection, and other displaced sections of the Institute. As the extension was completed, work began on a comprehensive refurbishment of the exhibitions, which will be completed for the reopening. A series of 35 mm slides was taken during the construction period, which, with a sound track also recorded, will serve as a reminder of an exceptional year.

Cdr Malcolm Burley gave a collection of relics from a wreck he investigated from Elephant Island in the South Shetland Islands, the provenance of this was a mystery and several hypotheses were proposed. Dendrochronological and other investigation has ruled out some possibilities and the most likely one is that the wreck is of a United States sealing vessel, Charles Shearer, lost in 1877. During the forthcoming austral summer the master of HMS Endurance hopes to collect some more samples that may allow the mystery to be solved. In anticipation of it being of historic significance, the site was designated a Historic Site (number 74) by the XXII Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

Gifts for the museum were received from Mrs Verite Andree, Miss Margaret Day, Mr Jack Seeley, the estate of Katherine Law, and several others. The opportunity of visiting Edward Wilson House, in company with Dr David Wilson, was taken, and the collection of Antarctic watercolours held there was seen and some advice on conservation given. By a remarkable series of coincidences, a spar was received from Mr William Byrne; it is the last surviving relic from Shackleton's vessel Endurance. This was prepared for display and is to mounted in the Shackleton Library extension of the Institute. Sir Vivian Fuchs gave the first Fuchs Medal to the museum, this had been presented originally to him when the award was instituted.

Miss Lucy Martin continued to assist with entering data for the computer listing of the museum catalogue, which will be incorporated with a future catalogue of the Archives and that of the Library to produce a unified SPRI catalogue.