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SPRI Review 2000: SPRI Review 2000

SPRI Review 2000

Archives and Museum

Archivist: R.K. Headland

The number of current and approaching centenaries of the 'Heroic Age' of Antarctic exploration, combined with contemporary attempts at reaching the North Pole, has continued to stimulate much interest in both polar regions. One of the results was much activity with the archives and museum, as well as an increase in the number of lectures delivered and conferences and commemorations attended. Much of this was in Britain but more developments continued in the United States, Ireland, France, Germany, and several other countries. Some of these lecturing engagements also provided useful opportunities for research in other museums and archives.

The archivist was aboard Kapitan Khlebnikov during part of December 1999 and January 2000 when the ship visited the Ross Dependency region of Antarctica. On the second of these voyages, a group of Friends of the Institute was aboard. The voyages went well and, as previously, afforded an excellent opportunity of uniting theoretical and practical knowledge of that part of Antarctica. The timing was also useful because of the numerous centenaries of the 'Heroic Age' approaching. Contact with the New Zealand branch of the Antarctic Heritage Trust was reinforced and visits to study the Institute's collections made by Roberta Farrell and Nigel Watson (the new secretary). The amount and efficiency of the work continuing with the four historic huts, and the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition hut at Scott Base, was impressive. Other visits overseas were made to the Arctic, including a transit of the Northeast Passage, and to Ireland for several events concerning Sir Ernest Shackleton and others associated with his expeditions (particularly Tom Crean). In the summer Arctic voyages reinforced the contacts with several archives and museums, particularly those in Provideniya and Longyearbyen.

Other international polar associations involved the Øyas Venner (Friends of South Georgia) from Norway who, following their visits last year obtained an excellent Norwegian bible that the Institute arranged to transmit to the whalers' church in Grytviken. The Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands submitted a draft environmental management plan on which some submissions were made. Some of these also involved the Falkland Islands archivist, Miss Jane Cameron, who was concerned about the preservation of the early buildings on King Edward Point. During the year, lectures were delivered to the Falmouth Arts Society, Anglo-Siberian Oil, Falkland Islands Philatelic Study Group, Society for Visiting Scholars, and others. Films from Scott and Shackleton were shown for events organised by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Liaison with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hakluyt Society, Hydrographic Office, James Caird Society, Royal Geographical Society, and other organisations on matters of mutual interest was maintained. Specific advice was given to a proposed Combined Services Expedition to Chukotka, which, for diplomatic reasons, was to redeploy to South Georgia.

The current prominence of interest in the polar regions was abundantly demonstrated during two major sales at Christies. Some advice and specialist opinions were provided before the sales on artifacts and documents, but despite much effort in raising funds, the prices fetched were beyond the Institute's resources. It was, however, possible, by negotiation, to obtain copies of some important documents. The curator also acted as a specialist referee for funding applications from other organisations to the National Heritage Lottery Fund. Work on maintaining the Antarctic chronology continued and, particularly as a result of visits to overseas archive collections, this is nearing completion for publication. A meeting with the Cambridge University Press indicates this will probably be during 2001. Correspondence with many colleagues in Argentina, Chile, France, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Poland, and South Africa has brought most of these records up to 2000, but some other national data are still needed to fill significant recent gaps.

There were several authors working with archival material, including readers completing biographies on Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Frank Hurley, and Sir James Wordie. Other readers prepared material for several publications. Information was provided for many purposes, including the revised polar medals directory, a French exhibition concerned with the Northwest Passage, the Dictionary of Irish biography, three film groups involved with the expeditions of Sir Ernest Shackleton, and many others. The appointments system worked well in general, especially with improved arrangement of the readers' room. A few clashed bookings and periods where a reader could, unfortunately, not be accommodated were inevitable, but most of these were satisfactorily resolved. This was especially so when only short notice was given by a reader.

Mr Alan Crawford made additions to his gift of Tristan da Cunha and other islands materials, which included detailed indexed files of his philatelic research. Dr Donald Parry gave a set of photographs and reports of the resumption of the Antarctic whaling industry after the critical period of the Second World War. A generous benefaction from the Courtauld family enabled Gino Watkins papers and associated materials to be acquired, which complement the other papers from his expedition very effectively. A contract was exchanged with Mr J. Bugayer for the publication of the fourth volume of the South Polar Times, which will include a review of the publication and general index to all volumes. It is intended that the new volume be in the style of its predecessors in as far as is practicable.

The cataloguing of the papers of Mr A.G.E. Jones continued, with much assistance from Mr A. Billinghurst. The principal index is now complete and, after reconciliation, will be typed for distribution. A very useful part of the cataloguing has been associating the extensive published papers of Mr Jones with his research notes.

Numbers of museum visitors returned to normal after the disruption of the building extension. Unfortunately a shortage of staff and volunteers made Saturday afternoon opening difficult from autumn 2000, but it is hoped this will soon be alleviated. The requirements of safety and security are always a consideration, and, in the new circumstances several improvements in both have been made. Film groups from the BBC (Franklin material), France (Franklin and the Arctic in general), and Germany (principally Shackleton) were accommodated, which resulted in useful contributions to revenue. Mr Larry Rockwell was of particular assistance with the film groups, as well as with several other museum matters.

Many persons continued to show great consideration of and generosity to the Institute, with some exceptional gifts. Dr Charles Swithinbank gave sets of ski and polar clothing, including a selection of footwear from the 1950s. The naval sword that belonged to Captain Roderick Day, formerly of Morning, was given by his son's widow, Mrs A. Day. David Sheppard gave a full bottle of special ale made for the British Arctic Expedition (1875-76). Mr Chris Hereward presented a hot-water plate from the Discovery voyage (1901-04). A silver tea service originally presented to Sir Ernest Shackleton when he lectured in New York, has been lodged with the Institute by Dr Jean Peacey. The Guild of Health in Edward Wilson House, London, which was referred to in the previous report, has eventually been forced to sell its premises, and the watercolours by Edward Wilson were transferred to the Institute. Dr David Wilson greatly assisted in this.

Investigation of the wreckage from Elephant Island continued, and more samples were collected by men from HMS Endurance for examination. This has virtually confirmed the Charles Shearer hypothesis (she was a schooner, built in Essex, Massachusetts, in 1865 and displaced only 97 tons).

Two major exhibitions on Antarctic history opened late in 2000 in London: at the National Maritime Museum and Dulwich College. Much information was provided for both and a selection of artifacts lent to them. The former is to last for more than a year and the latter three months. The Institute's special exhibition for 2000 was on Antarctic meteorology as part of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Royal Meteorological Society. With much assistance from the Royal Meteoro-logical Office and British Antarctic Survey, a display of instruments from the 1850s to 2000 was prepared and a reception held during the commemorative week. Many of these were from the 'Heroic Age'. An investigation of the meteorological conditions when Scott's expedition was returning across the Ross Ice Shelf was made by Susan Solomon of the National Science Foundation while the exhibition was being arranged. Her research indicated that exceptional temperatures, as much as 20°C below average, were encountered during the last weeks of the polar party, which was undoubtedly a contributory factor to their fate.