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SPRI Review 2001: Archives and Museum

Archives and Museum

Archivist: R.K. Headland

The year 2000-01 was a busy one for these divisions of the Institute, and was particularly notable for the number of major acquisitions.

The prevalent number of polar centenaries in general (mainly Antarctic ones), with a continuance of the strong interest in Sir Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions, made the 2000-01 academic year an unusually active one for the Archives and Museum. The number and locations of lectures delivered, and conferences and commemorations attended, exceeded the number last year; the Institute was represented in the Antarctic, Argentina, the United States, Sweden, Ireland, and Finland. In Britain, lectures, mainly on historical themes, were given in London, Harwich, Whitemore, and Belfast, as well as Cambridge.

The various visits, especially abroad, were coincidentally useful in studies of several historical matters, yielding, for example, more details to resolve the origin of the Elephant Island wreckage, many useful additions to the Antarctic chronology, and liaison on maintenance of historic sites. Contacts were reinforced with many organisations allied to the Institute. Similarly, periods lecturing aboard passenger vessels, which permitted visits to the historical huts of the Ross Dependency, the Northwest Passage, and the North Pole, were also productive. These also provided opportunities to visit polar museums in Provideniya, Anchorage, Melbourne, Hobart, Invercargill, Dunedin, and Christchurch.

The archivist and curator accepted an appointment as an advisory editor for Geographical Magazine. Information was provided for the annual Tristan da Cunha Association meeting, the Hydrographic Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the US State Department, the Royal Geographical Society, and the USS Glacier Foundation, as well as several similar bodies. Likewise the History Channel, Channel 4, and several radio programmes sought interviews and broadcasts, especially regarding the items in the Christie's sale. Specific advice was given to the Army Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic Peninsula, and it is hoped that they will be able to reconcile some of the archival charts from whalers in the 1920s with the current disposition of glacier fronts and relics remaining in the region. Similarly, a programme was suggested for a forthcoming services expedition to South Georgia.

Among the outstanding events of the year was the polar sale at Christie's in London, September 2001, which involved a large amount of archival material and many important artifacts. Many of these were part of an estate descended from Sir Ernest Shackleton. As well as the accustomed necessity for raising substantial funds at comparatively short notice, the satisfactory resolution of a complicated bequest was necessary. Fortunately, much help was provided by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, the Antarctic Heritage Trust, a private benefactor, and several others. With a large amount of goodwill and advice from the legal profession, circumstances developed very satisfactorily. The museum and archives benefited by major acquisitions at the end of the reporting year: presently cataloguing and conservation are underway. The microfilm services of the University Library, with some recently acquired equipment, have already made very clear copies of some of the more delicate documents.


As well as the continuing interest in Sir Ernest Shackleton and his expeditions, readers working on several other subjects were frequent. A much larger than average number of books for which the archives had provided major sources were published, including Fergus Fleming's Ninety degrees north, Ian Hart's Pesca, Judy Skelton and David Wilson's Discovery illustrated, Susan Soloman's The coldest March, Sara Wheeler's Cherry: a life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, and David Wilson and D. Elder's Cheltenham in Antarctica. The appointments system for readers worked well in general, but there were some clashes and busy periods when readers could not be accommodated, especially when only short notice was given.

Information was sought by, and provided to most of, the usual large number of inquirers, including details of Iles Kerguelen, Falkland Islands Dependencies Magistrates, South Georgia decontamination programme (1990), and the Instituto Antartico Chileno. Gifts were received from Dr Donald Parry (whaling papers), Mr Douglas Vedoe (Arctic diary of Anton M. Vedoe), Mr Pat Bamford (Frank Worsley papers), Mrs Rosemary Sparrow (letters, photographs, and an 'Arctic profile' of Hector Pitchforth), Mrs Crystabel Stirling (John Saffrey and the Falkland Islands Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition), and additional papers from Mr Alan Crawford (Tristan da Cunha). A transcript of Percy Blackborrow's Endurance diary was given by his descendants.

Cataloguing of the papers of Mr A.G.E. Jones continued with assistance from A. Billinghurst. It is intended that the list be incorporated directly into the computer records of the collections. Another volunteer, Deirdre Hanna has been of great help in entering archival records on computer records and preparing documents for this process.


As well as the long-term displays, two special exhibitions were arranged in the museum. Miss Hannah Mornement's photographs of Sir Douglas Mawson's hut and the restoration work at Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica were exhibited for five months and complemented several other similar projects at Antarctica's historic huts. The comprehensive journal kept until his death by Lt Belgrave Ninnis, a member of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, had passed to the Mornement family, which kindly allowed the three volumes to be shown as part of the exhibition. Subsequently, they generously permitted a copy to be made for retention.

The Antarctic photographic exhibition was followed by an Arctic photographic exhibition by Mr Wim van Passel entitled 'Timeless moments,' with most welcome contributions from the Royal Netherlands Embassy. These covered Svalbard, northern Norway, and Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa. A 4 m square weatherproof display sign was pro-vided to advertise it, which presently decorates an outer wall of the Institute.

Of the several investigations made, one was the solution of a fascinating mystery; Andree's pigeon. The literature reports only one of the 36 carrier pigeons taken on a fatally unsuccessful Swedish North Pole expedition in 1897, led by Salomon Andree, is extant. Pigeons, both with good provenance, are displayed in the Institute and in the Andreesmuseet at Granna, Sweden. Examination of the pigeon here found identification stamps under its wings, which, with much literature research by Tyrone Martinsson in Sweden, confirmed its authenticity, but, happily, also determined that two pigeons of the expedition had survived, only one of which found its way into literature. The Institute's pigeon had been named Lakme by the lady whom Nils Strindberg would have married if he had survived the expedition.

The Institute exceptionally lent material to two exhibitions in London, which were listed in the previous annual report. The Dulwich exhibition finished with very successful results, and the Greenwich one was able to extend its period with artifacts remaining until early 2002. The numbers of museum visitors rose owing to the apparently increasing public interest in matters polar, but regular Saturday afternoon opening was not re-established. The requirements of safety and security have remained a problem. Larry Rockwell was of particular assistance with the film groups, as well as with several other museum matters. Jennifer Hirsh has assisted as a volunteer in entering the museum catalogue on computer files and reconciling the results with locations in the store and displays.

Identifications and advice were provided about a sealer's lance (Puerto Valdes Museum, Argentina), a 'walrus harpoon' (Scott's Terra Nova expedition, shown in use in 90° South), and excavation of relics from Sir John Franklin's expedition. Plans continue for replacing the exhibition of photographs in the northwest section of the museum by a British Antarctic Survey display.