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SPRI Review 2003: Archives


The archival collections of the Institute, housed in a purpose-built temperature- and humidity-controlled environment, continue to be an internationally renowned resource for scholars of the polar regions. Readers dealing with matters Antarctic were the majority of those accommodated during this academic year. At present, there is considerable interest in the expeditions of Sir Ernest Shackleton, especially the relatively little known one aboard Nimrod (1907-09) and the Ross Sea Party (Aurora, 1914-17), but much work was also done on Captain Scott. A peculiar feature of the Shackleton interest was several inquirers independently seeking details of the whereabouts of Endurance. While much material was made available, there is doubt about whether the wreck has maintained any integrity — perhaps the engine at least may remain to be found. Archival material was also provided for an exhibition in London where Ernest Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds was declared as one of the top 100 listed buildings by the World Monuments Trust.

An archives assistant, Caroline Gunn, was supported by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to work on Virtual Shackleton, a website that will illustrate the explorer's life and expeditions based mainly on archival material held in the Institute. In addition, Caroline has assisted in initial preparations for a major museum exhibition on Shackleton to be held in the coming year.

Gifts of diaries, correspondence, and other items were received from many sources. Included amongst these are the papers from the Wordie family concerning the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, very comprehensive diaries by Belgrave Ninnis of Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14), and Dr Edward Bingham's records from his Antarctic days. Copies of completed inventories were provided to the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts who have been most helpful in advising of material of interest appearing in a variety of auction houses. Deirdre Hanna continued to provide voluntary assistance transcribing some of the newly acquired material, particularly that with a Shackleton association.

A visit from a representative of the National Archives (which now incorporates the Royal Commission Historical Manuscripts and Public Records Office) was welcome. While some documents, mainly from South Georgia, are held by permission, the visit was also useful in discussing resources and other problems common to many smaller repositories.

R.K. Headland