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SPRI Review 2005: SPRI Polar Museum

SPRI Polar Museum

Following the success of the 2004 exhibition, 'Shackleton: the Hidden Collections', the Museum exhibited twenty-five Antarctic landscapes and seascapes by the renowned artist Edward Seago, from 18 May to 7 July 2005. The paintings, from the private collection of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, were completed during the 1956-57 Antarctic summer, when Seago accompanied The Duke on a tour of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. The Institute was honoured by the visit of His Royal Highness as Chancellor of the University, who formally opened the exhibition during a reception for invited guests. By coincidence, an important collection of surveying instruments, documents and photographs from the 1955-57 Falkland Islands and Dependencies Aerial Survey Expedition (FIDASE) was purchased at auction in July 2005, with help from the Friends of SPRI. The Duke of Edinburgh had visited members of the FIDASE team while on the Antarctic Peninsula.

From 21 July to 21 September, the Museum, Library and Archives mounted a joint display entitled 'The life and work of Professor Frank Debenham, founder of the Scott Polar Research Institute', marking the 40th anniversary of Debenham's death. We were pleased to welcome many members of the Debenham family to the Institute during the exhibition.

An exhibition of Antarctic photographs by Herbert Ponting, taken during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-13, has been displayed in the Museum since 30 September 2005 and will continue until 31 March 2006. The prints on display are from the original negatives, and represent a fraction of the 1700 images from Ponting's collection, acquired in February 2005 with the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant. In the exhibition they are accompanied by artefacts illustrating the history of the expedition and Ponting's own photographic equipment, also in the Museum's collections.

Several acquisitions were made during the year, including: a Union Jack from Shackleton's South Pole attempt during the Nimrod expedition (1907-1909), presented to Shackleton by Queen Alexandra and acquired by Dr. John Levinson of Delaware, who has generously donated this unique artefact to the Institute; a copper tube containing a memorial message for the men lost in the Ross Sea area during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917, received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; a Canadian toboggan, bought from Montreal by J J Fairbank FRCS of Trinity College, 1912. Loans to the collection included an interesting collection of artefacts of Inuit manufacture collected in Pond Inlet, Bylot Island (off Baffin Island) between 1928 and 1946 by Canon J H Turner, after the establishment of the Anglican mission at Pond Inlet during the 1930s. The Institute is always grateful for such gifts of polar material and for the efforts of Friends, which are often made in acquiring them. In addition, the Museum accessioned a set of the Institute's radio-echo sounding equipment, developed at SPRI, and first used with surface vehicles on two traverses of the northern part of the Greenland Ice Sheet in 1963 and 1964.

A major project entitled 'The First Nations, Inuit, Inupiat and Kalaallit artefact collection from Canada, Alaska, and Greenland: enhancing documentation and access' began in June, funded by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The Institute was fortunate to secure the services of Mrs Judy Hall, currently on leave from her position as Curator of Eastern Woodlands and Arctic Ethnology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Her knowledge of Arctic material culture and national and international museum collections of Arctic material has ensured that the SPRI collection is documented to the highest museum standards. This project is also a pilot for providing online access to the museum catalogue and photographs of the objects via the Institute's web site.

During the year, requests were received from the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall and the Dundee Heritage Trust for the loan of artefacts from the Museum for exhibitions to take place in 2006. The Museum also welcomed a number of researchers and provided access to artefacts from its stores for individuals researching topics as varied as polar clothing and scrimshaw. Work began on the reorganisation of a number of museum storage areas to provide additional space for new accessions. The continued assistance of volunteers Jennifer Hirsh and Larry Rockhill with documentation and cleaning of artefacts is gratefully acknowledged.

The Museum shop continues to develop, with new display furniture and an increased number of lines. Plans are in place for secure on-line payment via the Institute's web site to be made available in the near future.

Heather Lane