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Polar Bytes - No. 19, August 2001

Polar Bytes - No. 19, August 2001

A word from our Chairman, Philippa Foster Back

I begin this edition by thanking Jenny Coverack for her magnificent performance of a "Father for my Son" following the Friends lunch in June. The whole day was much enjoyed by all. We now have a. have busy season ahead of us - see below.

At the end of September Irene Burns is sadly for us retiring from the Institute after 15 years stalwart service - her ever ready smile as you walked into the Institute will long be remembered with affection. In case you do not see her before the end of the month she will be at the AGM. Judith Heath has been appointed to succeed Irene and we wish her every success in her new role, as we do enjoyment to Irene in her retirement, which is beginning with a trip Down South.

Being September - it is Christie's sale season, and this year they are having a whole sale devoted to polar material on September 25th. There are several lots of particular significance and the UK Antarctic Heritage Fund has launched a public appeal to raise money for a fighting fund, see their web page

If you have yet to get to see 'South' at the National Maritime Museum, I am happy to report that the exhibition has been extended until 31st January 2002. 700,000 people have visited to date, so do visit it too if you can.

Indeed, combine your visit to London with a night at the Savoy Theatre, where from October 9th, you may see a play by David Young called 'Antarctica'. The play inspired by the story of the six men on the Northern Party on Scott's second Expedition who overwintered in a snow cave on Inexpressible Island, was written to honour these forgotten men and dramatise their achievement. It is, however, a work of fiction that draws character and detail from a broad range of polar literature. Friends are able to claim a discount of 10 off the top priced tickets by quoting 'Friends of SPRI' when booking though the box office (subject to availability).

The lecture season begins on the 29th September with the first of what promises to be a bumper series of lectures, not to be missed. The new list is here.

Other events are happening around the country. This is the Discovery Expedition Centenary Year and a number of events are still to happen up in Dundee, for instance Chris Rapley (BAS) is giving a lecture on the evening of October 9th. Details of events available from the Dundee Heritage Trust - 01382 201245.

Do note the other diary dates below - in particular our AGM on November 17th, the application forms for the buffet will be sent out in October.

A word from the Keeper & Librarian, William Mills

Frank Debenham's medals and surveying and drawing instruments

As founder of the Institute, all materials relating to Frank Debenham are of the greatest interest. Thanks to the generosity of his daughter, Barbara Debenham, the Institute has recently been presented with three of his medals to go with the Polar Medal already in our collection. These are the Patron's and Scott medals of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingston Medal of the Hispanic Society of America. At the same time, the Institute was also presented with Professor Debenham's surveying and drawing instruments. These include a theodolite, artificial horizon, aneroid barometer, trough compass, camera lucida, pendulum inclinometer, pocket rangefinder, photometer, pedometer, tape measure, and two beautiful sets of drafting instruments. All are fine examples with the theodolite particularly interesting for the chamois gaskets around knobs and eye pieces to prevent frostbite on contact with skin. All of these artifacts are currently on display in the Friends Room.

The Alfred Stephenson Archives

The diaries of this distinguished explorer and surveyor have been presented to the Institute by his wife, Roma and the Stephenson family. The material presented includes Steve's diaries for all three major expeditions in which he participated: British Arctic Air Route Expedition (1930-31), British International Polar Year Expedition to Fort Rae (1932-33), and British Graham Land Expedition (1934-37). There are also diaries for his later visits to the Arctic and Antarctic, lantern slides, and a photograph album for the IPY expedition on which the Institute previously had very little. All are as impeccably organized as one would expect and complement earlier material given during Steve's lifetime. This is a very important acquisition and is all the more appreciated for representing the personal archive of one who throughout his long life maintained the closest of connections with both the Institute and the Friends.

GREAT SCOTT! THE MUSICAL: an additional event for Saturday 17 November

By kind permission of King's College School Cambridge, Great Scott!, the world's first Antarctic musical will be performed in the School Hall at 2.00pm on 17 November by the choir of Papplewick School, Ascot.

Great Scott tells the story in song and dramatisation of the tragic British Antarctic Expedition of 1911- 1912 in which Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his four companions perished on their return journey from the South Pole. The piece is the work of two Australians, David Burke and David Jensen and was first performed in the Great Hall of Federal Parliament in Canberra before the then Governor-General of Australia, Sir William Deane.

The inspiration for the piece was the founder of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Frank Debenham. Debenham, who was born in Australia and educated at The King's School Sydney, accompanied Scott on the final expedition. In this production a narrator plays the part of Debenham and reads extracts from his diary. The performance will be conducted by the composer, David Jensen.

King's College School is located in West Road, Cambridge and admission to the performance is free. Friends, please bring your friends!

Honorary doctorate for Ann Shirley

Better known to readers of her many publications as Ann Savours, on 11 July Mrs Shirley was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Letters, honori causa, by the University of Kent at Canterbury for her contribution to polar scholarship. Friends will know just how much this doctorate is deserved. Educated at London University and the Sorbonne, for many years Ann was Archivist and Curator at the Institute before moving to the National Maritime Museum, where she was responsible for the Arctic Gallery. Her books include The search for the North West Passage (1999), The voyages of the Discovery (1992), Scott's last voyage (1974), and The Discovery diary of Edward Wilson, 1901-04 (1967).

Publications by Friends

The Friends are prolific authors and last issue's list of recent publications unaccountably missed out British polar exploration and research: a historical and medallic record with biographies, 1818-1999 by Lt.-Col. Neville Poulsom and Rear Admiral John Myres (London: Savannah Publications, 2000. ISBN 1-902366-05-0). This massively expanded revision of Poulsom's The white ribbon is a must for anyone interested in medals, or indeed in the history of polar exploration.

A word from our Secretary, Ann Bean

First a very big thank you to all of you who completed the Questionnaire - we had a tremendous response and I am still sifting through all the information.

One point which does keep coming up is the request for more regional activities and the opportunity for Friends to meet up with one another. So, if any of you would be willing to act as area contacts we could print your details in Polar Bytes and interested Friends could then get in touch with ideas for local events - pub lunches were suggested! My email address is

We, on our part, will do our best to keep you advised of Polar Events (both ours and those of other Associations) particularly bearing in mind those of you who do not live in Cambridge or London!

Diary Dates:

Thursday 18th October

Premiere of film on Shackleton - IMAX Centre, London. Tickets 25 available from Rachel Morgan (UKAHT) 01291 690305

Thursday 1st November

UK Antarctic Heritage Trust - Lecture at the RGS in London
Tickets 10 also available from Rachel Morgan

Saturday 17th November

2pm - Great Scott! The Musical
5pm - Discovery Rediscovered
Followed by Friends AGM and Buffet Supper.
8.30pm (in seminar room) David Yelverton's Master Class "The Discovery Expeditions Forgotten Dimensions: Scott's western campaigns and the discovery of a continent".

1st December 2001 to 3rd March 2002

There will be an exhibition at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum of some of the pictures from Edward Wilson's Nature Notebooks. These pictures are privately owned and therefore rarely seen. The exhibition represents a unique opportunity to view some of Wilson's early natural history work and is being held to mark the centenary of the Discovery expedition.