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Polar Bytes - No. 27, August 2003

Polar Bytes - No. 27, August 2003

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson:

A walk through the quiet recesses of the Institute at this time of the year is a general reminder that the season of summer holidays is in full swelter. What a contrast to 7th June when around 60 Friends gathered at the Institute for the annual Summer Lunch. The babble of enthusiastic conversations reverberated around the Institute as members made new friendships and renewed old acquaintances. It was a particular pleasure to welcome so many new members to the Institute for the occasion, one of the highlights of which was the presentation on aspects of the Institute's scientific programme by Dr. Colm Ó Cofaigh. This revealed to many of us something of the cutting edge scientific work carried out at the Institute. From the comments that I have received, the day was much enjoyed by all.

It is one of the pleasures of being Chairman of the Friends to receive a steady stream of comments and letters from fellow Friends on wide ranging subjects. Letters received in recent months have often included suggestions for Friends events; the matter of seating for the next Friends Lunch will therefore be one item on the committee's agenda! However, the matter of raffle prizes is not one that the committee can do a great deal about. We are dependant upon the generosity of Friends donating raffle prizes for our twice yearly get-togethers, so if you think that the prizes haven't been to your taste recently, then all I can suggest is that you donate something yourself as a prize for our Autumn Buffet raffle! All contributions will be gratefully received.

Other letters have been about decidedly more difficult areas, in particular the matter of conservation policy regarding the historic Ross Sea Huts. The current proposals from the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust to renovate Shackleton's Cape Royds Hut suggest the rebuilding of the stables and garage using 48 bales of 'artificial fodder' and several hundred reconstructed packing cases. This is proving quite controversial amongst Antarcticans. However, this is not a matter in which it would be appropriate for the Friends to take a view. We embrace a wide range of opinion and experience - that is part of our strength and vitality; but we exist to support the Institute and its work, not to develop 'Antarctic policies'! All I can suggest is that Friends who are interested in the specific details of the Ross Sea Huts conservation should consult the Antarctic Heritage Trust documents which are available, of course, in the library, so that the no doubt lively debates-to-come on this subject will be informed!

Occasionally, the letters that I write are rather sad ones. The Institute is no stranger to tragic deaths in the cause of Polar science and exploration; indeed we owe our very existence to such an event. Yet it is sobering to realise that the Polar regions carry such risks, even in our modern age. The recent Antarctic tragedy at Rothera, in which a young BAS scientist was killed by a Leopard Seal in the course of her work, seemed a particularly shocking reminder of this fact. It appeared appropriate, therefore, to write and extend condolences on behalf of all the SPRI Friends to the family of Kirsty Brown - and this was done.

I am looking forward to reading the new look SPRI Review - may I suggest reading it over a glass of home-made lemonade, whilst whiling away the last lazy days of summer (hammock optional)? For the fortunate few it might even provide reading material (should any be needed) during a study visit to the Arctic. Wherever this may find you, I hope that you will all return refreshed to the Institute in time for our Shackleton Exhibition and the Friends Michaelmas term lectures. I particularly look forward to seeing you all at our Friends Autumn Buffet and Annual General Meeting on Saturday November 15th, when Mike Tarver of the Captain Scott Society, will be talking about the history of the sealing and exploration ship, Terra Nova. A 'must' for your diaries.

A few words from the Librarian and Keeper of Collections, William Mills:

Some recent acquisitions

The best days in the Institute are those when unexpected polar treasures are brought in for viewing and sometimes presentation to the Institute. Tuesday 22 July was a particularly good day. Sylvia Wyatt had met our chairman, David Wilson, on a voyage to Antarctica. She had with her the diary of her husband Brian written when employed for the 1956/57 season on the whaler Balaena and there to save money for their wedding. David asked if SPRI could have a photocopy of the diary and was told that SPRI should have the original, together with photographs and other memorials of Brian's voyage; sperm whale teeth, an eardrum, and a pinus leather. The purpose of her visit was to present several of these objects in person. Earlier that day, Alan Reid had arrived with relics from Shackleton's first and second expeditions: splinters from the sled used by Shackleton on his farthest south journey and inscribed as such by him, and the leather belt and sheathe worn by Dr Alexander Macklin. Mr Reid has placed these historic items on longterm loan at the Institute with a view to presentation on his death. The first opportunity to see them should be in the new exhibition Shackleton: the Hidden Collections (see below).

Earlier in July, Catherine Watson presented an early watercolour by Edward Wilson, which is particularly interesting for the light it casts upon his development as an artist being painted in France prior to his participation in Scott's Discovery expedition. The British North Greenland Expedition (1952-54) led by Commander Jim Simpson was the most significant British Arctic expedition of the post-war era. Thanks to Ann Simpson, SPRI now holds her husband's fine collection of transparencies, complementing the comprehensive collection of documents for this expedition already housed in the Archives.

On behalf of the Institute, I should like to express my thanks to Alan Reid, Ann Simpson, Catherine Watson, Sylvia Wyatt and to all others responsible for recent donations to SPRI. It is because of such generosity that the Institute's collections today have no peer anywhere for the history of polar exploration.

Shackleton: the Hidden Collections

Over the past three years, many important manuscripts, artifacts and photographs concerning Sir Ernest Shackleton and his three expeditions to Antarctica have been received by the Institute. During the intervening period, we have been working hard to make them accessible to all those interested in this most charismatic of all explorers. Thanks to the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation we have obtained funding to catalogue and conserve them prior to mounting the website Virtual Shackleton, which will tell the stories of Shackleton's exhibitions illustrated by the Institute's many treasures. Simultaneously, the Arts and Humanities Research Board has provided funds for a new display to be mounted in the museum. Shackleton: the Hidden Collections will provide a first opportunity to see documents and other primary materials seldom if ever exhibited before. Work continues apace and the exhibition should open this autumn.

Books of general interest

In addition to their many more technical publications, institute staff and associates have published a number of books of general interest. These can be found listed on the Institute website (, by clicking on 'About'. This is a list of those published since 2000.

  • Bravo, M.T. and Sörlin, S., eds. 2002. Narrating the Arctic: a cultural history of Nordic scientific practices. Canton, WA: Science History Publications.
  • Dowdeswell, J.A. and M.J. Hambrey. 2002. Islands of the Arctic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Stonehouse, B., ed. 2002. Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans. Chichester: John Wiley.
  • Swithinbank, C.W.M. 2002. Vodka on ice: a year with the Russians in Antarctica. Lewes: Book Guild Ltd.
  • Brody, H. 2001. The other side of Eden: hunter-gatherers, farmers and the shaping of the world. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Brody, H. and P. Nicklen. 2000. Seasons of the Arctic. Vancouver: Greystone Books.
  • Kent, N. 2000. The soul of the North: a social, architectural and cultural history of the Nordic countries, 1700-1940. London: Redaktion Books.
  • Stonehouse, B. 2000. The last continent: discovering Antarctica. Burgh Castle: Shuttlewood Collinson.

In December 2003 these will be joined by Exploring polar frontiers: a historical encyclopedia of polar exploration by William Mills, a two-volume work with entries for several hundred expeditions and the many islands and regions explored.

Recent awards and prizes

Dr Colm O'Cofaigh has been awarded a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College. Dr Piers Vitebsky and Dr Gareth Rees have been awarded a grant by the European Union to study environmental change in a reindeer-herding community in the northwest Russian Arctic. William Mills has been awarded a grant from the Joint Information Services Committee to complete cataloguing of the Institute's Archives as part of the Archives Hub project. Professor Julian Dowdeswell has been appointed Consulting Editor of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the NERC Peer Review College.

Among the research students, Richard Powell has been awarded an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship for 2003-04. Special congratulations go to Stephanie Irlbacher Fox, first place, and Elana Wilson, runner-up, in the Antarctic Research Consortium of the United States student essay competition (social science category).

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean:

We are pleased to report that with effect from Saturday 26th July the Museum will be opening on Saturdays. (Tuesday - Saturday closing on Mondays).

Gift Aid

The way in which the University reclaims the tax on Gift Aided subscriptions has changed and in future all claims will be made by The Cambridge Foundation.

Thank you to all of you who pay your subscription with Gift Aid for so promptly signing and returning your new forms - the transition has gone very smoothly and hopefully the transfer of funds to the Friends will also go more smoothly than it sometimes has in the past.

We are still considering the possibility of sending Polar Bytes by e-mail and thank you to those of you who forwarded your addresses.

The AGM and Buffet Supper will be held on Saturday 15th November - more details in the next issue of Polar Bytes.

It is with sadness that we have to report the death of Bob Menzies. Bob, a student at the Institute in 1947 and a Friend for over fifty years had helped in the Museum for many years. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.

Michaelmas Term lectures

Please see online at .