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Polar Bytes - No. 32, July 2004

Polar Bytes - No. 32, July 2004

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson:

Everyone is simply delighted with the response of the membership to the last Polar Bytes. Your support is greatly appreciated both by the Friends Committee and by the Institute staff. The fact that the Friends are able to respond so warmly to difficult times is a sign, I think, of our current strength as an organisation, quite apart from our own individual love for the Institute and for the Polar Regions. This was quite clearly "on show" at the Summer Lunch. Over 75 Friends gathered at the Institute this year and it was the most tremendous success both socially and financially, with Friends coming from as far away as Canada to join the fun! The book den was a particular triumph. Between the raffle, books and ticket sales, I believe that we raised something in the order of £800.

Following the last newsletter, I have no doubt that many of you will be wanting to know what the latest news is from the Institute. One Friend that I saw recently even asked me if things were really as bad as I had suggested. The short answer to that is 'both yes and no'! The Institute has many departments and the scientific, anthropological and other work has continued apace (see Julian Dowdeswell's notes below). The funding difficulties have been more or less confined to the Archives, Library and Museum. These have been going through and are continuing to go through, a bit of a rough patch and yes, things are not pretty. However, that is what the current appeal aims to sort out! The response of the Friends has been superb and I have no doubt that if we all continue our efforts, we will manage to put this part of the Institute's work onto a secure footing, ensuring that the Institute remains at the cutting edge of Polar archival and library work on a global scale, for many years to come. There is no doubt of the determination of everyone at the Institute to see this achieved and I am sure that the membership of the Friends shares in this determination.

However, not all of the current difficulties have been financial. Those Friends who haven't yet heard will be very sorry to hear of the death of William Mills. No doubt you all realised that things were quite serious for William from the last newsletter - there is a short obituary and news of the Friends appeal in his memory, below. William's death is a very sad loss to us all and perhaps the saddest of my duties as your chairman was to write to his widow, Dionne, and the children, Jacquie, Tony and John, on behalf of the membership. We have lost a dear Friend.

Quite apart from writing such letters on your behalf, as Chairman I often have the duty of representing the Friends membership at Polar events. I have recently represented you all at the opening of the Shackleton Exhibition at the Institute; at the funeral of William Mills; at the re-dedication of the memorial to Captain Scott in Plymouth; at the 75th anniversary dinner of the Antarctic Club; and at the 'Discovery' centenary conference in Southampton. No doubt I would have attended many of these in a personal capacity, in any case, but it is good that the Friends visibility in Polar circles continues to grow. Perhaps this is unsurprising, as increasing activity and interest in the Polar Regions is itself continuing to grow and in turn is leading to a bewildering array of events and news. The Institute itself, is often involved in one capacity or another with many polar events and news stories and it is, I am sure, a great source of pride to us all to know that we are supporting such important scientific and heritage work in the Polar Regions through our support for the Friends. Thank you all.

Personally, I shall be glad of a quiet summer - and a glass or two of home-made lemonade in the garden - but many at the Institute are heading out for field-work in the Arctic and no doubt some of the membership will be off North on cruise ships. Don't forget to recruit new members to the Friends along the way - and we look forward to seeing you all again in the autumn!

News from the Institute

William Mills, B.A., M.A. (1951-2004)

William Mills, B.A., M.A. (1951-2004), Librarian and Keeper of Collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute from 1989-2004, passed away peacefully at his home on 8 May 2004 after a long struggle with cancer. William was a significant figure in the modern expansion of the work of the Scott Polar Research Institute, in particular, the development of the Shackleton Memorial Library. This project would simply not have been possible without William and his personal dedication to the Institute. Through his work at the Institute William became an internationally respected Polar Bibliographer and Librarian. A quiet and self-effacing man, William was hugely popular amongst his colleagues and the Institute's Friends, yet it is doubtful that he ever fully realised the esteem in which he was held by so many, until his final days. It was at this time that William published his magnum opus, receiving many plaudits for his Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia. The fact that the Friends wanted to set up an endowment fund to purchase library books in his honour was a particular surprise to him, although it also delighted him. Even more of a surprise to him was the splendid response of the Friends to this appeal. He was constantly astonished that so many people wished to recognise his achievements and couldn't quite believe that anyone was sending in any money.

Another wonderful recognition of his achievements was the news that Julian Dowdeswell was able to give him shortly before he passed away - this was in the formal naming of an Antarctic Glacier for William: The Mills Glacier, flows into the SW side of the Evans Ice Stream, and on into the Ronne Ice Shelf. This will stand as a permanent memorial to a wonderful man.

Further international recognition has arrived at the Institute since William died, in particular a lovely cut glass 'iceberg' arrived recently from the United States, "on behalf of the National Science Foundation an award to William James Mills for his valued contributions to the United States Antarctic Program." It has been passed to his family.

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

The SPRI research team studying the nature of the sedimentary record on high-latitude continental margins continues to be active in field programmes in both polar regions. In the Antarctic summer, SPRI staff were aboard the RRS James Clark Ross and, in collaboration with BAS and supported by the Antarctic Funding Initiative of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), undertook geophysical and geological work in the eastern Bellingshausen Sea. Sea-ice conditions were very favourable, and the vessel was able to work extensively between the outer continental shelf and the Ronne Entrance. Swath-bathymetric data, which is comparable to a set of aerial photographs of the detailed shape of the sea floor, were collected along with evidence on the shallow stratigraphy or 'layer-cake' structure of the sediments beneath. From these data, we will be able to reconstruct the flow direction and basal processes of the ice sheet when it last extended to the outer shelf of the Bellingshausen Sea about 18,000 years ago.

In early September, the RRS James Clark Ross will again be taking teams from SPRI, the University of East Anglia and Southampton Oceanography Centre to the area of Kangerlussuaq Fjord and the adjacent continental shelf off East Greenland. This work is part of the research programme 'Autosub under Ice', funded by NERC. The Autosub, a torpedo-like autonomous underwater vehicle, will venture beneath icebergs and the floating margin of Kangerlussuaq Glacier with a set of scientific instruments. These include a swath-bathymetry system, instruments to measure the salinity and temperature of sea water, and a tool to sample the water for further chemical analysis. Autosub can travel several tens of kilometres away from the parent ship and collects data continuously, storing this information until its return to the ship. The vehicle is programmed to take a given course, and is 'intelligent' in that it can react to and avoid obstructions, such as the unexpected presence of icebergs. In addition, sediment cores and geophysical data will also be collected from the RRS James Clark Ross.

Several of our social-science and humanities students are also undertaking field work in the Arctic, particularly in the Russian North.

Students stay for up to about a year, often living and working with the native peoples, such as the reindeer-herders of Siberia. Much anthropological research requires the building up of long-term trust with researchers - hence the long periods of contact.

On other Institute matters, I am pleased to say that we will shortly be advertising for a new Librarian, and I hope that the successful candidate will be in post by the end of the year. We will also be saying 'goodbye' to Caroline Gunn and Naomi Boneham within the next couple of months. Both have undertaken very valuable work with Institute archival material. Naomi has completed important work on making archival material available on the internet and Caroline has played a major role in organising our highly successful exhibition 'Shackleton - the Hidden Collections'. I am told that an extensive item on the exhibition was aired recently on CNN.

A few words from the Archivist, Bob Headland:

Albert Armitage

Many Friends will have read of the sale of two diaries kept by Albert Armitage, the second in Command of Captain Scott's 'Discovery' expedition (1901-04). Unfortunately, despite a very generous contribution from the Friends, some internal funding, a gift from the Old Worcesters (Armitage's training ship) and several Friends privately, it was not possible to buy the manuscript which was bought by an agent. Albert Armitage's personal polar library was also included in the sale, but fortunately the library has copies of all the books. Although it is too early to be sure of success I am negotiating to obtain copies of the diaries so, even if the originals are not available, the essential information will be.

Leslie Quar

Leslie Quar was one of the three men who died tragically when a weasel went over an ice cliff in a whiteout during the Norwegian British Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1949-52). Miss Jill Quar, his sister, was put into contact with the Institute in May and made the most generous gift of Leslie's letters from the Antarctic, a photograph album some personal possessions and, in particular his posthumous Polar Medal awarded by the Queen and the 'Kongens Fortjensmedalje' awarded by King Haakon of Norway. Gordon Robin and Charles Swithinbank knew Leslie during the expedition and Jill subsequently met them, thus a degree of reminiscing was in order from half a century ago.

Book Den

There was a new idea for the Summer Lunch, a Book Den where those with some spare or duplicate polar books (interpreted very widely) could sell (with a commission to the Friends) and buy polar books. With much help from Larry Rockhill and others this worked well. Not only did it raise a worthwhile sum but also was an enjoyable event. The main problem was that some people who intended to use it to clear bookshelves came back with more books than they started off with. Several vendors were particularly generous and allowed all the funds to go to the Friends or the William Mills fund. The Book Den worked well, so it will be worth running at a future event.

The Institute shop


Unfortunately, not enough orders were received to make the Friends of SPRI tie a viable project - with many thanks and apologies to those of you who did order them. For cost reasons it has proved easiest to shred the cheques that were sent in with orders, rather than returning them to you - and this has now been done. The shop has now stocked ties of two different penguin designs by Lucia deLeiris and produced by Nigel Sitwell (see enclosed photocopy). So if you would like a penguin tie, place your orders!


Despite the huge array of polar books that are now available, many of the most interesting polar books are continuing to come out from small presses. The shop is currently taking orders for Frozen History: the legacy of Scott and Shackleton, photographs by Josef and Katharina Hoflehner, with text by David L. Harrowfield © 2003 This remarkable art-book of black and white photographs of the historic Ross Sea Huts has proved rather difficult to get hold of. It won an award for Austria's "most beautiful book" and is one of the few books that is truly evocative of the historic Ross Sea huts. It is a stunning book and if you would like a copy (£50 plus p&p) please contact Francesca in the shop. This is highly recommended and only available by special order.

In addition, Judy Skelton is shortly to publish her grandfather's diaries, The Antarctic Journals of Reginald Skelton: another little job for the Tinker, this will be on sale in the shop from September.

And we have also just received news that David Yelverton is bringing out another book: Quest for a Phantom Strait (ISBN 0-9548003-0-3), which has just gone to press and will be out, and on sale at SPRI, early in August.

Appeals Update

The Library and Archives appeal currently stands at a figure of £31,771.50 towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. Much of this has been raised by the Friends. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. The search for major benefactors continues. Those Friends that wish to continue donating to this main appeal fund are, of course, welcome to do so! Those of you who are assisting with the search for prospective major donations and with fund-raising ideas are requested to co-ordinate your efforts through Rossie Ogilvie at the University Development Office <> Rossie has recently taken over the co-ordination of the Institute's Main Appeal activities - and has also been instantly co-opted onto the Friends Committee!

However, as you will have seen in the last Polar Bytes, the Friends Committee has launched a Friends appeal in honour of William Mills and we request support from the Friends membership for this. The Friends Committee has been deeply saddened by William's recent death and remains totally dedicated to providing an ongoing memorial to honour the contribution that William has made to the Friends, to the Institute, and in particular to the Library. The Mills Fund will meet a part of the endowment objectives of the main appeal through setting up an endowment fund for the purchase of library books and periodicals and gives the Friends a realistic fundraising objective, within the context of the main appeal.

As a result, we are now seeking to raise £50,000 to endow the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund. That is equivalent to us raising £100 for every current Friend, or £1,000 each from 50 of our wealthier members. All contributions, are, of course, very welcome. So far we have received donations from £5 to £2,500, and a total of 85 donations in all. Very many thanks indeed to those of you that have responded, as your response has been very generous. We have already reached 40% of our target, with a magnificent £19,587.33 donated to date! The Committee has been quite over-whelmed with the response and we are very grateful for the support of the membership in this enterprise. Nevertheless, we keep bumping into Friends who say, "oh, I must send in a donation for William's appeal" - to which the response is "please do" - as we wish to be able to report further major progress towards our target in the next Polar Bytes. We look forward to receiving your contribution (payable to the University of Cambridge) which you should send to: The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund Appeal, c/o the Friends Secretary, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean:

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to note the death of William Mills (see separate obituary). Also the death of Sandy Glenn, a major benefactor of the Institute and in particular of the Shackleton Memorial Library. We are also sorry to note the death of Duncan Carse, the last surviving member of the British Grahamland Expedition (1934-1937).

A very warm welcome is extended to all of our new Friends.

The Friends are pleased to have received the news of an honouring of one of our members, Patricia Dartnall, who has just been awarded the Australian Polar Medal, the citation referring to her 17 years' Antarctic research. Many congratulations.

Several donations have been received to the William Mills Appeal without accompanying names and addresses. If you haven't received a letter of thanks, it is probably because we don't recognise who you are, although we are nevertheless most grateful for your contribution. In particular, we have received a donation for £2000 in the form of a 'charitable settlement' of which the donor is currently anonymous. If you wish to receive an acknowledgement, then please let us know your contact details.

The Committee is currently reviewing the Friends membership structure (don't worry, we won't be putting up the basic subscription!), finances, fund-raising activities, advertising policy, membership application forms and the layout/publication of Polar Bytes. If any members have any comments or suggestions with regard to any of these matters would they please send them to me.

Friends Committee

This December two members will, by rotation, retire from the Committee. We are, therefore, seeking nominations. Should you wish to nominate someone please, as per Article 5(v) of our Constitution, send a letter of nomination together with the names and addresses of two seconders and a letter of agreement to serve from the nominee. Please forward nominations to Ann Bean by 31st August - these may be sent by email with paperwork following thereafter.

Polar News

Recent news from the Arctic has involved numerous adventurous individuals setting out on spring treks, some succeeding, some failing and some dying. The presumed death of the Danish adventurer, Ms. Dominick Arduin is a reminder that such treks continue to be dangerous - but perhaps that is part of their attraction.

Most Arctic headlines, however, have been dominated by the twin themes of long-term toxic pollution and climate change. The head of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference recently stated that it is the Inuit who are paying dearly for the actions of people in other countries through toxins and climate change. Headlines have particularly been made by the increasingly rapid diminishment of Arctic ice and the effect of this on numerous Arctic species, from Polar Bears and Reindeer to bacteria (15 new species of bacteria were recently discovered in ice retrieved from a Greenland glacier) and human beings. According to one recent report, average Sea Ice thickness in the 1990s was over a metre thinner than a couple of decades earlier. The mean draft has decreased from over 3m to under 2m, and volume is down by some 40%. Whether this is part of a natural cycle or due to anthropogenic global warming is as yet unknown. Nevertheless, the fact of human induced global warming, among many other complex factors, is now widely accepted and the effects of warming climate are being observed in quite complicated ways in other areas of the Arctic. Many recent news items have predicted a catastrophic collapse in the Greenland Ice-sheet, yet other Greenland glaciers appear to be growing and so several expeditions have been in Greenland recently trying to assess what is really going on.

In other Arctic regions the permafrost is melting and causing havoc with buildings and oil pipelines; species distribution is changing and in some cases declining alarmingly. There are many factors involved in this, of course, and many human effects from development to pollution are having a large impact on the Arctic environment. All of this makes for quite unhappy reading, but such are the Arctic stories which currently interest the media. Perhaps the most fascinating result of melting permafrost has been the appearance of ancient relics from Arctic peoples. From Canada to Siberia the permafrost is giving up its relics - from mammoths to arrows - and it would now appear that people have been inhabiting and changing the Arctic environment for at least 16,000 years, far longer than previously thought.

Recent news from the Antarctic has also been dominated by the weather. A strong blizzard in McMurdo Sound with 250km per hour winds has done considerable damage to McMurdo Station, to Scott Base and also some damage to the historic 'Discovery' Expedition hut. News of the fate of the other historic huts won't be known until the Antarctic Spring. The recent £100,000 donation by American Express to the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust for the maintenance of the historic huts may yet come to be seen as a generous contribution to an impossible task. It has also recently been reported that Mount Erebus is showing signs of new activity. The Space Technology 6 Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment, recently developed by NASA for monitoring volcanoes and other remote "threats", discovered a new eruption on Erebus and NASA has quickly reprogrammed the spacecraft for a repeat observation. This is the first time that this has been done - so another first for Antarctica! Meanwhile, back on the ground, researchers working in separate Antarctic sites, have found what they believe are the fossilised remains of yet more species of dinosaurs previously unknown to science - a reminder of Antarctica's temperate past - and the Tumbleweed Rover, which is being developed by NASA for space exploration, left the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, completing a 40 mile test-roll across the polar plateau roughly eight days later. Along the way, the 6 foot beach-ball-shaped device, sent information about its position, the temperature, pressure, humidity and light intensity.

Further news was made by the announcement that the 15,000 square kilometre Dry Valleys will become the first "Antarctic Specially Managed Area". The extra protection that this will afford to this unique area can only be welcomed. This rather serious piece of Antarctic Heritage news was followed quickly by the slightly more amusing story that the New Zealand Antarctic Society have placed a life-sized bronze statue of Mrs Chippy, on the grave of Harry McNeish at Karori Cemetery in Wellington, New Zealand. McNeish, the carpenter on Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance, apparently never forgave the fact that his cat had to be shot and so the New Zealanders decided to "reunite" them!

Congratulations to the American scientist, Dr. Susan Solomon who has just been awarded the most prestigious award for environmental science, the Blue Planet prize, 2004. This was given for her Antarctic scientific work which identified the mechanism that created the ozone hole. It was whilst carrying out this work that she became interested in the Scott story which resulted in her book "The Coldest March".

Meanwhile, in Plymouth, Barrat Homes are building flats on part of the site of Scott's birthplace at Outlands - to be known as 'Explorer Court' - the names of the blocks Tuthill, Hanson and Richardson are the names of 3 young people from the area who are taking part in the Fujitsu Polar Challenge.

If you are lost for something to do over the summer, the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Institute of British Architects recently announced a major international competition for the design of a new Antarctic scientific research station. So if any Friends fancy designing the replacement base at Halley Bay, they should apply to BAS. Alternatively, you may like to go to the National Maritime Museum where what may be the first painting of Antarctic regions, which has been hidden under another painting for the last 200 years, is going on public view in London. The painting is the work of artist William Hodges, a member of Captain Cook's 2nd Expedition 1772-1775, which circumnavigated the Antarctic for the first time. An X-ray of the painting is being shown to prevent damage to the view of a New Zealand harbour painted on top. It is one of 80 Hodges' paintings currently on show at the National Maritime Museum. And then, there is always the Shackleton Exhibition at the Institute...

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

  1. Shackleton: the Hidden Collection, in the Institute Museum until the autumn.
  2. SPECIAL LECTURE Friday September 24th 2004 at 7 p.m. Archaeological reconstruction of the mid-nineteenth century Enderby Settlement at the Auckland Islands. The institute is delighted to host this talk by Paul Dingwall from the New Zealand Department of Conservation.
  3. from mid-October 2004. An exhibition of paintings of South Georgia by Mollie Sheridan in honour of the centenary of the founding of Grytviken.
  4. Saturday 13th November Friends AGM and Buffet Supper
  5. MICHAELMAS TERM LECTURES At this stage some of the lectures are not confirmed but the dates are arranged. Thus announcing titles is still perilous in case they need to be moved around. The dates, for your diaries, will be 16 and 30 October, 13 and 27 of November 2004.

In London:

  1. Until 1st August, Natural History Museum, London. Due South: Art and the Antarctic, an exhibition by John Kelly who went south with BAS as part of the Artists and Writers Programme. Further details at The exhibition will transfer to the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum early next year, when some of Edward Wilson's Antarctic paintings will also be on show.
  2. From 6th July. William Hodges, 1744-1797, The Art of Exploration. At the National Maritime Museum. Details at
  3. Saturday 18th September a centenary dinner to celebrate the return of the 'Discovery' will be held as a fundraiser for RRS 'Discovery' at Christie's, London. Details at

In Scotland:

  1. 23-24 July 2004 community events at Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae will mark the centenary of the return of the SY Scotia to Scotland in July 1904 details at
  2. 15th-20th August 2004 International Geographical Congress, Glasgow. The 30th Congress of the International Geographical Union. Further details from the Royal Geographical Society or the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.