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Polar Bytes - No. 35, April 2005

Polar Bytes - No. 35, April 2005

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

As I write this newsletter the flowers of Spring are bursting upon us in all their glory! Whilst I doubt if they have anything to do with the case, there is nevertheless no doubt; the current Friends Committee are a lively bunch. I recently returned from another Antarctic tour, full of the joys of King Penguins and Snow Petrels and the comeuppance has been to spend the last month catching up with everything that has been achieved since I have been away! The result is a splendid array of forthcoming events and new ventures which we hope will unfold over the next 18 months: the imminent Peter Hillary talk is already sold out; the tickets for the Summer Lunch and the 'Songs of the Morning' concert go on sale with this issue of PB and, of course, we will be holding our famous Polar Book Den during the lunch as well; the long promised tour of 'HMS Endurance' looks set for this summer; and the actor Aidan Dooley will be giving a fund-raising performance of his popular one-man play 'Tom Crean' in the autumn; this will lead into the Michaelmas term lectures and our AGM and autumn buffet.

So it is set to be a busy year - we hope that you will participate and enjoy it. However, there is more to come! According to Volume V of the Polar Record (p283) the Friends came into being on 27th April 1946, which makes next year our Diamond Jubilee Year. Plans are already afoot for this rather special birthday. All ideas are welcome.

We are already planning our fund-raising Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge in March 2006 (information was in the last PB and on the web-site) and there will be an information day for potential participants during May. Volunteers are still being sought, so it is time for you to twist the arms of your younger friends and relatives, if you aren't up to taking part yourself (and we hope that you will be)!


The Institute is bursting with activity too. In addition to general academic progress and the forthcoming exhibitions in the Museum, Heather Lane has been getting to grips with her new role in charge of the Library; the Picture Library has taken delivery of the Ponting negatives; and the Archive has received two notable gifts. The first is a rather splendid Union Jack from Shackleton's South Pole attempt aboard Nimrod (1907-1909). This was presented to the Expedition by Queen Alexandra and acquired by Dr. John Levinson of Delaware at Christie's in 1997. He has now generously donated this unique artefact to the Institute. The flag is rather impressive and is being proudly shown to visitors by our archivist, Bob Headland, until it can be placed on show. The second gift is a long term loan of Eskimo artefacts from Pond Inlet, Bylot Island (off Baffin Island). This magnificent collection was made by the late 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.

How very different things seemed only a year ago, when I was having to write to you all to announce the tragic death of our previous Librarian, William Mills. In response, and with William's blessing, the Committee launched the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund appeal, to endow a fund for the purchase of library books in William's honour. This is now well on the way to its target of £50,000. The current total stands at £32,324.35 so we have £18,000 left to raise. Many of our fund-raising events this year are directed towards the Mills Fund but we still need to receive some substantial donations so that we may bring this appeal to a successful and timely conclusion. I trust that the entire membership will do whatever it is able to do to achieve this end.

I am now going to recuperate and spend a few hours at the coast, watching Spring migrants head towards their Arctic breeding grounds! I am particularly looking forward to the Arctic Terns. Of course, it is one thing to have a lively Committee but success in all of these ventures is dependent upon you, the membership - so over to you!

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

Julian Dowdeswell

The Institute is delighted to be able to stage an exhibition of paintings of the Antarctic by the well-known artist Edward Seago (1910-1974). Seago visited Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands as a guest of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh during his world tour in the mid-1950s. He painted about 35 canvasses in oils, all but three of which are in the private collection of the Duke of Edinburgh. Of the three, one was given to the Institute and is housed in the Director's office, a second is at the Royal Geographical Society and the third is, very appropriately, in the meeting room of the British ice-strengthened research vessel, James Clark Ross.

The Institute is grateful to HRH the Duke of Edinburgh, who has given us permission to exhibit the Seago paintings in his collection. The paintings, mostly landscapes and seascapes, will arrive from Buckingham Palace later this month. They will be available for viewing from early May, with a formal opening by the Duke of Edinburgh in June.

The paintings are a wonderful collection, and this is the first time they have been exhibited to the public for many years. Indeed, we believe there has been no previous exhibition of the bulk of the collection. I very much encourage you to come and enjoy these beautiful paintings of the Antarctic.

A few words from Lucy Martin, the Picture Library Manager (

Lucy in the Picture Library

The Institute is now the proud owner of the Herbert Ponting archive of Antarctic photographic glass plate negatives, taken during Scott's last Expedition. This acquisition was finally received into the collection at the beginning of February this year. The purchase was enabled by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, but the Friends of the Institute provided a significant contribution. I can't tell you how grateful I personally am for this, as I feel that this is one of the most important acquisitions that the Institute and in particular the Picture Library could possibly obtain. The negatives themselves are in extremely good condition, particularly when you consider that their journey back from the Antarctic nearly one hundred years ago, would have been aboard a nineteenth century sailing ship.

It is now my privileged task to carry out the initial catalogue of the negatives before they go to the conservator to be cleaned and scanned. They will then be rehoused in appropriate conservation quality materials. We are planning an exhibition for later on this year and the scanned images will eventually appear on our website. However, due to the delicate nature of the objects and the shear volume of numbers (over 1000), all these processes will take time. I hope that you will bear with us whilst this essential work is carried out before we can give you specific dates for the exhibition and the emergence of the images on the website.

The thrill of the new acquisition may well appear to have eclipsed the rest of the work of the Picture Library, but this is not entirely the case. I am delighted to say that a steady stream of enquiries and visitors to the Picture Library continue to carry out research and use the photographic collection in various ways. Many of these photographs have also received assistance from the Friends. For all of this help I would just like to say - Thank you.

Polar News

News from the Arctic

News from the Arctic has been dominated by the controversial decision of the Canadian government to allow a widespread seal hunt. Although the killing of Harp Seals for their fur mostly takes place outside of Arctic regions, there is some concern about the impact on this Arctic species. The hunt was reduced some years ago, due to popular protests over the bludgeoning of seals, but kill quotas are now rising substantially. Equally controversial has been the increase in the Polar Bear hunt quotas by the Canadian authorities in Nunavut. Meanwhile, agreements have been signed to establish Canada's 42nd National Park, the Torngat Mountains National Park Reserve. This will be the first ever in Labrador and will protect northern Labrador's Arctic wilderness. In another controversial decision, the US Senate has voted to allow oil drilling in the Alaska Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Senate had previously protected this last remaining Alaskan wilderness. Drilling the refuge is a key part of President Bush's plan to reduce US reliance on oil imports. If Congress agrees, drilling could start later this year, despite fears for supposedly protected wildlife populations. Meanwhile, the Inuit of the Arctic regions are preparing to sue the United States for human rights violations because, they say, the U.S. is the leading culprit in global warming. In the UK, scientists have reported that the amount of fresh water entering the Arctic Ocean from the rivers that feed it is increasing, in part caused by human activities in developing the Arctic regions. This early sign of climate change could have unpredictable consequences to global ocean currents, the scientists suggest in Geophysical Research Letters. Also in Britain, a mixed response has been given by British veterans of the World War II Arctic convoys to the idea of awarding them a special emblem instead of a campaign medal. Tony Blair announced the plans at a Downing Street reception for the veterans, who shipped essential supplies to Russia during the war. Veterans have long complained that the Arctic campaign is the only one of the war not to have been recognised with its own medal.

News from the Antarctic


Never mind the penguins, according to scientists in the journal, Nature, ducks may have been paddling in primeval Antarctic swamps at the feet of T-Rex. Fossil remains discovered on Vega Island, Western Antarctica, of a bird that lived 70 million years ago, appear to belong to a relative of modern ducks and geese. So, once again, Antarctic palaeontology is stirring up controversy, since the origins of modern bird lineages are still hotly contested by scientists. Meanwhile, the anticipated collision between the world's largest floating object, the iceberg B15a, and the Drygalski Ice Tongue became something of an anti-climax when the iceberg ran aground. Whilst it has recently refloated, the danger of a major ice-smash seems to have passed. A recent study of Antarctic Minke Whale DNA suggests that the species has the most genetically diverse population of any whale, indicating that this species had a population of up to one million individuals prior to whaling. The finding is significant because Japanese delegates to the International Whaling Commission have previously argued that current Minke Whale numbers are unprecedented and are hindering the recovery of other whale species. In consequence, Japan argues that it should be allowed to cull them and recently asked the Commission to allow it to resume a catch of nearly 3000 Antarctic Minke Whales annually, from the current population of 750,000. Elsewhere, the expansion in the number of permanent scientific bases in the Antarctic continues. Queen Sonja of Norway became the first Queen to visit Antarctica when she opened the refurbished Norwegian Research Station, Troll, in Queen Maud Land during February. The Norwegians recently decided to establish a stronger presence in their Antarctic territories. Meanwhile a Frenchman has drowned in the Southern Ocean after falling from the French Antarctic supply vessel, L'Astrolabe.

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean

We are very grateful for the support of "Discover The World" for publicity towards the Peter Hillary evening and for supporting this issue of Polar Bytes. "Discover the World" are one of the UK's leading tour operators, and have been offering specialist adventure and wildlife holidays to remote areas of the world, including the polar regions, for twenty years. You can find further details at Their support of the Friends is greatly appreciated.

The Friends Summer Lunch and the Polar Book Den will be held at the Institute again this year and as usual Jane Best will be providing the food - so we can be sure of an excellent spread. Whilst I will do my very best to try to provide seating at tables for everybody this may not be possible. Florian Stammler of the "Polar Social Science and Humanities" team in the Institute has agreed to be the Summer Lunch speaker - he will introduce us to the anthropological research carried out by the Institute in the Arctic regions. See enclosures for details and to apply for tickets.

Following the lunch, at 7.30 p.m. on 4 June there will be a Polar Concert, at The United Emmanuel Reformed Church in Trumpington Street. This is a 5 minute walk from the Institute, near the Fitzwilliam Museum and Peterhouse. If you are wishing to dine between tea and the concert the most convenient eateries are Lawyers, (01223- 566887) or the Loch Fyne Restaurant (01223 362433). This is a rare chance to hear a live performance of the famous songs and poetry written during the relief expedition for Captain Scott's Discovery. The Songs of the 'Morning': a Musical Sketch will be performed in aid of the Mills Fund by one of New Zealand's best loved baritones (who also happens to be the grandson of the composer, Lieut. Doorly). See enclosures for tickets. We have over 150 tickets to sell for this event, so please bring your friends!

Visit to HMS Endurance. Philippa Foster Back has now received an official invitation for the Friends to visit HMS Endurance during the summer, whilst it is docked in London, but unfortunately a date has not been finalised. In case the visit falls between issues of Polar Bytes please let me know if you would like to join the party - I can then inform you as soon as I have a definite date: , 01895 271141 or 88 Merton Ave, Hillingdon, Middx UB10 9BL

Dog Sledging Information Day, Saturday 28th May 2005 2pm at the Institute. Representatives from Across the Divide including a dog team expedition leader, will be available to answer your questions. If you are still considering joining the team in March 2006 do come along and be persuaded!

The National Maritime Museum's adult learning programme has a new course on Thursday mornings, starting 21st April, entitled "To the End of the World: British Exploration in the Arctic Region from Frobisher to Sir George Nares". The course includes speakers from SPRI and is offered to Friends at the concessionary rate of £30. Bookings 020 8312 8560 - quote SPRI Friends. Further info:

The Friends have received an invitation from Bob Miller, captain of the PG Wodehouse Society cricket team "The Golden Bats" to attend a cricket match at Dulwich College (home to much Shackleton memorabilia) on Friday 17th June at 4.30pm. If you would like to go to the match please contact Bob Miller on 07787 535881.

Passing Friends: We are very sorry to note the deaths of the following: Pat Wright, daughter of Sir Charles Wright, the glaciologist on Scott's Terra Nova expedition; and Professor G.E. (Tony) Fogg, the noted Marine Biologist and historian of polar science.

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

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

i) May - early July 2005 The Antarctic Paintings of Edward Seago
ii) Saturday 28 May Dog Sledging Information Day
iii) Saturday 4 June Friends Summer Lunch and Polar Book Den
iv) Saturday 4 June "The Songs of the Morning: a musical sketch"
v) Saturday 1 October The play: Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer
vi) Saturday 12 November 2005. The Friends AGM and autumn Buffet

Michaelmas Term Lecture dates: 15 October; 29 October; 12 November; 26 November

In Scotland:

i) 2 May to 1 July 2005 The Exhibition: Race for the South Pole 1909 -1912. At the Central Library, Edinburgh (Part of the Norway Centenary celebrations)
ii) 18 June - 20 June Discovery Festival 2005 - Discovery Point, Dundee