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Polar Bytes - No. 45, October 2007

Polar Bytes - No. 45, October 2007

From the Chairman, Robin Back:

After this very wet summer, it may not be the best idea to ask if everybody is rested and refreshed! However, October's issue of Polar bytes usually looks to the future and the dark days of the northern winter. Our lecture series began on 29th September with a talk by Heather Lane, our Librarian and acting Archivist, on the additions to the SPRI collection over the years and funded or co-funded by contributions from the Friends. (A new departure - a transcript of her lecture is enclosed and I urge you to visit the SPRI website to look at the slide show which went with it.

Our fund-raising lecture this term is Tony Soper's lecture, now titled "The Discovery and exploitation of Polar Wildlife" on the 10th of November at 5:00PM (doors open 4:30) This will be followed by the Friends AGM. Please note this will be held in the BMS lecture theatre after Tony's lecture whilst the Friends buffet supper will be laid out in the Institute lecture theatre afterwards. Leaflets and booking forms are enclosed for tickets for both the lecture and Friends buffet supper. Sponsorship for Tony's lecture is from Cambridge Saab, who so generously supported Sir Ranulph Fiennes lecture in November last year.

You will also perhaps have seen posters advertising Tony's lecture. Another is enclosed which please feel free to copy and distribute to friends and others interested. Tickets: £10.00 each.

HMS Endurance Open Day for the ship's affiliated organisations was deferred to the 28th September - too late for a report in this issue regrettably. Last year she was in drydock - which was handy when it rained and we were able to shelter under the hull.

'A word in your ear, Ma'am!'
photo © Cathy Cooper

Sadly, we have to report the death of Sir Wally Herbert, the renowned polar explorer, in June after the last PB had gone to press. There have been many tributes from around the world and his daughter Kari has penned her own tribute which is below.

The Friends go from strength to strength I'm delighted to say notwithstanding the slight dip in membership Ann has reported on the Secretaries page. Preparations for our 2008 sponsored dog-sledging and trekking in Greenland are progressing well. There are still some spaces if Friends have friends who might be tempted. First contact is Celene Pickard, PA to the Friends via the Friends website. An introductory evening for those signed up is planned for 29th November at Dyers Hall in London. Details of this will be in the sign-up packs.

Finally, there is a copy of Penny Smith's article reprinted from the Mail on Sunday by kind permission. We are very grateful to Penny for her enthusiasm and the publicity generated. This has already sparked interest in next year's events.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell:

The academic year in Cambridge begins each October, and the Institute held its traditional welcome party earlier this week. It was a great pleasure to thank our staff for their work and achievements during the 2006-07 year, and to say hello to our newcomers. We have four students taking the M.Phil. in Polar Studies and five new doctoral students. Undergraduate lectures also began during the week, and our second and third year courses on glacial geology, glaciology and Arctic peoples are all well subscribed.

Field programmes are an important part of our summer activity. SPRI staff and students were working in Iceland, making measurements on glacier flow and retreat. The study also involved the use of an airborne laser ranging system to measure ice-cap elevations to better than 10 cm. Repeat measurements will give a very accurate picture of the extent of ice-cap thinning in response to climate change. Mechanical problems with the James Clark Ross, the UK's ice-strengthened research vessel, meant that my own research programme offshore of West Greenland has had to be postponed - to summer 2009!

We already hold large geophysical datasets on both modern ice caps and the marine record of past ice-sheet behaviour. Our laboratory work on the analysis and interpretation of these data, leading to the publication of our findings in scientific papers, continues throughout the year, as do our interactions with radio, television and the newspapers to project our findings to the public.

Archives & Museum

From the Librarian, Mrs Heather Lane

We are delighted to announce that the Institute was successful at the recent Christie's Polar Sale. With the help of the Friends and a generous donation from the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, we were able to obtain three important lots:

Lot 316. British Arctic Expedition 1875-76 - A manuscript journal by an unidentified seaman on board Alert, 15 July 1875 - 31 July 1876. The journal recounts the outward voyage (chiefly in terms of wildlife shot), and the freezing of both Discovery and Alert into winter quarters

Lot 323. Robert Falcon Scott's unpublished midshipman log, 1883-87. This autograph log as midshipman on HMS Euphrates, Boadicea, Royal Adelaide, Liberty, Monarch and Rover, is illustrated with hand-drawn charts, drawings and watercolours of coastal scenes, buildings and ships, diagrams of shipboard instruments and gear, and decorated title-pages. This is the primary source for the years of Scott's apprenticeship between the ages of 15 and 19, recording voyages to the Cape via St Vincent, to St Helena and Ascension, along the coast of West Africa, the South African coast, in British waters, to Gibraltar and back, and to the West Indies via Madeira and the Canaries.

Lot 342. A set of 92 gelatin silver prints from the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 and the Antarctic Relief Expeditions, 1902-1903 and 1903-1904 by John Donald Morrison, chronicling the relief voyages of the SS Morning, the majority captioned on the reverse. Morrison served as Engineer on the Morning, the relief ship involved in both Antarctic Relief Expeditions, 1902-04.

The log, in particular, is a major addition to the collection and illustrates Scott's skills as a draughtsman. In the lead up to the sale, Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, the Institute's recently appointed Curator of Art, was interviewed about the sale by BBC East. A clip can be seen at

From the Archives Manager, Naomi Boneham

The publicity generated by the donation of Captain Scott's last letters earlier this year continues to bear fruit for the Archives. We have recently been given two sets of letters relating to the Terra Nova Expedition.


The first set (MS 1924) is a series of letters written by William Lashly to his brother, which recount his South Pole journey and the loss of the Pole Party. These letters formed the basis for a recent article by John Tolson and Reg Little in The Oxford Times and have been donated by the Lashly family. The letters will be on display in the Museum until the end of October when they will be placed in the Archive and made available to researchers.

The second set of letters (MS 1930) is correspondence between Captain Scott and Henry Leach regarding the publicity rights for the Terra Nova expedition, including the plans for Captain Scott to write accounts of the expedition's progress.

Sir Wally Herbert - self portrait 1991
© Kari Herbert

The Archive is always pleased to accept such donations, which enhance its collections and ensure their preservation for future generations.

Other News

We reported in our last issue the sad death of Sir Wally Herbert in June shortly before going to press. There have been many tributes to him and the Institute is hosting an exhibition of his polar art under the title: The Polar Vision of Sir Wally Herbert from 25th October. His daughter, Kari, well-known in the Institute and elsewhere as a photographer and author kindly penned the following for Polar bytes.

"For as long as I can remember, every year on the 6th April the same few happy words have rung out - "Happy North Pole Day Dad!" - and every year the response has been essentially the same: a hug with a twinkle in my father's eyes if I was with him, or a twinkle in his voice if I was calling from elsewhere. For us it was an anniversary as significant, if not more so, than a birthday, because it marked a day when my father had achieved something so remarkable that it went beyond the realms of family pride and, however much its significance may have been overlooked since, is indelibly imprinted in history.

Dad had taken his first steps towards the Polar Regions at the tender age of twelve when, for a bet of five shillings, he walked across the River Severn on ice that was barely thick enough to support his meagre weight. It was the first great triumph of his life that he could remember, and one of the most painful: the diminutive hero of this river crossing was given a beating when he returned home for having ventured out on the dangerous ice. It made him only more fascinated with the thrill of adventure.

Some of the most moving stories I associate with Dad are those that involve the Polar Inuit; some told to me by him, others related by our Inuit friends; and all of them illustrate how he left his mark on their hearts. On my return to Thule four years ago I was regaled with stories from both old and young hunters and their families: my Inuit 'brothers' volunteered stories of how he had taken them with him on long journeys beyond their experience of their own familiar territory; how he knew their own ancient stories and history as well as they did; how he had been present when they had returned the bones of their first hunt to the spirit of the sea, and how he thought the same way as them - proved by the fact that when his sledge bumped over rough ice waking him from sleep on a long sledge journey his expletives were in the local dialect of Inuktun. Some of the old timers recounted how he understood their beliefs without mocking them; that he travelled as an Inuk hunter would and that the love of ice ran through his veins. All of them had light in their eyes as they spoke of 'Ooowaaalleeeee'.

His books, his photographs and paintings of both the Arctic and the Antarctic were his way of expressing his fundamental connection with these wilderness areas and the people of Thule, and it is this connection along with his unique character (rather than his achievements per se), that have coloured all the anecdotes and memories that my mother and I have heard from friends, acquaintances and peers since his passing.

Many of the Friends of SPRI will have met my father and, I suspect, will have recollections of him as being a quiet, understated man who would rather stand in the shadows and listen to other peoples tales rather than venture his own. And yet when the mood took him he was the consummate teller of stories; a man who could, in his soft and even voice, cast a spell upon his listeners until they were utterly entranced, astonished and above all, wonderfully entertained. Anyone that knew him knows a 'Wally story'; and every story reflects a rare humour and bold irreverence."

Kari Herbert, © 2007

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean)

Whilst I reported in the last issue that membership had reached 630, this included some Friends with long outstanding subscriptions and a group of twenty polar cruise passengers, whose subscriptions had been paid for one year by Discovery Initiatives, as part of their sponsorship deal with the Friends. After much chasing and not many renewals the membership now stands at 610. Its not all doom and gloom though - new members continue to join and it shouldn't be long before the membership is back to where it was.

Some Dates for your diary

At the Institute: AGM and buffet supper - 10th November
Exhibition of paintings and drawings from 'The Polar World' by Sir Wally Herbert. 25th October - 8th December
Elsewhere: Devon & Cornwall Polar Buffs meeting: 17th October, 7:30PM at the New Country Inn, Ivybridge, Devon.
Some 2008 events: Lent term Lecture dates: 9th & 23rd February and 8th & 29th of March. (NB Easter is on 23rd March next year)
Arctic Sledging 2nd - 8th March and 5th - 13th April
Summer Lunch 7th June.
Greenland Trek: 18th -27th July
AGM 8th November.
Plymouth: Friday, 6th June 2008 a dinner on the occasion of Captain Scott's 140th Birthday following a lecture by Dr. David Wilson. (Venue and other details to be advised)

index03.jpgWe are most grateful to Orient Lines for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes. More details at