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The Antarctic in black and white

The Antarctic in black and white

"Ponting is the most delighted of men; he declares this is the most beautiful spot he has ever seen, and spends all day and most of the night in what he calls "gathering it in" with camera and cinematograph,"

Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Over 1,000 original glass-plate negatives of the photographs taken during Captain Robert Falcon Scott's fateful expedition to the Antarctic from 1910-1912 will be housed at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The Institute has been awarded a grant of over half a million pounds from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to enable the purchase.

The photographs, taken by professional photographer Herbert Ponting who travelled with Scott to the Antarctic, are some of the best-known images of the Southern continent ever produced. They capture not only the splendour of the Antarctic environment and the hardships of early exploration, but also the day-to-day life of the expedition and its members and the innovative scientific work that they undertook.

The Herbert Ponting archive comprises a unique collection of the original glass-plate negatives of these photographs, stored in the original wooden boxes that Ponting used to carry them back from the expedition.

"Ponting's photographs of Antarctica remain among the most evocative images ever taken of the continent. In exhibiting these images in our Museum, we will be able to project not only the huge scale of the Antarctic and its great ice sheet, but also the lives of those who were involved in the early exploration and scientific discoveries about an Antarctic environment that remains important today in the context of climate change in a warming world. I am, indeed, delighted that such an important collection, recording so graphically Scott's last expedition, will now be housed in the Institute under conditions which will ensure its long-term preservation, and displayed in our Museum," said Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute

Robyn Greenblatt, Regional Manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund in the East of England added:

'This is a wonderful collection and we are thrilled to make it available to the public for the first time. The images create an iconic link to one of the best known expeditions in British history, and will be a great asset for local people and visitors alike.'

The Institute was established as a memorial to Captain R.F. Scott and those who died with him on his final expedition to the Antarctic. On the expedition, Scott and four colleagues reached the South Pole but died tragically during the return journey to their base. The Institute contains unrivalled collections of artefacts, letters and diaries from British exploration of both the Antarctic and Arctic, including a great breadth and depth of material from the 'heroic age', involving expeditions such as those of Scott and Shackleton. The Institute's dual role as a centre for modern scientific research on climate change and keeper of much of Britain's Polar heritage makes it unique worldwide.

An exhibition of the glass plates and the spectacular images printed from them is planned for the Institute in 2005.

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Notes for editors:

  1. For photographs contact the University of Cambridge Press Office.
  2. The Institute was founded in 1920 and is a sub-department of the Department of Geography in the University of Cambridge. More information on the history of SPRI can be found on the website:
  3. The sum granted by the HLF is £533,000

For further Information please contact:

  1. Corina Hadjiodysseos, Press and Publications Office
    University of Cambridge
    Tel: 01223 332300
  2. Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director
    The Scott Polar Research Institute
    University of Cambridge
    Tel: 01223 336541