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Men who sew: Part 2 « The Polar Museum: news blog

The Polar Museum: news blog

Men who sew: Part 2

I have blogged before about men who sew in the Polar regions, sometimes to make life-saving emergency repairs, and sometimes for fun. However, one explorer took sewing to a whole new level, making his own coat and tent, as well as mending clothes.  This explorer was Frederick George Jackson, who became famous for mapping the archipelago known as Franz Josef Land in 1894-7.  During this expedition he also happened to rescue the Norwegian heroic explorer Fridtjof Nansen who had been missing for three years and presumed dead.  Nansen and his companion Hjalmar Johansen bumped into Jackson while trying to kayak to Spitzbergen, and were finally able to go home.

Recently I came across Jackson’s homemade coat in the textile stores:


He made it by cutting up a Jaeger blanket, and it is hand sewn with huge stitches in thick white thread.  The coat is rather distinctive because the pockets are slanting, the shoulders are very narrow and the waistband is designed so it can be fastened to keep out the wind.  Jackson used this coat on his most famous 1894-7 expedition, and it seems to have defined his personal style, since a caricature of him which appeared in Vanity Fair in 1897 shows him wearing a very similar garment:


I am intrigued as to why Jackson made this coat himself – after all he could have had one made for him to his specifications.  And why did he make his own tent?  Not surprisingly he had his own sewing kit (which he made himself – of course!):


But when you look further into our collection there are numerous other “special” things which Jackson either made himself or designed for very specific use in the Polar regions. For example, there is a snow shovel, a set of space-saving cooking utensils, a special kettle…

N366        N392(2)     N405(1)

Even his goggles were modified.  He also seems to have loved re-purposing things.  On the 1894-7 expedition he had a knife where the sheath was made from a single finger from a leather glove:


He also had a candlestick made from a tin can (with candles made from bear fat – yum!):

N358(1)     N357

and riding spurs made from the rowlocks of a boat:


Taken as a group I think these objects say quite a lot about Jackson’s character.  He obviously had strong and individual opinions about what he wanted, and plenty of imagination and determination to implement his ideas even when raw materials were scarce.  These qualities will have stood him in good stead as a nineteenth century polar explorer.

I have made an archival padded hanger for the jacket, and placed it in a dust cover to protect it.  It is now hanging with other jackets in our textile store.






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