Canterbury Museum


Museum acquires recently discovered Scott manuscript

Posted: 9 August 2010

A manuscript handwritten by Captain Robert Falcon Scott during the British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 and recently discovered in the warehouse of a London bookseller has been acquired by Canterbury Museum.

The 11 page manuscript was written by Captain Scott for the lecture he gave to the men at Cape Evans, Antarctica on 8 May 1911. Titled ‘Southern Journey 1911–12’, it sets out Scott’s plans for the journey to the South Pole to be made the following summer. The lecture was one of a series that were delivered by expedition members on various topics of interest throughout the long winter months.

The document was discovered in the warehouse of Bertram Rota Books Ltd by Dorothea Rota while sorting through boxes after the death of her father-in-law, Anthony Rota, in December 2009. One of the boxed items was labelled ‘Scott – Manuscript’ on the spine.

Mrs Rota said, “There was no indication of which Scott (it wasn’t signed), but that became clear quite quickly once we began to read it. A handwriting comparison confirmed that it was indeed Robert Falcon Scott.”

“With the kind help of experts at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, we discovered that the manuscript was one of a series of lectures given at the base hut by the expedition members during the first winter (1911) at Cape Evans. “

Mrs Rota approached Canterbury Museum regarding the manuscript earlier this year. Canterbury Museum Curator of Manuscripts, Joanna Condon, said she was immediately interested and because of the document’s mysterious past decided to have it assessed by UK based Antarctic historian and writer Meredith Hooper. Once satisfied as to the authenticity of the document, the Museum proceeded with the acquisition.

Mrs Rota stated, “It is uniquely fitting, as New Zealand was the place where Scott joined the Terra Nova before arriving at Ross Island, that its ultimate home will be Canterbury Museum.”

Much criticism and debate has been centred around Captain Scott’s journey to the South Pole. This manuscript gives details about his planning and calculations and provides us with a deeper insight into his approach to the journey. The manuscript also reveals that Scott’s planning was very much based on the journey made by Ernest Shackleton’s National Antarctic Expedition 1907 – 1909 in which the party turned back only 156km from the South Pole.

The manuscript will be on display in the Museum foyer from 20 August 2010, to tie in with the exhibition The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton & Antarctic Photography, which opens on the same day in the Robert McDougall Gallery at Canterbury Museum. A touch-screen display will allow visitors to virtually ‘flick through’ the pages of the manuscript.

Canterbury Museum is located on Rolleston Avenue in Christchurch’s Cultural Precinct. Admission is free; donations are appreciated.