Once in a lifetime chance to see famous artefacts from Antarctica’s first buildings

Thursday 11 April 2019

The world’s most famous fruitcake and a forgotten watercolour painting will be displayed in Christchurch when an exhibition of objects from Antarctica’s first buildings opens in May.

Cape Adare hut

Hut at Cape Adare, Antarctic Heritage Trust

Created by the Antarctic Heritage Trust in partnership with Canterbury Museum, Breaking the Ice: The First Year in Antarctica will be the public’s only chance to see items left behind by Carsten Borchgrevink’s Southern Cross and Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expeditions in two huts at Cape Adare.

The artefacts were painstakingly conserved in a Canterbury Museum laboratory by an Antarctic Heritage Trust team of international experts. Under the government permit required to remove the items from Antarctica, they must be returned to the huts following their temporary removal for conservation.

Objects in the exhibition are predominantly from Borchgrevink’s 1898–1900 Southern Cross expedition and include scientific equipment, clothing and sledging supplies.

A century-old fruitcake and a watercolour of a Treecreeper bird painted by Dr Edward Wilson, who died alongside Scott, will also feature. News of their rediscovery during conservation was covered worldwide with more than 2,500 stories published on the fruitcake and painting.

Breaking the Ice, which opens on 18 May, tells the story of the British Antarctic Expedition, which sailed from London on the Southern Cross landing at Cape Adare in January 1899. The expedition, led by Carsten Borchgrevink, recorded a number of Antarctic firsts. The explorers were the first people to spend a winter on the Antarctic continent, they erected the first buildings, took the first steps on the Ross Ice Shelf, were the first to use dogs and the Primus stove on the continent, and recorded the first full year of climate data. Zoologist Nicolai Hanson was the first person to die and be buried in Antarctica.

Borchgrevink and his party inhabited Cape Adare – an area now famous for its harsh weather and as the site of the world’s largest Adelie Penguin colony – from 1899–1900. Although the expedition sailed under the Union Jack, most of the crew were Norwegian.

The explorers built two huts at Cape Adare, using kitsets designed in Norway, which were also used in 1911 by the Northern Party of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition.

Antarctic Heritage Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson expects enormous interest in the exhibition and says these huts are the only example left of humanity’s first dwelling on any continent, which makes them of historic significance for the world.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to exhibit these artefacts and through sharing their stories, give people a glimpse into early Antarctic exploration and what these men endured in the first year on the Antarctic continent,” says Nigel.

“We were thrilled by the global interest in the fruitcake and the Treecreeper painting … literally millions of people saw those stories online. People are fascinated by these expeditions, the provisions they left behind and how the Trust is able to conserve them. I am confident this exhibition will be popular as it is the only chance for people to see these objects.”

Museum Director Anthony Wright says Canterbury Museum has one of the world’s most significant collections from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and discovery – almost 7,000 objects.

“We are delighted that we’ve been able to work with the Trust in developing this exhibition so that this unique Antarctic collection can be seen by as many people as possible. This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we hope that Cantabrians and visitors to the city will take time to see the exhibition.”

The expedition was plagued with difficulties and controversy. As well as Hanson’s death, one of the huts caught fire and there were ongoing tensions between the explorers. On their return, their achievements in science and exploration were mostly ignored by the British establishment.

However, the expedition’s experience informed future trips to Antarctica and paved the way for the expeditions of Robert Falcon Scott, Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton and others.

Breaking the Ice, the story of the first year in Antarctica (1899–1900), opens at Canterbury Museum on 18 May and runs to 13 October.

Background Information

 Antarctic Heritage Trust is a New Zealand-based not-for-profit with a vision of Inspiring Explorers.

A world leader in cold-climate heritage conservation, the Trust cares for the expedition bases and more than 20,000 artefacts left behind by Antarctic explorers, including Carsten Borchgrevink, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Edmund Hillary.

To date the Trust has restored and conserved Scott’s huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point, Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Hillary’s hut at Scott Base. This has led to a number of significant discoveries including 114-year-old whisky under Ernest Shackleton’s hut, a notebook from surgeon and photographer George Murray Levick at Scott’s Cape Evans hut as well as lost Ross Sea Party photographs. In 2017, conservators discovered a century-old fruitcake and a 118-year-old watercolour amongst artefacts from Antarctica’s first buildings at Cape Adare.

The Trust shares the legacy of exploration through outreach programmes and encourages the spirit of exploration through expeditions to engage and inspire a new generation.

You can read more at www.nzaht.org.

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