Read Diaries from Scott’s Final Antarctic Expedition

Thursday 22 August 2019

A grisly first-hand account of the discovery of explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s frozen body is now available to read online.

Curator Human History Jill Haley with Tryggve Gran's diaries

Canterbury Museum Curator Human History Jill Haley with Tryggve Gran's diaries. Image available CC BY NC and for News and Current Affairs Use

Canterbury Museum has digitised two diaries written by Tryggve Gran, a Norwegian who went to Antarctica with Scott’s Terra Nova expedition (1910–1913). The diaries can be viewed on the Museum’s Collections Online web page.

The Museum bought the diaries at auction in December 2018 for £150,000 (NZ$278,000).

One of the diaries, written in Norwegian, is an account of the expedition from 7 November 1911 to 25 February 1912. The other, in Gran’s imperfect English, covers the period until the expedition returned to Lyttelton, New Zealand, in February 1913.

The second diary describes Gran’s horror at finding the frozen bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry “Birdie” Bowers on 12 November 1912, more than 7 months after they perished returning from the South Pole.

“I will never forget it so long I live – a horrible nightmare could not have shown more horror than this,” he wrote. “The frost has made the skin yellow & transparent and I’ve never seen anything worse in my life.”

After retrieving the diaries and personal effects of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, Gran’s party collapsed the tent and piled snow on top of it to make a cairn. Gran made a cross from his own skis on the cairn, electing to take Scott’s skis back to the expedition’s base.

Tryggve Gran's diaries

Tryggve Gran wrote diaries in Norwegian (left) and English (right). Image available CC BY NC and for News and Current Affairs Use

“I am using the Owner [Scott]’s ski[s] – they must finish the journey – and they will,” he wrote in his diary.

These skis are now on display at Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Gran’s English diary also covers his ascent of Mount Erebus with fellow expedition members Raymond Priestley and Frederick Hooper, and the Terra Nova’s arrival in New Zealand with news of Scott’s death.

Dr Jill Haley, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History, bid for the diaries on the Museum’s behalf when they were auctioned at Christie’s in London.

She says the diaries provide a unique eyewitness account of a significant event in world history.

“Tryggve Gran wrote books about his Antarctic adventures, but these diaries are unique because they weren’t written with an audience in mind. The events and feelings recorded in them are totally authentic.

“For example, when the Terra Nova arrived to pick the men up in 1913, Gran wrote, ‘Hurrah,’ in big letters all over one page. He was obviously very happy to be heading back to civilisation.”

The diaries’ purchase was funded by the Adson Trust, which was formed in 2010 after a generous posthumous donation to benefit the Museum from Arthur Henry Harrison of Blenheim.

“Mr Harrison’s generosity has allowed us to make sure the content of these diaries is shared with the world,” Dr Haley says.

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