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16 Mar

I have just given a talk on Edward Adrian Wilson at the University of Canterbury, I spoke to the Antarctic Society (Canterbury branch) and the Canterbury Historical Association,– a really pleasurable occasion.

There is much interest here in the early 1900 expeditions, which came to Christchurch and sailed to the Antarctic from the port at Lyttelton. There is also a very particular connection between Edward and Oriana and New Zealand -the couple had married in 1901, only three weeks before ‘Discovery’ sailed off into the unknown and their delayed honeymoon took place in New Zealand after ‘Discovery’ returned to Lyttelton in 1904. They loved the country and wanted to make their home here. Wilson’s ambition was to record of the local flora and fauna for posterity.

In 1912 Oriana lived for a year in Sumner, Christchurch, staying in ‘Terra Nova’s reassembled old meteorological hut. She was eagerly awaiting her husband’s return. She was to read the devastating news of his death on a billboard –he had been dead for nearly a year and she never really recovered from the blow, though always continued faithful to her husband’s legacy and interests. She made many friends in New Zealand and returned regularly, she made careful recordings of the bird life. Her lifelong connection with the country was rewarded with the CBE, awarded for her war work for the New Zealand government.

But following the two devastating earthquakes of 2011and 2012, the Christchurch that Oriana would have known, the elegant Anglo/Scottish city on the Canterbury plane is no more. Ninety percent of the historic buildings have been demolished. There have been painful years of deconstruction and large areas of flattened buildings remain. On a positive note the city is now reconstructing and rebuilding apace. A modern city center, in an earthquake proof style, is emerging.

The cathedral remains an area of contention. Some want restoration of this iconic symbol of the city forefathers- a little piece of the old country – whilst others favour a modern replacement, I imagine, similar to Coventry. The decision is still to be reached.

Lyttelton can now only be reached from Christchurch by road and train tunnels. Its old stone buildings and warehouses were destroyed, though amazingly, the wooden houses in the amphitheater of hills around the port have survived. The port is active, but passenger ships are currently diverted to Akaroa along the coast.

We have driven over 2.000 km in the N. and S. Island, New Zealand is a beautiful country: beaches, rollers, majestic mountains, farms, vineyards, museums (I was particularly impressed by Wellington and Napier) and the oceans. I can completely understand Edward Wilson’s wish to return and I want to return again. I hope reconstruction will proceed apace.

Christchurch Cathedral today

another viewof destroyed end


21 Feb

For centuries explorers and ships have been lost in an attempt to find a path through this icy maze, a path that would allow faster transit between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (said to be 40% quicker than through the Panama Canal). Amundsen realized that sea nearest to the mainland remained passable for longer for navigation. He was the first to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific but the journey took years (1903-1906). His route was through shallow waters.
In 1957, three American Coast Guard Cutters, Storis, Bramble and Spar became the first to navigate a Deep Water Passage through the Northwest Canadian Archipelago but the time and costs involved were not economic in commercial terms. Now as an example of the benefits of climate change, the recent opening up of the Northwest Passage is one of the most remarkable. Previously any cargo vessel needed an escort from Canadian icebreakers.
The ice melt reached a point last year that allowed a strengthened cargo vessel to navigate through the passage without this escort. 23,000 tons of nickel were transported from a Canadian mine to China via the deep-water passage, saving time and costs – a remarkable first!
The Passage is within the Arctic Circle. Inevitably, as with the Antarctic, sovereignty questions arise. The United States, Canada, Russia and Denmark (Greenland), all have significant interests within the region. In addition, as mentioned in the Geographical (February, 2015), the Inuit population hunt and travel over the area. Canadian Rangers now mount permanent sovereignty patrols. Some Russians (inevitably) have suggested that the Rangers role is a militarization issue; the Rangers operate snow machines that keep the passage open. Let’s hope that their role will be accepted as a service to the worldwide community.