Tag Archives: Scott Polar Research Institute


26 May

This is an evocative group of images chosen from the thousands held in the SPRI collection relating to the 1910-14 British Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole

Scott wanted to record accurately the work, the living and camping conditions, the environment and the struggles that his men experienced. He engaged the services of a well-recognised ‘Camera Artist’ Herbert George Ponting. Ponting was well known for the quality of photographs he had made during his travels in China and Japan and he made the most beautiful records of Antarctic life on the Terra Nova expedition.

Ponting did not go on the long sledge journeys and did not accompany Scott and his team on their attempt at the Pole. He had to teach team members the difficult art of photography: Scott, Levick, Debenham, Gran, Taylor, Bowers and Wright picked up the intricacies with varying degrees of proficiency. They all made valuable records of their journeys.

Scott and Bowers recorded the final journey. The two had eventually captured the art well enough to make an important historical record of one of the most famous expeditions in Antarctica, but the learning process was not without problems. Ponting insisted that the men must show six correctly exposed negatives from six plates before progressing to colour filters (which were used to manipulate the contrast between blue and other colours in the black and white films). In training ‘Scott’s zeal outran his capacity’ on some occasions. Once, when no film appeared after developing for a few minutes, careful enquiry revealed that though he had put in the plate holder and set the shutter and checked other requirements he had finally forgotten to take the cap off the lens. Ponting reflected on how often he had made similar errors!

The final image of the five exhausted men at the South Pole was taken by Bowers, who released the shutter via a long thread.

Scott used a camera from A.E. Stacey and Co for his images, Bowers used a smaller camera. An orthochromic black/white photographic film was used. Scott’s photos were sent back to Base with the last returning team. Bowers images were found in the tent that contained the bodies of the three dead heroes when it was discovered by a search party led by Surgeon Atkinson, eight months after their deaths.

The exhibition brings the tragic story to light again and is well worth visiting.


9 Nov


I have just spent a productive week here. But I am always surprised at the number of people, even those living in Cambridge, who are unaware of this remarkable institute. I want to add my note of praise.

The Institute was founded in 1920 as a memorial to Robert Falcon Scott and the four men who died with him on the return from the South Pole in 1912. It is now the outstanding centre for polar research in the Arctic and Antarctic. The institution moved to its current home in 1932, when a Cambridge resident, writing about the inscription in the building (which ends videt Dei), reflected of the unexpected harmony between science and religion – the scientific advances made by the early explorers but also their faith – an issue still endlessly debated.

The centre scores on several levels: the museum (renovated in 2010), boast artefacts, paintings drawings, photographs and other material that relates to polar history, exploration and science. The exhibits emphasise not only polar exploration but also importantly, the significance of the poles in the world today. The artefacts are clearly labelled and the descriptions concise and informative. It is a popular venue for schools; I have hardly ever been there when there wasn’t a group of school children checking information, looking at the skis/boots sledges and giving the place a buzz. Some of the poignant objects displayed draw attention to the endurance of Polar explorers.I have seen people with tears in their eyes as they reflect on the endurance of the explorers.

The library (reference), covers a huge range of areas from the Arctic to the Antarctic – Canada Greenland, Russia, The Southern Ocean to name a few. The subjects covered are comprehensive: Anthropology, Meteorology, Sealing, Whaling, Zoology are listed amongst a myriad of subjects. There is a map collection

In addition the archive is truly immense. I understand it holds over 900.000 unpublished manuscripts relating to British polar history. The Picture Library also has a large collection of unpublished photographs. These can be viewed digitally.

There are postgraduate students, research associates and fellows. Research continues in Glaciology, Climate change, the Polar landscape and more. The Institute is a magnificent example of professional excellence.

Go there if you are in Cambridge!

How the Edgar Evans statute might look in Swansea

16 Jan

A computer generated image of how the Edgar Evans statute might look to passers by in Swansea



Meeting at Jaffrey 15-17 June The SouthPole-sium

26 Jun

This was fantastic! About 60 delegates: authors, artists, mountaineers, collectors, dealers. A real meeting of minds and the hospitality and entertainment provided was fantastic too. All organized by Rob Stephenson of the Antarctic Circle. Jaffrey is a very attractive town and of course, New Hampshire is well known for its beauty.

Richard Pierce had a book launch for his new book ‘Dead Men’ which went well and many delegates contributed. To mention a few presentations, there were talks on the Japanese expedition to Antarctica of 1910, Tom Crean, The Falkland Islands, Antiquarian Collectors, Tristan da Cunha, The Scott Polar Research Institute, also beautiful Arctic images. It was a real meeting of minds. The emphasis was on short presentations and much discussion.

I spoke on Edgar Evans and also made a presentation in the ‘Toadstool Bookshop’ in nearby Peterborough.

It was a great occasion!


The wives of the dead heroes

14 Mar

A blogger has written to ask about the ongoing lives of the wives of the men who died with Scott.

This is an interesting question. Three of Scott’s party were married: Scott himself, Edward Wilson and Edgar Evans.

When the news reached England, pensions were awarded to the widows. The amounts were determined on the ranks of their husbands. Kathleen Scott received an Admiralty Pension of £200 p.a.a gratuity of £693 and £36 back pay. She was given a Government Pension of £200 p.a. and £850 from the Mansion House Trust Fund (M.H.T.F.), her husbands British Antarctic Expedition  (B.A.E.) salary, plus income from books and articles. She was a wealthy woman.

Oriana Wilson received £300 from Government Pensions, £850 from the M.H.T.F and Wilson’s B.A.E salary of £636

Lois Evans and her three children had an Admiralty Pension of 7s 6p a week, 2s a week for the children (when they were minors), plus £52 back pay, a government pension of 12s 6p a week plus 3s a week for each child. She was given £1,250 from the M.H.T.F and her husband’s £44 B.A.S salary. She professed haeself well satisfied.

Kathleen was awarded the rank of widow of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1913. She remarried in 1922 and became Baroness Kennet in 1935.

Orians did not remarry. The news of her husband’s death shook her faith, she never really recovered from his loss. She worked for the N.Z Red Cross in World War 1 and was made C.B.E. She supported Frank Debenham in the new Scott Polar Research Institute and presented the institute with many water colours and pencil sketches. She followed her husband’s interest in ornithology and became quite an expert. She lived in Hertfordshire and died there in 1945.

Lois remained in Wales She was with the other widows for an investiture in Buckingham Palace where she received Edgar’s medal and clasp which celebrated his Antarctic expeditions. She was the only widow alive at the premier of ‘Scott in the Antarctic’ a famous film, still remembered and premiered in 1948