History: ‘These rough notes and our dead bodies…’
The story of the Terra Nova expedition, explored through the letters, diaries and photographs of its members, is being told during a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at Cambridge University’s Polar Museum.
These rough notes: Capt. Scott’s last expedition is exhibiting papers from the British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 held in the Polar Museum’s archive collection, much of which has never been on public display before.
The exhibition tells the full story of the fateful Terra Nova expedition, not just through the famous journals and letters of Scott, Bowers, Evans, Oates and Wilson, who perished on their way back from the Pole, but through other members of the ship’s crew and shore party.
It not only highlights the ‘Worst Journey in the World’ – the winter journey to collect eggs from the Emperor penguin colony at Cape Crozier – but also the largely forgotten ‘Northern Party’ – six men stranded for 21 months when the ship could not reach them through the heavy pack ice and forced to shelter from the brutal Antarctic winter in a cave dug into the snow.
Curator Kay Smith said: “This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these manuscripts exhibited together. Some of them are so fragile and valuable that they probably won’t go on display again for another hundred years. This is a wonderful occasion to have much more of our handwritten material on show.
“There are so many elements to the Terra Nova story and we’re bringing back to life some of the forgotten voices. We’re not just talking about the ‘race to the pole’ here, we’re talking about an entire crew of men, each telling their own story in their own way – and perhaps a different story from those you’re already familiar with.”
Archivist Naomi Boneham said: “It’s a chance to bring together many different voices from the expedition – from the ship’s company to the officers and scientists. These papers are never normally on display; the only way of seeing these documents until now has been to undertake a research project. By doing this we are able to let people see how the men viewed their experiences and how they recorded them.
“For the first sledge journey carried out in the Antarctic winter we have the shaky handwriting of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who had to abandon his diary as the conditions were so bad. We also have Birdie Bowers retelling the story in a letter to his mother and Dr Wilson’s official report, right through to Cherry’s celebrated account, ‘The Worst Journey in the World’ where his manuscript draft differs from what finally went into print.
“We know the story – we know how it ends – but they didn’t, so from the storms that beset the ship through to the party in the hut and on to the march to the South Pole we can go with them on their journey.”
1. Scott, writing his journal in the Cape Evans hut, winter 1911. This photograph was registered for US copyrights by Ponting on 12 May 1913. It was later published in Ponting, Herbert George (1922-January) (October 1921) "The Early Spring", in The Great White South
2. Scott's party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing) Oates, Scott,Wilson; (seated) Bowers, Edgar Evans. Heny Bowers, author.
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