Some Antarctic treasures at the Royal Geographical Society.

Episode: 30. Site Number: 084. Date Posted: 7 December 1996. Location: 1 Kensington Gore, London, England. Type: Institution.

Exterior of the RGS The Royal Geographical Society's house at 1 Kensington Gore, London, is a treasure-trove of Antarctic memorabilia, over and above the numerous journals, logbooks, correspondence and such manuscript material with which it is richly endowed.
      I dropped by a little over a year ago and sat there very comfortably as Karen Gee brought forth a variety of artifacts for my inspection. Some of the highlights (alphabetically): Birdie Bowers' ski sticks; a match box and flag belonging to Byrd; a variety of polar equipment from Sir Ranulph Fiennes; from Sir Vivian Fuchs, playing cards, a medal and an altimeter; Cherry-Garrard's skis; Sir Joseph Hooker's stockings, collecting bag and watch (he was assistant-surgeon/botanist on the Erebus under Ross); and Sir Douglas Mawson's half-sledge.
      Items associated with Robert Scott are in abundance, including medals, a horse shoe and a matchbox. His chemistry set is there, including containers of chemicals, a mortar and pestle, funnels, etc. (see Geographical Journal, July 1913). There are canvas bags with the wax seals of the RGS: inside are tea and pepper, provisions from the 'last camp;' also a small cylindrical sextant telescope, left by Amundsen at the South Pole.
      Other 'Last Expedition' items: Wilson's camera flash lamp with refill packet; a small bound New Testament with "Antarctic Expedition Terra Nova" stamped on the cover (noted as Wilson's); and a dining knife.
      From the Discovery: a very large coffee mug with fancy handle (white with blue and gold rim and the penguin logo of the 'Discovery Antarctic Expedition 1901' (on underside: "Doulton Burslem England"). There's a matching one on the Discovery in Dundee.
      Among the Ernest Shackleton artifacts: medals; a belt and knife; cap ribbon; ship's bell and a helmet worn on his Nimrod expedition, 1908-09. Shackleton gave his cotton helmet to an old friend, writing on it: "To Frank Thornton, I give this helmet, though it is not of any use in combat in 'When Knights Were Bold' it may be liked as it was worn 'When Nights Were Cold' when the most southerly point in this world was reached by man. With kindest wishes from E H Shackleton." (see the August 1993 issue of the Geographical Magazine).
      Other treasures within: The original photographic negatives of Scott's 1901-04 expedition; glass plate negatives taken by Hurley during Shackleton's Endurance expedition; a three volume set of Ponting's photographic prints given to the Oates family; a full portrait of Scott in uniform by Harrington Mann (in the new map room); a posthumous portrait of Weddell painted by Peake in 1838 and presented by John Barrow (according to A. G. E. Jones, although I didn't see it); and near the entrance, a model of the Discovery in a glass case (scale of 1/4 inch to 1 foot; made by Sunderland Model Making Co.)
      On the Exhibition Road facade of the Society's house is a bronze statue of Shackleton set in a niche. I'll leave that to another episode of The Low-Latitude Antarctic Gazetteer.