At the turn of the 20th century Antarctica was the focus of one of the last great races of exploration and discovery. Expeditions led by Scott and Shackleton built simple wooden bases from which they set-out to explore the continent. The explorers mapped and undertook the first scientific study of Antarctica. The departure of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party in 1917 marked the end of this heroic era of exploration.

Captain Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans. Photo: Alasdair Turner
Captain Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans. Photo: Alasdair Turner

The world’s most extreme conservation project has saved three of these historic wooden buildings and thousands of artefacts once used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton and their men. These huts are all located on Ross Island, Captain Scott’s 1902 Discovery Hut at Hut Point, Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 Nimrod Hut at Cape Royds and Captain Scott’s 1911 Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans.

The three heroic-era buildings and their artefact collections were in danger of loss after a century of extreme environmental conditions. This Antarctic summer after a decade of extensive conservation work by the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) this ambitious project reached its goal. Over the life of the project 62 specialists from 11 countries have undertaken cutting edge heritage conservation unprecedented in its scale and complexity in the polar regions, to conserve Scott’s and Shackleton’s Antarctic legacy.

Working from purpose-built conservation laboratories, artefact conservators, have meticulously conserved 18,202 individual artefacts including food supplies, clothing, equipment and personal items left behind in the historic huts. Heritage carpenters have repaired and weatherproofed Scott’s huts at Cape Evans and Hut Point and Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds, improving environmental conditions.

Lead Carpenter Gordon Macdonald lifts the floorboards at Scott’s Discovery Hut. Photo: Alasdair Turner
Lead Carpenter Gordon Macdonald lifts the floorboards at Scott’s Discovery Hut. Photo: Alasdair Turner

During the conservation work previously undiscovered artefacts have been found including most famously crates of Scotch whisky and brandy at Shackleton’s historic base, unseen photographs and a notebook from Scott’s historic hut at Cape Evans.

While ongoing maintenance of the buildings and artefacts from Scott’s and Shackleton’s bases remain a priority, the Antarctic Heritage Trust will now begin conservation work on the first building on the continent Carsten Borchgrevink’s 1899 Hut at Cape Adare in Northern Victoria Land. Upon securing funding they will also work on the building which was made for the Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1955-58 and that was the original building at New Zealand’s Scott Base.

Conservator Nicola Dunn and Project Manager- Artefacts Lizzie Meek record the location of objects, in this case a pair of leg-warmers, in Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans. Photo: Alasdair Turner
Conservator Nicola Dunn and Project Manager- Artefacts Lizzie Meek record the location of objects, in this case a pair of leg-warmers, in Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans. Photo: Alasdair Turner

“The dedication of the conservation teams and the passion for the legacy that they are saving has been the key to the project’s success. We are particularly grateful for the support of the New Zealand Government and supporters worldwide. With ongoing care these sites will stand for current and future generations,” said Nigel Watson, Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Executive Director.

Source: New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust