The race to the South Pole between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott is one of the most exciting and most tragic events in the history of polar exploration. Although a lot of the details are known, new artefacts appear out of the ice of Antarctica every now and then and shed light on further details on the fate of some of the expedition members. A photographer’s notebook left behind a century ago at Captain Scott’s last expedition base at Cape Evans, Antarctica, has been now discovered and conserved by New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust.

The notebook belonging to George Murray Levick of Scott’s Northern party allows further insights into the fate of the team. © Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)
The notebook belonging to George Murray Levick of Scott’s Northern party allows further insights into the fate of the team. © Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZ)

The Trust’s conservation specialists found the notebook outside Scott’s 1911 Terra Nova base. Each year the summer snow melt around the building causes variations in run off patterns, exposing the notebook for the first time in more than 100 years. The notebook is a “Wellcome Photographic Exposure Record and Dairy 1910”. It belonged to George Murray Levick (1876-1956), surgeon, zoologist and photographer, his name clearly written in the opening pages.  

A self-portrait of George Murray Levick smoking a pipe and reading on his bunk in the hut at Cape Adare, Antarctica. © P48/14/5 Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
A self-portrait of George Murray Levick smoking a pipe and reading on his bunk in the hut at Cape Adare, Antarctica. © P48/14/5 Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Levick was a part of Scott’s 1910-1913 expedition and a member of the Northern Party. The notebook contains his pencil notes detailing the date, subjects and exposure details for the photographs he took during 1911 while at Cape Adare before undergoing a harsh winter in an ice cave on Inexpressible Island. “It’s an exciting find. The notebook is a missing part of the official expedition record. After spending seven years conserving Scott’s last expedition building and collection, we are delighted to still be finding new artefacts,” said Nigel Watson, Antarctic Heritage Trust’s Executive Director. The trust is responsible for the conservation of five historic expedition bases, among them the ones of Ernest Shackleton and Edmund Hillary.

The notebook’s binding had been dissolved by 100 years of ice and water damage allowing the pages to be separated and digitized before repair. Close examination reveals links between the notations in the notebook and photographs held by the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge and attributed to Levick. Each page of the notebook has been conserved by the Trust back in New Zealand before being rebuilt back into sections and sewn back together. The cover has been reconstructed. The notebook has been returned to Antarctica; one of 11,000 artefacts at Cape Evans.

Pages 59B and 60A from the diary that show Levick’s notations: Priestley, Dickason and Browning set a fish trap and Campbell with theodolite © NZAHT
Pages 59B and 60A from the diary that show Levick’s notations: Priestley, Dickason and Browning set a fish trap and Campbell with theodolite © NZAHT

Source: New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, www.nzaht.org