“Priceless” artifacts related to Antarctic explorers Ernest Shackleton and Capt Robert Falcon Scott were unearthed in a surprise find in the dark storage room of the New Zealand Weather Service.
Metservice staff came across a set of logbooks from some of the most famous Antarctic expeditions as they prepared to move buildings in Wellington.
The 1916-17 logbook of the famous Aurora sailboat records conditions during the rescue mission to rescue members of the 1914-16 Shackleton Transantarctic Expedition from Ross Island in Antarctica.
Other finds include two logbooks dated 1910 and 1911 from Terra Nova, the ship that carried Scott and his team in the tragic attempt to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Inventories and letters from Sir Douglas Mawson, a famous Australian geologist and Antarctic explorer, have also been discovered.
Kevin Alder, MetService’s director for weather data services, was handed the documents by a colleague and asked if they were worth holding onto. When Alder opened one and saw the words Terra Nova inside, he was stunned.
âNo one had a clue they even existed. I mean, it’s long forgotten, they’ve probably been sitting on the same shelf for 50 years,â Alder said.
Alder says the documents not only detail weather conditions and vessel positions, but also make observations of penguins, killer whales, the smoking Mt Erebus volcano and the state of sea ice.
âIt’s a little glimpse over time of the conditions on certain days.
âShackleton’s ship – you can see the weather the day his ship actually arrived to save the stranded group. Scott’s ship documents – one of them is the transit through the Indian Ocean. So it’s not Antarctica but it’s still the Terra Nova with Scott on board en route to Antarctica and it’s just amazing.
âIt’s such an amazing story that has been revealed now, 110 years laterâ¦ I get very emotional when I think about it and talk about it,â Alder said.
The artifacts were in excellent condition, he said, as they had been kept in a dark, cool room. âThere is hardly any deterioration. It’s amazing, because they were written in old ink with quill pens.
Metservice chief executive Stephen Hunt said it was an important find.
âThe documents certainly have meteorological value, but more importantly, they are invaluable historical artifacts from a time of extreme courage and sacrifice.
âThese expeditions included scientific discoveries and research, including careful recording of geographic, meteorological and ocean conditions. Scott, Shackleton and Mawson faced extreme polar conditions and went to great lengths to record observed and measured data in handwritten logs, âhe said.
Metservice is now in discussions with New Zealand institutions, including the government and the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, on where the documents should be kept.