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South Polar Times

This month's items were chosen by Jan Turner, Deputy Librarian.


Title Page from South Polar Times

'Official' South Polar Times crest

Title page of South Polar Times,
April 1902, vol.1 Watercolour

Sledging from South Polar Times


'The Tobaggan race'

Detail from article 'The King's Birthday,
South Polar Times,
April 1903, vol.6
Pen-and-ink sketch


Why did you choose this item?

The South Polar Times has long been a particular favourite of mine as it illustrates the human side of expedition life and comradeship, as well as the scientific nature of their day-to-day work.

The British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-4 (leader Robert Falcon Scott) was sponsored jointly by the RGS-IBG, the Royal Society and the British Government. The South Polar Times was an in-house magazine, produced over the winters of 1902-3, when their ship Discovery remained ice-bound in McMurdo Sound. Scott and his team appointed "Mr. Shackleton as editor to guide its destiny," deciding that their journal should give "instruction as well as amusement." Its production was democratic, with the men as well as the officers being invited to contribute to its pages.

The series provides a unique insight into the activities and personalities of the Expedition members. Content varies from amusing poetry and puzzles to highly detailed zoological diagrams, charts, maps and accounts of scientific methodology. It includes watercolours, sketches, silhouettes and caricatures produced by, amongst others, Edward Wilson, the Expedition doctor and zoologist. Explaining the difficulties of artistic endeavour en route to the Antarctic, Wilson said, "painting a bird which is swinging through 30° every few seconds is trying, things wont stay as you put them. Your water is hung on a hook, your paper pinned to a board and you hold your paint-box; you yourself are wedged into the bunk cupboard and kept there by a boot on the chest of drawers opposite. You put your paint-box down to settle a wing for the thirtieth time and down it rattles and the paints go all over the cabin For deck work I have made a bad-weather sketching box to hang round my neck and can sketch comfortably in it even when it rains and blows a gale..."


What is your role in the Collections?

I am currently Deputy Librarian, though staff roles are about to undergo some changes due to the Unlocking the Archives project, involving mergers of both stock and Collections staff.

In addition to a share in general Library tasks, such as enquiry work and stock processing, I have a particular interest in, and responsibility for, the long-term preservation of the Collections. This involves organising conservation work on fine bindings, regular binding of journal runs, teaching correct handling techniques to staff and users and advising on security issues.