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Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack


New Exhibition Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack opens 21 September


Oscar pictured with some surviving members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1917, after they were rescued from the ice. Canterbury Museum 1975.231.36


Oscar was labelled a lazy dog with “dirty habits” by members of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–1917) – until he saved their lives.

Oscar travelled to Antarctica on the Aurora in 1914 as part of the Ross Sea Party, the support crew for Ernest Shackleton’s attempted overland crossing of Antarctica via the South Pole.

He was part of a team of four dogs that pulled sick expedition members to safety in a snowstorm. The crew credited him with saving their lives.

Oscar was one of hundreds of dogs who pulled sledges and provided companionship, and at times food, for explorers on the great Antarctic expeditions.

Stories about Antarctica usually focus on the heroic humans who explored the continent, but none of their feats could have been accomplished without dogs like Oscar.

Canterbury Museum is telling the tales of these canine characters in its new exhibition Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack.

Visitors to the exhibition can view large-scale photographs and objects from the Museum’s significant Antarctic collection, and hear from former Scott Base dog handlers.

Dogs from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914 – 17) look on as their ship, Shackleton’s Endurance, is slowly crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea in 1915. Canterbury Museum 1971.53.3


The exhibition’s curator, Dr Jill Haley, says the close bonds between dogs and explorers stood out while she was preparing the exhibition.

“From reading diaries and looking at photos, it’s clear the dogs weren’t just there to pull the sleds. Even Roald Amundsen, who actually killed and ate his dogs on his way to the South Pole, was very fond of them.”

Jill says the dogs’ stories are an important but often overlooked part of Canterbury’s rich historic connection with Antarctica.

“Canterbury’s connection to Antarctica is one of its defining features, and these dogs are part of that history. Several expeditions quarantined their dogs out on Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour and many dogs were homed with Canterbury families when they came back from the ice.”

Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack runs from 21 September to 10 March 2019. The exhibition is timed for the Antarctic Season Opening, when many of today’s Antarctic explorers will pass through Canterbury on their way to the frozen continent.

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