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Museum acquires two more diaries by Scott’s ski expert

Canterbury Museum has acquired two Antarctic diaries, one describing the discovery of the frozen bodies of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and two of his companions.

The Museum bought the diaries, authored by Scott’s Norwegian skiing expert Tryggve Gran, at Christie’s Valuable Books and Manuscripts auction in London last week.

One diary, written in Norwegian, is an account of the expedition from 7 November 1911 to 25 February 1912. The other, in Gran’s imperfect English, covers the period until the expedition returned to Lyttelton, New Zealand, in February 1913.

In the second diary, Gran described his horror at finding the frozen bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry “Birdie” Bowers on 12 November 1912, more than 7 months after they perished returning from the South Pole.

“I will never forget it so long I live – a horrible nightmare could not have shown more horror than this,” Gran wrote. “The frost had made the skin yellow & transparent & I’ve never seen anything worse in my life. The Owner [the men’s name for Scott] seems to have struggled hard in the moment of death, while the two others seem to have gone off in a kind of sleep.”

Gran, who Scott had employed to teach the other expedition members to ski, was one of a group of 11 who set out to find the Polar Party – Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Lawrence “Titus” Oates and Edgar Evans – after they failed to return from their journey to the Pole.

Scott’s group had set out in October 1911 to become the first people to reach the South Pole. They made it to the Pole on 17 January 1912, but discovered the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them there by 34 days. On their return journey they were plagued by severe weather, which slowed their progress and caused their food and fuel to run out. The last entry in Scott’s own journal, which Gran read after discovering the bodies, is dated 29 March 1912.

After retrieving the diaries and personal effects of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, Gran’s party collapsed the tent and piled snow on top of it to make a cairn. Gran made a cross from his own skis on the cairn, electing to take Scott’s skis back to the expedition’s base.

“I am using the Owner’s ski[s] – they must finish the journey – and they will,” he wrote in his diary.

Canterbury Museum acquired two other diaries belonging to Gran, as well as four of his medals, in 2017. Gran likely edited those diaries to prepare them for others to read.

The newly-acquired diaries were written as the events of the expedition took place and have been subject to less editing than the other versions.

Anthony Wright, Canterbury Museum Director, says the diaries are a major acquisition for the Museum.

“I’m really pleased we managed to secure these diaries for our Antarctic collection. They’re an extraordinary first-hand account of some of the most significant events in Antarctic history, written as those events unfolded. History doesn’t get much more immediate than this,” he says.

“We already have one of the best Antarctic collections in the world, and our audience research shows it’s a major drawcard. Acquiring these diaries further cements Canterbury Museum’s reputation as one of the world’s best places to research and learn about Antarctica.”

The Museum paid £150,000 (NZ$278,000) for the diaries. Funding for the acquisition came from the Adson Trust, which was formed in 2010 after a generous posthumous donation to benefit the Museum from Arthur Henry Harrison of Blenheim.

“We continue to be immensely grateful to Mr Harrison. His bequest has made it possible for us to bring treasures like this to Canterbury, which was his sole intent,” Wright says.

The Museum plans to scan and digitise the English-language diary in the New Year, when the diaries arrive from London. The digital version will be available on the Museum’s website.

One of Gran’s diaries from the 2017 exhibition is currently on display in our exhibition Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack, on until 10 March 2019.

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