Magazine article Geographical

A Century of Captain Scott's Hut: One Hundred Years after It Was Built, Scott's Hut at Cape Evans Still Stands as a Testament to a Remarkable Period in History. While Its Original Construction and the Effects of the Dry, Frigid Climate Have Undoubtedly Contributed to Their Preservation, It's the Work of Conservators That Has Kept It in Such Extraordinary Condition

Magazine article Geographical

A Century of Captain Scott's Hut: One Hundred Years after It Was Built, Scott's Hut at Cape Evans Still Stands as a Testament to a Remarkable Period in History. While Its Original Construction and the Effects of the Dry, Frigid Climate Have Undoubtedly Contributed to Their Preservation, It's the Work of Conservators That Has Kept It in Such Extraordinary Condition

Article excerpt

Ely any standard, the history of human activity in Antarctica is brief; the last discovered and most remote continent is the only one where the first examples of human habitation may still be visited (weather and ice permitting). And while the many journals and books written by those involved in the early exploration of the frozen south offer us an insight to those times, Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans provides a particularly poignant link with this moment in our history.

Six huts and three ruins survive from the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. Eight other huts have been lost due to natural causes: the calving of ice shelves, melt and storm, and dilapidation in severe weather. A few other historic huts are found on the islands surrounding the continent, but fewer than half of the original huts remain.

There was no expectation that the huts would endure much beyond their intended use. However, where winter parties landed, they were well stocked with provisions for two reasons: the possibility of an extra enforced winter if ice prevented a relief ship arriving, and as potential refuges for any case of shipwreck or other stranding. Thus, an astonishing .amount of food and other items remains in the surviving huts.

The huts' excellent condition more than 100 years after they were built is a result of several factors, including the strength of their original fabric (built to withstand blizzards), their locations (typically in sheltered sites), the generally frigid and dry climate (they may be said to be 'in the freezer'), the rarity of visitors--most of whom are well aware of their historical significance--and, especially, the work of the organisations responsible for them. For all three of the huts on Ross Island, this is the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT), which has the largest concentration of historic huts and has been assiduous in looking after them.

BRIEF OCCUPATION

The Cape Evans hut had been inhabited by 25 men in midwinter of 1911, 13 in 1912, ten in 1915 and four in 1916. It was closed, rather precipitously, on 16 January 1917, when the seven survivors of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party departed what had been distinctly a hardship post after their ship, with most of their supplies, was blown away during a blizzard.

The hut was undisturbed until February 1947, when a brief visit was made during the USA's Operation Highjump. In January 1948, a second visit was made, and both reported that the hut was largely filled with ice.

In the 1955-56 Antarctic summer, preparation for deployment of scientific stations on Ross Island were begun by the USA and New Zealand as part of their contributions to the International Geophysical Year. After this finished, both countries continued to maintain their stations--and permanent occupation of the island began with McMurdo Station for the USA and Scott Base for New Zealand. They were about 20 kilometres from Cape Evans and this proximity provided excellent opportunities for examination and maintenance of the historic huts.

Shortly after arrival, the New Zealand personnel took detailed photographs that showed the degree of dilapidation and penetration of snow. Blowing snow can enter any building through the smallest hole--even a nail hole will do--in the form of spin-drift, a very fine powder that slowly, but steadily, accumulates and consolidates into ice. Interestingly, the process is by no means disastrous, for the ice, by engulfing artefacts, may preserve them; it also makes uncontrolled access difficult and provides a degree of structural strength to the building.

The New Zealanders, with a degree of international support, became increasingly involved with the huts. By 1960, a huts-restoration party had begun the slow, careful work. In those years, several survivors from the Heroic Age expeditions were still living and able to offer advice.

Removing the accumulated ice was a long, difficult job that required careful, dedicated work. …

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