Restoring historic huts in Antarctica

Click on the photograph above to see a series of images showing the restoration of Scott's Discovery hut in 1963-64.

Historic huts of the Ross Sea region

For more than 50 years New Zealand has cared for huts left behind by the first explorers of the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. Members of the Ross Sea Party of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE), parties from HMNZS Endeavour, staff from Scott Base and volunteers from the New Zealand Antarctic Society all contributed to the survival of the huts. In 1987 their conservation was entrusted to the Christchurch-based Antarctic Heritage Trust.

The first huts to receive any attention in the modern era were Scott's huts at Cape Evans (Terra Nova expedition, 1910-13) and Hut Point (Discovery expedition, 1901-04), and Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds (Nimrod expedition, 1907-09). Between 1956 and 1958, when time allowed, members of the Ross Sea Party of the TAE spent time shovelling snow and ice out of the huts and cleaning them up. Parties from HMNZS Endeavour also visited the huts during this period and undertook repairs.

News of the condition of the huts soon reached New Zealand and there were calls for further action. In 1959 an Antarctic Huts Committee was formed with representatives from the Antarctic Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Historic Places Trust, the Ministry of Works, the New Zealand Antarctic Society (NZAS) and the Dominion Museum. Their initial plan for restoration of the huts was approved by the government's Ross Dependency Research Committee (RDRC). Following a careful examination of a report on the huts - prepared by Athol Roberts, Public Relations Officer at Scott Base during the summer of 1959-60 - a final programme was drawn up.

In December 1960 the first hut restoration party began its work in Antarctica. It was led by Les Quartermain, then on the staff of the Antarctic Division, with the assistance of builder J. Sandman. The remainder of the team was initially two men from Scott Base, and then three NZAS volunteers. For two months the team worked to restore Scott's hut at Cape Evans and Shackleton's at Cape Royds. In the summer of 1963-64 another team of NZAS volunteers, led by Eric Gibbs, worked to restore Scott's hut at Hut Point. Gibbs, Rodney Smith, another NZAS volunteer, and N.T. Greenhall of the navy returned to complete work on the hut for a few weeks at the beginning of the 1964 summer.

Following the restoration work annual maintenance was undertaken by staff from Scott Base and McMurdo Sound. Then in 1969 the Antarctic Division invited volunteers from the NZAS to work as ‘hut caretakers’. This programme continued for a decade, but by the mid-1970s it was becoming clear that this approach wouldn't ensure the survival of the huts. NZAS members John Cross, Randal Heke and Richard McElrea were among those who urged for more to be done.

In 1975 the RDRC, which since 1958 had coordinated all New Zealand activity in the dependency, set up the Historic Hut Restoration Committee to investigate the long-term preservation of historic sites in the Ross Sea region. Five years later the Committee was enlarged and renamed the Historic Sites Management Committee. It launched a new programme to repair and restore the huts, including for the first time Borchgrevink's hut at Cape Adare ( British Southern Cross Expedition, 1898-1900). In 1984 it introduced a five-year management plan which called for the structured management of all historic sites in the Ross Sea region. Three years later the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) was established to implement the plan and coordinate activities and fundraising. In 2002 AHT launched the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project, a multi-year, several million dollar conservation programme to safeguard both the huts and their extensive artefact collections. By 2004 AHT had completed comprehensive conservation plans for each of the four huts, and by 2008 it had largely completed work on Shackleton's hut and its 5000-plus artefact collection.

Further information

Links:

Read more:

  • Antarctic Heritage Trust, Conservation Report: Shackleton’s Hut British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909, Christchurch, March 2003
  • Antarctic Heritage Trust, Conservation Plan: Discovery Hut, Hut Point, Christchurch, May 2004
  • Antarctic Heritage Trust, Conservation Plan: The historic huts at Cape Adare, Christchurch, May 2004
  • Antarctic Heritage Trust, Conservation Plan: Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans, Christchurch, May 2004
  • Paul Chaplin, The Historic Huts of the Ross Sea Region, Antarctic Heritage Trust, Christchurch, 1999
  • David L. Harrowfield, Icy heritage: historic sites of the Ross Sea region, Antarctic Heritage Trust, Christchurch, 1995
  • David L. Harrowfield, Call of the Ice: Fifty years of New Zealand in Antarctica, David Bateman Ltd, Auckland, 2007
  • Geoffrey Lee Martin, Hellbent for the Pole, Random House New Zealand, Auckland, 2007
  • L.B. Quartermain, New Zealand and the Antarctic, A.R. Shearer, Government Printer, Wellington, 1971
  • L.B. Quartermain, Two huts in the Antarctic, R.E. Owen, Government Printer, Wellington, 1963

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