The Mess (A) Hut, Scott Base

The Mess (A) Hut at Scott Base on its opening in January 1957.

Scott Base

Scott Base, New Zealand's permanent Antarctic research station, officially opened on 20 January 1957. It was originally established to support the privately run Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) of 1955-58. It accommodated the New Zealand party of the TAE and a party of New Zealand scientists attached to the expedition, who also contributed to the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The base was made up of six main huts linked to one another by a covered walkway, and three smaller buildings designed to hold scientific equipment. At the completion of the expedition in 1958 it became the property of the New Zealand government. Since then it has undergone significant change, including a complete reconstruction between 1977 and 2005.

Rongotai

In August 1956 the construction team had a trial run at erecting the buildings at Rongotai, Wellington. For a small fee the public was able to come and inspect the buildings.

On 14 May 1955 the New Zealand government agreed to contribute £50,000 towards the costs of the TAE and to set up a committee to organise a terminal base for the crossing party. Within a few days the Ross Sea Committee (RSC) was established and tasked with coordinating New Zealand's contribution to the TAE. This included appealing for funds from the public, arranging for equipment, stores and transport, and selecting and training the team that would establish the base, route and depots for the crossing party. Despite their best efforts it proved difficult to raise the funds needed for the expedition. In April 1956 the government agreed to provide further assistance, on condition that the RSC agreed to the base becoming the property of the government after the expedition.

At the same time the government was being urged to establish a station for New Zealand's activities during the IGY. It agreed to fund IGY activities and arranged for a party of five New Zealand scientists to be attached to the TAE expedition. They would also need to be accommodated at the base.

In February 1956, 10 months before the TAE and IGY parties were due to head to the Antarctic, Frank Ponder, an architect at the Ministry of Works, was given the task of designing the base. His design consisted of six main buildings. These were to be placed at least 7 metres apart because of the risk of fire, but would be linked to one another by a covered way of galvanised iron. Designated A to F, the buildings were:

  1. A mess room, a galley, a radio room, and a leader's office
  2. A laboratory and a darkroom
  3. A dormitory with 14 bunks
  4. A dormitory with six bunks and a two-bed medical room
  5. An ablutions area, with three generators and a darkroom
  6. A workshop, with three generators

Ponder also designed three smaller buildings (G, H and J) to hold scientific equipment.

HMNZS Endeavour left for the Antarctic on 21 December 1956 carrying some of the members of the TAE and IGY parties, their stores and equipment, and the team and materials to build Scott Base. By 4 January 1957 it was moored within 12-13 km of Butter Point, the planned location for Scott Base. But ground and aerial reconnaissance revealed Butter Point was unsuitable and an alternative location, Pram Point, was chosen.

On 10 January the US Navy prepared the ground for the New Zealanders and two days later the construction of Scott Base began. The construction team was made up of three men from the Royal New Zealand Navy and three from the New Zealand Army. They were led by an experienced building overseer, Randall Heke, and his second in charge, Ron Mitchell, an architectural draughtsman. By 14 January they had completed ‘A’ Hut and work continued apace, assisted by parties from the Endeavour once the expedition's supplies had been unloaded. The base was officially opened on 20 January 1957.

The first group to winter over at Scott Base were the 18 members of the TAE, led by Sir Edmund Hillary, and the five New Zealand scientists contributing to the IGY, led by Trevor Hatherton. Hillary slept in his office in ‘A’ Hut, while the others shared the dormitory accommodation in ‘C’ and ‘D’ huts.

Commemorations

The government celebrated the 25th anniversary of Scott Base in 1982 and the 50th in 2007. In 1982 Robert Muldoon became the first serving New Zealand Prime Minister to visit Scott Base when he flew in for the commemorative service. In 2007 Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Antarctica for several days around the anniversary. Both Prime Ministers were accompanied by Sir Edmund Hillary.

After the British Crossing Party completed the first crossing of the Antarctic continent on 2 March 1958, the TAE departed. Scott Base effectively became the property of the New Zealand government. The IGY was due to continue only until the end of the year. But in February 1958 New Zealand's Cabinet approved an extension to this work into 1959 as part of an extended world IGY programme (termed International Geophysical Cooperation). New Zealand's activities in the Ross Dependency, including responsibility for Scott Base, were put into the hands of the Minister of Scientific and Industrial Research, with the assistance of the Ross Dependency Research Committee (RDRC) and, from 1959, the Antarctic Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). These agencies were the predecessors of Antarctica New Zealand, which now manages New Zealand's Antarctic activities.

Since the TAE and IGY parties departed Scott Base has physically changed. The most significant change occurred when the complex was completely reconstructed between 1977 and 2005. Many of the original huts were destroyed but ‘A’ Hut and two others used during the IGY remain. In 2001 ‘A’ Hut, now renamed TAE/IGY Hut, was declared an historic monument under the Antarctic Treaty.

Further information

Links:

Read more:

  • Antarctica New Zealand, TAE/IGY Hut, Scott Base: the beginnings of Scott Base, Christchurch, undated
  • 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

Community contributions

4 comments have been posted about The Mess (A) Hut, Scott Base

What do you know?

admin

Posted: 09 Dec 2016

Hi Don

Thanks very much for letting us know about this. We have now replaced the image with one that has been verified as A Hut! Regards, Jamie Mackay

Don Webster

Posted: 17 Nov 2016

You might like to change the photo you have labelled as 'The Mess Hut (A hut) art Scott Base 1957'. The hut you show is D hut the second sleeping hut and hospital.

Paul Heiser

Posted: 02 Sep 2009

I just noticed a small error in my previous comment. Both references to Byrd Station should be changed to Little America IV. Otherwise, everything else is correct.

Paul Heiser

Posted: 16 Aug 2009

I was one of the two Americans who wintered over at Scott Base in 1959. We were originally scheduled to go to Byrd Station, but that base was getting dangerously close to the edge of the ice shelf and it was feared that it might go floating out to sea aboard an iceberg during the year. The aurora tower and the scientific instruments were salvaged from Byrd and taken to Scott Base where we and the rest of the base personnel put it all back together again. But the aurora tower does not appear to exist any longer. My job was to do aurora studies and I spent a great deal of time in that tower. There were 13 of us who wintered over that year: 6 Kiwis, 4 Brits, 2 Yanks and a Dutchman. Scott Base was a great place: well-constructed air-tight buildings, a covered way connecting the buildings, private sleeping quarters for all 13 of us over the winter, a fantastic cook (Eric from Nottinghamshire in the UK), an ex-submariner radio operator (Pete) who kept us laughing with his marvelous story-telling. It was an experience that I shall never forget. Our scientific leader was Brian Sanford from North Island and who now lives in the US. We had a pet cat on the base. We named her Igy (for International Geophysical Year) and for a time there was small monument to her atop the Scott Base sign. I don't know what ever happened to her and the monument seems to have disappeared. If possible I would like to establish email contact with current Scott Base inhabitants. If anyone reading this could give me an email address for the base leader or anyone else at the base, I would greatly appreciate it. You can reach me at meerkat45@yahoo.com Regards, Paul