Penguins discovered in basement

Carly Hilts 20 January 2008

Sketches by the legendary explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton have been discovered in the basement of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Roughly drawn in chalk on blackboards measuring 3ft by 2ft, both pictures are of penguin and are signed by the men who created them.

Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, the historian and curator of art who found the images, said: “Some people may think they look a little crude but I think they are incredibly charming.

“They were drawn at public lectures in front of an enthusiastic audience, to laughter and to cheers, and then signed with a flourish.

“It’s like having the explorers’ autographs, only more wonderful, because each has signed their name next to a hand-drawn penguin.”

He added: “We have absolutely no idea how we got them and we are still trying to find a record to them arriving in our collections.”

Captain Scott led the famous ‘Discovery’ mission in 1904, with Shackleton serving under him.

They navigated the Ross Sea, discovered the Polar Plateau and travelled further south than anyone had done before at that time.

Their adventures exploring the frozen wastes of Antarctica captured the public imagination, and when they returned home from their expeditions as public heroes they toured Britain extensively, giving lectures on what they had seen.

It is though that the penguin sketches, dating from 1904 and 1909, may have been drawn to illustrate these lectures.

In 1909, Shackleton led his own expedition aboard the ‘Nimrod’. Although he ultimately had to turn back, he came within 100 miles of the South Pole, closer than anyone had managed before, and was the first human to cross the Trans-Antarctic mountain range. He was knighted upon his return to Britain.

Staff are appealing for donations to help clean and restore the fragile images, and to put to them on public display.

Heather Lane, librarian and keeper at the Scott Polar Research Institute, said: “Because the sketches are so special, we want to make sure that they are preserved for the future.

“We’ve managed to save these penguins from obscurity in the basement. Now we want to get them cleaned and restored so that visitors can enjoy them.

“We are delighted to have rediscovered these sketches and we want to be able to give them pride of place in our new museum.”

Scott famously died in a blizzard 1912, trying to return from the South Pole.

Carly Hilts