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Where are they now?

The Quest lifebuoy was sent 'by passenger train' to a Miss P. Mugliston in Aberdeen, who seems to have acted on behalf of the Sea Rangers there [028]; she acknowledged its receipt on 4 October [031]. Here, the trail runs cold. I have been told that the crew of the SRS Quest was presented with a lifebelt from the original Quest by Captain Scott’s widow, and that it is now in the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. But, as we have seen, the lifebuoy came from the Horniman (and Lady Kennet had died in 1947); and the Aberdeen Maritime Museum have kindly searched their records for me and found no trace of the Quest’s lifebuoy. I've made enquiries of other Scottish maritime museums, to no avail.

As the two pictures were glazed, Samson did not wish to trust them to the post [026, 030, 032, 033]; they were eventually collected on 11 December 1958 by the SPRI's Assistant Librarian and Keeper of Prints and Drawings (and a notable Polar historian), Ann Savours [035, 036, 037]. The Wilson 'drawing' is no Y: 56/29 in the SPRI's catalogue of works of art. In fact, it is a facsimile of a watercolour, rather than an original, one of a set published by Wilson's widow, Oriana, in the 1930s to raise money for charity. The location of the watercolour which it reproduces is currently unknown, but another copy of the print has been reproduced online.

Unfortunately, the SPRI's records show that, shortly after the Shackleton photograph arrived, it was found to be mildewed and was disposed of. It was presumably like the photograph apparently taken in 1918 by F. A. Swaine, and included in H. R. Mill's 1923 biography of Shackleton.

The button, pipe, and one pair of skis were collected from the Horniman by a representative of HMS Discovery on 31 October 1956 [027, 029, 034]. After that, their provenance can be traced along with the ship.

In 1979, HMS Discovery (henceforward RRS Discovery) was transferred to the Maritime Trust. In 1985, she was chartered to Dundee Heritage Trust and the Scottish Development Agency, arriving in Dundee on the back of another ship in April 1985. There, she became the focal-point of Discovery Point, a visitor centre and museum centred around the ship which opened in 1993. In 1995, the Discovery, and the Maritime Trust's collections which had been in store at the National Maritime Museum, were purchased by Dundee Heritage Trust for a nominal sum. In a recent article in the Museums Journal, Gill Poulter of Dundee Heritage Trust remembers hiring a van, driving down to London with a colleague, and bringing the collections to Aberdeen to rejoin the ship. It seems, from the Dundee Heritage Trust's records, that the pipe and button arrived slightly earlier that the actual purchase from the Maritime Trust, in December 1994; but it's not inconceivable that the objects would have been taken to Dundee before they were formally transferred.


RRS Discovery at Discovery Point, Dundee

And so, finally, I can identify some of the Horniman's former Antarctic relics. Captain Scott's pipe is Dundee Heritage Trust object no W 79.133.45.1:

  • A tobacco pipe., A tobacco pipe, comprising a fruitwood bowl and stem and Bakelite mouthpiece, joined by a silver band., Image thanks to Dundee Heritage Trust
    A tobacco pipe, comprising a fruitwood bowl and stem and Bakelite mouthpiece, joined by a silver band., Image thanks to Dundee Heritage Trust

His dress uniform button is number W 79.133.45.2:

  • A gilt brass button, A gilt brass Royal Navy officer's dress uniform button, Image thanks to Dundee Heritage Trust
    A gilt brass Royal Navy officer's dress uniform button, Image thanks to Dundee Heritage Trust

The skis are more of a problem: Dundee Heritage Trust acquired two pairs from the Maritime Trust. W 79.133.69 are clearly labelled as having belonged to Reginald Skelton, Lieutenant (R.N.) and engineering officer on the Discovery expedition; I can think of no reason why Lady Kennet should have owned them, or sent them to the Horniman as Scott's. The fact that the Trust have several other objects which belonged to Skelton makes me think that at some point, the Maritime Trust had acquired a collection of items from Skelton or his descendants.

pair of skis
Reginald Skelton's skis - image © Dundee Heritage Trust

W 79.133.68 might be Scott's skis – but they are marked 'W.C.' No-one with those initials served on Scott's Discovery or Terra Nova expeditions – though they might, intriguingly, have been William Colbeck's. But again, why would Lady Kennet have had them?

pair of skis
A pair of skis - image © Dundee Heritage Trust

This brings us back to Bernacchi, mentioned by Samson in connection with the Antarctic objects, who was a friend of Colbeck's during the difficult Southern Cross expedition, and would go on to write a short obituary of his former companion for the Times. Might he have given these skis to the Horniman, along with the Wilson watercolour, at the same time as acting as Lady Kennet’s intermediary regarding Captain Scott's skis?

Of Colbeck's objects, we have so far identified the four penguin eggs and one skua egg, and possibly a pair of skis; but there were more. A later letter from Samson in the Kennet history file [038] offers 'a number of plates by Capt. Colebeck [sic] "National Antarctic Expedition, 1900-1904"' to the SPRI on 2 June 1961; these were accepted by Forbes on the following day [039], and, according to a brief note [040], despatched on 8 June. The note also allows us to identify precisely what was meant by plates, as it lists their quantities and dimensions:

14 = 3 x 4¼
5 = 6½ x 4¾

Both of these are standard sizes for photographic plates, or glass negatives (possibly, in this case, positives): 3¼ x 4¼" is the size known as 'quarter-plate'; 6½ x 4¼" is 'half-plate' (a whole plate was, obviously enough, 6½ x 8½" in size). The National Antarctic Expedition 1900-1904 is of course Scott's first expedition. So at one time we had 14 quarter-plate photographs and 5 half-plate photographs, apparently taken by William Colbeck, of the Discovery expedition. These are presumably the ten prints and six negatives listed by the SPRI under numbers P62/44/1-10 and P62/45/1-6 respectively, as presented by Captain Colbeck. SPRI staff are currently checking where these are stored.