Christie’s to auction Captain Robert Falcon Scott art, literature, photographs and artifacts

Christie’s announce the forthcoming sale of a selection of art, literature, photographs and artifacts which offer poignant memorials of the lives and endeavours of the celebrated Polar explorer, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and his contemporaries from the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. Offered for sale on Tuesday, 9 October 2012, the dedicated Polar section (lots 76-163) of Christie’s Travel, Science and Natural History auction to be held in South Kensington is set to commemorate the centenary of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition. The auction will feature historical items relating to the Discovery (1901-1904), Nimrod (1907-1909), Terra Nova (1910-1913), and Endurance (1914-1916) expeditions.

Carried by Captain Scott on his sledging journeys, the marching compass used to navigate on both Discovery and Terra Nova expeditions is expected to fetch between £15,000 and £20,000 [lot 91] illustrated right. Inscribed with ink on the cover of the leather case “Capt. ‘Discovery’ 1902”, the item was one of many, returned to Scott’s widow following his final and fatal journey to the South Pole on the Terra Nova expedition. One of a variety of scientific instruments carried by the southern party in their instrument box, Scott is reported to have had difficulties with compasses in the trying conditions of the Antarctic, as readings could be variable, writing at the time “… these compasses are not to be relied upon where the directive force is so small…”

Captain Scott’s contemporary, the charismatic Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton (known as “The Boss”) sledged with Scott on the Discovery expedition. Shackleton’s sledging harness from his Nimrod expedition [lot 102] illustrated left, which helped him to achieve fame in reaching within 97 miles of the South Pole and returning to tell the tale (his life saved on numerous occasions by this very harness as he fell into crevasse after crevasse on his trailblazing ascent of the Beardmore Glacier) is expected to realise £15,000 to £20,000. With just four ponies, in lieu of dogs, and with the last surviving pony, Socks lost in a crevasse at the beginning of the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, the majority of Shackleton’s 1755 mile march to within 100 miles of the South Pole was achieved by man-hauling sledges, on foot rather than ski, with harness and alpine rope. ‘Just before we left the Glacier I broke through the soft snow, plunging into a hidden crevasse. My harness jerked up under my heart, and gave me rather a shakeup. It seemed as though the glacier were saying: “This is the last touch of you; don’t you come up here again.” (E.H. Shackleton, The Heart of the Antarctic, London, 1909, I, p.355.) Shackleton would return south, but would never sledge up the Beardmore again.

The Antarctic landscape itself is recorded in a series of fine large vintage prints by the Terra Nova expedition’s camera artist, Herbert Ponting (“Ponko”), including a remarkable group which concentrates on climate and ice from the collection of the expedition meteorologist and physicist Dr. George (“Sunny Jim”) Simpson [lots 122-131].

Gran’s famous photograph [lot 130], illustrated right of the final resting place of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, was taken on 12 November 1912 with the camera [lot 139] consigned for sale by Gran’s son, Hermann Gran (estimate: £10,000-15,000) illustrated far right. It was later printed by Herbert Ponting in a special portfolio of prints issued in commemoration of the Polar Party, and was illustrated in Scott’s Last Expedition. Gran, the Norwegian ski expert taken by Scott on the expedition, was a member of the Search Party that set out to discover the fate of Scott and the Polar Party in October 1912. His diary records: `12 November: It has happened! We have found what we sought! Good God, what a twist of fate. Barely 20 km from `One Ton Depot’, we have come upon the snow-covered tent with the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers. … We buried our dead companions this morning; it was a truly solemn moment. It was moving to witness 11 weather-beaten men standing with bared heads singing…We have erected a 12-foot cairn over the graves and atop a cross made of a pair of skis [Gran’s own, he would take Scott’s for the return to the hut].’ (T. Gran, The Norwegian with Scott, Tryggve Gran’s Antarctic Diary 1910-1913, London, 1984, pp. 215-217).

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