Ross Sea Party Tent

Credit: Canterbury Museum

By Sue Bassett

A century on, we continue to share some of the artefacts we’ve treated from Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party, who were stranded for two years at Cape Evans and charged with laying depots for the ‘Endurance’ party, which, unbeknownst to them, was never coming.

For their long depot-laying sledge trips across the ice, they used a canvas dome tent. It opens like a concertina and is supported by four arched iron poles sewn into the canvas. The circular entrance is protected by a fabric tunnel, tied on the inside to keep out wind and snow. The inner walls of the tent are black with soot from the primus stove, and small holes in the canvas have been patched and hand-stitched to prevent snow leaking in during the blizzards that kept them confined for days at a time. Several of the poles have been repaired with lengths of bamboo and twine.

The men endured shocking conditions, illness, starvation and exhaustion. Not only did they suffer from painful frost bite and snow blindness but also acute scurvy caused by lack of vitamin C in their diet. One team member, Ernest Joyce, is quoted as saying: "Scurvy has got us, our legs are black and swollen, and if we bend them at night there is a chance they will not straighten out. So, to counteract that, we lash pieces of bamboo to the back of our knees to keep them straight". They also tried to alleviate the pain by massaging the affected areas with methylated spirits. Ultimately, Reverend Spencer-Smith (expedition chaplain and photographer) died of scurvy and was buried in the ice, and later Mackintosh (commander) and Hayward (general assistant) were also lost whilst trying to cross thin sea ice in poor weather.

Miraculously, after Shackleton was able to rescue his entire team from ‘Endurance’, he sailed aboard ‘Aurora’ in January 1917 on the voyage that rescued the party’s seven survivors.

The partially opened dome tent
A hand-stitched repair to the canvas tent

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