While there is certainly nothing ordinary about a job that involves opening and conserving wooden crates of century old Antarctic expedition provisions left on the continent by the ‘heroic era’ explorers, it’s what we’re doing a lot of at the moment as part of our artefacts conservation programme and, to be honest, one day becomes much like the next.
Today it might be tins of Seville orange marmalade or sardines in olive oil, and tomorrow could be tins of self-raising flour and essence of beef – all wrapped, labelled and packed by their suppliers, and all requiring documentation, unwrapping, stabilisation, emptying (in some instances), rewrapping and repacking into their boxes.
But occasionally one comes along with just a little something extra to make the day even more interesting.
The box in question is a plywood box stamped on the outside, like most, with LYTELLTON (the New Zealand port where the provisions were loaded) and SHORE PARTY (to indicate it would be offloaded on arrival in Antarctica).
It was loaded aboard Captain Scott’s ship ‘Terra Nova’ in 1910, sailing south on the ill-fated expedition from which Scott would not return. The box still has its lid and most of its contents, having been prised open at some time.
Inside are paper-wrapped tins stamped LYLE’S GOLDEN SYRUP, and outside, on close inspection of the plywood wall, is some still-legible pencilled handwriting in a style clearly not from our times reading: ‘Lyle’s Syrup’. That’s it.
Oh, and also that the tins are in amazing condition!