A team of four travelled to Ross Island in November to implement the annual monitoring and maintenance programme for the expedition bases.
In January 2010 our conservators found five crates encased in ice under Shackleton’s 1908 Antarctic base – three contained Mackinlay’s whisky and two contained brandy.
The three whisky crates were excavated and one crate was flown to New Zealand to be carefully thawed by the Trust in a purpose-built environment and public gallery at Canterbury Museum. Eleven bottles of the 114-year old whisky were revealed, still sheathed in their paper and straw packaging.
After delicate conservation, the then owner of Whyte & Mackay (which owns the Mackinlay brand), flew to New Zealand to see the extraordinary find. Under permit from the New Zealand Government, he transported three bottles to Scotland on his private jet for scientific analysis by Whyte & Mackay and The Scotch Whisky Research Institute.
In a unique opportunity for the whisky world, the bottles were subjected to sensory and chemical analysis to establish the flavour and composition of a product manufactured a century earlier. In April 2011, Whyte & Mackay’s master blender, Richard Paterson, successfully recreated an exact replica of the century-old whisky and Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky was born.
The whisky proved so popular that in late 2012, a second edition, ‘The Journey’, was released. Both editions have resulted in a substantial donation to the Trust’s conservation work in Antarctica.
The National Geographic Channel’s Expedition Whisky documentary and author Neville Peat’s excellent book, Shackleton’s Whisky, have both recorded the whisky’s journey from obscurity to world-wide attention. Meanwhile, whisky lovers the world over are enjoying the replica whisky. They are in good company. The whisky has been gifted to, and by, heads of state and royalty.
In January 2013, the Shackleton whisky story came full circle with New Zealand Prime Minister the Rt Hon. John Key repatriating the three bottles of original whisky to the Trust’s staff in Antarctica. The final stage in a remarkable journey for the world’s best aged and travelled whisky was the return of the original crates to Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 base at Cape Royds.
Trust Programme Manager Al Fastier joined the UKAHT Port Lockroy Conservation Team under the Trust’s partnership to share its conservation knowledge and expertise developed during the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project. The team will spend five weeks at Port Lockroy and will undertake emergency repairs, do a full architectural survey, install solar power and schedule future conservation work.
The historic Base A, also known as Bransfield House, was built at Port Lockroy in 1944 as part of Operation Tabarin, a secret war time operation to establish a permanently occupied British base in Antarctica. The base was first conserved in 1996 and is now a living museum, a post office and a shop selling Antarctic souvenirs, which helps to fund the conservation project.
Challenges include living on a small 3 square acre island, working within a Gentoo penguin colony, snow and, at times, rain. Al said it is a fantastic location to work, with this historic hut being surrounded by snowcapped mountains rising steeply from the sea and with the hut that is rich in artefacts giving the site a real spirit of place and a strong connection to the past.
Over a seven-week period in late 2019, the Trust’s Programme Manager Lizzie Meek, journeyed via South America to the Antarctic Peninsula, to work alongside British conservator Sophie Rowe, surveying the artefact collection inside Bransfield House and the Boatshed, the two remaining 1948 Base A buildings at Port Lockroy.
‘What on earth are you doing here?’ asked a surprised friend of mine who arrived at Port Lockroy as a tourship safety guide, and bumped into me in the hallway of Bransfield House.
It seems like the more time you spend observing wildlife, the more there is to observe and the more interesting you find them.
The Trust’s objective this season was to position and secure the required conservation equipment on site at Cape Adare to allow the conservation of Borchgrevink’s 1898 British Antarctic Expedition huts to be undertaken.
Working for hours at a time in sub-zero temperatures when you are cataloguing means you move very little.
My experience of the Antarctic Expedition ships we travelled on, is that they go to great lengths to keep their guests happy and healthy. The hospitality on board from the crew is often exceptional, and I was struck by the enjoyment and creativity they brought to their work.
Sometimes getting to Antarctica is as simple as getting on a plane in New Zealand and stepping off 5 hours later into sub zero temperatures. This year’s work expedition to Port Lockroy, (the British base on the Antarctic Peninsula managed by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust) was a whole other story.