New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust is celebrating the return of a set of Salter scales which an American Navy Seabee Captain souvenired from Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut in Antarctica.
The scales were taken by Captain James Douglas who was a distinguished engineer and Naval command officer in charge of the construction of eight United States bases in Antarctica in the late 1950s.
Before he passed away, Captain Douglas gave the scales to his daughter Susanna Marquette.
“He told me that they’d come from Scott’s Discovery Hut where they’d been used to weigh meat for the dogs. I was very, very honoured that he had passed them onto me,” says Susanna. “I was only six when my Dad went to Antarctica and remember getting postcards from him with pictures he’d drawn of penguins and of himself with a beard.”
The scales hung in Susanna’s Idaho log cabin for around 15 years before she learned about the work New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust had done to conserve Discovery Hut and the artefacts in it.
She approached the Trust and the scales were returned to New Zealand.
The Trust’s Programme Manager – Artefacts Lizzie Meek says she was delighted to receive such a special parcel.
“These scales are more than a hundred years old but despite their age and travels are in pristine condition. Captain Douglas and Susanna had taken incredible care of them,” says Lizzie.
“They’re an important artefact and were likely used by the heroic age Antarctic explorers to weigh items ahead of sledging expeditions, to ensure supply levels were accurate and the sled was as light as it could be.
“It was not uncommon, in the 1950s and 60s for those who visited the huts to take a souvenir home with them. We’ve had a number of these returned over the years including skis, clothing, and items of food and we welcome the opportunity to be able to repatriate them,” says Lizzie.
After conservation assessment the scale details were added to the database, which contains thousands of other artefacts from the five expedition bases cared for by the Trust as part of the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project.
“We’ve now taken the scales back to Antarctica and they add something really special to the ambience of Discovery Hut,” says Lizzie.
A photograph of the scales back in the hut has been sent to Susanna.
“I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw it. I know Dad would be excited that they’re back where they belong too – times have changed.”
Lizzie Meek has a simple message for any other families who are in possession of similar souvenirs.
“Get in touch. We’d love to be able to help repatriate such items. We have the cold-climate conservation expertise to ensure these artefacts are returned to where they belong, and are well cared for in generations to come.”
People removing artefacts from the huts today are subject to prosecution.
The Trust was supported in Antarctica by crown entity Antarctica New Zealand and was permitted to undertake conservation activity at the huts by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
For more information please contact:
027 833 0003