Treasure-Trove of Century-Old Negatives Found in Antarctica

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust recently discovered and restored a treasure-trove of century-old cellulose nitrate negatives left behind by the ill-fated Ross Sea party when they were rescued after spending three years struggling to survive on Ross Island after their ship broke loose from it’s moorings and blew out to sea. The small box of 22 unprocessed negatives were part of more than 10,000 objects conserved at Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s hut and brought back to New Zealand by the Trust and painstakingly restored.

The Trust’s Executive Director Nigel Watson notes, “It’s an exciting find and we are delighted to see them exposed after a century.” While the identity of the photographer remains unknown, most of the damage to the negatives was confined to their edges and the conservators were able to almost completely restore the images.

The Ross sea party was part of Sir Ernest Shakleton’s famous 1914–1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and its goal was to create a series of supply depots along the polar route established by earlier expeditions. The main party, under Shakleton, was to land on the opposite coast of Antarctica and traverse the continent via the South Pole to the Ross Sea.

Unfortunately, Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was crushed by sea ice and his transcontinental march never took place. Thus, the Ross Sea party’s supply depots were never needed. Shackleton did eventually lead most of his team to safety (three men perished).

The recovered negatives were linked to the Sea Ross Party because they include two images of the team's chief scientist Alexander Stevens. You can read more and view the images here: www.nzaht.org/AHT/antarctic-photos. The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust is a non-profit organization responsible for the conservation of five historic sites in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.

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