Curator's Choice: Scott Polar Research

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The Independent Culture
Robert Headland is curator of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. He has made several expeditions to the polar regions. His favourite piece in the museum collection is the original black flag which Amundsen planted at the South Pole and Scott brought back.

'The flag dates from 1910, when Amundsen arrived in the Antarctic, and is one of a number of roughly sewn black flags which were used to mark the various depots on the route to the South Pole. It was discovered in Spring 1912, along with the three remaining bodies of Scott's original party of five and an enormous collection of documents and data gathered by the party during the polar expedition. Alongside the black marker flag lay a note from Wilson, simply stating that it was Amundsen's polar flag.

'Scott arrived 33 days after Amundsen planted the flag, on 17th January 1912. The immense disappointment for his party, coupled with the effects of scurvy, intense cold and insufficient nutrition, led to their death after an eight day blizzard, 16 kilometres short of the final depot and safety. Ironically, Amundsen was not even planning an expedition to the South Pole and only changed his mind after Cook and Peary claimed they had reached the North Pole. Scott's meticulous data gathering, whilst leading to the clinching of the theory of continental drift, also led to the tragic demise of his team.

'The Institute was founded in 1920, as a memorial to the five men who died. The building originally provided a depot for polar equipment but, as time progressed, it has become both a museum of polar artefacts and a memorial to the enormous courage of the first polar explorers. The Black Flag is only one of a great number of artefacts recovered from the trip, but it stands as an ultimate tribute to the courage of man and the power of nature.'

The Scott Polar Research Institute Museum is open Mon-Sat 2.30-4.00pm, Lensfield Road, Cambridge (0223 66499)

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