Living in Antarctica

"It is difficult to keep a diary. This life is of little interest; one day is just as monotonous as the next." - Tryggve Gran, diary

Not just work

Life in Antarctica could be monotonous and when they were not working it was important for the men to keep their minds occupied.

Those who enjoyed reading could choose from the hut’s extensive library, which included books to suit everyone’s taste, from scientific reports to more light-hearted reads. The many novels included works by well-known authors such as Kipling, Dickens and Brontë. The men had many games to occupy them – cards, chess, dominoes, backgammon, and when not too cold a game of football on the ice.

During the winter, music from the gramophone ‘created a pleasant atmosphere of homeliness’, as Cherry-Garrard later remembered, and lectures enlightened expedition members several times a week. Not everyone was interested in the academic topics, but the travel adventures of expedition photographer Ponting were always popular.  He provided glimpses of foreign lands in this desolate place.

The South Polar Times, Volume III
Reading and writing were both popular pastimes, especially during the long, dark winter months when the men were confined to the base. The South Polar Times was the expedition's 'newspaper', showcasing literary and artistic contributions from members of the Shore Party, and providing a record of expedition life. The first South Polar Times was created during Scott's Discovery expedition, and it was taken up again by Shackleton afterwards. © Limited edition reproduction No. 253

This decorated the wall of the hut at Cape Evans. The months and dates were attached as separate leaves with brass rivets. They have all been removed. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Photograph of Kathleen Scott
Scott was married to the British sculptor Kathleen Bruce. In addition to this photograph, he had several others of his wife and son in his part of the hut, known as Scott's cubicle. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Playing cards
This pack of cards belonged to Petty Officer Edgar Evans. On 1 July 1911, ski instructor Tryggve Gran wrote in his diary that some of the expedition members had played poker. Gran was new to the game and had no idea how to play and lost heavily at first. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

For Life by Steele Rudd
Rudd was the pseudonym of Arthur Hoey Davis, a contemporary Australian writer. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Actions and Reactions by Rudyard Kipling
This was signed by Cherry-Garrard. Kipling was one of his preferred authors in the expedition's library. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Connecting with the world outside

Expedition members often wrote letters back home. Friends, wives and mothers were told about day-to-day life, whereas business partners and scientific advisors were sent updates on the progress of the expedition.

Although they had their own post office, approved by the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department, letters were collected and delivered only once a year when the ship returned from New Zealand after the winter. The yearly letter delivery was eagerly awaited.

Some men kept diaries, each with his individual style. Some wrote very little, others like Scott described expedition life and work in detail.

The expedition also pioneered the first telephone in Antarctica for internal communication. It was set up between the Cape Evans hut and the Discovery expedition hut, where they occasionally stayed.

Post from the Terra Nova expedition
The expedition had its very own post office, approved by the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department, with Scott designated as postmaster. This stamp has the expedition name and changeable date. All outgoing mail was stamped before being loaded onto the ship. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Letter from Patrick Keohane to Groves Meikle
Letters written to friends and family at home were stored up and sent back with the ship at the end of each summer. This one, dated 3 January 1911, was sent by Patrick Keohane to a friend in New Zealand, as a souvenir. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Letter from James Paton to Mr and Mrs Smith
This letter from Able Seaman James Paton, part of the ship's crew, was sent to a Mr and Mrs Smith, in Christchurch, New Zealand, in January 1911. Paton remarked that he was sending it mainly for the stamp, which he thought would become valuable in the future. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Letter from Edgar Evans to Charles Morris
Letter from Petty Officer Edgar Evans to Charles Morris, dated 23 January 1911. The letter provided general information about the expedition up until that date. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Letter diary by Frederick J Hooper
This letter diary was written between February 1911 and February 1912. It describes life in the hut, the day-to-day monotony of sledging, and thoughts of home. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

This inkwell was found in Scott's cubicle in the Cape Evans hut and was possibly used by the leader himself. Scott wrote a daily diary, lectures and letters at a table by his bed. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Type set in box
This type set was used by members of the expedition to write official messages and reports. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Part of the telephone system
This is one of the components of the telephone system that connected the Cape Evans hut with the Discovery expedition hut. It was the first telephone used in Antarctica. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Cherry G at typewriter

Cherry-Garrard typing at the wardroom table in the Cape Evans hut
© Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge

Dressed for outdoors

Most expedition work took place away from the hut and it was important to wear appropriate clothing for protection against the cold and wind.

The men wore layers of woollen and cotton clothing, with windproof jackets and trousers on top, and used a variety of mittens, often in many layers to give extra warmth. Woollen and windproof balaclavas, wired hoods and goggles protected the face from frostbite and snow blindness.

On sledge journeys, they carried minimal extra clothing and slept and worked in the same clothes, only removing the outer layers and boots when getting into their sleeping bags. These froze solid overnight in the tent and had to be forced back on in the morning. It could take more than an hour to get ready for the day.

Windproof jacket with separate hood
Windproof jackets like this one, owned by Frank Debenham, were worn over the top of many different layers. The waist and neck have a draw cord to prevent snow and wind blowing in. The windproof hood has a wired funnel around the face to protect against glaring sun and wind. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Balaclavas were worn under the windproof hood and tucked into the neck of a jersey. They had extra insulation around the ears. This is a thicker version worn during colder periods of the year. In very cold weather the men would attach an additional piece to protect the nose and cheeks. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Oiled cotton trousers
These thin oiled trousers were worn as an outer layer on sledge journeys as they were windproof and waterproof. The men had two types of trousers, thicker for winter and thinner for summer, but most preferred the thinner summer trousers all year as they were easier to handle when the fabric froze. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Woollen mittens
Expedition members often had many layers of hand wear. Woollen mittens such as these were worn over the half mitts - mitts with a long cuff and open fingers. Thick wolf, reindeer or cariboo fur mittens could be worn instead. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Several types of footwear were used, such as ski boots and finneskos. In icy and slippery conditions, crampons were strapped on to improve the grip. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Crampons were essential for walking on any icy surface, such as glaciers. This style was found to be the most successful. The crampon was fitted around the reindeer-skin finnesko boot, the cord tightened and then fastened around the ankle. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

This backpack was used for short excursions. The draw cord is made from lamp wick, often used by the early polar explorers as it was tough and versatile. Uses included harness strap repairs, belts and strapping for boots and skis. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Herbert Ponting's skis
Expedition photographer Herbert Ponting would ski out with his camera to record both expedition activities and the Antarctic environment. His initials were carved into his skis to help him identify them among the others. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Snow goggles
It was very important to wear goggles to protect the eyes against the blinding glare of ice, snow and the sun. Two colours of glass lenses were available - Scott favoured green while others preferred amber tones. These goggles were used by Chief Stoker William Lashly, who took part in several sledging journeys. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Thomas Williamson's ice axe
This ice axe was used by Petty Officer Thomas Williamson, who joined the expedition Shore Party for the 1912 winter. Ice axes were essential tools for work and travel in the Antarctic environment. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Edgar Evans in sledging clothes

Edgar Evans in sledging clothing
© H Ponting photograph, Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Keeping clean, staying well

Water was in short supply, sourced by melting ice from outside the hut. Using it for washing was a luxury. The hardier members of the expedition washed in cold snow, shivering in the freezing temperatures. Others used a very small allowance of water, which had to go a long way. Only occasionally, after long and strenuous sledge journeys, could they enjoy a hot bath.

The hut had its own latrine, fashioned out of one of the motor sledge crates. It was kept well away from the fresh water supply of ice.

In this isolated place, the men were far from any medical help, but they were fortunate to have two doctors in the camp. Both Atkinson and Wilson had medical training and were ready to treat a great variety of conditions with the expedition’s extensive medical stores.

The men were responsible for their personal hygiene and brought their own toothbrush, hair brush and shaving equipment. Toothbrushes, such as this one left behind at the end of the expedition, generally had bone handles. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Mirror with seal skin surround
Mirrors were rare at the Cape Evans hut and some in the Shore Party even used flattened silver chocolate wrappers as a substitute. This mirror with a Weddell seal skin surround is a rare example made by dog handler Demetri Gerof. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Sunlight Soap
Sunlight soap, made by the British company Lever Brothers, was designed for household use as well as washing clothes. Its packaging promised snow-white linen and to reduce hard work. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Enamel water jug
At Cape Evans, water had to be made by melting snow and ice. Keeping the hut supplied was a big job. Jugs like this were used to carry water around the hut for cooking, washing and other purposes. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust


Anton Omelchenko cutting Patrick Keohane’s hair
© H Ponting photograph, Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Breakfast, lunch and dinner

The cook, Thomas Clissold, prepared meals and baked fresh bread in the hut’s kitchen area. Food was an important and enjoyable part of the day, fondly recounted in diaries of the men.

In contrast to the survival diets of the sledging journeys, the food at the hut was varied, even tasty. They used what Antarctic food sources were available and often ate fish, fresh seal and penguin.

Breakfast would include porridge, bread and sometimes fried seal liver, followed by bread, cheese, jam and occasionally tinned meat for lunch. In the evening, three-course dinners were common and often included soup followed by fresh seal or penguin meat and pudding, washed down with a glass of port. Clissold needed to be inventive with the ingredients and fresh seal was served in many guises: seal soup, seal liver curry and seal steak and kidney pie.

"Clissold the cook has started splendidly, has served seal, penguin and skua now, and I can honestly say that I have never met these articles in such a pleasing guise." - Robert Falcon Scott, diary

Hunter's oatmeal
Oatmeal was used for making the breakfast porridge. The expedition stores included more than 900 kilogrammes, sealed in tins. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Jar of salt
The stores included more than 450 kilogrammes of salt. It was used in cooking and to preserve fresh meat. The moisture seal on the jar often broke and so it was important to keep the jars dry to stop the salt caking. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Tinned ginger
A wide range of herbs and spices were used in cooking and baking, including mixed herbs, sage, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, pepper and ginger. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Ceramic jar of Bullshead mustard
Several jars of mustard were included in the expedition's supplies. Mustard was used as a much needed flavouring. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Tin of Trumilk
Dehydrated food products were becoming popular in the early twentieth century. When mixed with water, this Trumilk powder provided the nutrition, and something approaching the flavour, of fresh milk for the Cape Evans Shore Party. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Egg powder
Dehydrated egg was another important part of the Shore Party's diet, alongside fresh penguin eggs when they were available. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Coffee tin
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Beach's damson jam
Jam was often eaten at lunch and there were many different varieties, including damson, which is a type of plum. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Rowntree's cocoa
Hot cocoa was a staple drink in the hut as well as on the arduous sledging journeys. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Pea flour tin
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Malt tin
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Dutch cheese
The stores included several different types of cheese, some for everyday use and others for special occasions. This one from the Netherlands was coated in thick red wax to preserve it. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Tinned asparagus
The expedition brought plenty of tinned fruit and vegetables, including luxuries such as asparagus. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Fraser River salmon
There were 230 tins of salmon in the supplies, each topped in fat while still hot to preserve it. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Clissold making pies

Thomas Clissold, the cook, making pies
© H Ponting photograph, Pennell collection, Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

A midwinter feast

On special occasions, more lavish dinners were served at the Cape Evans hut. On 22 June 1911, Midwinter Day, the 25 men were treated to a feast.

It was their Christmas and the middle of the Antarctic winter. They celebrated with presents and a tree made from sticks, string and coloured paper. The meal was outstanding – seal soup followed by roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fried potatoes and brussel sprouts. For dessert, a flaming plum pudding and mince pies, followed by a savoury dish of anchovy and cod roe. The meal finished with almonds, fruits, chocolates and champagne.

"Those who have never been deprived of it for many months have never relished the national dish of Old England as we did that day. It was food for the gods." - Herbert Ponting, The Great White South

Enamel dinnerware
Enamelware was used by everyone for everyday meals. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Enamel cup
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

China dinnerware
China dinnerware with the expedition's emblem was commissioned from Dunn Bennett & Company. It was used for special occasions, such as birthdays and Midwinter Day dinners. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Ceramic milk jug
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Officer's cutlery
Walker & Hall silversmiths of Sheffield provided the cutlery sets. There were several designs and each piece was engraved with the expedition emblem. On board the ship, different ranks used different sets and, to some degree, this distinction remained in the hut. The division blurred as the months passed. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Men's cutlery
This simpler style of cutlery, still embossed with the expedition's emblem, was used by the ship's crew and the lower ranks in the Shore Party. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Sauce tureen
Luxury pieces such as this tureen were used only on the officers' table on the ship and for special occasions in the hut. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Cruet set
All members of the Shore Party used the cruet sets, which held condiments, spices and pepper. The expedition stores included a variety of chutneys, oils, herbs, horseradish and 45 kilogrammes of mustard, which added flavour to the meals. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Menu in the shape of an emperor penguin
This menu was handmade by Edward Nelson for the Midwinter Day dinner in the hut at Cape Evans, 22 June 1912. It was the expedition's second winter in Antarctica. To celebrate, they decorated the hut, enjoyed a special meal and exchanged presents. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Men at table

Midwinter Day dinner, 22 June 1911
© Royal Geographical Society