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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 15:47 GMT


Scott's artefacts back on ice

Made it: Scott (holding Union Jack) party at the South Pole

A collection of artefacts from Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated bid to become the first man to reach the South Pole have been returned to Antarctica 40 years after they were removed.

Richard Wilson reports from Antarctica
The items, including a lamp, medicines and a bottle of linseed oil, were handed over by the British Environment minister Michael Meacher on a visit to the hut used by the explorer.

MP Michael Meacher describes returning the items
They were taken by a New Zealand officer during an Antarctic expedition in the late 1950s.

Late last year, the artefacts were offered for sale by the auction house Christies, but the UK Government worked to get them back.

[ image: Scott's hut: preserved in ice]
Scott's hut: preserved in ice
Mr Meacher carried the items from the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge, where they had been held, to Cape Evans in Antarctica where he is attending a foreign ministers meeting.

"It's very sad that individual took them, and I'm very glad we managed to forestall the sale before it took place," Mr Meacher said.

Some of the items had been left behind by Earnst Shackleton's marooned Ross Sea Party who used the hut for a time a couple of years after Scott.


Mr Meacher handed the items to the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, the organisation which takes care of Scott's hut as well as other historical sites in the region.

[ image: Precious cargo: The arefacts were hand delivered]
Precious cargo: The arefacts were hand delivered
"The items are not important in themselves its just their symbolic historical significance. They are items among hundreds of items but they are being preserved and it is important that we do keep them in their proper place historically," Mr Meacher said.

The hut, which was home to the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13, remains well-preserved aided by the continent's extreme low temperatures and dry climate.

"It was the atmosphere of a cathedral about ensuring that one's boots were clean that there was no pollution being brought in and there was no damage to any of the items," Mr Meacher said.

Failed mission

[ image: Mr Meacher unwraps a candle lantern]
Mr Meacher unwraps a candle lantern
Although Scott and his party reached the pole on 17 January 1912, they were 33 days behind Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Scott and his team died in blizzards on their return journey less than 12 miles from a supply point.

Dr John Heap, Chairman of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, said he was relieved that Christies and the collector agreed to withdraw from the September sale.

He said he could understand how the items came to be removed in the first place.

"In around 1957, the people who then saw the famous Scott and Shackleton huts were the first to see them for about 40 years - they were filled with ice and snow and they looked like thorough wrecks. At that time it seemed almost to be doing the right thing to be taking them away," he said.

The New Zealand Antarctic Policy Unit said over the years "hundreds if not thousands of items" had been taken from the preserved expedition huts.

A spokesman said a "trickle" of them were now being returned.

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