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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK


South Pole relics preserved for nation

Scott (centre top) and the party from the doomed 1912 expedition

Two key artefacts from Scott and Shackleton's historic expeditions to the South Pole have been saved for the nation, hours before they were due to be auctioned off in London.

The silk flag that Scott flew from his sledge, and the compass used to navigate a lifeboat from Shackleton's ship Endurance, have both been withdrawn from the Friday sale at Christie's.

The BBC's Christine McGourty: "There's great relief that at least two items will stay in Britain"
The two artefacts were bought at the last minute by the National Maritime Museum for an undisclosed sum, following a frantic fundraising campaign to keep them in the country.

It was considered likely that the items would have been brought by American collectors.

The two Edwardian explorers both failed in their expeditions early this century, but the relics are said to sum up a golden era of British exploration.

[ image: The flag can be seen in many photos of Scott's expedition]
The flag can be seen in many photos of Scott's expedition
Scott set sail on his last journey from Cardiff, flying the Red Dragon flag from the mast of his expedition ship.

The room where he and his companions ate their last meal before embarking is preserved at the Royal Hotel in the Welsh capital's St Mary Street.

The sale of 31 lots, likely to fetch £200,000, had angered many historians, and divided the descendants of the explorers.

The Scott exhibits were put up for sale by a family trust fund, after having been kept in a bank vault for 50 years following the death of his widow Kathleen.

Grandson sold relic

Shackleton's boat compass was sold by the explorer's grandson.

However, some family members were against the auction, and the last-minute rescue bid was welcomed by relatives of the doomed expedition members.

"I'm absolutely delighted by this," said one, David Wilson, 35, whose great-uncle Edward Wilson died alongside Scott in 1912. "They [the two items] bring their stories alive for the next generation."

[ image: Shackleton's compass will go on immediate display]
Shackleton's compass will go on immediate display
Christie's refused to comment on the private sale, thought to have been made after intensive behind-the-scenes negotiations between the auction house, the museum and the family vendors.

Petty Officer Edgar Evans, one of those who died on the expedition with Scott in Antarctica, was from Gower in south Wales.

His grandson, John Evans, said: "It would be a shame to see these artefacts going abroad.

"The auction of the Scott Antartic relics gives a glorious opportunity to the Welsh Maritime and Industrial Museum to acquire items of particular significance to south Wales."

The UK's National Maritime Museum was able to buy the expedition's flag and compass after the National Heritage Memorial Fund supported an eleventh-hour application for funds.

Cash help

Financial backing also came from the Friends of the National Maritime Museum, the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and from members of the public.

The museum said it was still accepting donations, and hoped to buy more of the relics at the auction on Friday.

[ image: Many of the items were recovered from Scott's tent]
Many of the items were recovered from Scott's tent
The museum would not say how much it had paid for the items, although they had been valued at a joint price of £35,000.

"We do not want to let the competition know what we are prepared to pay," a museum spokeswoman said.

The relics, and any others attained from the auction, will form the centrepiece of an existing display on Antarctic Exploration at the museum, and are planned to be exhibited immediately.

Among other items due to go on sale on Friday are Scott's pipes, each of which are expected to sell for at least £1,500.

There are also parts of the primus stove Scott and his companions used to cook their last meal before their fuel ran out.

Doomed expedition

Perhaps the oddest lot is an uneaten biscuit, expected to sell for £1,000.

Other poignant relics include empty summit ration bags valued at between £5,000 and £10,000, and a metal matchbox thought to be worth £600.

[ image: An Antarctic biscuit: Expected to fetch £1,000]
An Antarctic biscuit: Expected to fetch £1,000
The death of Scott and four fellow explorers has become fixed in the British psyche as an epic tale of bravery in the face of adversity.

The team succeeded in their goal of reaching the South Pole on 18 January, 1912, only to find the glory of being the first had already been taken by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen a month before.

Scott and his party fought ferocious weather to return to their supply depot but died in their tent just a few miles from fresh supplies on, or shortly after, 29 March, 1912.

Their bodies were later recovered, together with Scott's diaries, and many of the items which are now up for sale.

Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition also ended in failure. He abandoned an attempt to reach the Pole after becoming icebound during the winter of 1915-16.

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