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With Scott to the Pole

Wilson in Antarctica

By Bob Walker
at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

New documents detailing Edward Wilson's doomed march to the South Pole with Scott of the Antarctic have gone on show in his home town of Cheltenham.

Ninety-eight years ago, three men lay dying inside a lonely tent battered by howling winds on the frozen wastes of Antarctica.

Robert Falcon Scott, "Birdie" Bowers and Dr Edward Wilson were the last remaining members of the five-man party that lost the race to the South Pole. They arrived five weeks after their rivals, led by Roald Amundsen had planted the Norwegian flag there.

Two other Britons - Lawrence "Titus" Oates and Edgar Evans, had already died on Scott's return journey and hunger, exhaustion and frostbite would eventually claim the lives of Scott and his two remaining companions.

Wilson's penultimate letter to his wife, written as he lay dying
Tragic: Wilson wrote this letter as he lay dying with Scott and Bowers

Edward Wilson hailed from Cheltenham and his statue stands proudly on The Promenade in the town. A sledge and snowsuit used by Wilson on a previous expedition are already on display at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum and later today the Wilson collection will receive another boost with a donation from his great-nephew David Wilson.

After putting together a consortium of family members and Antarctic historians, he was able to buy new documents and memorabilia from Bonham's the auctioneers. It cost them around £18,000.

The documents include the only known copy of Wilson's penultimate letter to his wife Oriana written in the tent as Scott lay next to him with a frozen foot.

There are also two scrapbooks kept by his sister Ida, including press cuttings from the time.

These touchy-feely bits really bring his character to life
David Wilson

Wilson was also an accomplished artist and the new material includes drawings of penguins he made on paper plates before he left for the ill-fated expedition.

A telegram from his wife sent from New Zealand - where she'd gone in the hope of meeting the conquering hero - joyfully reports that "Ted" was said by other expedition members to be fit and enjoying the trek south. In fact, by the time the telegram was sent, Edward Wilson was already dead.

The new collection will also include the records Wilson made of his struggle with TB just two years before he set sail with Scott.

The collection will form part of the museum's new £6m gallery, due to open in 2012, the centenary of Wilson's death.

Wilson's drawing of a thin penguin
Dr Wilson's drawings are surprisingly charming given the conditions

The museum's Helen Brown said:"This is a very exciting addition to the museum that will help us tell the story of Edward Wilson.

"It gives us a more rounded story, particularly about what relatives and people back in the UK thought about the expedition."

David Wilson was given just four weeks to put together a consortium to find the cash.

"I think this is fabulous," he said.

"There is a lot of ephemera about Uncle Ted and it's all these little bits and pieces that put some colour into his life. These touchy-feely bits really bring his character to life."

Much of this collection is new. Wilson's wife - known as Ory by her family - burned much of correspondence between the two, preferring to keep their love letters a secret.

Together with the existing collection at Cheltenham, it provides a fascinating insight into one of the great - and most-loved - characters of the heroic age of polar exploration.

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