Most of the approximately 80 Antarctic rock specimens at Auckland Museum are from Ross Island (Mt Erebus), McMurdo Sound and along the coast of Southern Victoria Land in the Ross Sea area. A number were collected during the Scott or Shackleton Expeditions. Something you will notice is the small size of the rock specimens. The reason is simple; rocks are heavy and carrying them makes travelling across Antarctica's difficult terrain even more challenging.
Early Antarctic explorations
The so-called 'Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration', from 1897-1922, required over-wintering in the Antarctic and involved some 17 expeditions from 9 different countries. It began when a Belgian expedition (1897-99), led by Adrien de Gerlache, over-wintered in the Antarctic circle. The expeditions relevant to the Auckland Museum collections were the National Antarctic Expedition 1901 (Discovery expedition, 1901-04, Scott); the British Antarctic Expedition 1907 (Nimrod expedition, 1907-09, Shackleton); and the fatal British Antarctic Expedition 1910 (Terra Nova expedition, 1910-13, Scott). The Discovery, Nimrod and Terra Nova were the ships used to get men and supplies to the Antarctic. All of them left from New Zealand for the final leg south.
Captain James Clark Ross (discoverer of the Ross Sea, the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo Sound), led an Antarctic expedition from 1839 to 1843 with the ships HMS Erebus and Terror. After this expedition, he was not enthusiastic about further Antarctic exploration. It is thought that his influence, as well as the loss of the 1845 Franklin expedition in the Arctic (which included the two ships mentioned above) lead to decades of 'polar disinterest'. The wreck of HMS Erebus was found in Canadian Arctic in 2014.
The British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04 (Discovery expedition), led by Robert Falcon Scott was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic regions for 60 years after Ross. The new expedition aimed to carry out scientific research and geographical exploration in what was then largely an untouched continent. This was the first of several expeditions based in McMurdo Sound. Its scientific results covered extensive ground in biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism. There were important geological and zoological discoveries, including those of the snow-free McMurdo dry valleys and the Cape Crozier emperor penguin colony. The youngest member of the science party by far was Hartley T. Ferrar (aged 22), who met his future wife when the Discovery was in New Zealand, and later worked for the New Zealand Geological Survey until his death in 1932. Other expedition achievements included the discoveries of King Edward VII Land, and the Polar Plateau via the western mountains route. The expedition did not make a serious attempt on the South Pole.
After Scott's return home the expedition was celebrated as a success, despite having needed two expensive relief ship missions - Morning (1902-03) and Terra Nova (1903-04) - to free Discovery and its crew from the ice and, later, encountering disputes about the quality of some of its scientific records. It appeared to some at the time that naval adventure had prevailed over science. Ernest Shackleton was third officer on this expedition but was evacuated by the Morning in 1903 suffering from scurvy.
The British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09 (Nimrod expedition), was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton who, as noted above, was also a member of the first Scott expedition. Its main objective was to be first to the South Pole. This was not attained, but an expedition party reached a farthest south latitude of 88° 23' S, just 180.6 km from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either pole. Another party, led by Australian geology professor T. W. (Tannatt William) Edgeworth David reached the estimated location of the South Magnetic Pole, and the expedition also achieved the first ascent of Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second highest volcano - Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson (Australians) and Alistair Mackay (Scottish). Edgeworth David’s classic The Heart of the Antarctic, which can be read online, is a large volume detailing many interesting aspects of daily life and the science achieved during the expedition. Another geologist present was second year student Raymond Priestley.
Terra Nova Expedition
The British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova expedition) was the second led by Scott to Antarctica. It is the one most written about ever since, because of the deaths of Scott, Evans, Oates, Wilson and Bowers while trying to return from the South Pole, having been beaten to that objective by Roald Amundsen's Norwegian South Pole expedition five weeks earlier. Science was still one of the expedition objectives, so geology and geologic mapping played a part. Thomas Griffith Taylor was appointed senior geologist and again Raymond Priestley as the junior geologist. Priestley survived some close calls during the expedition but went on to live until 1974. Some of the rock and mineral samples he collected are in our collections.
Cite this article
Antarctic geological connections. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 May 2015. Updated: 29 September 2015.