Mystery solved at Detaille Island Hut!

Artefact conservation programme manager Lizzie Meek solves the riddle of the unidentified 'flying' object at Base W, Detaille Island.

Mystery solved at Detaille Island Hut!

Artefact conservation programme manager Lizzie Meek solves the riddle of the unidentified 'flying' object at Base W, Detaille Island.

Mystery solved at Detaille Island Hut!

07/05/2024

Artefact conservation programme manager Lizzie Meek solves the riddle of the unidentified 'flying' object at Base W, Detaille Island.

Some days it feels like artefact cataloguing is one big game of ‘guess the mystery object’ and other days, the hut just hands you an answer on a plate.

The mystery object outside Base W (Credit: UKAHT/Lizzie Meek)

I felt like that today when I found a leaflet in the radio room at Base W, Detaille Island, for the ‘Lucas-Freelite Wind Driven Electric Lighting Plant’ and suddenly realised the large fin-shaped unidentified flying object outside the main front door was part of a wind-driven electricity generating system used by the original hut occupants back in 1957-59.

Promotional leaflet found in the Radio Room (Credit: UKAHT/Lizzie Meek)

The early British bases on the Antarctic Peninsula such as those at Detaille Island, Port Lockroy, Horseshoe and Stonington – predominantly produced power through diesel-fired generators. 

We found a reference in an old BAS/FIDS report (ref. AD6/2W/1957A):

“The windcharger was erected and found extremely useful. Night Met. (meteorological) observations can now usually be transmitted without starting the generator”. 

Just like our team today, avoiding generator use was greatly valued! Although we sometimes need to run a generator to power larger tools and equipment,  our UKAHT team have a series of small portable solar panels which can be seen slung from tents across the camp, making use of the 24-hour daylight. Reducing the reliance on fossil fuels is an ongoing goal for UKAHT.

Solar panels hang from our tents as the morning sun lights up fresh snow-fall (Credit: UKAHT/Lizzie Meek)

Back in 1957-58, there were no solar panels but the Lucas-Freelite devices were a valuable addition to the base infrastructure. 

Was the windcharger dismantled or did it blow down in one of the ferocious 90-knot plus storms that hit the island from time to time? We don’t know that yet but at least we have now positively identified the origin and use of our unusual object.


– Lizzie Meek, Artefact Conservation Programme Manager, Base W, Detaille Island.

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