200 Years of Antarctica: A team reflection 03/02/2020


This week was the anniversary of the 200th year of discovery of the great white continent that is Antarctica. On January 27th 1820 Bellinghausen recorded a sighting of Antarctica followed three days later by Edward Bransfield. We have had some time to reflect on the achievements, adventures and tales of human endurance over this bicentenary celebration; such as the great discovery that the Heidi pie is not a pie but more of a quiche lost in Finnish to English translation, or the resilience in human spirit when turning on and off then on again numerous electrical appliances and holding out hope that this strategy will make them work... these things are sure to make it into the history books. To celebrate the anniversary, UKAHT offered a free postcard stamp to every visitor on the island that day to enable them to spread their Antarctic 'In Sight' to the rest of the world. Events were also held in London with guest speakers such as Lord Ahmad, Dr Suzanne Imber and duo Dwayne Fields and Phoebe Smith.

The last 200 years have provided a wealth of history from Antarctica; that of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, who are just a few amongst the well-known names, but what about Port Lockroy? Through our day to day activities, we live amongst the rich history that this tiny island has to offer and so frequently do the past and present unite. Every morning, since the snow has melted, we scrub penguin guano off the rocks, which means wondering down to the landing site to collect buckets of seawater and above us are the chains from the whaling industry that saw over 3000 whales processed on our island. These chains are accompanied by bones scattered around the island and on the surrounding sea beds. The excitement of seeing whales from Port Lockroy in 2020 provokes excited radio calls and a quick grapple for the binoculars a different kind than that of the harpoons and flensing equipment of the early 1900s.

After all the scrubbing is done one of us will begin the process of opening up the museum which includes opening the curtains and window of the bunk room which houses the famous “painted ladies”, who include Doris Day and Sophia Loren. These were uncovered in 2011 and were painted in 1960 by Evan Watson, these were the only women on the island at the time a slight difference to our team now. The women added an individual flair to each bunk as all the men shared the same room just as we do now, except our Doris Day and Sophia Loren have evolved into post from home, solar powered fairy lights and posters of different orcas.

If you are on “base diary” for the day, a British tradition of a handwritten daily account that has stood the test of time and technology, then you are sure to look at the anemometer tower for the direction of the wind. Erected when the base was used for scientific research throughout the late 40s until 1962, it is a useful piece of equipment for our present-day meteorological readings. At the time of writing it is gusting a wild 50.9knots in the NE direction!

These are just a few things from the past that entwine with the present, however, the island has some new additions to go forward into the next 200 years.

As mentioned last week Nathan is producing a virtual 3D model of the interior and exterior of Bransfield house and the Boatshed, both are historic buildings on the island. These will be used in the future for conservation purposes, it will enable measurements to be taken and made from the UK accurately for any future work. It will also be used as a form of outreach to raise awareness of the Trust’s work in Antarctica and has the potential to engage people who never thought of going so far South. Different from the ink drawings scribbled on a map by Bransfield 200 years ago or even photographs taken during Operation Tabarin in 1944, this could produce a realistic experience for a global audience.

Although not as groundbreaking but arguably just as impressive, 2020 produced a first in the history of Port Lockroy that will no doubt lay the foundations for greatness over the next 200 years to come, 2020 saw the arrival of… Vegetarian Fray Bentos Pies. In training, we had heard much discussion and laughter over these mysterious pies in a tin (pies come in tins, who knew?!), the extensive flavour selection, the different ways to chef, the culinary delight that was three years out of date Steak and Kidney pie. Being one of the two vegetarians on the team this season I was disappointed that this puff pastry delight wasn’t an available dinner option until a touch of Antarctic magic happened. One windy day this week past team member Kirsty landed on our shores for a matter of minutes before the wind forced the team to abort the landing. In those few fleeting minutes she managed to reunite with Heidi, come and see her old home of Base A, and also deliver a cheese and onion version of the mighty Fray Bentos. History was made.

So what will be happening at Port Lockroy in 2220? Perhaps this blog post will be framed in the museum alongside a photo of the 2020 team and our current uniform laid out as “artefacts”.  Maybe postcards will be displayed as a historic form of communication that no longer exist and visitors will remember great great grandparents who once upon a time received a postcard from the “penguin post office”. Whatever the next 200 years hold we are all working hard to preserve the heritage of our tiny island for future generations to come.

A final note about the future: We have just boiled our first ever electrical kettle on the island and nothing tripped out, hot beverages all round!



Subscribe to our newsletter


Press Enquiries

We love to talk about the important heritage work that we do, telling the story of life in Antarctica both past and present. If you are interested in running a story about us, would like to arrange an interview, use our images or films, or want to discuss an opportunity to collaborate then get in touch.

For all press enquiries, please contact ukaht@89up.org or +44 (0) 203 411 28 89. For urgent press enquires out of office hours, please call +44 (0) 203 2 89 89 01.