Wellington

MO-Conservators in the Antarctic have discovered a box full of negatives taken by the ill-fated Ross Sea Party between 1914 and 1917, preserved in ice.

A team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust restoring an old exploration camp discovered the clumped-together cellulose nitrate negatives in a small box in Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Cape Evans hut.

The Ross Sea Party was marooned in 1915 after their ship broke free of its mooring during a storm. They weren’t rescued until 1917.

The hut was established by Scott for his doomed Terre Nova Expedition to the South Pole. Scott and his team died in 1913 of starvation and cold on their return trip.

It was next used by the Ross Sea Party to leave supplies for famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

It’s believed the Ross Sea Party’s photographer took the photographs, which were never processed.

That mission failed when their ship, the Aurora, broke free of its moorings and left 10 members of the Ross Sea Party stranded.

They were marooned until 1917, enduring illness, psychological trauma and extreme weather.

Despite their misfortune, the team set about its work anyway, laying supplies down for Shackleton’s crossing. What they did not know was that their efforts were in vain.

Shackleton had been forced to abandon his crossing after his ship, the Endurance, was crushed in pack ice.

Exhausted, frostbitten and suffering from scurvy, five members of the team became stranded at Hut Point after successfully depositing supplies for Shackleton’s mission.

The ice was too thin to risk a return to Cape Evans and they subsisted on a diet of seal meat until two of the team decided to risk the ice.

The pair were never seen again. A third member succumbed to the conditions and was buried in the ice.

The remaining three at last reunited with the other four party members and were finally rescued by Shackleton aboard a restored Aurora in 1917.

It was only then that they discovered the futility of their efforts in laying the stores for the journey that never happened.

The conservation team from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust separated the negatives and discovered 22 images. Many of them were badly damaged but the Trust says many landmarks around McMurdo Sound are recognizable.

Nigel Watson, Antarctic Heritage Trust’s executive director, said the new photos are a historic treasure.

‘It’s an exciting find and we are delighted to see them exposed after a century,’ Watson said.

The photographs show new views of Ross Island, McMurdo Sound, and two pictures of the expedition’s chief scientist Alexander Stevens, linking them definitively to the Ross Sea Party expedition and not the earlier Terre Nova Expedition.