One of the joys of being able to work with the rich archive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and British Antarctic Survey is that you never know what you will find, despite the archivist’s best description.
Whilst recently sifting through a haul of documents I’ve spent hours smiling at sepia pictures of husky puppies playing on hut floors, laughed at reports of penguins which refuse to be shooed away from base huts and been amazed at the organisational minds who thought to pack every piece of equipment essential for survival in the harshest environment on earth.
However, sometimes some things just… stand out, not because they are much different from the documents around them, but because the world has changed so much there doesn’t seem to be space for them in the modern mind. One example is a beautiful hand-made envelope, sealed with tape and wax dots, sent to Grahamland, which one correspondent referred to as ‘the loneliest Post Office in the world’.
Another artefact that drew a second, and then a third look, was a telegram, counting out penguins; 12 of the ringed variety, 12 of the macaroni sort and a couple of sheathbills. These were to be collected and forwarded to the London Zoo. In the context of a time when scientific exploration of the seventh continent and all its wonders was new and exciting, wildlife was to be made available to the public, to educate and entertain the people of London.
Whilst the envelope stands out as a beautiful but outdated mode of communication in the era of the internet and instant global communication, this telegram stands out against the now progressive attitude to engaging with Antarctic wildlife. It highlights the shift in attitudes towards wildlife and its natural conservation. With COP 26 approaching, let’s continue to take great strides forward in how we care for, respect, and protect our awe-inspiring wildlife and its environment.
The team at UKAHT still counts our Gentoo penguin neighbours regularly. Whilst we’d never dream of shipping one to you now, we would love to care for one on your behalf through our Adopt a Penguin programme. In return we will ship you its cuddly toy twin direct from our not so lonely Penguin Post Office, Port Lockroy... wax sealed envelope not included.
By Lesley Johnston, Narrative Designer (XR & Archive) at UK Antarctic Heritage Trust
Support us Adopt A Penguin
The gentoos of Port Lockroy are perhaps some of the most famous penguins in the world! The colony made their home with us on Goudier Island over 30 years ago and we have been studying and contributing to their protection ever since. By choosing to Adopt A Penguin you will make a huge difference in enabling us to continue our work protecting the Gentoo colony at Port Lockroy.