The Polar Museum
The Scott Polar Research Institute was established in 1920 by Frank Debenham as a memorial to Scott and his companions. Debenham was a geologist on Captain Scott’s British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition 1910-13. He had the idea of establishing a research centre as a fitting tribute to the national hero and to ensure that Scott’s pioneering scientific work would continue.
Located in a Grade 2 listed building dating from 1934, the Institute developed as a centre for polar explorers to share information, leading to the deposit of the Polar Museum's core collections.
In 2010 the renovated Polar Museum opened its doors to the public. It now displays more of its collections than before, offering visitors the chance to experience the story of Earth’s coldest, driest, highest and deadliest places.
The new displays are based on the theme of exploration into science, emphasising both the history of exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic and the wider environmental significance of the poles in a changing world.
Art and artefacts from the people who call the Arctic home are displayed alongside the last letters of Captain Scott and iconic Antarctic photographs by Herbert Ponting. A series of exhibits shows how science is undertaken in the harsh conditions of the polar regions.
As well as these permanent exhibits, the Museum regularly hosts special exhibitions and shows of modern polar art. A great range of polar-related material, including books, toys and posters, is available from the Museum Shop and may also be ordered online. The Institute has an active Friends organisation and welcomes volunteers.
Museum opening times: 1000-1600pm (Tues to Sat), except some public and university holidays, and occasional other days, e.g. Bank Holiday weekends, between Christmas and New Year.
The Polar Museum welcomes school and other groups of all ages - please book in advance. Please note that the museum is small and we therefore ask that you limit groups to 24.
The Museum is closed Sun-Mon.
Our library and archives are open to the public by appointment.
We have been shortlisted for a European Museum of the Year Award 2012.
The Museum holds an unrivalled collection of artifacts, paintings, drawings, photographs (including cinematographic film, lantern slides, and Daguerreotypes), and other material relating to polar exploration, history and science.
The museum displays feature items from Scott's last expedition, including farewell letters to friends and family, diaries, the sleeping bag of Captain Oates, and the black flag left by Amundsen. The museum also houses displays on Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, scientific instruments and equipment from the 'heroic age' of exploration, the sledges and skis used by Scott, Shackleton and other explorers, geological specimens, modern exploration equipment and clothing, polar artworks and an example of an Emperor penguin.
Items not on display may be viewed by prior arrangement.
Archives, Coins and Medals, Costume and Textiles, Film and Media, Land Transport, Maritime, Natural Sciences, Personalities, Photography, Science and Technology, Social History
Key artists and exhibits
- Captain Robert Falcon Scott
- Captain Lawrence Oates
- Roald Amundsen
- Sir Ernest Shackleton
- British Graham Land Expedition
- Northwest Passage
- Sir John Franklin
- Sledges and skis
- Modern exploration equipment and clothing
- Emperor penguin
- North Pole
- South Pole
By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men
- 22 September 2015 — 18 June 2016 *on now
By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men is the major centenary exhibition commemorating Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–17.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–17 set out to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. The plan was for the Weddell Sea party to sail on Endurance to Vahsel Bay, where they would establish a base camp from which the crossing party would commence its journey. At the same time the Ross Sea party would sail on Aurora to McMurdo Sound on the other side of the continent to lay supply depots for the crossing party.
However, in 1915 Shackleton and his men were confronted with one of the worst disasters in Antarctic history: Endurance was crushed and sank, the outside world was unaware of their predicament or location, food was scarce, and chance of survival was remote. They were marooned on the sea ice for several months before sailing to Elephant Island, where there was little chance of discovery. The only realistic chance of survival was to sail one of the lifeboats, James Caird, 800 miles across the Southern Ocean to South Georgia in order to arrange a rescue mission.
The exhibition will tell the story of the disaster and how Shackleton and his men overcame the challenges they faced. It will commemorate all 28 men (and Mrs Chippy the cat) from the Weddell Sea party, and will also honour the Ross Sea party and the three men who lost their lives.
- 13 May 2016 7-9:30pm
Has your life ever been held balanced on a knife edge? Has your fate been taken out of your hands, the difference between glory and ignominy depending on a gust of wind? Lit by the sparkle of a storyteller's eye, immerse yourself in tales and legends where good luck, and bad, turn worlds upside down.
The Polar Museum at S.P.R.I. host the Cambridge Storytellers as they recount adventures from the extreme north and south of the world. Inuit legends will be woven between moments from the epic tale of Ernest Shackleton's failed Trans-Antarctic expedition.
- Not suitable for children
The Polar Museum
Scott Polar Research Institute
Education & Outreach Officer