In Pictures: On Thin Ice: Pioneers of Polar Exploration at the National Maritime Museum

By Ben Miller | 09 April 2011
A photo of a penguin standing on snow in the Arctic in front of an enormous red sealiner
An emperor penguin braves the sea ice in front of RRS James Clark Ross© British Antarctic Survey
Exhibition: On Thin Ice: Pioneers of Polar Exploration, National Maritime Museum Cornwall, Falmouth, until October 2011

Writing in his diary in January 2012, Captain Scott called Antarctica an “awful” and “terrible” place. Scott’s bad mood wasn’t helped by the news that Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen had got to the South Pole first, and his five-man team died on their return journey two months later.

A photo of an explorer in goggles and jacket standing on Arctic snow
Pen Hadow, On Top of the World. Resolute Bay, Nunavet, Canadian High Arctic© Martin Hartley
Snow goggles, compasses, binoculars, pony snow shoes, harnesses and journals from their tragic three-year Terra Nova expedition star in this six-month exhibition, going sub-zero for a journey through Britain’s Polar heritage through North, South and Base camp galleries.

A black and white photo of an explorer in a jumper in profile
Sir Ernest Shackleton in South Atlantic in 1908© Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
Ernest Shackleton could never be accused of misleading potential apprentices in his adverts. “Men wanted for hazardous journey,” he warned. “Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” His vest is one remnant from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17 on display.

A photo of a man in a snow jacket with a bloodied nose
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the man described as the world's greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records© Martin Hartley
Wally Herbert, the first man to have reached the North Pole on foot and the last of the great polar pioneers, loses a fox fur parka, seal skin mittens and polar bear fur boots to the show, remembered as “the greatest Polar explorer of our time" by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, whose clothing and expedition kit worn on his Transglobe epic of 1979-82 are here.

A photo of a young girl in a fur coat on Arctic snow
A young Inuit girl in her traditional furs takes part in a treasure hunt on King William Island, Gjoa Haven (2003)© Martin Hartley
“It’s enormously difficult to communicate to anyone who hasn’t been to the Poles what life is like at the extremes,” says Pen Hadow, the first Briton to circumnavigate the North and South Poles without re-supply, calling the show “a who’s who of Polar explorers”.

A black and white photo of five Arctic explorers on the snow
Captain Scott and his team (Oates, Bowers, Wilson and Evans) at the South Pole (January 18 1912). The five men were to die on their return journey© SPRI
“Some might say that Falmouth couldn’t be further away from the poles,” adds Exhibition Manager Ben Lumby. “This exhibition ensures you get as close as you can without actually being at -45 degrees.”

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission £5.85-£9.50 (free for under-5s).
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