Antarctic artifacts from doomed trip up for auction

The Canadian Press Saturday Aug. 28, 2010

Sir Charles Seymour Wright is shown in this 1912 photo by Herbert Ponting, upon his return from the Polar Journey photo. (HO, Adrian Reaside - Herbert Ponting / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

— A prized collection of artifacts that belonged to the sole Canadian among the first group of explorers to Antarctica will be put up for auction next month.

And they come with a thrilling tale of missteps and a failed pursuit of glory that cost some of the men their lives in the unforgiving Antarctic cold.

The belongings of Sir Charles Seymour Wright, which include more than 1,400 photographs, a compass, camera, and a pair of skis will be sold at Christie’s in London in September.

Wright was a Toronto-born physicist and glaciologist on the failed 1910-1913 expedition of Robert Falcon Scott, who wanted to be the first to reach the south pole.

Wright was a 23-year-old Cambridge University student in England when he walked 95 kilometres from Cambridge to London to convince Scott in person to allow him to go on the trip.

The goal was to travel 1,500 kilometres from Antarctica’s shore to the south pole while lugging weeks worth of food on a sled, in whiteout conditions, before the invention of polar fleece.

Wright’s grandson, Adrian Raeside, 53, is selling the artifacts. He says the men endured disorienting blizzards that lasted for weeks at a time.

“It’s just insane, but this was the plan,” said Raeside, who lives in Whistler, B.C.

Raeside said Wright, — who was nicknamed Silas — warned officers that the crew was ill-equipped for the journey, but they ignored his concerns.

Somehow, many of the men managed to survive even though the hair from the fur on their sleeping bags fell out, and the rubber soles of their boots fell off, said Raeside.

Wright was later ordered to leave the expedition about 450 kilometres away from the destination because Scott wanted a team of only British citizens to be in the record books as being the first to reach the south pole, Raeside said.

The decision saved Wright’s life. Scott and two others perished in the frigid Antarctic winter.

Wright and another team returned the next spring and found the small tip of their tent peering out from underneath metres of new snow.

British officials ordered survivors and search crews to not talk about the mistakes that led to the failed voyage, and Wright thought that publicly pointing out the errors of the men would hurt the feelings of their families, Raeside says.

Wright died in 1975 at the age of 88.

Raeside says he is putting his grandfather’s collection up for sale because he feels people need to know about the contribution of the lesser-known people on that trip.

“The men who were with Scott, including my grandfather, they were the ones who supported Scott and without them…the ship would’ve actually sunk, which it almost did (in a hurricane),” Raeside said.

He also said he has no children to pass the heirlooms on to, and feels the collection is too much of a responsibility for one person to take care of.

“The skis for example, they’ve been in the basement or the crawlspace and it wasn’t until recently that I realized these things should be looked after a little better than that. That’s why these things should go to a good home,” he said.

He said the skis are his favourite item on the auction block because his grandfather wore them during the entire mission and search for Scott’s body.

“You can say those skis were witness to almost everything that happened on the expedition,” said Raeside.

Christie’s estimates the skis will sell for between $US9,100 to $US12,000 when they go on sale Sept. 22.

The collection also features a set of Wright’s medals, including awards from the First World War, and the Order of the British Empire.

Christie’s estimates the medals alone could sell for between $US19,000 to $US27,000 but Ottawa is not allowing the medals and some other artifacts to leave Canada.

Raeside says officials are waiting to see whether a Canadian museum wants to purchase them.

Raeside wrote a book called Return To Antarctica: The Amazing Adventure of Sir Charles Wright on Robert Scott’s Journey to the South Pole, and recently filmed a documentary about tracing his grandfather’s footsteps on the continent.

Original article here