Tuesday 17 January 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the first British team reaching the South Pole. Founded as a memorial to Captain Scott and his four companions, the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) is marking the occasion with two days of celebrations.

The Institute’s education and outreach activities are designed to encourage the next generation of young people to take up careers in polar science and to be inspired by Scott’s example.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell

Descendants, politicians, historians and scientists have gathered in Cambridge for a symposium to consider Scott’s scientific, historical and cultural legacy.

The Institute’s Director, Professor Julian Dowdeswell said, “The centenary gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on Scott’s achievements and his legacy and to celebrate a century of Antarctic science. The Institute’s education and outreach activities are designed to encourage the next generation of young people to take up careers in polar science and to be inspired by Scott’s example.” The conference will be followed by a gala dinner to be attended by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.

In addition, the photographs taken by Captain Scott on his final expedition to the South Pole will be saved for the nation by SPRI, thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) enabling their purchase.

This remarkable collection consists of 109 photographs, and gives a view of the Antarctic as seen through Captain Scott’s eyes as he documented the first part of his epic journey to the South Pole. Subjects include his companions, the ponies and sledges, the scientific work they were undertaking and the breathtaking Antarctic landscape.

The photographs themselves were printed in the Antarctic by members of Scott’s team as they waited for his return from the Pole, and for most of the past 70 years were considered lost.

The purchase of the photographs by SPRI will allow the images to be reunited with Scott's camera, which was given to the Institute by the late Lady Philippa Scott in 2008. Once they have been fully conserved, the photographs will be digitised and made available online.

“Scott’s photographs bring to life, in vivid detail, his party’s sledging journey into the interior of Antarctica,” says Dowdeswell. "From men and ponies struggling through deep snow, to panoramas of the Transantarctic Mountains, the images are very powerful. They are a superb complement to the Antarctic photographs of Herbert Ponting, which the Heritage Lottery Fund also helped us to acquire.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said “This stunning collection provides a fascinating insight into Captain Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition. Although he was never to return, the research and records that were undertaken by his team are of historic and scientific importance. We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are delighted to play a part in bringing these photographs to the Scott Polar Research Institute where they will be conserved and made available for everyone to see.”

The British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition was led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN with the twin objectives of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole and to undertake scientific research on the Antarctic environment.

Scott and four companions attained the pole on 17 January 1912, to find that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had preceded them by 34 days. Scott's entire party died on the return journey from the pole. Some of their bodies, journals, and personal effects were discovered by a search party eight months later.

Captain Scott’s photographs were developed in the Antarctic by the geologist, Frank Debenham, who later became the founding Director of SPRI.  The images were returned to the UK by members of the expedition in 1913 and it was intended that they be used to illustrate books, reports and lectures; however, difficulties with establishing copyright meant that only a handful were ever used.

The First World War intervened and confusion over ownership was never resolved, any remaining negatives were lost and the prints passed to Herbert Ponting. On Ponting's death in 1935 the prints were sold to the photographic agency Popperfoto, who in turn sold them at auction in New York in 2001 and they have remained in private hands ever since.

As part of the centenary celebrations, SPRI has put on display a special exhibition ‘These Rough Notes: Capt. Scott’s Last Expedition’ which includes manuscript material from the planning of the expedition to the diaries of the men on the search party who discovered the fate of Scott and his men.

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