Conservators In Antartica Discover A 100-Year-Old Box Of Negatives

Antarctica is an area that very few people see with their own eyes. Explorers will sometimes go to discover what they can find in such a distant land but 100 years ago, doing so was even more dangerous than it is today. A set of explorers who went on such an expedition across the frozen landscape about a century ago left behind something that has now been discovered.

Supply depots were set up for Sir Ernest Shackleton as he explored the frozen continent. When one of those shacks was uncovered, a box of 22 exposed and unprocessed negatives were discovered in a block of ice.

Conservators of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust were responsible for the discovery and they are now restoring the pictures. Those 22 cellulose nitrate negatives were left there by Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party, who were stranded in the area when a blizzard blew the ship out to sea.

The negatives were in bad condition when they found them but a Wellington photography conservator was not about to give up. They painstakingly restored the negatives until they revealed their secrets.

A few of the pictures can be seen below, the rest can be saved on the Trust’s website.

Photo: New Zealand National Library / Image Resource

Photo: New Zealand National Library / Image Resource

Photo: New Zealand National Library / Image Resource

Photo: New Zealand National Library / Image Resource

It is not known who took the pictures but it is known that Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith was the photographer for the expedition. More than likely, he took the pictures but regardless of who took them, it is a remarkable discovery.

“It’s the first example that I’m aware of, of undeveloped negatives from a century ago from the Antarctic heroic era,” said AHT Executive Director Nigel Watson. “There’s a paucity of images from that expedition.”

Three people from the Ross Sea Party died before they were rescued. They left behind a legacy, including these pictures that tell a story which may otherwise have been lost to time.

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