Ross Sea Party improvised clothing

Credit: Canterbury Museum

By Sue Bassett

A century on from the loss of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship ‘Endurance’ in the Weddell Sea, we’re looking at some of the artefacts from this ill-fated expedition. In 1914, Shackleton planned to cross Antarctica via the South Pole, beginning in the Weddell Sea and ending in the Ross Sea.

He sent a party of 10 men – the Ross Sea Party – to his proposed destination, tasking them with laying supply depots of food and equipment along the last leg of the route. This they dutifully did, covering almost 2,000 miles, unaware that ‘Endurance’ had been trapped in the ice, crushed and sunk, and that no-one was heading their way.

The Ross Sea Party faced its own challenges – their ship ‘Aurora’ was blown out to sea during a storm, leaving them stranded with few rations and very little in the way of equipment or clothing for what ended up being two years. They were forced to shelter at Cape Evans (the home of Captain Scott’s expedition base for his attempt on the South Pole), scrounging what they could from the stores, clothing and equipment left behind by Scott and his men several years earlier.

This hand-made jacket is sewn from canvas material, which is also found in the hut as curtains, insulation and bags. Although sewn with a heavy hand, the jacket with its wooded toggle buttons is very well crafted. The wind-proof trousers are made from green canvas, which is also found as tents, tarpaulins and bags inside the hut at Cape Evans.

The grimy, sooty nature of the clothing tells the tale of the hardship the Ross Sea Party endured. The men saved precious fuel for depot laying and burned seal blubber for their heating and cooking, the greasy soot infiltrating all aspects of their dismal life in the hut.

A makeshift jacket made by the Ross Sea Party members

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