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2023 Special Exhibition

ICE! Exploring the Far South - 250th anniversary of the first crossing of the Antarctic Circle

We need to think of Cook as an explorer of the Polar regions!

250 years ago, Captain Cook with two ships, Resolution and Adventure, was the first to cross the Antarctic Circle.

What was the aim of the voyage? Curiosity about those blank areas on the map and, above all, was there a great ‘unknown southern continent’ waiting to be discovered?

This was first and foremost a scientific voyage with a team of men of science on board. There were many unanswered questions. Was the South Pole free of ice, as some believed? How did pack-ice form when it was thought that salty seawater did not freeze? How cold was the ocean at depth? What animals or birds might be found there?

William Hodges The Resolution Passing a Tabular Iceberg 1773-4 © SLNSW
William Hodges The Resolution Passing a Tabular Iceberg 1773-4 © State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

The voyage was full of danger, adventure and resolution – as in the name of Cook’s ships! Fogs descended suddenly, enormous icebergs threatened the ships, ice covered the ropes and spars of the ship. Yet Cook and his crews crossed the Circle no less than three times and came within a short distance of sighting the Antarctic Continent.

With original paintings and objects, we explore the extraordinary conditions confronting the voyagers. How did the crews manage in the extreme cold and what precautions were taken for their health?

What were some of the legacies of the voyage? We take South Georgia as an example of some of the unanticipated consequences of putting an island on the map. Visitors to the island inadvertently introduced rats, and other animals, which did enormous damage to native bird populations. We display items used in the recent, very successful, project by the South Georgia Heritage Trust to reverse the damage.

With the help of loans from several regional museums and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust the exhibition shows original artworks, instruments, books, photographs, videos and documents. Activities and trails for children link the voyage to current ideas about conservation and the environment.

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