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Polar explorers do the paperwork

16 January 2007 by Sam

Detail of customs document completed by Shackleton

Detail of a Master’s Declaration, announcing Shackleton’s last expedition in 1921

Today is the anniversary of the day that polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton found the magnetic south pole in 1909. You’d think that after returning from an adventure like that he’d just want to stay at home with a warm mug of cocoa, or tick off the ‘visit south pole’ box on his travel wish list and start planning a cruise round the Caribbean to thaw out. He obviously wasn’t the sunbathing type though, as he led several more expeditions to the Antarctic after this.

One of the prized documents in the collection of the Customs and Excise Museum is a Master’s Declaration that announces the outward journey of his ill-fated last expedition in 1921. Sadly, Ernest Shackleton did not reach the Antarctic on that occasion as he died of a heart attack on South Georgia Island in January 1922.

Another famous explorer who has been in the news lately is Captain Robert Scott, whose moving last letters to his family will go on display at the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum in Cambridge tomorrow. The Customs and Excise Museum also have a letter from Captain Scott in the collections, that he wrote to request exemption from tax for the ship Terra Nova for an expedition in 1910. Nowhere near as poignant as the incredible letters to his loved ones, but still an interesting side of polar exploration that you wouldn’t normally see.

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