2012 will be an exciting year as we mark the 100th anniversary of the death of Antarctic Explorer Captain Lawrence Oates. As I write, work is underway to install exciting new interactive galleries (officially opening on Saturday 10th March 2012) to mark the centenary, and to celebrate the life of a soldier, explorer and hero who accompanied Scott to the South Pole, and who is best remembered for sacrificing his life in the vain attempt of saving his comrades. Oates left the tent in a raging blizzard with the words ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ His body has never been found.
Last month our Chairman, Dr Rosemary Irwin was delighted to welcome Bryan Oates, great nephew to Lawrence to the museum. He kindly presented a fascinating collection of his family’s artefacts to be included in the new displays. Included in the artefacts is the beautifully kept 1880 diary belonging to Lawrence’s mother, Caroline Oates, recording his birth on St Patrick’s Day with the neatly written words ‘baby is born at 6.20’. There is also two original letters bearing the British Antarctic Expedition letterhead, sent from Lawrence whilst on the Terra Nova voyage to the Antarctic in 1911, and two document cases engraved with his name.
Of particular interest are transcriptions of Lawrence’s diaries, the originals of which Caroline Oates insisted were destroyed following her son’s tragic death, but which his sister Violet painstakingly copied without her mother knowing. An extract from his Antarctic diary dated 17th January 1912 reads “A wretched day, temp at start -22° S.W. wind low drift. We followed Amundsen’s tracks for about 1 hour but had to give it up as were nearly obliterated by snow. His tracks went in S. Westerly direction and then we steered due South for the Pole. Had to halt at 12.15 as Evans’ hands were getting very cold.”
Our ambitious project to create the new galleries has been enabled by funding from a ‘Your Heritage’ National Lottery Grant and together with match funding from the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust, plus donations and fundraising. We are looking forward to the unveiling of the new displays which will bring the Terra Nova expedition to life and provide fascinating and sobering evidence of Lawrence’s experiences in the Antarctic. We hope that our new galleries commemorating his life will be of interest to lots of visitors when they open in March 2012, so please come along!