WHERE polar exploration collectables are concerned, Christie’s have in recent years enjoyed, if not a monopoly, then certainly a strong grip on the auction market.
King Street will be offering over 100 lots in their
Exploration and Travel sale of September 27, many of them of
considerable importance, but five days earlier, on September 22,
those in search of Antarctic memorabilia may wish to visit
Charterhouse of Sherborne, Dorset sale where three lots relating to
the polar experiences of James W. Dell are to be offered for sale
by his family.
Though he was not on the two most dramatic expeditions of what is
termed the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration - the Shackleton
Endurance expedition and that on which Scott reached the South Pole
but perished - James Dell's polar experiences nonetheless spanned
that entire era.
He served as an able seaman with Scott on the Discovery on his
first expedition of 1901-04, during which time he took part in two
or more sledging expeditions and met Lieutenant Shackleton, with
whom he formed a lasting friendship. Both shared a mutual love of
sailing vessels and in later years, it has been suggested, a
critical view of Scott.
Dell suffered a bad injury whilst flensing, or stripping the
blubber, from seals and was invalided out of the Royal Navy on his
return from the first Scott expedition. However, he re-enlisted
during WWI and served in the Dardanelles Campaign and on North Sea
After the war, he went with Shackleton on his final voyage south,
serving as boatswain and electrician on the Shackleton-Rowett
expedition. In fact Dell was one of the last men to see Shackleton
on the night that he died aboard the Quest, and was a pall bearer
at his funeral. It was Dell, too, who made the cross that
originally marked Shackleton's grave on South Georgia.
A founder member of the Antarctic Club, James W. Dell continued to
attend the annual dinners right up until 1966, and at the time of
his death two years later, he was believed to have been one of only
two surviving members of Scott's National Antarctic Expedition of
Letters from Scott and his wife enquiring after his health
following his repatriation, together with letters from E.A. Wilson,
the expedition doctor, are among the documents and photographs in
the Sherborne archive. A table plan from from a 1904 luncheon
reception given for Scott, Shackleton and other members of the
returning 1901-04 expedition is also included, along with a spoon,
fork and plate used on the Discovery.
There is also a transcript of an interview broadcast by the BBC on
the occasion of that 1966 Antarctic Club dinner and reunion, which
celebrated the publication, 60 years later, of Edward Wilson's
diaries relating to the 1901-04 expedition.
The Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University already
holds some material relating to Dell, mostly relating to the
1921-22 Shackleton-Rowett expedition.
By Ian McKay
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