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 duties.
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 1901-04.
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