Aurora Australis from Shackleton’s National Antarctic Expedition
The title page of ‘Aurora Australis’, the first book printed in Antarctica. A copy of the publication, produced during Shackleton’s National Antarctic Expedition, sold for £55,000 at Bonhams.

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Aurora Australis was produced in the years 1908-09 at the winter quarters of Shackleton’s National Antarctic Expedition and was bound using old packing cases and leather horse harnesses.

Offered in the polar section of the latest Travel & Exploration sale held in the auctioneers’ Knightsbridge rooms on February 1, it followed the sale last April of another example of that extraordinary publication that made £60,000 at Sotheby’s.

Giant Tick etched plate from Aurora Australis

‘A giant Tick was investigating the carcase’, an etched plate which features in only one of the 80 recorded copies of ‘Aurora Australis’, the example sold at Bonhams.

Sold by a descendant of Henry Dunlop, chief engineer on the expedition ship Nimrod, the Knightsbridge example is the only one of the 80 recorded copies to contain the etched plate shown above. ‘A giant Tick was investigating the carcase’ was presumably prompted by one of the discomforts offered by the expedition’s quarters.

‘Midwinter’ Menu

Illustrated below is a menu page that features in Aurora Australis, relating to a ‘midwinter’ dinner supposedly held in June 1908 in Shackleton’s Cape Royds hut.

Turtle soup, a main course that promises roast reindeer (!) and blackcurrant jelly, even the sweet courses of plum pudding, Ealing cake and mince pies, were all served with whisky – but there was some relief to be had. The entrées – penguin patties and seal cutlets – were washed down with champagne, though with the coffee, cigars and cigarettes it was back to the hard stuff – as promised in erratically composed, intoxicated letters above the note ‘Sledges at 12.30’.

Menu from Aurora Australis

A ‘Midwinter’ menu leaf from the copy of ‘Aurora Australis’ sold for £55,000 at Bonhams.

Menus signed by members of Antarctic expeditions at special dinners held in both the Antipodes and in the UK are a familiar sight in such auctions, and this week’s sale one contained several. Among them was Dunlop’s copy of a menu produced for a pre-expedition dinner held on December 30, 1907, at the Canterbury Club in Christchurch.

Signed by Shackleton, Wild, Mawson and 13 others, it sold for £3000.


A signed copy of Frank Hurley’s well-known photo-portait of Shackleton sold for £6000 and the Bonhams sale also included photographs taken by Herbert Ponting on Scott’s ill-fated South Pole expedition.

Top lot at £6500 was a dramatic image of a dog team resting by the towering Barne glacier, shown below, while a familiar view of the expedition vessel Terra Nova at Cape Evans, framed by an ice overhang, sold at £5500. Another, showing Captain Oates with the Siberian ponies in ship’s stables, made £5200.

 Herbert Ponting photograph

‘Dog Team Resting by an Iceberg’ – a Herbert Ponting photograph of 1911 that sold for £6500 at Bonhams.

The buyer’s premium at Bonhams was 25/20/12% buyer’s premium.