Antarctic expedition letters

Letters from Discovery Antarctic expedition members, on offer at Lay’s.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

They were found in a Cornish Edwardian house built by descendants of the Waymouth family, to whom the letters were written, and come for auction at Cornish saleroom Lay’s on March 7.

Married couple Frederick and Alice Waymouth and their family lived in Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand, in their grand home ‘Karewa’.

Frederick, a successful businessman, was the managing director of Canterbury Frozen Meats, and he and his wife were prominent members of Christchurch society.

The Discovery under the command of Robert Falcon Scott left the UK on July 31, 1901, and docked in Lyttelton, the port for Christchurch, on November 29.

The Waymouth family entertained members of the expedition in their home and also provisioned them with supplies. On December 21, after a three-week stay in New Zealand, the Discovery set sail and headed south for Antarctica.

Lay’s says: “The correspondence that followed their visit is a testament of affection towards Alice, and the warmth and hospitality she showed them is gratefully reflected back in the light-hearted conversational nature of these letters even when discussing the hardships of extreme cold and being locked long-term within the ice pack.”

The collection will be offered in eight lots in the Rare Books & Works on Paper sale to be staged in Lanner, each estimated at £800-1200.

Three are from Reginald Koettlitz (1860- 1916), expedition physician and botanist. He and Scott clashed and his scientific contributions were not recognised on their return – none of his painstaking work featured in the expedition’s final scientific reports.

Antarctic expedition letters

From a group of eight letters, estimated £800-1200 at Lay’s.

One of the Koettliz messages is actually a photographic postcard: ‘Mount Erebus, from summit of Harbour Hill, October 1902’. He notes: “Fairly unique, being the first card of the kind ever sent from so far south and so remote a part of the world.”

Also on offer are single letters from Thomas Vere Hodgson, marine biologist on the Discovery, (1864-1926); Second Lieutenant Michael Barne DSO (1877-1961); George Francis Arthur Mulock DSO, RN, FRGS (1882-1963), cartographer, who arrived on expedition relief ship SV Morning in 1903 and replaced Shackleton who was invalided home; Captain William Colbeck (1871-1930), captain of SV Morning; and Sir Clements Markham KCB FRS FRSGS (1830-1916), president of the Royal Geographical Society 1893-1905.

Addresses include Winter Quarters McMurdo Bay; ‘The Discovery’ Port Stanley, Falkland Islands; ‘Discovery’ Winter Harbour, Victoria Land, Antarctica; and Hobart.

Discovery Antarctic expedition letters

Letters from Discovery Antarctic expedition members, offered at Lay’s.

The Markham letter is addressed from Eccleston Square, London. He devoted much enthusiasm and energy to the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-04, selecting Scott as leader.

Markham – who took part in a Franklin expedition search in 1850-51 – had earlier played a prominent part in the campaign to obtain official approval for the British Arctic Expedition, 1875-76 (led by George Strong Nares), one of the aims of which was to reach the North Pole.

Five of the letters, including those from Koettlitz, are written on Discovery Antarctic Expedition 1901 headed paper.

Arty family

Mimi Connell-Lay from the auction house told ATG: “The letters were written to Mrs Waymouth, who is the mother of the Lamorna artist Eleanor Hughes (née Waymouth) when they lived at Karewa in NZ. (Karewa was renamed Mona Vale and is now an important heritage venue in Christchurch).”

The Waymouths moved back to the UK about 1905-06, it is thought. Connell-Lay added: “Eleanor Waymouth and husband Robert Morson Hughes built ‘Chy-an-gweal’ in Lamorna in 1911 and became part of that noted artists’ community, friends with Harold and Laura Knight etc. They were childless and the house went to the descendants of Eleanor’s sister Alice Waymouth who had married Robert’s brother John Colin Hughes (yes, two sisters married two brothers!).”

The house never left the family until it was sold in 2022 after the death of Alice and John’s granddaughter; she was also childless.

Connell-Lay adds: “Lay’s handled the probate and cleared the house and we sold some notable art [including the portrait of the artist Robert Morson Hughes (1873-1953) by Harold Knight, pictured on the front cover of ATG No 2554, sold for £46,000 in August 2022].

“I found the letters in the house (as you can imagine, I was beside myself with excitement when I realised what they were).”