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A photograph postcard sent from the Discovery, Winter Quarters, Victoria Land, Antarctica in 1903 to a lady in New Zealand far surpassed its £800-1200 estimate to sell for £9500 at a Penzance auction.

What made this postcard particularly special was that the photograph on the card of Mount Erebus was taken by the sender, Reginald Koettlitz, the expedition’s physician and botanist. He wrote: “Fairly unique, being the first card of the kind ever sent from so far south and so remote a part of the world.”

Koettlitz was a keen photographer, and during the expedition took a large number of photographs, including over 50 pioneering colour images of Antarctica. He later showed his colour images at a lecture he delivered in Dover in 1905, but the colour slides have since been lost - although there is hope that they, along with his journal, may resurface one day.

International interest

This postcard was part of a group of letters written by members of the 1901-04 British Antarctic Discovery Expedition, which generated international interest when they were offered for sale at Lay’s (21% buyer’s premium) on March 7, following their recent discovery in a local house.

The letters came to auction from the estate of the Lamorna artist Eleanor Hughes née Waymouth (1882-1959), who was born in New Zealand, and later moved to England, settling in Cornwall.

Her parents Frederick and Alice Waymouth lived with their family in Christchurch, New Zealand in a grand home named ‘Karewa’. Frederick Waymouth was a successful businessman and secretary (and later managing director) of the Canterbury Frozen Meet Company which supplied provisions to the British Antarctic Expedition.


Letter from Thomas Vere Hodgson, marine biologist on the Discovery Expedition, on headed Discovery Antarctic Expedition 1901 paper, who wrote “We are just 20 miles from the crater of Mount Erebus, which is constantly smoking, but it has never given us any other entertainment.” This letter sold for £3800 hammer. Cape Hodgson in the Antarctic is named after him.

On November 29, 1901, the Discovery docked in Lyttleton harbour, the port for Christchurch, where it remained for three weeks as Scott and his crew took on board supplies and made final preparations for their voyage south.

During this time the Waymouth family entertained members of the expedition at their home, and the hospitality and friendships with the Waymouths was not forgotten.

In January 1903 a relief vessel to Scott’s expedition, the SY Morning, arrived with fresh supplies, and two months later returned to New Zealand with letters from expedition members for family and friends.

Among these were a number of letters addressed to Alice Waymouth, including one from Thomas Vere Hodgson, marine biologist.

He wrote to Mrs Waymouth: “The ice is very late getting out and the Morning has been here a month and is still five miles away. As the intervening ice is dead level we have done a good deal of hob-nobbing and got in most of our stores by sledge. She will leave at the end of this month with the mails and we shall follow if and when we can.”


This letter by the Discovery’s doctor and botanist Reginald Koettlitz sold for £3900. Koettlitz took part in several sledging expeditions, including an attempt on Cape Crozier in March 1902. On a trip he led across McMurdo Sound, Koettlitz discovered two glacial features later named after him: the Koettlitz Glacier and the Koettlitz Neve.

Another from Michael Barne, second lieutenant, said: “My dear Mrs Waymouth […] We have got a very comfortable little cove for our winter quarters, with the huts on shore about 200 yards from the ship […] We have great sing-songs and concerts periodically. Mr Royds takes the chair and pulls it to the piano and plays the accompaniment. Our pianola has held out wonderfully well, considering the amount of work it has.”

A postcard and letter was sent from Koettlitz, while George Mulock, the cartographer, who had arrived on the Morning to replace Shackleton who was invalided home, wrote: “Most of the ‘Discoverys’ think there is a chance of their being released later on in the summer months although all that remain seem in excellent spirits and quite prepared for second winter. I am sorry to say that the only discovery, a distance of 7 miles! but it is consoling to hope that if she winters down here again, there may yet be another chance.”

Later messages

The Waymouth correspondence offered at Lay’s also included later letters, one written from Hobart in November 1903 by William Colbeck, captain of the Morning, saying: “That we have all your good wishes, we all know and are also certain that no one will welcome us more heartily than our friends at Karewa. I cannot tell you how we all appreciate the many kindnesses and hospitality extended to us in Ch-ch [Christchurch] and the happy hours spent at Karewa will always be amongst our happiest reminiscences.”

A further letter from Reginal Koettlitz was written in July 1904 from Port Stanley, Falkland Islands. It said: “Of all the places that civilised man ever came to live in, unless parts of northern Siberia or West Greenland (and even they are better) be excepted, the Falkland Islands seem the most out of the world dreary of places that they ever did so in, certainly that British people ever settled in.

“A more or less flat, barren looking, often rocky expanse, without a tree or shrub to vary the monotony, and that to the dim distance. A bleak windswept spot, and yet there are people who have lived here for 22 years!”

Another was sent from London by Sir Clements Markham, president of the Royal Geographical Society. In total the eight lots of letters and postcard realised a total of just under £39,600 hammer, four times the pre-sale expectations.

Philatelic factor

The collecting market for correspondence from Antarctic expeditions is not confined to Polar book collectors seeking to enhance their libraries.

A significant driving force, it would appear, is coming from philatelic collectors who are looking for unusual post-marks, envelopes and postal history.

Stuart Leggat of Meridian Rare Books, a specialist in travel, exploration and travel works, has noticed an emergence of new collectors from countries including Romania and the US who are focused on buying postal history that tells a story and can be displayed in stamp shows, and they are prepared to bid strongly to buy the rare material when it appears at auction, as demonstrated by these strong results at Lay’s.