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Canterbury’s Polar rockstars

Captain Robert Falcon Scott arrived in Lyttelton in 1910 on his way to make history.

The explorer was bound for Antarctica on the Terra Nova. He wanted to be the first person to stand at the South Pole.

The people of Canterbury were thrilled to be part of his adventure. But in a speech at the City Council Chambers following his civic welcome, Scott said: “I want to say that the greatest kindness you can show us during our stay here is to leave us alone to go about our business, as we shall have an exceptionally busy month.”

Canterbury had previously hosted Scott’s Discovery expedition in 1901 and 1904, and Shackleton’s Nimrod in 1907 and 1909.

On each occasion, the region rolled out the red carpet, treating the explorers and their crews like rockstars.

The expedition members were treated to concerts and lavish dinners and invited to give lectures.

Their signatures were highly prized. You can see a menu signed at a 1907 dinner by Shackleton and members of his Nimrod crew in Canterbury Museum’s exhibition Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed, which runs until 11 November.

The explorers, often cash-strapped, would use these events to raise funds for their expeditions.

Local newspapers reported almost daily on the expeditions’ preparations while they were in port, and Cantabrians flocked to the docks at Lyttelton when the ships arrived and departed.

In his 1910 speech, Scott said the warmth he’d experienced on his previous stays in New Zealand made him confident he could ask to be left alone without causing offence.

“There is not, I believe, any country in the world so fully in sympathy with the objects of the expedition as New Zealand.

“The people here seem to have adopted these expeditions as their own, and to regard the people connected to them as wholly New Zealanders,” he said.

See a dinner card full of Antarctic signatures on display at the Canterbury Museum’s exhibition Canterbury and World War One: Lives Lost, Lives Changed, which runs until 11 November.