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A Grim Souvenir: Dr Edward Wilson

Dr Edward Wilson

After Dr Edward Wilson froze to death in Antarctica, his possessions were given to his widow, Oriana. Among them she found a small silk New Zealand flag that her husband had on his person when he died.

The flag had been gifted to Dr Wilson by Rakaia woman Anne Hardy, while he and Oriana were berthed in Lyttelton with the Terra Nova expedition in 1910.

Hardy had asked Wilson to take the flag with him when he set out for the South Pole with the expedition’s leader, his close friend Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

Wilson obliged, and the flag was flown at the South Pole on 18 January 1912.

That day was a bittersweet one for Wilson, Scott and the three other members of their party. They had hoped to be the first people to stand at the Pole, but upon arriving they discovered the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them there by just over a month.

On the way back to their base the party met with unexpectedly bad weather, which ultimately led to their deaths. Their bodies were found by other expedition members in November that year, which is when Anne Hardy’s flag was retrieved along with diaries that told the story of what had happened.

After finding the flag among her husband’s personal effects, Oriana sent it to Hardy, who later donated it to Canterbury Museum.