British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909

Unloading Antarctica's first motor vehicle from the Nimrod

This card is a gift from Thea in Australia, who visited this website and noted my fondness for history.  I have never seen a contemporary First Day of Issue postcard, nor have I seen a modern card that is stamped on the “wrong” side.  It is not only fascinating, but fitting, given the subject matter.

Pictured is the Nimrod, a then-40-year-old Norwegian sealer which Ernest Shackleton bought in 1907 as part of an expedition to Antarctica, in search of the South Pole.  Shackleton had previously been Third Officer on board the Discovery as part of Robert Scott’s 1901-1904 expedition, but was sent home in 1903 after contracting scurvy.  Shackleton thought of nothing else but returning to Antartica, however, and of driving even farther south than Scott — after promising Scott that he would use a different base and route to the Pole. He successfully reached the magnetic pole, but the expedition had to turn around just 97 miles short of the geographic pole.

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust has this to say about the car:

(Shackleton) selected a 12-15 horse-power New Arrol Johnston car, fitted with a specially designed air-cooled, four cylinder engine. Other innovations included Price’s non-freezing oil, a silencer to act as a foot warmer, the passing of the exhaust pipe through a hopper which could be filled with snow to provide hot water, wheels of special patterns, standard car wheels with conventional rubber tyres and ski runners for the front wheels to rest on.

When the car was unloaded from the Nimrod and given a trail run on the sea ice, the wheels became clogged with snow. Shackleton said, “the driving wheels were a great source of trouble; the heavy rear wheels sank into even the hardest snow”. Eventually it became necessary to lighten the weight of the car and next spring, using rubber wheels with chains, mechanic Day was able to tow sledges over the sea ice for up to 14 miles (22 km) and return.

With departure of the expedition in 1909, the car was loaded on Nimrod for return to England but it appears to have not been unloaded. It is thought the vehicle was washed overboard in a storm.

However, the prefabricated timber hut that the expedition used as their base still stands, after 100 years.

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1 Response

  1. Lydia says:

    What an exciting postcard, just full of action. It really is special with the little extras it has on the front. Thanks for the great history……loved the part about the car complete with silencer/foot warmer!

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