For auction: Two examples of Shackleton's autograph and a replica of the whiskey carried on the Nimrod
'As a scientific leader give me Scott; for swift and efficient polar travel, Amundsen; but when things are hopeless and there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton."
That's from Sir Raymond Priestley's address to the British Association in 1956. All three were major figures in the history of Antarctic exploration: Scott was English and Amundsen was Norwegian, but Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) hailed from Kilkea, Co Kildare.
On February 6, a sledge from the first expedition to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton sold for £143,750 (€163,901) in the Travel and Exploration Sale at Bonhams in London. The estimate was £60,000 to £100,000 (€67,000 to €110,000). The sledge was used on the British Antarctic Nimrod Expedition (1907-9), which set out with the aim of reaching the South Pole. It didn't, but made it further south than anyone had ever been before. The explorers returned at the point of starvation and received a hero's welcome. "A live donkey is better than a dead lion, isn't it?" he said to his wife on his return. "Yes darling, as far as I am concerned," Emily Shackleton replied. The exchange is recorded in Roland Huntford's biography, Shackleton (1985).
Four people attempted the sledge march to the South Pole: Shackleton, Jameson Adams, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall, surgeon, cartographer and photographer. The sledge was owned by Marshall, who donated it to his old public school, Monkton Combe in Somerset. The sledge is about 11 foot and described in the catalogue: "ash on a hickory frame … reinforced with metal braces, leather straps and thick string ties."
In 1907, prior to the Nimrod expedition, Shackleton travelled to Christiania (now Oslo) and commissioned 18 11-foot sledges "of the Nansen pattern". Fridtjof Nansen's Fram expedition of 1893-96 had failed to reach the North Pole but his methods of travel and survival were deeply influential. Other sledges from the Nimrod expedition survived - one is part of the permanent Ernest Shackleton exhibition at the Athy Heritage Centre-Museum - but the one sold at Bonhams was catalogued as "the only example we have traced with provenance to one of the four Southern Party explorers".
Arctic and Antarctic expeditions of the time typically carried sledge flags, to be flown on special occasions and for photographs. Eric Marshall's sledge flag, also dating from the Nimrod expedition (est. £30,000 to £50,000; €33,000 to €55,000) sold for £75,000 (€85,513) in the same sale. The silk flag, which shows a red unicorn head and a gold anchor, features in many of the expedition photographs. On January 6, the day before they turned for home, Marshall wrote in his diary: "make one last dash without the sledge. Sledge flag tied in back to help keep warm tonight."
Few objects were carried on Antarctic expeditions and even fewer returned. Anything that did will command a high price at auction, but other polar memorabilia has value too. The Arctic Medal (renamed the Polar Medal in 1904) was awarded by the British Sovereign for "extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic". One of these was awarded to Timothy McCarthy (1885-1917) from Kinsale, Co Cork. McCarthy was serving as an able seaman in the Royal Naval Reserve when he applied to join Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. He was one of 26 men chosen to crew the Endurance for the expedition and, crucially, he was one of the five who accompanied Shackleton on the epic open-boat voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. His Polar Medal (est. £15,000 to £20,000) sold at Dix Noonan Webb in London for £65,000 in July 2016.
On a slightly less epic level, the signatures of any of the expedition leaders will do well at auction. Whyte's forthcoming Eclectic Collector auction in early April includes two examples of Shackleton's autograph. One, a simple signature (est. €500 to €700) is pasted on to a leaf from an autograph book is dated "Jan 7th / 14." The other (also est. €500 to €700) is inscribed "Waifs and Strays Meeting - March 1912."
The auction also includes a replica of the whiskey carried on the Nimrod (est. €100 to €150) and a silver spoon commemorating Amundsen's arrival at the South Pole in 1911 (est. €500 to €800). A first edition in two volumes of A Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions, during the years 1839-43 by Sir James Clark Ross (1847) (est. €700 to €1,000) describes his pioneering expedition to Antarctica.
In January 2017, a postcard sent by Captain Robert Falcon Scott in 1904 fetched €440. The postcard was posted in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the 1901-04 British Antarctic Expedition's return journey and is addressed Scott's hand to a Mrs Wrench in Ballybrack, Co Dublin. Mrs Wrench may have been a relation of the publisher of the card. Wrench's issued four postcards to be posted at different stages of the expedition to subscribers who helped finance the venture. But Wrench can't have done his research on Antarctic wildlife as the postcard, hilariously, showed a picture of a polar bear.
See bonhams.com, whytes.ie, dnw.co.uk and shackletonmuseum.com.
In the salerooms
The contents sale of 11 Oxmantown Mall, Birr, Co Offaly, has everything from breakfront bookcases and four poster beds, to silver sauceboats, urns and art - including A Lady and her Child (1840) (Lot 279: est. €5,000 to €7,000), a watercolour by Frederick William Burton. Possible top lots in the sale include a very early photograph of the moon, taken through a telescope (Lot 304: est. €7,000 to €11,000). The photograph was taken by Henry Draper (1837-1882), a pioneer of astronomical photography who spent a formative summer at Birr Castle, where the 3rd Earl of Rosse had erected the world's largest telescope, the 72-inch Leviathan reflector. This photograph was taken at Draper's observatory in Hastings, New York, in 1863 and is inscribed from Draper to the Earl of Rosse. Other unusual items in the sale include a late Victorian mahogany dentist cabinet (Lot 56: €700 to €900) and a dentist chair sold with a pedal-worked dentist drill (Lot 57: est. €300 to €400). Viewing on Sunday (1pm to 5pm) and on Monday (10am to 5pm). The sale takes place at the County Arms Hotel, Birr, Co Offaly, on Tuesday at 10.30am. See fonsimealy.ie.
Whyte's sale of Irish and International Art takes place in the RDS, Anglesea Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin, on Monday at 6pm. The lots are on view, also at the RDS, from tomorrow to Monday, 10am to 6pm daily. Potential top lots include two by Jack B Yeats: A Passage Is Required (1953) (Lot 19: est. €100,000 to €150,000), which shows two figures negotiating with a boatman; and Justice, 1946 (Lot 22: est. €100,000 to €150,000), an atmospheric empty courtroom. There is also a fine Paul Henry landscape - A Kerry Bog (1934-35) (Lot 9: est. €60,000 to €80,000) - complete with turf stacks and glowering clouds and a stained glass door panel (Lot 23: est €20 to €30) from the studio of Harry Clarke (above). The panel is highly reminiscent of the Harry Clarke windows in Bewley's Oriental Café, Dublin, and was commissioned in 1938 by Laurence Cassidy of Dublin "on the lines of the Bewley panels". See whytes.ie.
Antiques & Vintage Fairs
The National Antiques Fair, organised by Hibernian Antiques Fairs, will take place at the Great National South Court Hotel, Limerick City, tomorrow and Sunday. This will boast 100 stands, including members of the IADA (Irish Antique Dealers Association) antique shops, antiques dealers, art galleries and vintage dealers. The fair runs from 11am to 6pm on both days and adult admission is €5, which includes a raffle ticket.
Matthew's Auction Rooms
Our Lady Queen of Peace Convent & Nursing Home, off Garville Avenue, Rathgar, Dublin 6 is up for renovation and Matthew's Auction Rooms will conduct a clearance sale of unwanted contents on Tuesday and Wednesday, at 12 noon each day. See matthewsauctionrooms.com.