The following is the late David Wynn-Williams’ initial letter to the Commissioner about South Georgia museum, courtesy of Bob Burton.
His Excellency Mr William Fullerton Governor of the Falkland Islands
High Commissioner for British Antarctic Territory
28 November 1989
Dear Mr. Fullerton, As retiring Editor of the British Antarctic Survey Club Newsletter, I hope that you have received your complimentary copy of the much-delayed Newsletter (my swan-song). The delay is a reflection of the increased scientific pressure we are now under because of our elevated profile. I have recently organized a productive international Workshop on behalf of BIOTAS (Biological Investigations of Terrestrial Antarctic Systems) which is the terrestrial and freshwater equivalent of BIOMASS which you are undoubtedly familiar with. This all takes time.
However, I am writing to you on a different but related topic, and that is the preservation of historic monuments in areas of the Antarctic under British jurisdiction. Although as a professional ecologist and environmentalist I am supportive of plans to clean up the Antarctic region and minimize future pollution, I am concerned about the loss of our historic heritage in the process. I hear rumours of plans to remove whaling stations, artefacts and redundant buildings. Some of these are of considerable historical significance. The New Zealanders have a “conservation corps” which keeps the British huts of Scott and Shackleton in good repair (as I have seen for myself). The Australians have preserved Mawson’s but during their “Project Blizzard”. I feel that we, too have material to preserve, and I have a proposal to submit for your consideration.
We already have the honour of looking after Shackleton’s grave at Grytviken. Our (F.I.D.S./B.A.S./ F.I.D.) connections with Shackleton are very strong for several reasons: l. We look after his grave at Grytviken and his cross at Hope Point. 2. Our original base but is named after him. 3. James Marr who commanded Operation Tabarin which evolved into F.I.D.S. and B.A.S. first went South with Shackleton as a boy scout. 4. We have for some years conducted inshore marine research at Stromness and terrestrial research at Husvik. Both of these whaling stations have personal connections with Shackleton’s “Endurance” Expedition: a) Capt Soren Berntsen (Husvik), who was also the whaling manager at Signy (our Base is on Berntsen Point), hosted the farewell party for Shackleton before he sailed South only to lose his ship in the pack. b) Thoralf Sorlle (uncle of Capt. Petter S¢rlle who named Signy Island after his wife) was the astonished whaling manager at Stromness who welcomed him back after the epic boat journey as described in Shackleton’s classic book “South”.
I have documentation covering these connections, have met Signy Sorlle and her daughters personally, and feel that the Shackleton story with its whaling connections strongly merits preservation as part of our heritage and for the education of visitors to South Georgia.
I therefore submit the following proposal:
I propose the preservation of the two-storey Manager’s Villa at Stromness for use as a museum to Shackleton, other expeditions (such as Discovery Expeditions), and to the Norwegian and other whaling history of South Georgia with which we have been so closely connected.
This is the building that Shackleton and his colleagues staggered into at the end of the epic “boat journey” and traverse of South Georgia. This was where Thoralf Sorlle resided. The building is a classic Norwegian design and its exterior has not yet disintegrated, although it is in serious need of renovation. The floors and interior would need extensive repair. However, if the motivation is there, I believe that the building could be restored to its original condition.
I read with much pleasure in the new issue of “Penguin News” that the Gurkhas had refloated “Petrel” at Grytviken. There have been various proposals to restore her for posterity. Might she be towed to Stromness as a floating example of a catcher alongside the proposed Museum? There is deep water there. She certainly deserves preservation rather than scrapping as she is the only floating catcher in the Antarctic. There is another catcher nearby, at Husvik, the “Karrakatta”. Her bell is on the flagpole in front of Coleman’s House at King Edward Point, Grytviken. She is on a slipway and is another fine example, albeit somewhat weather-beaten, of the tiny ships that demanded such courage from their crews in that (thankfully) byegone era. She, too, merits preservation. If you have had the opportunity of seeing them for yourself, I am sure you will have been able to imagine what it was like working as a whaler or an expedition member in the early part of this century.
In these enlightened days, we appreciate the horror of whaling and the rigours of the early expeditions. It is very educational to see the environment and relics associated with this era.
I gave an outline of this proposal to Nigel Bonner who said he would mention it to you on his arrival at Stanley soon. I am also in contact with Bob Headland of SPRI, Cambridge, author of “The Island of South Georgia”.
A Norwegian industrial archaeologist, Mr Bjørn Basberg, will shortly be visiting South Georgia to survey the Norwegian whaling stations. He will be aboard the “Andenes”. If you have the opportunity of meeting him, perhaps he might be interested in my proposal. I have several contacts in Norway who may be interested. These include Mr Einar Wexelsen, Director of the Sandefjord Whaling Museum, and Fru Gerd Stranger, daughter of Signy Sorlle, who is very interested in the whaling history of her family.
If you feel able to support some version of my proposal, I believe that I could drum up interest through the BAS Club. I could perhaps co-ordinate a collection of relics, photographs and documents to go into the proposed Museum. I look forward to hearing your views on this proposal.
Cc Nigel Bonner Bob Headland, Co-Editor, BAS Club Newsletter Bj8rn Basberg Marie Whittaker, Secretary, BAS Club Ken Richard, Co-Editor, BAS Club Newsletter Mr Chassiron, SAD FCO Mr John Smith, Curator, Stanley Museum