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Stuffed penguin from Scott of the Antarctic expedition fetches £10,500 at auction at Sworders in Stansted

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A taxidermy Adelie penguin collected during Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic more than a century ago sold for £10,500 – way above its £2,000-3,000 estimate – when it went under the hammer at Sworders auction house in Stansted on Tuesday (March 10).

Following a battle between a telephone bidder and an online buyer, the former eventually won.

The relic from the notorious Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13 – when Capt Robert Falcon Scott and his team were beaten in the race to the South Pole and then subsequently perished on their return – belonged to Edward Atkinson, a doctor and parasitologist on the doomed trip.

Edward Atkinson pictured during the expedition (30857144)
Edward Atkinson pictured during the expedition (30857144)

He led the team that eventually found the bodies of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans, along with Scott’s diary which recorded the unfolding disaster. They had been beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen’s Norweigan team, who had managed the feat five weeks earlier.

The 47cm (18.5in) stuffed and mounted bird came for sale from the family of the original recipient.

The specimen, possibly mounted by the London taxidermy firm Rowland Ward, was given to the vendor’s great-grandmother Lady Porter and her husband, Surgeon Vice-Admiral Sir James Porter (1851-1935), by Atkinson (1881-1928).

The stuffed Adelie Penguine from Capt Scott's doomed race to the South Pole (30857140)
The stuffed Adelie Penguine from Capt Scott's doomed race to the South Pole (30857140)

In a letter dated December 22, 1913 that also formed part of the lot, Atkinson wrote: “Dear Lady Porter, I had hoped to have ready by Xmas an Adelie penguin as an Xmas present for Sir James and yourself. They have taken so long over them at the stores that they will not be ready, but if you will accept it I will send it as soon as I can. They only occur within the Antarctic circle.”

Capt Scott’s doomed expedition that arrived in Antarctica on January 4, 1911, aside from reaching the South Pole first, also had scientific objectives. The study of penguins, believed at the time to represent the evolutionary ‘missing link’ between birds and reptiles, was a key element of the exploration.

As the man in charge of ‘base camp’ at Cape Evans, Atkinson has become a controversial figure in the Terra Nova story – criticised for failing to restock supplies along Scott’s return route. It was Atkinson who led the search of the Great Ice Barrier where, on November 12, 1912, the bodies of Scott, Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Edward Wilson were found together in a tent with Scott’s letter and diary, its last entry dated March 29.

Also included in the sale were four watercolour sketches by Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959), the youngest member of the Terra Nova expedition and author of its most acclaimed account, The Worst Journey in the World (1922). One 18cm x 25cm sketch depicts three Adelie penguins, with another showing a stretch of Antarctic coastline and the Transantarctic mountain range.

Atkinson working in his laboratory (30857148)
Atkinson working in his laboratory (30857148)

As assistant zoologist, Cherry-Garrard had accompanied Wilson and Bowers on a harrowing 120-mile, 19-day trek in the near darkness of the Antarctic winter to the emperor penguin breeding colonies at Cape Crozier. The trio collected five eggs, three of which made it back to the Natural History Museum for study.

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