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The First Book Printed and Bound in the Antarctic

A new acquisition to our adult nonfiction collection, Still Life: Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton with photography by Jane Ussher and essays by Nigel Watson of the Antarctic Heritage Trust, is a beautiful and haunting memorial to those first doomed explorers of the South Pole. Bound in rough canvas with coloring reminiscent of the century old material still slowly decaying in situ in Antarctica from the original expeditions, the detailed photographs within are intimate investigations of what life was like for these adventurous, and often heroic, men. The climate and isolation of these modest huts in Antarctica has left intact and untouched many artifacts of this time period. Jars and tins of food stores sit unopened. Hams still hang in muslin bags. Rough canvas pants still hang on drying lines, awaiting repair of rips. A seal carcass butchered over 100 years ago still slowly decays nearby. Framed photos of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra still hang on the wall. Everything from toasting implements, homemade seal blubber lamps, turn-of-the-century scientific equipment, socks, and scraps of cartoons from newspapers still exist within these huts. The photographs evoke loneliness, cold and deprivation but also represent an indomitable spirit and inspiring self-reliance.

One of my favorite parts refers to Ernest Shackleton's British Imperial Antarctic Expedition of 1908–09:

The expedition achieved several significant firsts besides Shackleton reaching the furthest south ever achieved at that time ... first ascent of Mt Erebus ... first motor vehicle ... addition, the expedition wrote, illustrated, and bound the first book in Antarctica during the winter of 1908. Edited by Shackleton and entitled Aurora Australis, it was a collection of poems, essays and stories, lithographs and etchings. Printed by Joyce and Wild on a printing press brought from England the ink was warmed by candle beneath the ink plate. Copies were bound with leather and venesta plywood packing cases by the motor mechanic, Bernard Day. Whilst it is thought 100 copies were produced not all of these have been accounted for. Reams of unused paper for the book remain above Joyce and Wild's cubicle.
(p. 60-61)

That they brought with them a printing press and enough paper for several copies is enough to kindle excitement in any book lover’s heart but the image conjured by the phrase “the ink was warmed by candle beneath the ink plate” is almost more romantic than I can bear! The photo of the remaining reams of paper, still intact and neatly stacked, above the printers' bunks leads to a contemplation of human ambition and frailty, and the longevity of art.

Still Life holds many more awe-inspiring stories of human hardship and accomplishment, and photos of breathtaking beauty and detail. It is recommended for anyone fascinated by history, archaeology, long-exposure photography or the golden age of exploration and adventure before World War I.

A well-done scan of a reprint of Aurora Australis is available online:

Details of all copies discovered:


Target Age: 
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