Why collect Antarctic stamps and postal history? Who writes letters these days? Oh and who lives in the Antarctic anyway? Let's answer a few of these questions.
Antarctic stamps are beautiful, fascinating, and interesting, depicting relevant explorers, scenery, wildlife, history and scientific research. It is the remotest and most hostile part of the Earth and a place very few people will ever go to, which makes it appealing to collect. It is exciting to think of where the stamps have come from, and if they have been posted just imagine the weather conditions the writer was experiencing and the excitement of living on a research base down there. If you have been lucky enough to go there stamps are a wonderful reminder of the place. Nobody lives permanently in Antarctica but every year expeditions are sent down to various bases from many different countries to explore, carry out scientific observations and experiments, and provide the backup crews to run the base and all the equipment.
For the early expeditions letter writing was the only way of contacting family friends or attending to business. The mail was only collected once a year but the expeditioners wrote of their personal experiences at the time, and until they returned to civilization there was no other way of contacting them. Even in more modern times letters have been certain to be delivered despite large delays, whereas other forms of communication such as radio have often malfunctioned. A letter postmarked in the Antarctic with an Antarctic stamp used on it is far more interesting than a text message or email which could have come from anywhere.
Just look at this envelope which was posted in 1911. It has direct connections with the three most famous Antarctic explorers and their expeditions. Nobody had yet been to the South Pole and it was only 12 years since the first expedition to this great white, unknown, continent. Only 2% of its coastline had been mapped and the rest was totally unknown. Captain Robert Falcon Scott led the British Antarctic Expedition, which set up base at Hut Point, near the Ross Ice Shelf, intending to be first to discover the South Pole. They also carried out extensive scientific research, gathering geological and biological samples, and recording data on weather geology, marine life, flora, fauna, glaciers, and the earth's magnetic fields. It was extremely dangerous work with temperatures down to -70 degrees, blizzards which cut visibility to zero, and winds that were impossible to stand against. Antarctica was the cutting edge of scientific research, much as Mars might be today.
Scott and four of his companions died on the way back from reaching the pole but at the time of this envelope, that was all in the future. The Victoria Land stamps were made especially for his men to use when writing home, and some were later sold at very high prices to collectors to help pay expedition debts.This envelope was posted to Joseph Kinsey in Christchurch, who was the New Zealand agent and providore for expeditions led by Scott, Shackleton, and Mawson. He then posted it to Douglas Mawson, whose expedition left for the Antarctic the same year. Mawson and his men sailed south on the S.Y. Aurora, captained by John King Davis who has signed the envelope. Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition undertook more scientific research and obtained more data than any other expedition in polar history. Mawson himself would have cancelled the envelope with the "Loose Ships Posted in Antarctica" cachet which is very scarce in such fine condition. It was then returned to Kinsey as a remarkable souvenir. All the people already named in this article would have personally touched this envelope. It has their DNA on it!
John King Davis returned to pick up Mawson in 1913 but Mawson had not yet returned from his tragic, extraordinary sled trip which is one of the most incredible stories ever told of survival against the odds. Davis returned a second time in 1914 and brought Mawson back to Australia. The following year he was employed by Sir Ernest Shackleton, to sail to the Ross Sea, and drop off a party of explorers there, as part of the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton's own ship, The Endurance was famously crushed in the ice and sank. Both parties of his men faced a life and death battle at opposite ends of the Antarctic. That is another extraordinary story and indirectly ties in with this envelope.