Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Royal Geographic Society

The Royal Geographic Society’s librarian, Eugene Raye, led our group into the Foyle Reading Room to look at items from the “Hot & Cold” explorers’ collection. The “hot” part of the collection was from explorers that went to places near the equator such as those looking for the source of the Nile or mapping the Amazon. The “cold” part of the collection was from explorers trying to find the Northwest Passage, the North Pole, or the South Pole.

First we looked at the items from the “cold” part of the collection. The items included here were from the 1840s Perry expedition to the North Pole, e.g. Inuit shoes, and the fatal 1846 Sir John Franklin arctic expedition. From the Antarctic region there are items from Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition, e.g. a supply list from Harrods Store limited and a food bag. Also included were items from Shackleton’s expeditions e.g. Shackleton’s bible, and an edition of the “South Polar Times” magazine, as well as photographs of the Endurance trapped in ice by the photographer Frank Hurley.

Recent items donated to the “cold” collection came from the contents of Mallory's pockets when Mt. Everest climbers discovered his remains in 1999. These items include a wristwatch, compass, Swan matches, and energy sweets. These were added to the Mallory collection that includes the planning papers for the expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest, photographs and a metal water bottle. Mallory’s camera has yet to be recuperated.

Next we looked at the artifacts from the “hot” collection. First we looked at items from Livingstone’s expedition to find the source of the Nile e.g. a sketch of Victoria Falls, a sketch map of the area, and Livingstone’s hat and compass. Included in this part of the collection is Henry Morgan Stanley’s hat. From the Amazon part of the collection, we saw Percy Fawcett’s artifacts. These included photographs, hand made maps, and an anode barometer. Included in this part of the collection is T.E. Lawrence’s sketch map of Arabia, and a replica bust of Gertrude Bell, the original is in Bagdad, Iraq. For good measure, the box sextant used by Charles Darwin when he was on the voyage of the Beagle was also on the table.

Overall, the library holds two miles of items including one mile of maps, and half a mile of photographs all stored in the archives beneath the city block. All of the items are onsite and retrievable within five to ten minutes time. In 2004 the online catalog was created. Unless users are members or people in education there is a ten-pound fee to use the reading room and access the collection.

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