Art and artefacts relating to Polar exploration have been a feature of our travel and topographical sales in recent years. We have sold collections for the descendants of the great names from the ‘Heroic Age’ in the south (The Scott Relics in 1999, The Shackleton Collection in 2001, The Amundsen Collection in 2008) as well as material relating to the search for the fabled Northwest Passage a century earlier.
This year saw two most evocative and poignant properties come to auction. We travelled to the island of Skye to meet a descendant of Lieutenant John Irving, John Franklin's Third Officer on HMS Terror and one of the men who perished on the ill-fated expedition which set out for the Arctic in the 1840s and vanished without trace.
The subsequent sale of John Irving's Arctic Medal (above), awarded posthumously, recalled the tragic fate of all of Franklin's men and coincided with the announcement by the Canadian prime minister of the discovery of one of Franklin's two ships in the Canadian Arctic. It realised £37,500 in the sale of Travel, Science and Natural History at South Kensington in October.
If Franklin's name is forever associated with the Arctic, Captain Oates is a name forever associated with the Antarctic. The Topographical Pictures sale at King Street on 30 October featured a fine oil sketch by John Charles Dollman (main image) for his famous picture in the Cavalry and Guards Club. Dollman’s canvas shows the explorer walking out of the Polar Party’s tent to his death in March 1912, an act of self-sacrifice by the Inniskillings Dragoons officer that both traumatised and inspired the nation on the eve of the Great War. It sold for £40,000, some £10,000 above its high estimate.