British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913
Herbert George PONTING (1871-1935). - An Adelie Penguin egg, [Antarctica: 1912]. 7cm. long, with original protective wrapping of cotton-wool, all within original pine box (6.9 x 9.2 x 11.6cm.), the sliding lid inscribed in ink in Ponting's hand "Egg of Adelie/Penguin from/the Antarctic/H.G.Ponting" and further inscribed in a second contemporary hand "Scott Expedition 1912"
H.G. PONTING. Autograph note signed, [n.p.: 1912?], on headed notepaper 'British Antarctic Expedition Terra Nova R.Y.S', 1 page, 8vo (cut down by Ponting to allow for easy insertion in the box). The note, written to accompany the Penguin egg, reads 'A penguin's egg/from the Antarctic./With best wishes/for a Merry Xmas/from H.G. Ponting.'
Provenance: H.G. Ponting (Christmas gift to unknown recipient); Margaret Beach (née Elliot, by descent).
'Adélie penguins' eggs are about the size of a goose's; they are either white, or of the same shade as a duck's, but have much coarser shells. They are excellent to eat; the white being semi-transparent and gelatinous, and the yolk delicate of flavour. Two eggs are laid on the bare stones which form the nest, and are kept warm during the process of incubation by being enveloped in a deep crease in the thick, downy feathers of the lower abdomen. This crease permits of the eggs [sic.] coming in close contact with the skin. The eggs are frequently turned, so that the warmth can be applied equally. They are also aired from time to time; meanwhile the sitter takes the opportunity to stretch and his, or her, flippers, and occasionally to indulge in a few ecstatic exercises" (H.G. Ponting. The Great White South, London, 1921, p.246).
Ponting was captivated by the Adelie penguins at Cape Royds and recorded them in some detail using both his still and ciné-camera: 'No Antarctic creature had endeared itself to explorers so much as the Adélie, or Black-throated penguin. There is no memory that those who have penetrated into these Polar seas cherish so much as their meetings with these busy, lovable little people - for one cannot help thinking of the Adélies as fellow-creatures" (op.cit. p.231).
The exact sequence of events surrounding the collection of the present egg (a carefully-blown specimen) is not known. However, a reasonable hypothesis is that the egg was collected by Ponting late in 1911 or early in 1912 and a 'custom-made' box was constructed at Cape Evans. Ponting left the Antarctic on the Terra Nova im March 1912. (2)