Robin Burton still remembers the hairs on his neck standing up and tears in his eyes when the tourist ship he was on pulled away from Robert Falcon Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, Antarctic in 2014.
His grandfather, Bill (William) Burton, was a stoker on the Terra Nova, the ship involved in the ill-fated expedition to the ice continent some 100 years earlier ago, and for Robin, the chance to re-live that experience and to feel his grandfather’s spirit was emotional.
Bill Burton died in Christchurch in 1988 just days shy of his 100th birthday, but while in his 80s, gave a series of interviews to his grandson, recounting his experiences from the 1910-13 expedition.
The transcribed recordings, along with expedition souvenirs including Bill’s ship cutlery, press cuttings from English newspapers of the day and his polar and war service medals have since been donated to the Canterbury Museum by Robin.
The 30-day trip to the Sub Antarctic Islands and Antarctic had never been planned, but had happened through happy circumstances, Robin said.
The pricey trip had been an amazing experience and for him had both reason and purpose.
As well as the obvious historical connection, the voyage had revealed a special and wild place in the flesh.
His trip had been more comfortable than his grandfather’s, who would have left the warmth of a shift in the boiler room for a cold hammock and rations.
The scenery and long sailing days, however, would have been the same, Robin said.
Robin took over 2000 photos of the once-in-a-lifetime experience, including dozens of snaps of curious penguins.
“The Kings, the second largest penguin breed, would come right up to you and were inquisitive, whereas the Royal were a bit more on the shy side.”
His ship had sailed 9000km from Bluff and back with highlights including visits to the Ross Ice Shelf, Shackleton’s Hut, Scott Base and Campbell and Macquarie islands.
Since returning from his trip, Robin has given a number of informative presentations to community groups.
“They’ve been an opportunity for me to share my trip and feelings and also to get others thinking about what Antarctic means to New Zealand as a country.”
Photo: Robin Burton with a painting of Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, painted from one of his photos by his wife Christine Widdowson, and inset, a signed photo of his grandfather Bill Burton on the Terra Nova.
Burton went back to England after the Scott expedition and continued his career in the Royal Navy. He rose to the rank of Petty Officer, before hearing problems forced him out of the service. Bill sailed for a new life in New Zealand in 1920.