Shackleton’s 100-year-old Antarctic biscuit for sale

By AAP and AG Staff 29 September 2011
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A 100-year-old biscuit from Shackleton’s 1907-09 expedition to Antarctica is up for auction.

WHEN POLAR EXPLORER Ernest Shackleton handed a starving fellow traveller a biscuit on an expedition more than 100 years ago, his companion said he would not swap the morsel of food for “thousands of pounds.”

Now one of the biscuits which nearly made it to the South Pole on the Anglo-Irish Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition is expected to sell for almost that amount when it is auctioned in London on Thursday.

The biscuit, one of thousands which were the diet for Shackleton and his companions on the 1907-1909 expedition to Antarctica, has a catalogue price of up to $2400, according to auctioneers Christie’s.

Made especially for the expedition by British biscuit company Huntley and Palmers, the rations were fortified with milk protein to help the group on their arduous journey.

The explorers reached within about 160km of the South Pole but were forced to turn back and their return journey became a race against starvation, with the group surviving on half rations.

At one point Shackleton gave fellow explorer Frank Wild a biscuit from his own rations, prompting Wild to record in his diary: “Thousands of pounds would not have bought that biscuit.”

A staple for Antarctic explorers

Nicholas Lambourn, a director at Christie’s, said the biscuits were designed to provide maximum stamina to the explorers but were far from perfect.

“They had a special recipe in an attempt to produce the right amounts of protein and carbohydrate,” he said. “But they didn’t understand the importance of vitamin C; they weren’t perfect.”

He predicted there would be considerable interest in the biscuit, which was found in a hut at the base of the Nimrod expedition and is now being sold by a private collector.

“It is an object that really catches the imagination,” he said. “We find there’s institutional interest, there are museums around the world who want them for displays. There are also a lot of private buyers.” 

A Huntley and Palmers biscuit from Ernest Shackleton’s unsuccessful Nimrod expedition to the South Pole,1907-1909,
is pictured at Christie’s auction house in London. The biscuit is expected to fetch between $1,558-2,337. (Credit: AFP Photo)