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Royal Patronage and Antarctic Exploration

Both King Edward VII and his son King George V publicly supported the Antarctic expeditions of the ‘Heroic Age’. Royal patronage was vital to the explorers: it gave the journeys an official status that generated public support and made fund-raising easier. The explorers themselves were encouraged by royal concern and it drove them to make their achievements in the name of ‘King and country’.

King Edward VII supported Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901 – 04, and Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition of 1907 – 09. The tradition of presenting a Union Jack to the expedition was started by Queen Alexandra, who gave Shackleton the flag which he planted at Farthest South on 9 January 1909.

In 1913, King George V was greatly moved by the fate of Scott and his companions when the news became public. Ponting was invited to Buckingham Palace in 1914 to show his photographs and film to the Royal Family. After Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, the King met the explorer twice: in May 1917 at Buckingham Palace, and in October 1917 at Sandringham.

Scott’s widow Kathleen also maintained a link with the Royal Family. In 1913 she returned to Queen Alexandra the Union Jack that Scott had planted at the South Pole, seen here on the wall. The flag was removed from the tent in which the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found. The flag is overlooked by a bust of the King which Kathleen made and presented to Queen Mary in 1935.

Kathleen Scott, Lady Kennet (1878-1947)

Bust of King George V

James Alexander Stevenson (1881-1937)

Bust of King George V in naval uniform