Well-travelled Antarctic cabin rides again

Sarah Mankelow —  20/03/2013

Swinging below the crane, a wee cabin linked to Scott’s fatal Antarctic expedition looked more like a cubby than a 100-year-old piece of history.

“It looks like a child’s playhouse!” remarked its ‘owner’ Valerie Crichton.

Scott's cabin is moved by crane from the earthquake crumbled cliff in Sumner.

DOC’s Murray Lane helps guide the hut as it’s lifted out of the spot where it has sat for the last 100 years

But as Grant Campbell, DOC Community Relations Programme Manager eloquently said, “We’ve lost so much heritage in Christchurch, even the wee ones count.”

The hut, which for the past 40 years has been under the care of the Crichton family in Sumner, has been pulled from the brink of an earthquake-crumbled cliff top after being vested with DOC.

It’s the culmination of lots of long talks and negotiations by Grant and Community Relations Ranger Cody Frewin with the Crichtons, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Christchurch City Council.

Valerie Crichton said, “It’s taken more than two years to get traction on this. Then we met with DOC and it was ‘can do’. That ‘can do’ was music to our ears.”

Scott's cabin is hoisted by crane on to a truck.

The hut had to be lifted high around pitched garage roofs and powerlines

Cody said, “I’m really proud of what we have achieved.”

Grant, Cody and the Crichtons were all onsite to watch the cabin be retrieved and trucked to Godley Head by contractors HGM Construction. David Crichton pacing back and forth was reminiscent of an expectant father.

“I have mixed feelings about this event,” said David. “It would have been nice to stay here but this is the next best thing.”

The cabin began life as a meteorological hut taken to the Antarctic by the Terra Nova for Captain Scott in 1911. But it was brought back to Lyttelton in 1912, still in its wrapping.

Scott's cabin makes its way from Sumner to Godley Head by road.

The convoy makes its way through the narrow streets of Sumner before heading up the hill (you seen the road in the background)

It was erected on Clifton Hill above Sumner in the garden of the expedition agent, Sir Joseph Kinsey and was home to the wife of Captain Scott’s right hand-man Dr Edward Wilson, Oriana Wilson, for a year until she received the news of his death in February 1913. The hut was also known as ‘Uncle Bill’s Cabin’ after Dr Wilson, whose nickname was Bill.

David Crichton used the cabin as his study, and later it was a place of refuge after the September quake, when the couple felt nervous about sleeping in their own house. This fear was proved founded when the February quakes bought their house down, while the cabin rolled with the quakes like “a wee boat,” said Valerie.

In a press release, Minister of Conservation Hon Dr Nick Smith said, “I’d like to acknowledge the Crichton’s vision and generosity in gifting the hut, as well as the assistance provided by CERA and the Christchurch City Council in making the removal possible.”

The cabin is place at the new Godley Head site by crane.

The hut will sit on the old parade grounds on Godley Head temporarily until it’s restored and resource consents are sorted for its final resting place with a sea view

“For a building to have travelled so far and survived so much, it would have been a tragedy to have left it to be demolished.”

The hut has been taken to public conservation land at Godley Head where it will be restored and eventually opened to the public, in a spot with sea views as it was on Kinsey Terrace.

Sarah Mankelow


A North Island defector, I came south to go to Lincoln Uni and never looked back. My first ‘serious’ job with DOC was in Arthur’s Pass. I've been based in Christchurch since the turn of the century!

3 responses to Well-travelled Antarctic cabin rides again


    Dear DOC,

    I have just arrived at your site after searching to see what, if anything had happened to Uncle Ted’s Cabin, having read about it’s perilous place following the terrible earthquake that caused so much devastation.

    I say Uncle Ted, rather than Bill, as that is our family name for my Great Great Uncle. I myself was working as a scientist studying seals and penguins for the British Antarctic Survey when I read the news articles about the earthquake, and also of the cabin.

    It gives me great pleasure to see the effort that has gone into rescuing this cabin, and I am so pleased that it is going to undergo restoration and be made open to the public.

    I have not visited New Zealand yet, although I have always wanted to do so. Now, when I do the first place on my list will have to be Uncle Ted’s Cabin.

    Yours gratefully,
    Alastair Wilson

    Katherine MacInnes 22/03/2013 at 12:52 am

    How fantastic. Well done everyone but particularly to the Crichtons, an impressive act of generosity for which we are all, New Zealanders and Britishers alike, very grateful. Thank you from all of us. Thank you.

    And, with reference to the blog above, that is certainly not a ‘cubby’ it is ‘Uncle Bill’s Cabin’. It is testament to an incredible woman, to Oriana Wilson, Edward (Bill) Wilson’s wife, Captain Scott’s right hand man, who died with him returning from the South Pole.

    I am writing a book on Oriana (1874-1945) who loved New Zealand, was awarded a CBE by the New Zealand government for her work with the New Zealand War Office in London during the First World War, and always longed to return to her ‘shack’ and emigrate.

    When I wrote about her ‘shack’ in the Christchurch Press, the response was immediate and impressive. Big History has been written, but now we are trying to look more closely at peoples’ personal lives and one way of doing that is looking at the lives of wives. I think we have a deep interest in social and domestic history and that women have been the hidden half of that history. We are now getting stories of women: Hemmingway’s wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, Hitchcock’s wife. They are coming out of the shadows, it is time for womens’ voices to be heard, for their stories to be told.

    ‘Uncle Bill’s Cabin’ is perhaps, Oriana (known by her husband’s expedition nickname as ‘Mrs Bill’s’) monument. Its survival despite recent earthquakes and now its cherishing, communicate just the qualities Oriana strove for. Through it, her inspiring and indomitable spirit lives on.


    Katherine MacInnes
    PS. If anyone has any information/photographs/opinions relating to Oriana, I would be very grateful if you would email me on k.macinnes@cheltenhamcollege.org My access to the blog is unreliable but emails are very welcome. Many thanks.


    This is really great news. Several of us in Cheltenham, England (home of Edward Wilson and of the mother of Birdie Bowers, both of whom died with Scott) have been anxiously following the story of the hut and are delighted that it has been saved and will be able to be seen again by the public. Thanks especially to the Crichtons for thinking of saving the hut when they have lost so much else, and to Grant, Cody, CERA and all involved in rescuing it for posterity. I’m not long back from Christchurch (I went to the Oamaru centenary events) and hope to visit again and see the hut before too long. Thanks again to everyone involved. Anne