Cambridgeshire

Cambridge University explorers: Naked natives and frozen sausages

Greenland exploration team member Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption A member of an advance team from Cambridge University seen leaping over a crevasse in Greenland in 1963

Naked natives and freeze-dried sausages feature in an exhibition chronicling a Cambridge college's "enduring fascination" with exploration.

Photographs and maps, some of which have never gone on public display, have been found in the St John's College archive.

A number of the images on display were taken during a 1963 expedition to East Greenland involving members of the college.

Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption An expedition to East Greenland in 1963 was organised by John Lendon from St John's, seen front-centre with a rope across his shoulder
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption One of the earliest items on display is an atlas dating from 1682 which depicts naked "natives" at the South Pole. Map-makers had no idea what the unexplored region was like, or that freezing temperatures would make naked hunting unlikely

The group, who practiced by scaling the college chapel's tower in the flatlands of Cambridge, went on to conquer 28 peaks which had never been climbed before.

However, it took them eight days to reach base camp, by which time they had already run out of provisions.

Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption Freeze-dried sausages and milk chocolate were among items brought to the Greenland explorers when they found they had eaten all their provisions before even beginning the ascent of the 28 peaks
Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption A plane had been pre-booked to drop supplies to the team's base camp in the Stauning Alps in Greenland
Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption Supplies to keep the university explorers going arrived by parachute

But luckily for the team - put together by St John's student John Lendon - they had pre-arranged for packs of freeze-dried sausages and chocolate to be dropped by plane.

Organisers of the exhibition say the college has an "enduring fascination with exploration... which seems to have begun in the 1600s".

Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption Mount St John's is one of 28 peaks conquered by the team in 1963. All 28 were named after Cambridge University colleges
Image copyright St John's College, Cambridge
Image caption Older items on display include this 1688 atlas drawn by St John's alumnus Samuel Purchas, depicting a "seamorce" as "bigg as an oxe" alongside a map of Greenland

One of the earliest items on display is an atlas dating from 1682 which depicts naked "natives" at the South Pole.

It was presented to John's by the late 17th Century master, Sir Humphrey Gower.

Image copyright Colin Knox
Image caption John Lendon, who organised the expedition to Greenland, is seen here hiking on the right

At the time the South Pole was unknown territory. The map-maker clearly had no idea it was a frozen wasteland and "amusingly depicted 'natives'... absolutely starkers", the college said.

Also on show are previously-unseen extracts from the diary of former college master Sir James Wordie, who was chief scientific officer on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1914-17 where they were forced to abandon their ship, Endurance.

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