In Leeds Central Library’s strongroom, while conducting routine cataloguing, Rhian Isaac, a librarian in charge of special collections, stumbled upon what initially seemed to be an unassuming family photo album, tucked away on a shelf. Despite its rather plain 1990s cover, within its pages lay a captivating series of images chronicling the mission of ‘The Morning’, a relief ship sent to aid Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s inaugural Antarctic expedition from 1901 to 1904.
The painstaking process of authenticating these photographs eventually led experts from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow to Roundhay Park. There, they confirmed that these pictures were indeed genuine, and over a century old.
The episode featuring Rhian and the photographs was broadcast on Sunday, October 1. Starting today, October 3, the album will be available for public viewing at Leeds Central Library.
Rhian said: “This is a real once-in-a-lifetime find and I never would have expected that inside this very ordinary-looking book would be such a remarkable collection of photos revealing a fascinating chapter in history.
“We don’t know exactly how the pictures came into our collection, but we believe they were taken by John Donald Morrison, The Morning’s chief engineer and many of the crew are featured, including the ship’s dogs.
“The images really capture what life was like aboard the ship, not only how harsh the conditions were but the sense of camaraderie among the crew and the breath-taking scenery they saw from the deck each day of their voyage.
“It’s been fascinating to discover more about the expedition and its history and to find such a comprehensive record of how this historic mission unfolded.”
Historical records reveal that ‘The Morning’ departed from London Docks in 1902 with the mission of aiding Scott’s more renowned vessel, the Discovery, which had set sail the previous year, and whose crew included the legendary Ernest Shackleton.
Typically, relief ships were tasked with delivering mail and orders, along with providing supplies and medical care to the primary mission’s crew. However, upon arrival, ‘The Morning’, under the command of the seasoned sailor William Colbeck from Hull, discovered the Discovery ensnared in 18 miles of unyielding sea ice.
Shackleton himself was reluctantly taken aboard ‘The Morning’ and returned home, still convalescing from his famous yet unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole.
Despite their entrapment, Discovery’s mission pressed on for another year. Then, in 1904, the British admiralty ordered a rescue mission. With the assistance of the whaler and explosives expert Harry McKay, and his vessel the Terra Nova, ‘The Morning’ successfully dislodged the Discovery from the ice. Without their intervention, Scott and the Discovery might never have made it back.
Tragically, Scott’s subsequent second mission from 1910 to 1913 resulted in his own demise, along with that of his party, after reaching the South Pole.
Starting from today, Monday, visitors will have the opportunity to view the photographs from ‘The Morning’ expedition, now on display in the Local and Family History section of Leeds Central Library.
Further research will be conducted to identify some of the crew members captured in these photographs.
Councillor Mary Harland, Leeds City Council’s executive member for communities, said: “This is a fascinating discovery which exemplifies the breadth and scope of the history which is on the shelves of our local libraries.
“It’s fantastic that we’re able to share such a remarkable story with our visitors and for them to engage with our collections in such a new and exciting way.”
For additional information on Leeds Central Library, please visit Central Library (leeds.gov.uk).