Shackleton's sledge and flag export ban for UK arts and culture

Carvings on main entrance front of Exeter Cathedral

What importance should be put on saving particular historic objects for our national museums and visiting exhibitions, and therefore the artistic and cultural experiences that enrich our lives?

Recently, great interest was raised by the saving of Saint Thomas a Becket's casket, to be put on display at Peterborough Cathedral. Similarly, the recent award to Exeter of UNESCO City of Literature status because of its library and archive containing the Exeter Book - one of four major Anglo-Saxon books of literature donated by Leofric, first Bishop of Exeter in 1072 - has also been welcomed as a significant gain for the city.

Therefore the news that Arts Minister Helen Whately has placed a temporary export ban on the sledge and flag from Shackleton's Nimrod expedition in 1907-9, at risk of being lost abroad, is not surprising.

The ban follows their sale to an overseas buyer and they are at risk of export unless a UK buyer can be found.The sledge carried supplies for the four men - Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams - who undertook the famous failed march to the pole, the expedition being the first in history to travel within 100 miles of the South Pole.

Marshall who acted as surgeon, surveyor, cartographer and principal photographer, brought the items back from the expedition and in the 1950s donated them to his alma mater, Monkton Combe School in Bath. The flag was handmade and designed for the expedition and is a prominent feature in many of the famous photographs of the journey.

The Minister's decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) serviced by The Arts Council. The committee noted that very few objects from the expedition have survived and that Nimrod was of outstanding significance for the history of Polar exploration. They also noted that the items provided the public with a tangible connection to a significant chapter in the history of the UK.

Chairman of the RCEWA, Sir Haydon Phillips, said:

'...the sledge is beautifully crafted, and the square flag unusual (often wrapped round Marshall to keep him warm) in that the other sledging flags on the 1906 Nimrod expedition were pennants...the story behind these objects is a riveting saga...generations to come will be prompted to discover it if the sledge and flag can be on public display in the country. We need to keep them.'

The decision on the export licence application for the items will be deferred until 6th May, 2020. This may be extended until 6th August 2020 if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price of £227,500 inclusive of VAT of £8,750. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the items should contact the RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

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