Antique photo find takes librarians on surprise voyage of discovery: image00013

02 Oct 2023

Antique photo find takes librarians on surprise voyage of discovery

Libraries Arts

A classic case of not judging a book by its cover took librarians in Leeds on a fascinating photographic journey through a daring Antarctic rescue mission.

During routine cataloguing in Leeds Central Library’s strongroom, special collections librarian Rhian Isaac found what appeared to be an unassuming family photo album tucked away on a shelf.

Despite its somewhat drab 1990s binding, inside she discovered an enthralling series of images documenting the mission of The Morning, a relief ship to Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s first expedition to the Antarctic between 1901-4.

The meticulous process of verifying the photos eventually led to Roundhay Park, where experts from the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow were filming and where they confirmed that the pictures were genuine and more than 120 years old.

The episode featuring Rhian and the photos aired on Sunday (October 1) and the album will now be on display to the public at Leeds Central Library from today (Oct 2).

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.”

Records show that The Morning set off from London Docks in 1902 to relieve Scott’s more famous ship Discovery, which had left the previous year and whose crew included the legendary Ernest Shackleton.

The role of relief ships was usually to deliver post and orders as well as dropping off supplies and tending to sick or injured crew from the primary mission.

However on arrival, The Morning, captained by seasoned Hull-born sailor William Colbeck, found the Discovery trapped in 18 miles of solid sea ice.

Shackleton himself was reluctantly taken aboard and returned home as he was still recovering from his famous and unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole.

Despite being trapped, Discovery’s mission continued for another year, but in 1904 the British admiralty ordered a rescue and with the help of whaler and explosives expert Harry McKay and his ship the Terra Nova, The Morning blasted Discovery out of the ice. Without their help, Scott and The Discovery may never have returned.

Scott’s subsequent second mission in 1910-13 sadly resulted in the death of himself and his party after reaching the South Pole.

From today (Monday) visitors will be able to see the photos from The Morning expedition on display in the Local and Family History section of Leeds Central Library.

More research will also take place to try and identify some of the crew members captured in the photos.

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 more details on Leeds Central Library, please visit: Central Library (


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