Two chalk drawings of penguins by the explorers Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton have been discovered in a basement at Cambridge University.The priceless sketches, which date from 1904 and 1909, were probably done during the lecture tours given by the pair after they returned from their Antarctic voyages. The 3ft by 2ft blackboards, which are signed, were found lying among junk at the university’s Scott Polar Research Institute.“People often compare Scott and Shackleton in terms of their achievements as explorers and their leadership qualities,” said Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, a historian and curator of art who found the images. “Now, albeit with a smile on our faces, we can judge their artistic abilities as well.“We have absolutely no idea how we got them and we are still trying to find a record of them arriving in our collections, but I am sure they are authentic.
“Some people may think they look a little crude but I think they are incredibly charming.
“They were drawn at public lectures in front of an enthusiastic audience, to laughter and to cheers, and then signed with a flourish.
“It’s like having the explorers’ autographs, only more wonderful, because each has signed their name next to a hand-drawn penguin.”
Both Scott and Sir Ernest were national heroes because of their feats exploring the frozen wastes of Antarctica. Each saw penguins there for the first time and they toured Britain extensively when they returned home.
Hundreds of people flocked to town halls up and down the country to hear them talking about their experiences, and doubtless some in the audience asked them to draw what they had seen.
Scott had returned in 1904 from his defining voyage aboard the Discovery – in which Shackleton also took part. The expedition had successfully explored the Ross Sea, discovered the Polar Plateau and travelled further south than anyone had ever managed before.
Scott famously died attempting to return from the South Pole in bitter, blizzard conditions during a second expedition in 1912.
In 1909, five years after the Discovery expedition, Shackleton returned triumphant from his own command aboard the Nimrod – an expedition in which he almost made it to the South Pole and also became the first human both to cross the Trans-Antarctic mountain range and set foot on the South Polar Plateau.
He was knighted on his return.
Heather Lane, a librarian and keeper at the Scott Polar Research Institute, said: “We are delighted to have rediscovered these sketches, and we want to be able to give them pride of place in our new museum.”