Penguin patties and seal cutlets on the menu of the British Antarctic Expedition midwinter feast now up at auction in remarkable archive

Penguin patties, seal cutlets and roast reindeer – and lots of whisky – were on the menu for a famous midwinter celebration meal, followed by ‘Sledges at 12.30’.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Tom Derbyshire

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The food supposedly on offer at this fictitious feast reflects the local produce: the menu was printed while the men of Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (the 1907-09 Nimrod expedition) suffered the icy cold and a lack of food during the winter of 1908 in winter quarters at Cape Royds, on June 23 as it was in the Southern Hemisphere.

One of these original ‘Midwinter menus’ is up at auction at Lincolnshire saleroom Golding Young & Mawer on January 3, but it just one part of a remarkable archive of material relating to an unsung member of the expedition: William Charles Roberts, the cook and assistant zoologist.

“It is the most complete selection of ephemera belonging to a team member of the expedition to have ever been found, I believe,” said consultant Alastair McPhie-Meiklejon. He added that among the other items are Roberts’ original contract of employment with Shackleton, and “none of these have ever emerged before”.

The collection comes from an anonymous local vendor and will be offered in six lots with an estimated total value in the region of £10,000-15,000 at the Grantham auction. View the menu and other lots on

Hazardous journey

Roberts was born in Feltham, west London, in 1872 but little else is known about this intrepid man who answered Shackleton’s famous advert: Men wanted: For hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and Recognition in case of success. (Although there is some dispute whether this advert ever actually appeared in The Times.)

in 1907 Roberts set sail on the White Star Line SS Runic to New Zealand where the final preparations were made.

‘Cape Roberts’ was later named after him by expedition member Edgeworth David.

Another intriguing lot is a poem related to the expedition written on White Star Line headed paper, depicting the SS Runic, but in an unknown hand.

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First book printed in Antarctica

In February 2017 Bonhams sold a copy of Aurora Australis – the first book printed in Antarctica – which was also produced in the years 1908-09 at the winter quarters of the Nimrod expedition, which had a copy of the ‘midwinter menu’ slipped inside. It had belonged to chief engineer Harry Dunlop. The book and menu sold for £55,000.

The 94-leaf book was one of around 80 recorded copies created in part as a way of keeping the expedition members occupied during the winter months.