Rediscovering Captain Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon

Microscope and medical kit which belonged to Dr Reginald Koettlitz, surgeon onboard RRS Discovery, acquired by Dundee Heritage Trust in 2013 with an NFA grant of £3,000.

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Could you spend four years in a small wooden ship battling icy winds and temperatures averaging around -40 °C with just 47 other men and penguins for company? Discovery Point tells the story of Antarctic exploration and the men who did just that in search of unknown lands, scientific discoveries and adventure.

Copyrigth of Dundee Heritage Trust

Officers and scientists aboard Discovery in Lyttelton, New Zealand, 1901. Dr Koettlitz, with moustache, is pictured in the centre, Captain Scott standing to the right

Our museum centres around RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, a three-masted wooden sailing ship, purpose-built here in Dundee for renowned explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his first expedition to Antarctica in 1901. We aim to showcase Discovery and the men who served on her with items varying from navigational and scientific specimens collected on the ship’s three Antarctic expeditions to more personal objects vividly representing daily life for polar explorers of the period.

Over the last few years, with generous support from the NFA, we have been able to secure significant additions to the collection relating both to Discovery and to Scott’s second fateful Antarctic journey on board the Terra Nova. These have included original ship blueprints, rare personal letters and even a teaspoon handcrafted from a broken sledge runner.

Our latest acquisitions, a medical kit and microscope, belonged to Dr Reginald Koettlitz, the senior surgeon and bacteriologist aboard Discovery’s maiden voyage. The lightweight travelling medical kit was used when on sledging journeys exploring the vast Antarctic landscape and collecting important scientific specimens. Ideal for treating minor injuries, its contents include tweezers, scissors, surgeon’s needles and thread.

Copyright of Dundee Heritage Trust

Dr Koettlitz aboard Discovery in the Tropics en route to Antarctica. Picture credit: Ann and Gus Jones

The microscope would have been used for examining both scientific specimens and blood samples taken at the men’s monthly medical examinations. Koettlitz was lucky in that there were few serious injuries to deal with, although minor cases included a number of fractures and cases of scurvy and frostbite. The doctor also carried out the first ever surgical operation in Antarctica, removing a cyst from Lieutenant Royd’s face.

For more details on these objects or to see other highlights of our fantastic collection please visit our Collections Online

Louisa Attaheri
Assistant Curator
Dundee Heritage Trust

The Spicy Smell of Success

Silver nutmeg grater by Hugh Ross II, c1760-70, acquired by Tain and District Museum in 2013 with an NFA grant of £2,780.

Nutmeg Grater, copyright of Tain and District Museum

Silver nutmeg grater by Hugh Ross II

What might a prosperous and fashionable 18th century gentleman have had in his pocket at a party? Well, among other things, a silver nutmeg grater. Like other spices at the time, nutmeg was valuable and highly prized. One of its uses was to liven up (or possibly disguise) the taste of punch. Our party-goer’s expensive grater was just the right size to hold one nutmeg. He would have used the grater to spice his glass of punch to his personal taste, showing himself to be a person of both wealth and sophistication.

Nutmeg Grater, copyright of Tain and District Museum

Detail of silver mark

Although the records tell us that silver nutmeg graters were made in Tain, no example was known until this one was discovered in Canada. It was made by Hugh Ross II, probably between about 1760 and 1770. Its style is rather outdated for the period which might be a reflection of Tain’s relative remoteness from centres of fashion. Tain and District Museum already had two beautiful contemporary punch ladles by the same maker, and the grater and ladles work well together to capture the interest of many visitors – especially as there are still some shreds of nutmeg stuck in the grater!

Tain and District Museum would not have been able to buy this rare and interesting item without the support of the NFA. The grater has broadened the scope of our important collection of locally made silver and helps to illuminate the lifestyle of a privileged few in northern Scotland in the 18th century.

Estelle Quick
Tain and District Museum

A Fan for Fans of Scottish History

Printed hand-coloured fan depicting the Siege of Stirling, 1746, acquired by the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum in 2006 with an NFA grant of £925.

Copyright of Stirling Smith Museum and Art Callery

Printed hand-coloured fan depicting the Siege of Stirling

This fan, dating from 1746, is an eloquent witness to the events of 1 February-16 April that year when the Jacobite army, in retreat from Stirling, was finally defeated at Culloden. These events are depicted in a linear, almost cinematographic fashion with three months freeze-framed on one arc of paper supported by 19 delicate wooden sticks.  The image is printed but beautifully hand-coloured. The scene is economical with the truth but in some aspects deadly accurate.

copyright of Stirling Smith Museum and Art Gallery

Detail of the St Ninian’s kirk explosion

In fact the two armies did not meet until 16 April on Drummossie Moor, 140 miles further north.  The Jacobites left Stirling in haste on 1 February; the Hanoverians entered Stirling the following day.  In the rush to leave, the kirk of St Ninians, used by the Jacobites as a gunpowder store, was accidentally blown up. The solitary tower of St Ninian’s kirk remains to this day as a permanent reminder of the Jacobite invasion. The nave of the church was totally destroyed and never rebuilt. The bodies in the explosion depicted in the centre of the fan represent the ‘collateral damage’ of the ten who died on 1 February.

The looting of Stirling by the fleeing Jacobites was thorough. As the bridge was partially demolished, they crossed the Forth at Fords of Frew. The Cowane’s Hospital Charter Chest, dating from 1636, was carried off as a meal container and was not recovered by the town until 1882.

Stirling had the reputation of being a disloyal, pro-Jacobite town, and this siege of Stirling fan was part of propaganda to convince the government otherwise. Two days before his victory at Culloden, William Duke of Cumberland was made a free man of Stirling.  Every lady in town would have been required to display this fan in his presence.

Dr Elspeth King
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

Three Sheep and a Famous Artist

North Ronaldsay ram, ewe and lamb acquired by Stromness Museum in 1953 with an NFA grant of £1.10s.

Stromness Museum had the distinction of being the first museum to receive an award from the Fund when, in December 1953, the Local Museums Purchase Fund, as it was then called, awarded a grant of one pound and ten shillings for the acquisition of three specimens of North Ronaldsay sheep.

Picture credit: Wee Eck2

Picture credit: Wee Eck2

The North Ronaldsay sheep is a recognised rare breed and represents an early stage in the evolution of domestic sheep. A recent study showed that today’s breed is genetically similar to remains of sheep found at the neolithic village of Skara Brae in mainland Orkney. They live most of their lives on the shore outside the sheep dyke that runs around the island of North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney islands. The dyke keeps them off the better grazing and they survive on seaweed. The group is one of the key exhibits in the Natural History Gallery at Stromness Museum. The ram stands proudly high on a rock, much as he would have on the North Ronaldsay shore, surveying his flock. In the current display the North Ronaldsay sheep are joined by a selection of resident Orkney mammals.

Picture credit: Rebecca Marr

Picture credit: Rebecca Marr

Though an important acquisition, the sheep were to gain further significance to the collection when a renowned Orcadian artist offered to paint a backdrop for the group. Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976) was appointed King’s Limner and Painter in Scotland following his retirement as Director of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1948. Cursiter spent his summers in Stromness, eventually retiring here. He was a great supporter of Stromness Museum and this painting, one of the largest Cursiter landscapes known, is an important part of the museum’s collection.

Kathleen Ireland
Hon President

Janette Park
Hon Curator
Stromness Museum