• Home
  • Blog
  • Borchgrevink’s hut the first original building still standing

Borchgrevink’s hut the first original building still standing

by Robert C. Brears Blog

Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare is notable for not only its important role it played in the discovery of Antarctica but also because it is the only example left of humanity’s first building on any continent. In 1899, the Antarctic explorer Borchgrevink landed at Cape Adare with the intention of being the first group of explorers to winter-over in Antarctica.
Antarctic Peninsula

Ship: m/v Ortelius

Regions: Antarctica

Destinations: Ross Sea

Highlights: Cape Adare, Borchgrevink's Huts

Borchgrevink’s hut the first original building still standing

Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare is notable for not only its important role it played in the discovery of Antarctica but also because it is the only example left of humanity’s first building on any continent. In 1899, the Antarctic explorer Borchgrevink landed at Cape Adare with the intention of being the first group of explorers to winter-over in Antarctica. The expedition’s equipment included two huts of Norwegian spruce with one building for accommodation measuring 6.5 x 5.5m and another for holding supplies measuring 5.5 square metres.

Borchgrevink’s huts

The Antarctic expedition landed with 75 Siberian dogs, two tonnes of dehydrated food, a tonne of butter, a collection of guns including 12 gauge paradox’s and .450 calibre Martini-Henry rifles, ammunition and 500 miniature Union Jacks for the purpose of surveying and extending the British Empire. The huts were constructed of interlocking boards that were made tight with steel tie rods while the roof of each hut was covered with seal skins weighed down by bags of coal and boulders. The living quarters had a double floor and walls insulated with papier mache with sliding panels and curtains giving the men some form of privacy. The hut had double-glazed windows with an exterior shutter to keep the warmth in. For lighting the crew borrowed a saloon lamp from the ship.

The smaller hut was used to store medical supplies, provisions and surplus clothing. Eventually however this hut became a private study for Borchgrevink. The small hut had another two small rooms off an entrance porch that were used as a photographic darkroom and storage room for instruments. The two buildings were connected with a roof line that extended to the ground with sails and seal skins giving extra storage space and protection from the wind.  In the summer, Borchgrevink proposed to take the huts, provisions and party to either Coulman Island or Cape Gauss and from there, after the winter of 1900, sledge to the South Magnetic Pole. A start was made in dismantling the hut however work stopped and the party departed on 2 February 1900 south to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf before returning to Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Borchgrevink’s hut © Rolf Stange-Oceanwide Expeditions


The next arrival to Cape Adare was on 8 January 1902 by the Discovery expedition under the command of Robert Falcon Scott. One of the expedition’s members, Edward Wilson described Borchgrevink’s site as ‘The litter around the huts was very interesting and the waste excessive…the huts looked like the centre of a rubbish heap’. Later on one of the Terra Nova’s expedition parties arrived at the site on 17 February 1911 with Leading Shipwright Frank Davies Royal Navy, the ship’s carpenter, finding weathered cases littering the ground around the huts with no real markings to indicate its contents. He wrote that he ‘’stuck a pick into one case and found it was ball ammunition…luckily I did not strike the business end of a cartridge’’. Nonetheless, despite Borchgrevink’s huts still full of provisions and snow both were in good condition to be used. The small hut’s roof, which had been dismantled earlier by Borchgrevink’s party, was covered by a canvas while the hut itself was partitioned for warmth with sleeping platforms placed on top of boxes around two of the walls. Also installed was a blubber stove and ice melter along with a latrine against the outer west wall. In addition to Borchgrevink’s huts another hut was built measuring 6.35 x 6.15m. The roof of the new hut was tied down with wire ropes while dried shredded seaweed provided insulation in the walls. The hut had a stove for heating and cooking and windows facing both the west and south. The new hut was subject to violent weather with the outer wall of the porch made of cases and boards blown in during severe winds but the hut remained intact. On 3 January 1912 the Terra Nova picked up the party from Cape Adare and departed Antarctica, leaving the huts behind.

Visitors to Borchgrevink’s hut

The following decade Norwegian whales on the chaser Star 1 viewed the collection of huts from offshore in February 1924 but it wasn’t until 1956 when the next visitors arrived, with a party from the U.S. icebreaker Edisto landing on 9 February. The landing party found supplies and equipment from the earlier expeditions scattered around a large area. The landing party, cold from the landing in heavy surf, warmed themselves up with a fire made from coal briquettes found nearby. On 14 January 1961, the next arrival to the site was made by Brian Reid and Colin Bailey of the New Zealand Biological Party off the U.S. icebreaker Eastwind to study the Adelie penguin and skua populations. A few days later a storm destroyed their tents and they had to take emergency shelter in Borchgrevink’s hut, however before they could get in they had to clear the ice that had built up. While taking shelter the pair found inside the hut seal skins on the floor, a letter to Petty Office George Abbot Royal Navy of the Terra Nova expedition, eau de cologne bottles, plum puddings and a biscuit tin from Cape Royds. Before departing the icebreaker’s crew assisted in sealing up the hut.

The restoration of Borchgrevink’s huts begins

Between 5 and 9 February 1973 two New Zealanders, Shaun Norman and Lawrie Cairns, camped on Ridley Beach. They made repairs to Borchgrevink’s hut and transferred over the dining table and chairs from the remains of the other huts built by the Terra Nova expedition members. Several artefacts, including an anemometer, a stencilled case with the HMV gramophone dog logo and a harpoon head, were recovered and brought back to the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand. Further repairs were undertaken, along with a site survey conducted, by a Canterbury Museum Expedition from 9 January to 15 February 1982. In 1990, a joint Antarctic Heritage Trust and University of Auckland party arrived at Borchgrevink’s hut to conduct repair work, the galley area tidied and the contents of the hut documented.

Inside Carsten Borchgrevink's hut © Rolf Stange-Oceanwide Expeditions

Today in Borchgrevink’s hut a rusting stove sits idle while the shelfs are lined with tins of lime juice nodules, dried potato, army rations, Wiltshire bacon, Lea and Perrins sauce and hessian dog coats trimmed with red braids. The walls and bunks carry signatures and caricatures of expedition members. There is a fine pencil drawing of a young Scandinavian woman on the ceiling above a bunk along with an inscription in Norwegian that reads ‘’All the bells chime far away, Tidings from the old days, All the flowers turn and look back with a sigh’’. Outside, there are parts of the roof and wooden barrels scattered around, dog tethering pegs with the remains of two dogs still showing yellowish hair, bags of coal, heavy calibre ammunition, an anchor and provision boxes. Of the hut constructed by the Terra Nova party members only the porch still stands as the walls and roof collapsed from gale force winds. The small hut is in sound condition, however the unroofed store hut has distorted walls, severe timber weathering in one corner and the floor buckled and split from the ice below. 

Inside Carsten Borchgrevink's hut © Delphine Aurès-Oceanwide Expeditions

Love this article? Share your appreciation: