Historic beer barrel finally returned to Antarctica after NZ restoration

A Speights beer barrel manufactured in Dunedin more than 100 years ago has been found in a frozen pond in Antarctica and restored to its former glory.

The artefact was brought to the ice by legendary Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1907.

It's been a long journey but step by step, this little piece of Dunedin history is heading back to where it belongs, at Shackleton's Nimrod Hut in Antarctica.

The conservators had to carefully unwrap their artefact, cut out its place in the snow and delicately piece it back together again. 

Antarctic Heritage Trust's artefacts manager Lizzie Meek told Newshub they didn't find a complete barrel.

"What we found was most of the staves, including one of the staves that had the original bung hole in it, and some of the metal hoops which bound the staves together," she said.

Sir Ernest Shackleton is thought to have picked up the barrel from New Zealand as he began his 1907 to 1909 Nimrod expedition.

His hut on the ice was restored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust in 2008 but during the work, conservators found staves half buried in the ice.

Missing of many of the pieces, it was taken to master cooper Jurgen Voigtlander, in Nelson, for repair.

"I'm as proud as can be, this is one of the highlights of my career, to work on Shackleton's barrel," he told Newshub.

"I mean, how many coopers on this planet can say they worked on Shackleton's barrel?"

The cooper painstakingly rebuilt the barrel using traditional methods, guessing the dimensions, and souring new material from old vintage wine barrels to make up for missing parts.

It's since been flown back to the hut, where it will stay under Antarctic permits.

Beer was seen as a treat during these expeditions - it was so cold, beer and champagne would often freeze. Only the harder spirits like whiskey and brandy could withstand the elements.

The project was run by Ms Meek, who says there could be even more out there.

"We see things on the edges of the pond but these days the pond is well inside the penguin ASPA [Antarctic specially protected area], so we don't go in there."

The pride of the south is back home at the bottom of the world.


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