The Mess (A Hut) at Scott Base in January 1957.
Scott Base, New Zealand's permanent Antarctic research station, officially opened on 20 January 1957. It was originally established to support the privately run Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) of 1955-58. It accommodated the New Zealand party of the TAE and a party of New Zealand scientists attached to the expedition, who also contributed to the International Geophysical Year (IGY). The base was made up of six main huts linked to one another by a covered walkway, and three smaller buildings designed to hold scientific equipment. At the completion of the expedition in 1958 it became the property of the New Zealand government. Since then it has undergone significant change, including a complete reconstruction between 1977 and 2005.
In August 1956 the construction team had a trial run at erecting the buildings at Rongotai, Wellington. For a small fee the public was able to come and inspect the buildings.
On 14 May 1955 the New Zealand government agreed to contribute £50,000 towards the costs of the TAE and to set up a committee to organise a terminal base for the crossing party. Within a few days the Ross Sea Committee (RSC) was established and tasked with coordinating New Zealand's contribution to the TAE. This included appealing for funds from the public, arranging for equipment, stores and transport, and selecting and training the team that would establish the base, route and depots for the crossing party. Despite their best efforts it proved difficult to raise the funds needed for the expedition. In April 1956 the government agreed to provide further assistance, on condition that the RSC agreed to the base becoming the property of the government after the expedition.
At the same time the government was being urged to establish a station for New Zealand's activities during the IGY. It agreed to fund IGY activities and arranged for a party of five New Zealand scientists to be attached to the TAE expedition. They would also need to be accommodated at the base.
In February 1956, 10 months before the TAE and IGY parties were due to head to the Antarctic, Frank Ponder, an architect at the Ministry of Works, was given the task of designing the base. His design consisted of six main buildings. These were to be placed at least 7 metres apart because of the risk of fire, but would be linked to one another by a covered way of galvanised iron. Designated A to F, the buildings were:
Ponder also designed three smaller buildings (G, H and J) to hold scientific equipment.
HMNZS Endeavour left for the Antarctic on 21 December 1956 carrying some of the members of the TAE and IGY parties, their stores and equipment, and the team and materials to build Scott Base. By 4 January 1957 it was moored within 12-13 km of Butter Point, the planned location for Scott Base. But ground and aerial reconnaissance revealed Butter Point was unsuitable and an alternative location, Pram Point, was chosen.
On 10 January the US Navy prepared the ground for the New Zealanders and two days later the construction of Scott Base began. The construction team was made up of three men from the Royal New Zealand Navy and three from the New Zealand Army. They were led by an experienced building overseer, Randall Heke, and his second in charge, Ron Mitchell, an architectural draughtsman. By 14 January they had completed ‘A’ Hut and work continued apace, assisted by parties from the Endeavour once the expedition's supplies had been unloaded. The base was officially opened on 20 January 1957.
The first group to winter over at Scott Base were the 18 members of the TAE, led by Sir Edmund Hillary, and the five New Zealand scientists contributing to the IGY, led by Trevor Hatherton. Hillary slept in his office in ‘A’ Hut, while the others shared the dormitory accommodation in ‘C’ and ‘D’ huts.
The government celebrated the 25th anniversary of Scott Base in 1982 and the 50th in 2007. In 1982 Robert Muldoon became the first serving New Zealand Prime Minister to visit Scott Base when he flew in for the commemorative service. In 2007 Prime Minister Helen Clark visited Antarctica for several days around the anniversary. Both Prime Ministers were accompanied by Sir Edmund Hillary.
After the British Crossing Party completed the first crossing of the Antarctic continent on 2 March 1958, the TAE departed. Scott Base effectively became the property of the New Zealand government. The IGY was due to continue only until the end of the year. But in February 1958 New Zealand's Cabinet approved an extension to this work into 1959 as part of an extended world IGY programme (termed International Geophysical Cooperation). New Zealand's activities in the Ross Dependency, including responsibility for Scott Base, were put into the hands of the Minister of Scientific and Industrial Research, with the assistance of the Ross Dependency Research Committee (RDRC) and, from 1959, the Antarctic Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). These agencies were the predecessors of Antarctica New Zealand, which now manages New Zealand's Antarctic activities.
Since the TAE and IGY parties departed Scott Base has physically changed. The most significant change occurred when the complex was completely reconstructed between 1977 and 2005. Many of the original huts were destroyed but ‘A’ Hut and two others used during the IGY remain. In 2001 ‘A’ Hut, now renamed TAE/IGY Hut, was declared an historic monument under the Antarctic Treaty.