In February 1899, the men of the Southern Cross established the first Antarctic base. Their location was Cape Adare, a windswept peninsula 700 km north of today’s Scott Base.
Adare turned out to be one of the harshest places on the Antarctic continent but their buildings have survived for more than a century. The buildings are the only example left of humanity’s first building on any continent.
Carsten Borchgrevink had been there before, on a whaling ship in 1895.
The flat beach was accessible during summer and Borchgrevink thought it would be a good location from which to explore the continent. He named it Ridley Beach, after his mother’s family.
Cape Adare would be occupied just one more time, by the Northern Party of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition in 1911. It never became a major focus of Antarctic activity but it was at this smelly, penguin‑filled spot, that Antarctic exploration began.
The men erected two prefabricated huts, pine kitsets brought from Norway.
A wooden frame covered with seal skins created a sheltered walkway between them and a lean-to for storage. Cables were slung over the roofs and secured to ships’ anchors buried in the ground to hold the huts steady in the wind.
Each hut was about 25 square metres, roughly the size of two of today’s tiny houses. One was used for stores, the other was living accommodation.
In the living hut, bunks lined two walls. Wool, fur and papier mâché were used for insulation and the small window was double glazed.
The bunks were designed so that they could be closed with sliding panels about which Borchgrevink wrote: “The bunks were closed after the plan followed by the sailors on board whaling vessels, with a special opening, leaving yourself in an enclosure which can hold its own with our modern coffin; and, like this, it is private.”
In the end, only the bunks occupied by the Sami were constructed in this manner, the remaining men being content with curtains. The English surveyor and magnetician, William Colbeck, isolated himself from Borchgrevink and Fougner by vertically attaching a mattress to his bunk.
The Southern Cross huts have survived Cape Adare’s extremes for over a century, making them some of the strongest buildings in Antarctica. This strength owes a lot to the huts’ design, which uses interlocking wooden boards and metal tie rods.
They were made by the Strømmen Traevarefabrik near Oslo, one of Norway’s biggest exporters of prefabricated buildings at the turn of the twentieth century. The Traevarefabrik’s main business was private homes and railway stations for extreme climates. Their buildings were quick to erect and were also used as an early form of emergency housing following an earthquake in Messina, Italy, in 1907.