The New Zealand flag that flew after Sir Edmund Hillary and his party reached the South Pole has been retrieved from Christ Church Cathedral.
The flag is the last of more than 30 flags and colours held by the Cathedral to be retrieved. The other flags were removed after the 2011 earthquake but due to the positioning of Hillary’s flag, and the building’s instability, there hasn’t been an opportunity to retrieve it until now.
The flag holds great historical significance, having been presented to the Cathedral by Hillary in December 1958 and dedicated by Bishop Alwyn Warren after Hillary’s ‘dash to the pole’ in January that year. Hillary and his team were just the third party to reach the South Pole overland (after Roald Amundsen in 1911 and Robert Falcon Scott in 1912), and the first to do so in motor vehicles – modified Massey Ferguson tractors. The flag was taken to Scott Base, McMurdo Sound, in HMNZS Endeavour, and flew there before being presented to the Cathedral where it has hung ever since.
Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Project Director, Keith Paterson, says the retrieval of heritage material is a top priority for the project.
“Hillary’s flag has hung in the Cathedral for over 60 years. I’m delighted it has now been retrieved through the north transept, which has been deconstructed to the window mullions to provide safe access to the flag, without anyone entering the building. It is a sign of the great progress we’re making on this project.
“It will now be received by Chapter and a fabric conservator will inspect, clean, repair and store it for safekeeping before it is rehung in the reinstated Cathedral,” says Keith Paterson.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust, as the agency that conserved Hillary’s expedition base in Antarctica, is delighted with the retrieval.
Executive Director Nigel Watson says, “It’s very special for us to see the flag retrieved. The flag is an important part of our city’s connection with Antarctica and with Sir Ed’s legacy, which the Trust is proud to care for. We are delighted it’s being conserved so that future generations can connect with this significant part of New Zealand’s history in Antarctica.”
The flag points to the long association between the Cathedral and the Antarctic programme.
With Christchurch the last port of call for those leaving for the ice, the Cathedral has hosted services and worship for expeditions since 1901 when Scott’s Discovery expedition sailed. Today that includes an annual service to give thanks to those who give their lives to science and exploration in Antarctica and the annual ‘South to Antarctica Service’ at the opening of the Antarctica season in conjunction with Antarctica New Zealand and the United States Antarctica Programme. The services are currently held at the Transitional Cathedral.