The current exhibition on display in The Standfield Gallery is: George Marston: Shackleton's Antarctic Artist
George Marston was an artist who documented two incredible journeys crossing the Antarctic with explorer Ernest Shackleton.
Born on 19th March 1882 in Southsea, Marston came from a family of skilled workmen. Early on he discovered a love for arts and crafts and studied art at college. He lived for some time in the Petersfield area and taught at a local school, Bedales. In his later life he worked for the Rural Industries Bureau, an organisation that gave advice and support to small-scale craft industries.
During the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’, Marston joined Ernest Shackleton and a team of men on his 1907 Nimrod and 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic expeditions. His role was to paint the landscape around them, and he became a valued member of the team for his craft skills and strong character. The expeditions were gruelling and dangerous and Endurance nearly cost the men their lives when their ship sank and they became stranded.
Marston accompanied Shackleton as an artist on his Nimrod expedition, creating the artwork for the first book to be produced and published in the Antarctic, Aurora Australis.
As a student, Marston befriended Shackleton’s sisters who encouraged him to apply as an artist for Shackleton’s expedition. It aimed to be the first to reach the South Pole. Marston impressed Shackleton, and he was selected. Nimrod set sail in August 1907, arriving in Antarctica in January 1908.
Marston put his craft skills to use helping to build and decorate the hut they would live in. Over the winter he created the artwork for Aurora Australis and helped to print it. Though he was not part of the main team journeying to the Pole, Marston played an important role helping set up supply stations and hauling goods for the first stage of the journey. Shackleton’s expedition reached to within 100 miles from the Pole, returning to Britain to a hero’s welcome.
Marston had proven to be a valuable companion and joined Shackleton on his next expedition: crossing the Antarctic from coast to coast. This ended in near disaster when the crew were stranded on a remote island.
The ship Endurance set sail in August 1914, just before the outbreak of war. By January 1915, it was stuck in ice. While waiting for the ship to be freed, Marston sketched, mended shoes and tried to keep spirits high. Hopes were lost when eight months later ice crushed the ship and it sank.
Having saved three lifeboats, the crew drifted on ice waiting for it to break up enough to sail to land. Marston offered his oil paints to waterproof the seams of the boats. After six months the ice had broken, and they began a six-day journey to the isolated Elephant Island. The trip was dangerous, with many men ill or close to death. Marston did his best to boost morale by singing.
Elephant Island became the crew’s home while they waited for rescue. Marston’s ability to make and mend became more important than ever in helping the men survive.
While Shackleton sailed to South Georgia with a small team to find help, those remaining on Elephant Island created a refuge in brutal conditions. Marston helped turn the two remaining boats over to create huts, using his craft skills to make their shelter as comfortable as possible inside. Yet the dirty and cramped conditions became increasingly miserable.
The men tried to find ways to pass the time. Marston sketched, painted and read from a recipe book each night to his hungry crewmates. They waited for rescue, unsure if Shackleton would return.
After four months, Marston spotted an incoming rescue boat. Shackleton’s search for help had been successful. Marston alerted the camp and the men frantically ran towards the ship. They were finally taken to safety, returning to a very different world in the midst of war.
Outside of his work with Shackleton, Marston settled near Petersfield. He taught at a local school, Bedales, and eventually became director of the Rural Industries Bureau.
In 1913 Marston married Hazel Roberts. The two met through her father Dr. Harry Roberts, who owned Oakshott Hanger, near Petersfield. They settled in Oakshott and had two children. Marston joined a circle of Petersfield art and literary personalities who regularly visited Dr. Roberts, including artist Flora Twort.
Marston taught art and craft classes at Bedales from 1918 to 1923. Bedales shared the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, promoting craftsmanship over machine-made work. A follower of the movement, in 1925 Marston joined the Rural Industries Bureau (RIB) which supported local rural industry. He established a local workshop in Froxfield, eventually becoming RIB director in 1931.
Display case text
Plates from Aurora Australis by members of the Nimrod expedition, edited and illustrated by George Marston, 1908
On loan from Gilbert White’s House
While the crew were confined to their hut during the winter of the Nimrod expedition, Marston created the artwork for and helped to print the pages of Aurora Australis. Most of the printing was done in the early hours of the morning so there would be less vibration and dust from people moving around. Marston would also go on to create artwork for Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic book and write Antarctic Days with fellow expedition member James Murray.
Book of sea shanties, 1921
Marston was fond of singing. When he was young, a sailor cousin taught him to sing shanties. Described as having the best voice of any of the men on Shackleton’s expedition, Marston ‘frequently enlivened an evening’ with shanties. This book contains a selection he collected, later published by Dr Harry Roberts.
Photographs of camp on ice, 1915
Images provided by Stephen Locke
These photographs show what life was like for the crew of Endurance after the ship became stuck and they established camps on the pack ice.
Sketch of Endurance by George Marston, 1915
Image provided by Stephen Locke
A view of Endurance trapped by ice, sketched by George Marston.
Letter from George Marston to his daughter Heather, reproduction 1914
Hampshire Record Office: George Marston papers: 15A00/A90
Before leaving for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1914, Marston wrote letters to be posted to his wife and daughter for key dates. He guessed where the expedition might be by those dates, but the reality was very different. Marston signs off this letter to his daughter with his nickname, ‘Muffin’.
Photograph of Hazel and Heather Marston
Image provided by Stephen Locke
It is likely that this is the photograph of his wife Hazel and daughter Heather that Marston treasured during his ordeal on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition. After being rescued from Elephant Island, Marston wrote to Hazel that he had thought of her and Heather every day.
Photograph of the Endurance expedition crew after rescue, 1916
Chilean Captain Luis Pardo (in uniform) was captain of the Yelcho, which rescued the stranded crew from Elephant Island during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition. Here Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew stand with Pardo after their rescue. Marston stands near the centre on Pardo’s left.
Satchel made by George Marston to hold artwork made on Elephant Island
Marston made this satchel while on Elephant Island to keep his paintings safe. He was forced to paint by the side of a blubber lamp and knew that the damp conditions of their shelter would damage his work. He stated he made it from ‘old tent material, dog harness and a piece of my dog whip’. This whip had been used by Marston when he assisted with handling nine of the expedition’s dogs.
Flag from depot of Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition
In 1902 during the Discovery expedition, Antarctic explorer Captain Scott used this food bag as a flag for one of his supply stations. In 1908, Marston and a team of men recovered it on the way back from helping Shackleton haul supplies during the Nimrod expedition. Marston later donated it to the Petersfield Scouts.
Prints created from woodcut blocks by George Marston
These prints were produced using woodcut printing blocks created by Marston. They show various craftspeople engaged in their work: a weaver, potter, basket maker, reed-cutter and blacksmith. These prints were used to decorate the front of the Rural Industries Bureau journal. At the bottom left is a self-portrait also created from a woodcut printing block.
Photograph of George Marston and Dr. Harry Roberts
Image provided by Stephen Locke
Marston with his father-in-law, Dr Harry Roberts. Roberts was a popular London doctor who tried to help those who could not afford medical treatment. His Oakshott Hanger home in Hawkley, near Petersfield, became a meeting place for local artistic personalities.
Photograph of the Marston family
Image provided by Stephen Locke
George and Hazel Marston with their two children, Heather and Bevis.
Portrait of George Marston by Flora Twort
Local artist Flora Twort was good friends with Marston’s father-in-law, Dr Harry Roberts. Marston and Twort likely spent time together with a group of friends at Roberts’ Oakshott Hanger home.
Aesthetic dress from the Bedales collection of Historic Costume, around 1890 – 1900
Between 1918 and 1923, Marston was a teacher at local school, Bedales, where he taught art and other craft techniques. In 2007, Bedales School donated their collection of historic costume, used for theatrical productions, to Petersfield Museum.
Aesthetic dress rejected the highly structured and decorative Victorian fashion in favour of simple design and high-quality material. It had much in common with the Arts and Crafts movement to which Marston and Bedales were so closely tied.