Philip Attwood, Keeper, Coins and Medals
The British Museum has a world-famous collection of around 70,000 medals, but it’s not often that we have the chance to get up close to a national icon. Just 100 years after Captain Scott of the Antarctic died during his ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic, the Museum has acquired a group of medals awarded to this internationally celebrated explorer both during his lifetime and posthumously. Together they form a glittering record of an extraordinary man.
The 24 medals always remained within the Scott family, passing from Scott’s widow, the sculptor Kathleen Scott, to the couple’s son, the well-known ornithologist and conservationist Sir Peter Scott. Following the death of Peter Scott in 1989, his widow Philippa Scott – also an active conservationist and an accomplished photographer – placed the medals on long-term loan in the British Museum, and, following the death of Lady Scott in 2010, they were allocated to the British Museum under the government’s Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This arrangement has now been made permanent, and the medals now form part of our permanent collection. Descriptions and images of them all will soon be available on the British Museum’s website.
The medals include the gold Royal Geographical Society medal, awarded to Scott in 1904 as soon as news arrived in England of his first Antarctic expedition’s safe return to New Zealand. There is also a gold example of the special Scott medal commissioned by the Society from the sculptor Gilbert Bayes (illustrated here). This bears Scott’s portrait on one side, and on the other an Antarctic scene complete with penguins. This medal was presented to Scott at a ceremony held in the Albert Hall on 7 November 1904.
Also within the group are Scott’s Commander of the Royal Victorian Order neck badge, as well as Royal Victorian Order, Polar Medal and Legion d’Honneur miniatures.
Other awards come from geographical and other societies in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Belgium, Austria, Italy and the United States, and reflect Scott’s international status as an explorer. The silver medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp, awarded in 1906 (also illustrated here), has globes on both sides and quotes from the Psalms: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof’. Other medals were awarded following Scott’s death during his Antarctic expedition of 1910-13 as testimony to his achievements and his bravery.