Ross Dependency, Scott Base, and HMNZS Endeavour

Ross Dependency – Scott #L12 (1972)

The Ross Dependency is a region of Antarctica defined by a sector originating at the South Pole, passing along longitudes 160° east to 150° west, and terminating at latitude 60° south. It is claimed by New Zealand. Since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, Article IV of which states: “No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica or create any rights of sovereignty in Antarctica,” most countries do not recognize territorial claims in Antarctica.

The Dependency takes its name from Sir James Clark Ross, who discovered the Ross Sea, and includes part of Victoria Land, and most of the Ross Ice Shelf. Ross Island, Balleny Islands and the small Scott Island also form part of the Dependency, as does the ice-covered Roosevelt Island.

Following his discovery of Victoria Land in 1841, James Clark Ross took possession of this territory, along with the surrounding sea, on behalf of Britain. On July 30, 1923, the United Kingdom government passed an Order in Council under the British Settlements Act 1887, which defined the current borders of the Ross Dependency as follows:

From and after the publication of this Order in the Government Gazette of the Dominion of New Zealand that part of His Majesty’s Dominions in the Antarctic Seas, which comprises all the islands and territories between the 160th degree of East Longitude and the 150th degree of West Longitude which are situated south of the 60th degree of South Latitude shall be named the Ross Dependency.

Map of Antarctica showing location of Ross Dependency

The Order in Council then went on to appoint the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief of New Zealand as the Governor of the territory. This Order in Council was published in the New Zealand Gazette on August 16, 1923, and on November 14, 1923, the Governor-General issued regulations extending New Zealand law to the Ross Dependency. After the Order in Council was read in the New Zealand House of Representatives by the Prime Minister of New Zealand William Massey, a clarification was made by the Attorney-General Sir Francis Bell in the legislative council. Sir Francis stated that:

The boundaries of New Zealand are not extended to include the Ross sea and adjacent lands. His Majesty’s delegation to the Governor-General of New Zealand did not confer upon the government or parliament of New Zealand the same powers as were vested by the Constitution Act in respect of the Dominion itself. It might be assumed that in the administration of the Ross Dependency that he would invite advice from his New Zealand ministers and it was certain that details would be entrusted to the New Zealand government. But his excellency was required in all matters of legislation and regulation for the Ross Territory to comply with instructions from the colonial secretary. There was no reason to believe that the Colonial Office would give such instructions without prior consultation with the Government of the Dominion, but the part which the New Zealand Government had agreed to take in enabling His Majesty to exercise jurisdiction in and over the Ross Territory must be taken on behalf of the Empire as a whole and not specially in the interests of New Zealand.”

Aerial view of Mount Erebus crater, Ross Island, Antarctica. Photo taken by jeaeeem on December 31, 2005. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

It has been said that the Order in Council contained no suggestion of a transfer to New Zealand of the United Kingdom’s claim, but the fact remains that the territory is administered by the Government of New Zealand. Technically, the claim is that of the Queen and she can exercise it through any of her Governments.

At an Imperial conference in 1930, it was agreed that the Governors-General of the Dominions would be appointed by the King on the advice of the Dominion in question. And following the passing of the Statute of Westminster in 1931 (which was adopted in full by New Zealand in 1947), the government of the United Kingdom relinquished all control over the government of New Zealand. This however had no bearing on the obligations of the Governor-General of New Zealand in his capacity as Governor of the Ross Dependency on the appointment of Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom. Then in the year 1959, the Antarctic Treaty was signed by twelve nations which included both the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The actual amount of land mass claimed is not large; most of the area defined as being in the Ross Dependency is either in the Ross Sea or the Antarctic Ocean. It is the second-smallest of the claims which were made prior to the implementation of the Antarctic Treaty System and the suspension of all territorial claims to Antarctica proper. Officers of the Government of the Ross Dependency are annually appointed to run the Dependency. The New Zealand Geographic Board has named many features within the Dependency.

Aerial photograph of Scott Base, Ross Island, Antarctica. Photo taken by Andrew Madermaker (Snowwayout) in January 2006.

The scientific bases of Scott Base (New Zealand), McMurdo Station (USA) and Mario Zucchelli Station (Italy) are the only permanently occupied human habitations in the area, though Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station (USA) is partially within the territory and dependent on logistics operations based in New Zealand. The Dependency has access to a U.S. Antarctic Program maintained snow runway at Williams Field, and depending on conditions and time of year, two ice runways. This guarantees accessibility by wheeled and ski equipped aircraft year round.

From 1969 to 1995, New Zealand operated a summer-only base called Vanda Station in the Dry Valley area of the dependency.

Greenpeace maintained its own Antarctic station in the Ross Dependency called World Park Base from 1987 to 1992, which was on Ross Island. As this base was a non-governmental entity, the official policy of the signatory nations of the Antarctic Treaty was not to give any support or assistance to it.

In the summer of 1985, when the British non-governmental exploratory vessel Southern Quest sank in the Ross Sea, United States Coast Guard helicopters rescued the crew, who were taken to McMurdo Station. The expedition was criticized by scientists in the Antarctic because the rescue and return of the crew disrupted their work.

In 2006, the New Zealand police reported that jurisdictional issues prevented them issuing warrants for potential American witnesses who were reluctant to testify during the Christchurch Coroner’s investigation into the poisoning death of Rodney Marks at the South Pole base.

Ernest Henry Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson on the British National Antarctic Expedition (a.k.a. Discovery-Expedition), November 2, 1902. Photo from the National Library of New Zealand.

Scott Base is a New Zealand Antarctic research facility located at Pram Point on Ross Island near Mount Erebus in Ross Dependency. The research facility was named in honor of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN, leader of two British expeditions to the Ross Sea area of Antarctica. The base was set up as support to field research and the center for research into earth sciences, and now conducts research in many fields, operated by Antarctica New Zealand.

By road, the base is1.9 miles (3 km) from the larger U.S. McMurdo Station.

Sign for Scott Base on the road to McMurdo Station. Photo taken on September 17, 2004.

Scott Base was originally constructed in support of the UK inspired and privately managed Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE). The New Zealand government provided support for the TAE and also for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) project of 1957, five of whose members were attached to the Expedition. In February 1956, 10 months before the TAE and IGY parties were due to head to the Antarctic, Frank Ponder, an architect at the NZ Ministry of Works, was given the task of designing the base. Ponder’s design consisted of six main buildings and three smaller scientific labs. The main buildings were to be placed at least 7 metres apart because of fire risk but were linked to one another by a covered way of galvanized iron. Three New Zealand observers who were also given the task of selecting the site for a base went to McMurdo Sound with the United States “Operation Deep Freeze I” in the summer of 1955. After evaluating possible sites, a location near Butter Point was chosen. This was later changed to Pram Point as it provided better access for offloading supplies from the Expedition ship HMNZS Endeavour and also allowed for the operation of the critical RNZAF Antarctic Flight on a nearby ice runway. The base looks out over what is now known as Haskell Strait. Scott Base passed over to NZ Government ownership via the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), on March 5, 1958, at the conclusion of the TAE.

During the IGY, the United States facility at Hut Point did not operate as a scientific base. It was the New Zealand expedition’s responsibility to furnish the important scientific data (auroral, ionospheric, seismic, etc.), linking the McMurdo area research activities with those of the United States Pole Station and the joint United States-New Zealand station at Cape Hallett, Victoria Land.

Sign at Scott Base, Ross Dependency, Antarctica. Photo taken by The Broken Inglory circa 2007.

In 1958, following completion of the TAE and IGY, New Zealand made the decision to continue to operate Scott Base for scientific research, much of which depends upon the continuity of recorded data over a period of years. In order to maintain operations, a base rebuilding program began in 1976. As of 2019, the only original building is the TAE ‘A’ mess hut, which contains material recording New Zealand’s involvement in Antarctica since 1957. In 2005 the two-story high Hillary Field Centre was commissioned, increasing the floor area of Scott Base by 1800 square meters and providing work areas to support field parties as well as additional office space. The building was officially opened by then-Foreign Minister Phil Goff and Sir Edmund Hillary.

From 1957 until 1986, dogs played a part in base operations. Initially they were an essential means of transport, but with better technology their importance dwindled until they were removed in line with environmental treaties.

Scientific diving operations began in 1985. Between 1985 and 2006, a total of 1,296 had been logged.

The A Hut of Scott Base is the only existing Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1956–1957) building in Antarctica. It has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 75), following a proposal by New Zealand to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.

Aerial photograph of Scott Base looking towards Observation Hill. Photo taken by David Saul on January 15, 2005.

The base is made up of a collection of Chelsea Cucumber green buildings which are linked by all-weather corridors. These buildings can accommodate 85 people over summer, with a “skeleton staff” of between 10 and 14 people remaining over the winter.

Like nearby McMurdo Station, Scott Base is connected to the global telephone network via a Satellite Earth Station operated by Spark New Zealand, located approximately 1.9 miles (km) away at Arrival Heights. Spark NZ also provide phone services to McMurdo for calls to New Zealand as well as to the Italian Programme at Terra Nova Bay. McMurdo Station has an independent communications infrastructure located at Black Island and linked to Ross Island via microwave.

Scott Base is today operated by Antarctica New Zealand. Three Enercon E-33 wind turbines (330 kilowatts (440 hp) each) were deployed in 2009 to power Scott Base and McMurdo, reducing diesel consumption by 11% or 463,000 litres (102,000 imp gal; 122,000 US gal) per year.

A pressure ridge in the Antarctic ice near Scott Base, with lenticular clouds in the sky. Lenticular clouds are a type of wave cloud. They usually form when a layer of air near the surface encounters a topographic barrier, gets pushed upward, and flows over it as a series of atmospheric gravity waves. Lenticular clouds form at the crest of the waves, where the air is coolest and water vapor is most likely to condense into cloud droplets. The bulging sea ice in the foreground is a pressure ridge, which formed when separate ice floes collided and piled up on each other. Photo taken by Michael Studinger</a. for NASA on November 24, 2013.

The base has fairly typical weather conditions for coastal Antarctica, with minimum temperatures around −45 °C (−49 °F) and summer maximum only occasionally above freezing point. It is exposed to the full strength of southerly blizzards, although overall it is less windy than McMurdo Station. The maximum wind velocities experienced have been gusts up to 115 miles per hour (185 km/h) with steady velocities under blizzard conditions of 59-71 ,ph (95–115 km/h).. The highest recorded temperature was 6.8 °C (44.2 °F), the coolest −57 °C (−71 °F) and the mean temperature −19.6 °C (−3.3 °F).

Ross Dependency stamps have been issued by New Zealand postal authorities for use on mail from Scott Base since 1957. Overprinted New Zealand stamps had been used for mail on two earlier expeditions to the region.

Before leaving New Zealand on the 1908 British Antarctic Expedition, Captain Ernest Shackleton was appointed as a New Zealand Postmaster, and provided with 23,492 New Zealand “Penny Universal” stamps, overprinted “King Edward VII Land”, for use on the expedition. Postmaster Shackleton was provided with a circular date stamp, “BRIT. ANTARCTIC EXPD.”, with “N.Z.”, and time, date, year on four lines in the center, which was used to postmark mail from the continent. Due to ice conditions, Shackleton was unable to reach King Edward VII Land, and established his base in McMurdo Sound.

Annotated view over Scott Base, also showing McMurdo Station and the McMurdo Ice Shelf. Photo taken by Michael Studinger.for NASA on November 30, 2013.

Before leaving New Zealand on the Terra Nova Expedition in 1910, Captain Robert Falcon Scott was appointed as a Postmaster. 24,000 New Zealand “Penny Dominion” stamps (200 sheets) were overprinted “VICTORIA LAND.”, of which 23,171 were carried by Postmaster Scott on the expedition. During 1912, an additional 2,400 Edward VII ½d stamps were overprinted, and 1,940 of these were carried aboard the Terra Nova when it returned to Antarctica in the 1912-1913 summer season.

The first stamps inscribed Ross Dependency were issued on January 11, 1957, in conjunction with the New Zealand Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Edmund Hillary (part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition). Before the expedition left New Zealand, on November 23, 1956, Hillary had been appointed postmaster. When the expedition chose the site for Scott Base, a post office was established, initially in a tent. The initial set of stamps consisted of four stamps, in the denominations 3d, 4d, 8d, and 1s 6d. When New Zealand adopted a decimal currency in 1967, the stamps were reissued in denominations of 2c, 3c, 7c, and 15c.

U.S. Geological Survey map of McMurdo Sound showing Scott Base and McMurdo Station.

A new definitive set, consisting of six stamps denominated 3c, 4c, 5c, 8c, 10c and 18c was issued in 1972. The next set, issued in 1982 to mark the 25th anniversary of Scott Base, consisted of 5c, 10c, 20c, 30c, 40c and 50c stamps. The post office at Scott Base was closed in 1987 as part of the rationalization of New Zealand Post. Mail from the base was handled in Christchurch, and the issuing of Ross Dependency stamps ceased.

New Zealand Post resumed the issue of stamps inscribed Ross Dependency in 1994, “due to local and international demand.”[5] A definitive set was issued in 1994, and pictorial sets of five or six stamps have been issued annually since then. The denominations match those of contemporary New Zealand stamps. However, the stamps are not generally valid on New Zealand mail. Mail from the Ross Dependency is processed by the “Ross Dependency Agency”, located at a post office in Christchurch. Members of the public (mostly philatelists and stamp dealers) are able to post items bearing Ross Dependency stamps at this office. Mail is canceled with the inscription Ross Dependency Agency, Christchurch.

Much more information about these stamps can be found on the Virtual New Zealand Stamps blog.

Cover postmarked at Scott Base on November 23, 1972, bearing a single 8-cent Ross Dependency Scott #L12.

New Zealand Post released a set of six definitive/pictorial stamps for Ross Dependency on January 18, 1972, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of Scott reaching the South Pole. Replacing the 1967 definitives (which had seen stamps released in 1957 reissued with decimal denominations), this set reflected the highly stylized designs produced by New Zealand during this period of time. My sole Ross Dependency stamp is a copy of the 8-cent value in this set, on cover posted from Scott Base. Scott #L12 depicts the Antarctic supply vessel HMNZS Endeavour (A814) which had been commissioned in the U.S. Navy as the gasoline tanker USS Namakagon (AOG-53) on June 15, 1945. Designed by M Cleverley of Auckland, all of the stamps in this set were printed by Bradbury Wilkinson using offset lithography on chalk surfaced, unwatermarked paper in sheets of 100. The 8-cent stamp was perforated 12¾ x 13¼. In January 1979, a new printing of the same designs on new plates was issued on thinner white chalky paper with a PVA surface adhesive which appears dull compared to the shiny Gum Arabic used on the original stamps. The colors used are also slightly different — most notably on the four cent (plane) and eight cent (ship) stamps — with the paper used in the first printing cream colored when compared against the 1979 printing.

USS Namakagon (AOG-53) being towed through Mississippii River Lock No. 15 by the towboat James W. Good of Inland Waterways, May 25, 1945. War Department , U.S. Engineer Office, Rock Island, Il. photo # 598-121.41 and 599-121.44

Initially based at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, USS Namakagon carried fuel to various islands of the Pacific, including Johnston Island, Canton Island, Marcus Island, Truk, Guam, Saipan, Okinawa, Peleliu, and Kyūshū, for over 18 months, then returned to the U.S. West Coast. In early June, 1947, she completed overhaul at San Pedro, California, and on June 9 steamed north to her new homeport, Kodiak, Alaska. From there and from ports in Washington, she carried passengers and mixed cargo as she operated a gasoline provisioning shuttle to naval bases and stations on the coast and in the Aleutians. Detached from Kodiak in 1953, she returned to Pearl Harbor, whence she operated until June 1957. She then sailed to Mare Island, California, where she was decommissioned on September 20, 1957, and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet.

USNS Wyandot (TAK-283) and HMNZS Endeavour (A814) at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, in February 1970.

On June 27, 1962, custody of USS Namakagon was transferred to the Commandant, 12th Naval District for activation, following which she was transferred, under the Military Aid Program, to the Royal New Zealand Navy, on October 5, 1962. Commissioned as HMNZS Endeavour (A184), an Antarctic supply ship, she delivered fuel to research bases on the seventh continent, bringing over 1 million gallons each year to McMurdo Sound alone, since 1963.

Endeavour was decommissioned and returned to U.S. custody in 1971. The ship reportedly qualified for the U.S. Navy’s Antarctic Service Medal but was never authorized to receive it by the government of New Zealand. The former Namakagon was leased to the Republic of China Navy in 1971 and renamed ROCS Lung Chuan (AOG-515). Her pennant number was later changed to AOG-507. Although Lung Chuan remained in the custody of the Republic of China Navy, the vessel was returned to the U.S. on paper in 1976, struck from the American Naval Vessel Register on April 15, and sold back to the Republic of China. Lung Chuan was decommissioned on April 1, 2005, at Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Her final disposition is unknown.

Flag of the Ross Dependency
Ross Dependency – Scott #L12 (1972)
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