Museo Antártico Ushuaia Dr. José María Sobral

The Museum

Museo Antártico Ushuaia, Dr. José María Sobral

The Antarctic Museum of Ushuaia, named Dr. José María Sobral to pay homage to the first Argentine sailor and scientist who wintered in the southern continent, lodges a large collection of ship models of Antarctic Expeditions, which is, according to the Lonely Planet guide … Perhaps the best collection of Antactic ship models anywhere in the world is displayed in various parts of the museum. Among the dozens of examples are Amundsen’ Fram; Scott’s Discovery; Shackleton’s Endurance; De Gerlache’s Belgica; Charcot’s Le Français and Pourquoi-Pas; Nordenskjöld Antarctic; Argentina’s Uruguay (which recued Nordenskjöld in 1903 and also relieved Bruce in 1904); Argentina’s Bahía Paraíso (wrecked in Antarctica in 1989, causing a massive fuel spill); and the Argentine icebreaker Almirante Irízar (the actual ship often reprovisions in Ushuaia).
On the 2nd floor is an extensive exhibit of stamps and postcards from Antactica, Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, along with a “relax zone” and a gift shop. …”.

Located on the second floor of Pavilion IV of the former Prison of Ushuaia —or Cárcel de Reincidentes (Jail for Reoffenders) de Tierra del Fuego—, it has nineteen exhibit halls that enshrine the richest heritage of preserved historic and biological Antarctic materials. Tools used by the early polar expeditions, a reproduction of the shack used by Doctor Andersson mounted with original materials used by the three men who had to winter at Hope Bay (Bahía Esperanza) in 1903 recovered through archaeological techniques from the ruins of the shack mentioned above: artifacts of the Swedish expedition headed by Doctor Nordenskjöld (1901-1903), whaling history; photos and books of the Belgian expedition by Adrien de Gerlache (1898-1899); a reproduction with the original elements from the old radio station of the scientific base Brown; accounts about Antarctic pioneers such as Gustavo Giró, Jorge E. Leal, who headed the first Argentine expedition to the South Pole, and Hernán Pujato, founder of the Instituto Antártico Argentino in 1951, models of the vessels of the Argentine Navy and the planes that took part in exploring the continent as from the early 20th century and from the first station for research on the high atmosphere that operated at Belgrano I Station as of 1954.
The exhibit also includes a fossils collection and taxidermy bird specimens.

Doctor Ricardo Capdevilla, Director of Museoantar, is in charge of the curatorship of the Antarctic halls, and Lic. Carlos Pedro Vairo is in charge of the general direction.

When the idea of opening a Maritime Museum in the city of Ushuaia was born, the Antarctic theme was always present. For those who sail, Ushuaia is the closest city to the White Continent, and this fact is reflected even in history as a lot of famous explorers sailed these waters.

The sailing ships collection already had several Antarctic ships. I remember the first one, called the “FRAM”. It had such a special hull that the ice pressure made it rise. The naval modelist and great friend, Engineer Miron Gonik, from Ukraine, had a huge passion for such ship. Then followed some other ships, such as the “Francaise” of Dr. Charcot, the “Porquai Pas?,” the “Uruguay Corvette” and many more. Each of these models implied a thorough study and analysis of the expedition. We talked about it and compared it to other expeditions. Such study was of a great use, as it allowed us to prepare our first voyage to Antarctica aboard the “Callas” sailing ship, which belonged to Jorge Trabuchi. It was also useful to prepare photographic panels and brief comments.

So, we started to collect material. We got material from the different trips some people made to Antarctica, and also elements provided by our friends and people in general who thought it better to leave something as a gift at the Museum than leaving it in some corner of their houses and forget all about it.

The main idea was to show Antarctica at the time of the explorers and the presence of Argentina for more than a century. But we noticed that we lacked professionalism in this matter.

Therefore, we decided to look for help and luckily we met Dr. Ricardo Capdevila at the National Antarctic Directorate. Fortunately, he got interested in the idea and started to take the necessary steps both within the institution and the Museum building – the Former Prison of Ushuaia.

Both his collaboration and the Agreement signed at the time with General Leal (which is still in force) constituted a major boost. The importance not only resides on the material, but also on the bulk of knowledge found in each small hall (former cell) with fossils, radio equipment, great voyages, aurora australis, and so on, therefore covering a lot of aspects.
Some countries joined this important work, such as Belgium, Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Great Britain, etc. They provided lots of information and material such as the ones of the Adrien de Gerlache’s expedition (“Belgium”) or the William Bruce expedition aboard the “Scotia” to the South Orkneys.

But the most interesting thing is that the Museum gained life in later voyages made to Antarctica. With the “Ice Lady Patagonia” and the Patagonic Southern Ship Association [Asociación Buque Austral Patagónico] led by the May Family, a group of enthusiasts (including us) made surveying voyages to Antarctica. In that way, we conducted a very interesting piece of research within the historic field “Historic Whaler Settlements in Argentine Antarctica.” In this case, a great deal of work was made in conjunction with the National Naval Museum and field work with its Director: Naval Captain (RS) Horacio Molina Pico. This was reflected in publications, documentaries and the Museum’s halls.

Within the plan to spread the news about this project, an ambitious campaign was performed: the exhibition called “Ushuaia, Window to Antarctica” aboard the Ice Lady Patagonia was taken to all Argentine and also foreign harbors such as The Canaries, Mallorca, Lisbon, and Bilbao. It was very successful at every harbor.

Given the geographical features of the area, the Argentine Navy was the one that established permanent links with the presence of men in Antarctica. One hundred years in the station on South Orkneys and the rescuing of the scientific expedition headed by Otto Nordenskjöld (1903 - corvette Uruguay) and, at the beginning of this century, the rescue of the clipper Adventure, a cruise with passengers (summer 2000), among others.

We were always of the idea that the Museum should be alive, not being only a place where the local community and visitors could find objects of the past, but also objects and activities organized thus contributing to the development of the local community. In order to fulfill this goal, the Museum should be open to listen to its community, especially, to be a useful tool for the non-formal education and culture of Tierra del Fuego.

Lic. Carlos Pedro Vairo
Dir. Maritime Museum of Ushuaia