In an idyllic village in Hampshire there is a museum dedicated to the
Oates family, featuring the remarkable Victorian explorer Frank Oates
and his rather more famous nephew Captain Lawrence Oates, who tragically
died on the return journey from the South Pole.
Lawrence Oates’ home was in Gestingthorpe, north Essex so why,
one might ask, is the museum in Hampshire? Because a family member was
looking for a place to house the collection of family memorabilia at
the same time as the ecologist Gilbert White’s house came up for
sale. This was in 1954, and a public appeal had been launched to save
the house for the nation.
It was hoped that enough money would be raised to purchase the house
and set up an endowment fund, then hand it all over to the National
Trust for eventual opening to the public. The target figure was not
reached until Robert Washington Oates came forward. A joint Gilbert
White and Oates Memorial Trust was then created to run the house as
The museum today
The main house was the home of the Rev. Gilbert White (1720-93) and
his family. He was the founding father of modern scientific recording
and author of the world famous Natural History of Selborne.
In the late 1990s much needed restoration work began on the house, which
forms the main part of the museum. The rooms have been authentically
restored and include items of furniture and family portraits, and the
garden has been largely restored to its 18th century form.
The final phase of fitting out of the Oates Galleries is now in progress.
Using the latest techniques, the museum’s hugely valuable artefacts
will be displayed to the best advantage. It is intended that the gallery
will be an educational experience particularly for the young.
a brief introduction to the Oates family and the museum’s unifying
theme of ‘Exploring the Natural World’, visitors will be
able to enjoy the exceptional range of artefacts and natural history
specimens collected by Frank Oates (1840-75). Although he is not well
known, the collections from his American and African expeditions are
fascinating. The new Frank Oates Gallery will tell the story of his
travels in the tropics at a time when Britain was building its Empire
and extending western influence around the world.
The Lawrence Oates Gallery will illustrate Britain’s achievements
in Antarctic exploration. Lawrence Oates’ (1880-1912) early life
and his growing enthusiasm for travel and exploration will be illustrated
through family letters and photographs. A major part of the gallery
will be devoted to telling the story of the Scott and Amundsen race
for the South Pole, which ended so tragically with the death of Lawrence
Oates and his four companions.
Artefacts, photographs and documents from the expedition will be on
display and a video theatre will enable visitors to experience some
of the breathtaking film which survives from the expedition. An introduction
to other explorers, such as Amundsen and Shackleton, will also be given.
Information about more recent and current Antarctic exploration will
be on display, together with an interactive area and live satellite
link to Antarctica for up-to-the-minute information.
The Sutton collection
Artefacts from Captain Scott’s fateful journey to the South Pole,
including his windhood, pairs of snow goggles, Mears’ dog whip
and Trygve Gran’s ski pin, were inherited by Mr Derek Sutton and
he has generously loaned the collection to the museum.
These objects are nearing their first century and inevitably some of
the articles require professional conservation. They all need environmentally
controlled display conditions to ensure their long-term survival, which
is now the responsibility of the museum.
The learning experience
The museum is a major visitor attraction and a centre for education,
which combines history and contemporary science in an educational and
entertaining way. It’s wide appeal attracts a broad range of visitors
and caters especially for school groups. Nestled in the 20 acres of
parkland is a 16th-century barn that is now the Field Studies Centre,
offering a wide range of courses led by professional staff to school
and college groups.
The individual lives of explorers is part of the Key Stage 1 studies
for young children in England, and by providing access to the diaries
and personal lives of explorers children will come into direct contact
with real lives from history.
Through studying techniques for survival in extreme climates, students
at Key Stage 3 and 4 are encouraged to adapt their newfound knowledge
to Physics, Craft, Design and Technology projects.
Expeditions require teamwork and an acceptance and understanding of
foreign lands and cultures. The personal qualities of Frank and Lawrence
Oates are good examples for today’s children to learn from. Their
attitude to human rights and slavery also offer a valuable lesson.
A full programme of public events for adults, ranging from day classes,
evening lectures, art exhibitions and watercolour classes, is published
on the museum’s website.
In order to realise this final phase of the restoration project a fundraising
appeal has been launched. Sponsorship opportunities are available to
organisations and details may be obtained from the museum’s publicity
office. Contributions from individuals are, of course, always welcome.
Parlour and shop
After viewing the exhibits visitors can have a light lunch or afternoon
tea in the licensed, charmingly restored dining room. Some of the items
on the menu are based on 18th century recipes and the cakes are homemade.
In 2006 the Tea Parlour was awarded the Tea Council Award of Excellence.
The shop offers a fine selection of unusual and inexpensive gifts and
books, mostly English in origin.
here for opening times and admission fees.
Gilbert White’s House & The Oates Museum
Hampshire GU34 3JH
Tel: (+44) 01420 511275