The Oates Museum


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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon



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 a museum.

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.

After 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.

Tea 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.

Click here for opening times and admission fees.


Gilbert White’s House & The Oates Museum
The Wakes
High Street
Hampshire GU34 3JH
Tel: (+44) 01420 511275




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