A William IV silver gilt chalice carried aboard HMS Erebus by Sir James Clark Ross on his “Voyage of Discovery and Research in the Southern and Antarctic Regions during the years 1839-43” has been given to the United States National Science Foundation for use in Antarctica’s first church — the tiny Chapel of the Snows on Ross Island where thousands of Americans from McMurdo Station and nearby Scott Base have worshipped since 1956.
The chalice and two sets of the original communion linen were a gift from Miss Betty Bird, of Auckland, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Scott’s expedition to the South Pole which started from Ross Island.
It is appropriate that the chalice will be used in the Ross Island community’s church because Miss Bird’s great-great grandfather, Lieutenant Edward Joseph Bird, was senior lieutenant of the Erebus which, with HMS Terror, first sighted Mt Erebus on January 28, 1841. Ross named the western promontory at the foot of the volcano “Cape Bird”. McMurdo Sound, first named McMurdo Bay, bears the name of Bird’s opposite number in the Terror, Lieutenant Archibald McMurdo.
Miss Bird’s ancestor was a lifelong friend of Ross and one of his two right-hand men on the great voyage. The other was Commander Francis R. M. Crozier whose name was given to Cape Crozier. Ross, Crozier, and Bird had all served on the second, third, and fourth Arctic voyages led by Sir William Edward Parry. Bird was a midshipman in the Hecla on the second voyage and in the Fury on the third voyage.
After the third voyage Bird was promoted to lieutenant. In 1827 Parry attempted to reach the North Pole from Spitzbergen with the Hecla. On this voyage Bird was second-in-command of Ross’s boat Endeavour, one of two ship’s boats hauled across the Arctic ice to within 435 nautical miles of the Pole.
Ross held Bird in high regard. When the Admiralty received his report of the first Antarctic voyage Bird was promoted to commander on his recommendation, and to captain when the expedition returned in 1843. In 1848-49 he went as captain of the Investigator and second-in-command to Ross in the first expedition of two ships sent to search for the lost Franklin expedition. He reached the rank of vice-admiral on the retired list.