I work in one of the most remote museums in the world

I work in one of the most remote museums in the world

A Shetland woman has traveled thousands of miles to work at one of the world’s most remote museums.

The island of South Georgia is located in the South Atlantic and its museum has attracted visitors from all over the world.

However, staff were asked to leave in March 2020 as Covid-19 spread around the world. Now open again.

Helen Balfour read about the museum in a BBC article and successfully applied to become an assistant on the island 8,000 miles (12,875 km) away from her home.

The 23-year-old was drawn to her love of museums and heritage and her family ties to the island, as her grandparents were local whalers.

The long journey by land, sea and air to South Georgia took her three weeks.

“I first heard about the South Georgia museum from an article written for the BBC and my father saw it online and sent it to me,” he told BBC Radio Shetland.

“And because of the family ties to South Georgia I found it very interesting.

“My great-grandfather was here in the early 30s and his sons – including my grandfather – worked here. My other grandfather was here too.”

An elephant seal pup in front of the South Georgia Museum in Grytviken

An elephant seal pup near the South Georgia Museum

Helen contacted the team and asked if she could apply for a job and successfully passed the interview.

Getting there involved the ferry from Shetland to Aberdeen, then the train to Oxford, a flight from Brig Norton to the Falklands and then another ferry to South Georgia.

“I left home on the 2nd of October and we got here about the 22nd, it took me a while to get here,” he said.

“We were in the Falkland Islands for five days and then the boat trip was another five days.

“It’s really special to be able to come here.”

Map of South Georgia

Map of South Georgia

The island itself is a difficult place to work.

Although closer to South America – and the South Pole – than London, South Georgia has been a British island since the 18th century, claimed by Captain James Cook.

The King is the head of state and the flag has the union jack.

However, the name of the ghost town where the museum is located, Grytviken (pronounced Grit-vicken), gives an idea of ​​the island’s history.

The settlement was named by Swedish explorers in the early 20th century (the name means Pot Cove). In 1904, Norwegians opened a whaling station there to process whale meat, blubber and bones.

Over the next 60 years, more than 175,000 whales were killed in South Georgia waters alone – processed at Grytviken and other stations along the coast.

But by the 1960s, the industry had burned out – there were no longer enough whales to catch.

Grytviken was abandoned, but a relatively large villa – built in 1914 – remained usable.

In 1989, David Wynn-Williams, a British Antarctic scientist, proposed turning the villa into a museum. The project was undertaken by Nigel Bonner and opened in 1992, initially focused on whaling, but now with a broader approach.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), which manages the museum, is based in Dundee.

Fresh food in South Georgia is scarce, the Internet connection is poor and, at times, the wind is strong enough to overturn helicopters.

Helen’s grandfather, Jimmy Balfour, first visited South Georgia in the 1950s.

After a decade of whaling, he worked on one of the last whaling vessels to operate from Grytviken.

Penguins in South Georgia

Penguins are also a major attraction of South Georgia

Her other grandfather, Alan Lisk, started whaling at the age of 16. Her great-grandfather, Thomas Balfour, was also a whaler 20 years earlier.

Helen already loves adventure – and wildlife, which includes penguins and elephant seals.

“It’s a lot of fun. There have been many nights where we’ve all stood looking out the window at all the drama that happens when moms leave their puppies behind,” she explained.

“We all carry broom handles just in case one of them gets a little too close, they can be quite territorial.

“They’re a bit different to the seals you’d see in Shetland.”

The new museum assistant helps in the shop and on tours and is looking forward to meeting the cruise ship passengers.

“We are expecting thousands of visitors,” he said. “I think it’s going to be great.”

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