Team of Scots reopen world’s most remote museum

Left to Right: Deirdre Mitchell, Jayne Pierce, Helen Balfour, Aoife McKenna, and Lauren Elliott taking part in a seasonal tradition of erecting the South Georgia and museum flags on the flagpole outside the museum, where they remain until the end of the season. (Photo: South Georgia Heritage Trust)

A SMALL, all-female team, many of whom have strong Scottish connections, has arrived on South Georgia, after an 8,000-mile journey to reach the small but significant British Overseas Territory in the Southern Ocean. 

Together the team are reopening what is arguably the world’s most remote museum, the South Georgia Museum at Grytviken (the island’s only settlement), which will be fully open for the first time following its closure in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The team is from the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), a Dundee-based charity that has been working to conserve South Georgia’s fragile ecosystem and heritage since 2005 and which runs the museum on behalf of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

Deirdre Mitchell, the new South Georgia Director from Dunfermline; new Museum Assistant Helen Balfour from Lerwick, Shetland Islands; and Aoife McKenna, a recent graduate from St Andrew’s University who is the new Curatorial Intern, make up the Scottish contingent. The all-female team is completed by Curator Jayne Pierce from Bath, and Senior Museum Assistant Lauren Elliott from Portsmouth. The team will be opening the doors of this amazing museum for the expected 15,000 visitors who will be coming to the island during this season. 

Deirdre Mitchell, South Georgia Director from SGHT, said: “As a Scot, I’m particularly fascinated by the many Scottish connections with South Georgia’s whaling history and how we seem to be drawn to this remote island. I also can’t wait to be surrounded by the island’s incredible wildlife and landscape once again, and to share this amazing place with visitors from across the world so they can find out more about the island’s remarkable wildlife and heritage.”

Deirdre was born in Dunfermline, studied at the University of St Andrews, and before leaving for South Georgia lived in Inverness. Having already spent time on the island as a former Curatorial Intern at the South Georgia Museum, Deirdre knows South Georgia – its history, successes, and current challenges – intimately. She now returns as SGHT’s South Georgia Director to manage the charity’s activities at Grytviken. 

South Georgia’s Museum Assistant Helen Balfour hails from the Shetland Islands. Her family history is synonymous with South Georgia, as both her grandfathers and one great-grandfather were whalers at the island in the 1950s and 1930srespectively. 

Helen’s grandfather James Balfour first visited South Georgia in 1952, and after a decade of whaling was on board one of the last whale catcher vessels that worked out of Leith Harbour. Her other grandfather Alan Leask started whaling as a 16-year-old and did two seasons, as did her great-grandfather Thomas Balfour twenty years before. Thomas had previously worked at a Salvesen whaling station closer to home at Olna, Shetland. 

Helen will be following in their footsteps, as the now abandoned Grytviken whaling station is where the South Georgia Museum now stands.

Visitors to South Georgia this season will also be able to see Shackleton’s original ‘Crow’s Nest’, a lookout barrel from his fourth and final voyage The Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, also known as The Quest Expedition. The Crow’s Nest is one of the last vestiges from Quest and will be the centrepiece of the South Georgia Museum’s current exhibition ‘Shackleton’s Last Quest’, which was launched to mark the centenary of Quest leaving London for South Georgia in 1921. The ‘Shackleton’s Last Quest’ Exhibition is also available to all online on the South Georgia Museum website:

This will be the first time the Crow’s Nest has been on South Georgia since the expedition ship was there in 1922. To follow the journey of the Crow’s Nest, visit

South Georgia is famed for its iconic wildlife, including humpback whales, southern elephant seals, vast colonies of king penguins and an array of seabirds, and for its links with world-famous explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton who is buried on the island. The new season (October – March) will bring visitors back to South Georgia to admire the island’s stunning scenery and burgeoning wildlife, and to learn about its fascinating heritage. It is expected to be the busiest season ever as tourism recovers and the world slowly opens after the pandemic.

To find out more about South Georgia and the work of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, visit, and to find out more about the South Georgia Museum, visit

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