A collection of rare memorabilia stemming from the famous 1908 Nimrod Expedition to Antarctica, including insights into the British team's wining and dining with the New Zealand establishment before heading further south, is going under the hammer.

More than a century after British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's aborted journey to the South Pole, the historic cache has surfaced at Bonhams auction house in London.

Shackleton returned to Britain after Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1903 already planning his own mission to the unclaimed South Pole.

The Southern Party as photographed by Herbert Ponting of the Capt Scott expedition. Photo / via Bonhams
The Southern Party as photographed by Herbert Ponting of the Capt Scott expedition. Photo / via Bonhams

In the "ageing but sturdy" ship, the Nimrod, he set off from England in 1907 and stopped at New Zealand, as a final launch base for the ice continent.

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Before the expedition left the port of Lyttelton on New Year's Day 1908, the crew was hosted for lunches and functions by the great and the good of Christchurch society.

At one function, Shackleton was presented with a copper salver made from bolts taken from Lord Nelson's ship HMS Victory, and Bishop Julius gave his blessing at another event attended by some 80 local dignitaries.

They were then hosted to a private dinner given by Joseph Kinsey, previously Scott's New Zealand agent, two nights before they sailed.

Now, menus from a "complimentary banquet" hosted by the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, and a dinner held on December 19, 1907, by wealthy and influential members of the Canterbury Club, are expected to fetch thousands at auction next month. Both artefacts are signed by Shackleton and other Nimrod Expedition members.

The items had been owned by Henry J.L. Dunlop (1876-1931), chief engineer on the Nimrod, and came into the hands of the present owner by descent, Bonhams says.

The February 1 sale also includes extracts from Dunlop's diary and second officer Aeneas Mackintosh's private diary, as well as typed letters by Shackleton.

A series of stunning black-and-white photos taken by expedition photographer Herbert George Ponting are also offered for sale.

Each item is expected to fetch thousands of pounds.

After having endured the fiercest winter on Earth in huts they built on Ross Island, Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Boyd Adams set off on October 29, 1908 due south across the Ross Ice Shelf, with four Manchurian ponies pulling sledges, attempting to become the first men to reach the South Pole.

But on January 9, 1909, with severe weather conditions and temperatures dropping below -30C, and the group running perilously low on food, Shackleton made the tough decision to abandon the mission just 156km short of their goal.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen won the race to the Pole three years later.