Historic diaries have revealed what went through the mind of those who discovered the gruesome remains of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

"I will never forget it so long I live – a horrible nightmare could not have shown more horror than this," Norwegian adventurer Tryggve Gran wrote in his diary from the Terra Nova expedition in 1911-1012.

"The frost has made the skin yellow & transparent and I've never seen anything worse in my life."

Gran's grisly first-hand account, available in two diaries, is now able to read by the public online after Canterbury Museum successfully bought the digitised diaries at auction in December 2018 for £150,000, or $278,000.

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One of the diaries, written in Norwegian, is an account of the expedition from November 7, 1911, to February 25, 1912.

The other, in Gran's imperfect English, covers the period until the expedition returned to Lyttelton, New Zealand, in February 1913.

The second diary describes Gran's horror at finding the frozen bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry "Birdie" Bowers on November 12, 1912, more than seven months after they perished returning from the South Pole.

Trygge Gran wrote diaries in Norwegian, left, and English, right. Photo / Canterbury Museum
Trygge Gran wrote diaries in Norwegian, left, and English, right. Photo / Canterbury Museum

He also wrote how Scott "seems to have struggled" in his last moment's of death while the two others "seemed to have gone off in a kind of a sleep".

After retrieving the diaries and personal effects of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, Gran's party collapsed the tent and piled snow on top of it to make a cairn. Gran made a cross from his own skis on the cairn, electing to take Scott's skis back to the expedition's base.

"I am using the owner [Scott]'s ski[s] – they must finish the journey – and they will," he wrote in his diary.

These skis are now on display at Holmenkollen Ski Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Dr Jill Haley, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History, bid for the diaries on the museum's behalf when they were auctioned at Christie's in London.

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She says the diaries provide an unique eyewitness account of a significant event in world history.

Dr Jill Haley of Canterbury Museum with Tryggve Gran's diaries. Photo / Supplied
Dr Jill Haley of Canterbury Museum with Tryggve Gran's diaries. Photo / Supplied

"Tryggve Gran wrote books about his Antarctic adventures, but these diaries are unique because they weren't written with an audience in mind. The events and feelings recorded in them are totally authentic.

"For example, when the Terra Nova arrived to pick the men up in 1913, Gran wrote, 'Hurrah', in big letters all over one page. He was obviously very happy to be heading back to civilisation."

Gran's English diary also covers his ascent of Mount Erebus with fellow expedition members Raymond Priestley and Frederick Hooper, and the Terra Nova's arrival in New Zealand with news of Scott's death.

The diaries were bought with funds from the Adson Trust, formed in 2010 after a generous posthumous donation to benefit the Museum from Arthur Henry Harrison of Blenheim.

"Mr Harrison's generosity has allowed us to make sure the content of these diaries is shared with the world," Haley said.

Norwegian explorer Tryggve Gran photographed on April 13, 1911, by Herbert Ponting. Photo / Canterbury Museum
Norwegian explorer Tryggve Gran photographed on April 13, 1911, by Herbert Ponting. Photo / Canterbury Museum