The Polar Medal is a medal awarded by the Government of the United Kingdom, which was originally instituted in 1857 as the Arctic Medal to reward earlier explorers attempting to discover the Northwest Passage.
The first awards were made to the men engaged in a search expedition to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew who were lost in 1847 while looking for the Northwest Passage. A second Arctic Medal was sanctioned for the crews of three ships exploring in the Arctic in 187576. In 1904 a third and current series, the Polar Medal, was instituted for members of Captain Scott's first expedition to Antarctica. Medals were also awarded to members of Ernest Shackleton's expedition.
The medal is octagonal and the obverse bears the head of the reigning monarch (Edward VII, George V, George VI or Elizabeth II) while the reverse depicts the RRS Discovery with a sledge party in the foreground. The medal is suspended on a white ribbon.
Prior to 1968 all New Zealanders awarded Polar medals were recommended by the United Kingdom. From 1968 until 1995 the New Zealand Government recommended individuals for the award of a Polar Medal. A list of New Zealanders or those normally resident in New Zealand who have received the Polar Medal is available here...
Today however the Polar Medal is only awarded to selected British individuals for extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic. An increasing number are awarded to members of expeditions and scientific bases that are kept constantly manned in the Antarctic. The Regulations governing the award have been revised and now "acquisition of knowledge of Polar regions shall normally be ten years such service to be considered a medal". However, greater emphasis is now placed on individual service.
When in 1996 New Zealand announced its own honours system, New Zealanders became inelligible for the award of the Polar Medal. In September 2006 the New Zealand Government announced the introduction of the New Zealand Antarctic Medal.
Note - The Government of Australia has also replaced the Polar Medal with its own Australian Antarctic Medal.