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A circular painting of a person standing on a snowy hill. The sun is setting in the distance.

This volume is a narrative of Scott’s Last Expedition from its departure from England in 1910 to its return to New Zealand in 1913.

It does not, however, include the story of subsidiary parties except where their adventures touch the history of the Main Party.

It is hoped later to publish an appendix volume with an account of the two Geological Journeys, and such other information concerning the equipment of, and lessons learned by, this Expedition as may be of use to the future explorer.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard.

Preface

This postwar business is inartistic, for it is seldom that anyone does anything well for the sake of doing it well; and it is unchristian, if you value Christianity, for men are out to hurt and not to help⁠—can you wonder, when the Ten Commandments were hurled straight from the pulpit through good stained glass. It is all very interesting and uncomfortable, and it has been a great relief to wander back in one’s thoughts and correspondence and personal dealings to an age in geological time, so many hundred years ago, when we were artistic Christians, doing our jobs as well as we were able just because we wished to do them well, helping one another with all our strength, and (I speak with personal humility) living a life of cooperation, in the face of hardships and dangers, which has seldom been surpassed.

The mutual conquest of difficulties is the cement of friendship, as it is the only lasting cement of matrimony. We had plenty of difficulties; we sometimes failed, we sometimes won; we always faced them⁠—we had to. Consequently we have some friends who are better than all the wives in Muhammad’s paradise, and when I have asked for help in the making of this book I have never never asked in vain. Talk of ex-soldiers: give me ex-antarcticists, unsoured and with their ideals intact: they could sweep the world.

The trouble is that they are inclined to lose their ideals in this complicated atmosphere of civilization. They run one another down like the deuce, and it is quite time that stopped. What is the use of A running down Scott because he served with Shackleton, or B going for Amundsen because he served with Scott? They have all done good work; within their limits, the best work to date. There are jobs for which, if I had to do them, I would like to serve under Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Wilson⁠—each to his part. For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time. They will all go down in polar history as leaders, these men. I believe Bowers would also have made a great name for himself if he had lived, and few polar ships have been commanded as capably as was the Terra Nova, by Pennell.

In a way this book is a sequel to the friendship which there was between Wilson, Bowers and myself, which, having stood the strain of the Winter Journey, could never have been broken. Between the three of us we had a share in all the big journeys and bad times which came to Scott’s main landing party, and what follows is, particularly, our unpublished diaries, letters and illustrations. I, we, have tried to show how good the whole thing was⁠—and how bad. I have had a freer hand than many in this, because much of the dull routine has been recorded already and can be found if wanted: also because, not being the leader of the expedition, I had no duty to fulfil in cataloguing my followers’ achievements. But there was plenty of work left for me. It has been no mere gleaning of the polar field. Not half the story had been told, nor even all the most interesting documents. Among these, I have had from Mrs. Bowers her son’s letters home, and from Lashly his diary of the Last Return Party on the Polar Journey. Mrs. Wilson has given her husband’s diary of the Polar Journey: this is especially valuable because it is the only detailed account in existence from 87° 2′ to the Pole and after, with the exception of Scott’s Diary already published. Lady Scott has given with both hands any records I wanted and could find. No one of my companions in the South has failed to help. They include Atkinson, Wright, Priestley, Simpson, Lillie and Debenham.

To all these good friends I can do no more than express my very sincere thanks.

I determined that the first object of the illustrations should be descriptive of the text: Wright and Debenham have photographs, sledging and otherwise, which do this admirably. Mrs. Wilson has allowed me to have any of her husband’s sketches and drawings reproduced that I wished, and there are many hundreds from which to make a selection. In addition to the six watercolours, which I have chosen for their beauty, I have taken a number of sketches because they illustrate typical incidents in our lives. They are just unfinished sketches, no more: and had Bill been alive he would have finished them before he allowed them to be published. Then I have had reproduced nearly all the sketches and panoramas drawn by him on the Polar Journey and found with him where he died. The halftone process does not do them justice: I wish I could have had them reproduced in photogravure, but the cost is prohibitive.

As to production, after a good deal of experience, I was convinced that I could trust a commercial firm to do its worst save when it gave them less trouble to do better. I acknowledge my mistake. In a wilderness of firms in whom nothing was first class except their names and their prices, I have dealt with R. & R. Clark, who have printed this book, and Emery Walker, who has illustrated it. The fact that Emery Walker is not only alive, but full of vitality, indicates why most of the other firms are millionaires.

When I went South I never meant to write a book: I rather despised those who did so as being of an inferior brand to those who did things and said nothing about them. But that they say nothing is too often due to the fact that they have nothing to say, or are too idle or too busy to learn how to say it. Everyone who has been through such an extraordinary experience has much to say, and ought to say it if he has any faculty that way. There is after the event a good deal of criticism, of stocktaking, of checking of supplies and distances and so forth that cannot really be done without firsthand experience. Out there we knew what was happening to us too well; but we did not and could not measure its full significance. When I was asked to write a book by the Antarctic Committee I discovered that, without knowing it, I had intended to write one ever since I had realized my own experiences. Once started, I enjoyed the process. My own writing is my own despair, but it is better than it was, and this is directly due to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw. At the age of thirty-five I am delighted to acknowledge that my education has at last begun.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
Lamer, Wheathampstead,
1921.

Introduction

Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. It is the only form of adventure in which you put on your clothes at Michaelmas and keep them on until Christmas, and, save for a layer of the natural grease of the body, find them as clean as though they were new. It is more lonely than London, more secluded than any monastery, and the post comes but once a year. As men will compare the hardships of France, Palestine, or Mesopotamia, so it would be interesting to contrast the rival claims of the Antarctic as a medium of discomfort. A member of Campbell’s party tells me that the trenches at Ypres were a comparative picnic. But until somebody can evolve a standard of endurance I am unable to see how it can be done. Take it all in all, I do not believe anybody on earth has a worse time than an Emperor penguin.

Even now the Antarctic is to the rest of the earth as the Abode of the Gods was to the ancient Chaldees, a precipitous and mammoth land lying far beyond the seas which encircled man’s habitation, and nothing is more striking about the exploration of the Southern Polar regions than its absence, for when King Alfred reigned in England the Vikings were navigating the ice-fields of the North; yet when Wellington fought the battle of Waterloo there was still an undiscovered continent in the South.

For those who wish to read an account of the history of Antarctic exploration there is an excellent chapter in Scott’s Voyage of the Discovery and elsewhere. I do not propose to give any general survey of this kind here, but complaints have been made to me that Scott’s Last Expedition plunges the general reader into a neighbourhood which he is supposed to know all about, while actually he is lost, having no idea what the Discovery was, or where Castle Rock or Hut Point stand. For the better understanding of the references to particular expeditions, to the lands discovered by them and the traces left by them, which must occur in this book I give the following brief introduction.

From the earliest days of the making of maps of the Southern Hemisphere it was supposed that there was a great continent called Terra Australis. As explorers penetrated round the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, and found nothing but stormy oceans beyond, and as, later, they discovered Australia and New Zealand, the belief in this continent weakened, but was not abandoned. During the latter half of the eighteenth century eagerness for scientific knowledge was added to the former striving after individual or State aggrandizement.

Cook, Ross and Scott: these are the aristocrats of the South.

It was the great English navigator James Cook who laid the foundations of our knowledge. In 1772 he sailed from Deptford in the Resolution, 462 tons, and the Adventure, 336 tons, ships which had been built at Whitby for the coal trade. He was, like Nansen, a believer in a varied diet as one of the preventives of scurvy, and mentions that he had among his provisions “besides Saur Krout, Portable Broth, Marmalade of Carrots and Suspissated juice of Wort and Beer.” Medals were struck “to be given to the natives of new discovered countries, and left there as testimonies of our being the first discoverers.”1 It would be interesting to know whether any exist now.

After calling at the Cape of Good Hope Cook started to make his Easting down to New Zealand, purposing to sail as far south as possible in search of a southern continent. He sighted his first ‘ice island’ or iceberg in lat. 50° 0′ S., long. 2° 0′ E., on December 10, 1772. The next day he “saw some white birds about the size of pigeons, with blackish bills and feet. I never saw any such before.”2 These must have been Snowy Petrel. Passing through many bergs, where he notices how the albatross left them and penguins appeared, he was brought up by thick pack ice along which he coasted. Under the supposition that this ice was formed in bays and rivers Cook was led to believe that land was not far distant. Incidentally he remarks that in order to enable his men to support the colder weather he “caused the sleeves of their jackets (which were so short as to expose their arms) to be lengthened with baize; and had a cap made for each man of the same stuff, together with canvas; which proved of great service to them.”3

For more than a month Cook sailed the Southern Ocean, always among bergs and often among pack. The weather was consistently bad and generally thick; he mentions that he had only seen the moon once since leaving the Cape.

It was on Sunday, January 17, 1773, that the Antarctic Circle was crossed for the first time, in longitude 39° 5′ E. After proceeding to latitude 67° 5′ S. he was stopped by an immense field of pack. From this point he turned back and made his way to New Zealand.

Leaving New Zealand at the end of 1773 without his second ship, the Adventure, from which he had been parted, he judged from the great swell that “there can be no land to the southward, under the meridian of New Zealand, but what must lie very far to the south.” In latitude 62° 0′ S. he sighted the first ice island on December 12, and was stopped by thick pack ice three days later. On the 20th he again crossed the Antarctic Circle in longitude 147° 6′ W. and penetrated in this neighbourhood to a latitude of 67° 1′ S. Here he found a drift towards the northeast.

On January 26, 1774, in longitude 109° 1′ W., he crossed the Antarctic Circle for the third time, after meeting no pack and only a few icebergs. In latitude 71° 0′ S. he was finally turned back by an immense field of pack, and wrote:

“I will not say it was impossible anywhere to get farther to the south; but the attempting it would have been a dangerous and rash enterprise, and what, I believe, no man in my situation would have thought of. It was, indeed, my opinion, as well as the opinion of most on board, that this ice extended quite to the Pole, or perhaps joined to some land, to which it had been fixed from the earliest time; and that it is here, that is to the south of this parallel, where all the ice we find scattered up and down to the north is first formed, and afterwards broken off by gales of wind, or other causes, and brought to the north by the currents, which are always found to set in that direction in the high latitudes. As we drew near this ice some penguins were heard, but none seen; and but few other birds, or any other thing that could induce us to think any land was near. And yet I think there must be some to the south beyond this ice; but if there is it can afford no better retreat for birds, or any other animals, than the ice itself, with which it must be wholly covered. I, who had ambition not only to go farther than anyone had been before, but as far as it was possible for man to go, was not sorry at meeting with this interruption; as it, in some measure, relieved us; at least, shortened the dangers and hardships inseparable from the navigation of the Southern Polar regions.”4

And so he turned northwards, when, being “taken ill of the bilious colic,” a favourite dog belonging to one of the officers (Mr. Forster, after whom Aptenodytes forsteri, the Emperor penguin, is named) “fell a sacrifice to my tender stomach.⁠ ⁠… Thus I received nourishment and strength, from food which would have made most people in Europe sick: so true it is that necessity is governed by no law.”5

“Once and for all the idea of a populous fertile southern continent was proved to be a myth, and it was clearly shown that whatever land might exist to the South must be a region of desolation hidden beneath a mantle of ice and snow. The vast extent of the tempestuous southern seas was revealed, and the limits of the habitable globe were made known. Incidentally it may be remarked that Cook was the first to describe the peculiarities of the Antarctic icebergs and floe-ice.”6

A Russian expedition under Bellingshausen discovered the first certain land in the Antarctic in 1819, and called it Alexander Land, which lies nearly due south of Cape Horn.

Whatever may have been the rule in other parts of the world, the flag followed trade in the southern seas during the first part of the nineteenth century. The discovery of large numbers of seals and whales attracted many hundreds of ships, and it is to the enlightened instructions of such firms as Messrs. Enderby, and to the pluck and enterprise of such commanders as Weddell, Biscoe and Balleny, that we owe much of our small knowledge of the outline of the Antarctic continent.

“In the smallest and craziest ships they plunged boldly into stormy ice-strewn seas; again and again they narrowly missed disaster; their vessels were racked and strained and leaked badly, their crews were worn out with unceasing toil and decimated with scurvy. Yet in spite of inconceivable discomforts they struggled on, and it does not appear that any one of them ever turned his course until he was driven to do so by hard necessity. One cannot read the simple, unaffected narratives of these voyages without being assured of their veracity, and without being struck by the wonderful pertinacity and courage which they display.”7

The position in 1840 was that the Antarctic land had been sighted at a few points all round its coasts. On the whole the boundaries which had been seen lay on or close to the Antarctic Circle, and it appeared probable that the continent, if continent it was, consisted of a great circular mass of land with the South Pole at its centre, and its coasts more or less equidistant from this point.

Two exceptions only to this had been found. Cook and Bellingshausen had indicated a dip towards the Pole south of the Pacific; Weddell a still more pronounced dip to the south of the Atlantic, having sailed to a latitude of 74° 5′ S. in longitude 34° 6′ W.

Had there been a Tetrahedronal Theory in those days, someone might have suggested the probability of a third indentation beneath the Indian Ocean, probably to be laughed at for his pains. When James Clark Ross started from England in 1839 there was no particular reason for him to suppose that the Antarctic coastline in the region of the magnetic Pole, which he was to try to reach, did not continue to follow the Antarctic Circle.

Ross left England in September 1839 under instructions from the Admiralty. He had under his command two of Her Majesty’s sailing ships, the Erebus, 370 tons, and the Terror, 340 tons. Arriving in Hobart, Tasmania, in August 1840, he was met by news of discoveries made during the previous summer by the French Expedition under Dumont D’Urville and the United States Expedition under Charles Wilkes. The former had coasted along Adélie Land, and for sixty miles of ice cliff to the west of it. He brought back an egg now at Drayton which Scott’s Discovery Expedition definitely proved to be that of an Emperor penguin.

All these discoveries were somewhere about the latitude of the Antarctic Circle (66° 2′ S.) and roughly in that part of the world which lies to the south of Australia. Ross, “impressed with the feeling that England had ever led the way of discovery in the southern as well as in the northern region,⁠ ⁠… resolved at once to avoid all interference with their discoveries, and selected a much more easterly meridian (170° E.), on which to penetrate to the southward, and if possible reach the magnetic Pole.”8

The outlines of the expedition in which an unknown and unexpected sea was found, stretching 500 miles southwards towards the Pole, are well known to students of Antarctic history. After passing through the pack he stood towards the supposed position of the magnetic Pole, “steering as nearly south by the compass as the wind admitted,” and on January 11, 1841, in latitude 71° 5′ S., he sighted, the white peaks of Mount Sabine and shortly afterwards Cape Adare. Foiled by the presence of land from gaining the magnetic Pole, he turned southwards (true) into what is now called the Ross Sea, and, after spending many days in travelling down this coastline with the mountains on his right hand, the Ross Sea on his left, he discovered and named the great line of mountains which here for some five hundred miles divides the sea from the Antarctic plateau. On January 27, “with a favourable breeze and very clear weather, we stood to the southward, close to some land which had been in sight since the preceding noon, and which we then called the High Island; it proved to be a mountain twelve thousand four hundred feet of elevation above the level of the sea, emitting flame and smoke in great profusion; at first the smoke appeared like snowdrift, but as we drew nearer its true character became manifest.⁠ ⁠… I named it Mount Erebus, and an extinct volcano to the eastward, little inferior in height, being by measurement ten thousand nine hundred feet high, was called Mount Terror.” That is the first we hear of our two old friends, and Ross Island is the land upon which they stand.

“As we approached the land under all studding-sails we perceived a low white line extending from its eastern extreme point as far as the eye could discern to the eastward. It presented an extraordinary appearance, gradually increasing in height as we got nearer to it, and proving at length to be a perpendicular cliff of ice, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred feet above the level of the sea, perfectly flat and level at the top, and without any fissures or promontories on its even seaward face.”9

Ross coasted along the Barrier for some 250 miles from Cape Crozier, as he called the eastern extremity of Ross Island, after the commander of the Terror. This point where land, sea and moving Barrier meet will be constantly mentioned in this narrative. Returning, he looked into the Sound which divides Ross Island from the western mountains. On February 16 “Mount Erebus was seen at 2:30 a.m., and, the weather becoming very clear, we had a splendid view of the whole line of coast, to all appearance connecting it with the main land, which we had not before suspected to be the case.” The reader will understand that Ross makes a mistake here, since Mounts Erebus and Terror are upon an island connected to the mainland only by a sheet of ice. He continues: “A very deep bight was observed to extend far to the southwest from Cape Bird [Bird was the senior lieutenant of the Erebus], in which a line of low land might be seen; but its determination was too uncertain to be left unexplored; and as the wind blowing feebly from the west prevented our making any way in that direction through the young ice that now covered the surface of the ocean in every part, as far as we could see from the masthead, I determined to steer towards the bight to give it a closer examination, and to learn with more certainty its continuity or otherwise. At noon we were in latitude 76° 2′ S., longitude 166° 2′ E., dip 88° 4′ and variation 107° 8′ E.

“During the afternoon we were nearly becalmed, and witnessed some magnificent eruptions of Mount Erebus, the flame and smoke being projected to a great height; but we could not, as on a former occasion, discover any lava issuing from the crater; although the exhibitions of today were upon a much grander scale.⁠ ⁠…

“Soon after midnight (February 16⁠–⁠17) a breeze sprang up from the eastward and we made all sail to the southward until 4 a.m., although we had an hour before distinctly traced the land entirely round the bay connecting Mount Erebus with the mainland. I named it McMurdo Bay, after the senior lieutenant of the Terror, a compliment that his zeal and skill well merited.”10 It is now called McMurdo Sound.

In making the mistake of connecting Erebus with the mainland Ross was looking at a distance upon the Hut Point Peninsula running out from the S. W. corner of Erebus towards the west. He probably saw Minna Bluff, which juts out from the mainland towards the east. Between them, and in front of the Bluff, lie White Island, Black Island and Brown Island. To suppose them to be part of a line of continuous land was a very natural mistake.

Ross broke through the pack ice into an unknown sea: he laid down many hundreds of miles of mountainous coastline, and (with further work completed in 1842) some 400 miles of the Great Ice Barrier: he penetrated in his ships to the extraordinarily high latitude of 78° 1′ S., four degrees farther than Weddell. The scientific work of his expedition was no less worthy of praise. The South Magnetic Pole was fixed with comparative accuracy, though Ross was disappointed in his natural but “perhaps too ambitious hope I had so long cherished of being permitted to plant the flag of my country on both the magnetic Poles of our globe.”

Before all things he was at great pains to be accurate, both in his geographical and scientific observations, and his records of meteorology, water temperatures, soundings, as also those concerning the life in the oceans through which he passed, were not only frequent but trustworthy.

When Ross returned to England in 1843 it was impossible not to believe that the case of those who advocated the existence of a South Polar continent was considerably strengthened. At the same time there was no proof that the various blocks of land which had been discovered were connected with one another. Even now in 1921, after twenty years of determined exploration aided by the most modern appliances, the interior of this supposed continent is entirely unknown and uncharted except in the Ross Sea area, while the fringes of the land are only discovered in perhaps a dozen places on a circumference of about eleven thousand miles.

In his Life of Sir Joseph Hooker, Dr. Leonard Huxley has given us some interesting sidelights on this expedition under Ross. Hooker was the botanist of the expedition and assistant surgeon to the Erebus, being 22 years old when he left England in 1839. Natural history came off very badly in the matter of equipment from the Government, who provided twenty-five reams of paper, two botanizing vascula and two cases for bringing home live plants: that was all, not an instrument, nor a book, nor a bottle, and rum from the ship’s stores was the only preservative. And when they returned, the rich collections which they brought back were never fully worked out. Ross’s special branch of science was terrestrial magnetism, but he was greatly interested in Natural History, and gave up part of his cabin for Hooker to work in. “Almost every day I draw, sometimes all day long and till two and three in the morning, the Captain directing me; he sits on one side of the table, writing and figuring at night, and I on the other, drawing. Every now and then he breaks off and comes to my side, to see what I am after⁠ ⁠…” and, “as you may suppose, we have had one or two little tiffs, neither of us perhaps being helped by the best of tempers; but nothing can exceed the liberality with which he has thrown open his cabin to me and made it my workroom at no little inconvenience to himself.”

Another extract from Hooker’s letters after the first voyage runs as follows:

“The success of the Expedition in Geographical discovery is really wonderful, and only shows what a little perseverance will do, for we have been in no dangerous predicaments, and have suffered no hardships whatever: there has been a sort of freemasonry among Polar voyagers to keep up the credit they have acquired as having done wonders, and accordingly, such of us as were new to the ice made up our minds for frostbites, and attached a most undue importance to the simple operation of boring packs, etc., which have now vanished, though I am not going to tell everybody so; I do not here refer to travellers, who do indeed undergo unheard-of hardships, but to voyagers who have a snug ship, a little knowledge of the Ice, and due caution is all that is required.”

In the light of Scott’s leading of the expedition of which I am about to tell, and the extraordinary scientific activity of Pennell in command of the Terra Nova after Scott was landed, Hooker would have to qualify a later extract, “nor is it probable that any future collector will have a Captain so devoted to the cause of Marine Zoology, and so constantly on the alert to snatch the most trifling opportunities of adding to the collection.⁠ ⁠…”

Finally, we have a picture of the secrecy which was imposed upon all with regard to the news they should write home and the precautions against any leakage of scientific results. And we see Hooker jumping down the main hatch with a penguin skin in his hand which he was preparing for himself, when Ross came up the after hatch unexpectedly. That has happened on the Terra Nova!

Ross had a cold reception on his return, and Scott wrote to Hooker in 1905:

“At first it seems inexplicable when one considers how highly his work is now appreciated. From the point of view of the general public, however, I have always thought that Ross was neglected, and as you once said he is very far from doing himself justice in his book. I did not know that Barrow was the bête noire who did so much to discount Ross’s results. It is an interesting sidelight on such a venture.”11

In discussing and urging the importance of the Antarctic Expedition which was finally sent under Scott in the Discovery, Hooker urged the importance of work in the South Polar Ocean, which swarms with animal and vegetable life. Commenting upon the fact that the large collections made chiefly by himself had never been worked out, except the diatoms, he writes:

“A better fate, I trust, awaits the treasures that the hoped-for Expedition will bring back, for so prolific is the ocean that the naturalist need never be idle, no, not even for one of the twenty-four hours of daylight during a whole Antarctic summer, and I look to the results of a comparison of the oceanic life of the Arctic and Antarctic regions as the heralding of an epoch in the history of biology.”12

When Ross went to the Antarctic it was generally thought that there was neither food nor oxygen nor light in the depths of the ocean, and that therefore there was no life. Among other things the investigations of Ross gave ground for thinking this was not the case. Later still, in 1873, the possibility of laying submarine cables made it necessary to investigate the nature of the abyssal depths, and the Challenger proved that not only does life, and in quite high forms, exist there, but that there are fish which can see. It is now almost certain that there is a great oxidized northward-creeping current which flows out of the Antarctic Ocean and under the waters of the other great oceans of the world.

It was the good fortune of Ross, at a time when the fringes of the great Antarctic continent were being discovered in comparatively low latitudes of 66° and thereabouts, sometimes not even within the Antarctic Circle, to find to the south of New Zealand a deep inlet in which he could sail to the high latitude of 78°. This inlet, which is now known as the Ross Sea, has formed the starting-place of all sledging parties which have approached the South Pole. I have dwelt upon this description of the lands he discovered because they will come very intimately into this history. I have also emphasized his importance in the history of Antarctic exploration because Ross having done what it was possible to do by sea, penetrating so far south and making such memorable discoveries, the next necessary step in Antarctic exploration was that another traveller should follow up his work on land. It is an amazing thing that sixty years were allowed to elapse before that traveller appeared. When he appeared he was Scott. In the sixty years which elapsed between Ross and Scott the map of the Antarctic remained practically unaltered. Scott tackled the land, and Scott is the Father of Antarctic sledge travelling.

This period of time saw a great increase in the interest taken in science both pure and applied, and it had been pointed out in 1893 that “we knew more about the planet Mars than about a large area of our own globe.” The Challenger Expedition of 1874 had spent three weeks within the Antarctic Circle, and the specimens brought home by her from the depths of these cold seas had aroused curiosity. Meanwhile Borchgrevink (1897) landed at Cape Adare, and built a hut which still stands and which afforded our Cape Adare party valuable assistance. Here he lived during the first winter which men spent in the Antarctic.

Meanwhile, in the Arctic, brave work was being done. The names of Parry, M’Clintock, Franklin, Markham, Nares, Greely and De Long are but a few of the many which suggest themselves of those who have fought their way mile by mile over rough ice and open leads with appliances which now seem to be primitive and with an addition to knowledge which often seemed hardly commensurate with the hardships suffered and the disasters which sometimes overtook them. To those whose fortune it has been to serve under Scott the Franklin Expedition has more than ordinary interest, for it was the same ships, the Erebus and Terror, which discovered Ross Island, that were crushed in the northern ice after Franklin himself had died, and it was Captain Crozier (the same Crozier who was Ross’s captain in the South and after whom Cape Crozier is named) who then took command and led that most ghastly journey in all the history of exploration: more we shall never know, for none survived to tell the tale. Now, with the noise and racket of London all round them, a statue of Scott looks across to one of Franklin and his men of the Erebus and Terror, and surely they have some thoughts in common.

Englishmen had led the way in the North, but it must be admitted that the finest journey of all was made by the Norwegian Nansen in 1893⁠–⁠1896. Believing in a drift from the neighbourhood of the New Siberian Islands westwards over the Pole, a theory which obtained confirmation by the discovery off the coast of Greenland of certain remains of a ship called the Jeannette which had been crushed in the ice off these islands, his bold project was to be frozen in with his ship and allow the current to take him over, or as near as possible to, the Pole. For this purpose the most famous of Arctic ships was built, called the Fram. She was designed by Colin Archer, and was saucer-shaped, with a breadth one-third of her total length. With most of the expert Arctic opinion against him, Nansen believed that this ship would rise and sit on the top of the ice when pressed, instead of being crushed. Of her wonderful voyage with her thirteen men, of how she was frozen into the ice in September 1893 in the north of Siberia (79° N.) and of the heaving and trembling of the ship amidst the roar of the ice pressure, of how the Fram rose to the occasion as she was built to do, the story has still, after twenty-eight years, the thrill of novelty. She drifted over the eightieth degree on February 2, 1894. During the first winter Nansen was already getting restive: the drift was so slow, and sometimes it was backwards: it was not until the second autumn that the eighty-second degree arrived. So he decided that he would make an attempt to penetrate northwards by sledging during the following spring. As Nansen has told me, he felt that the ship would do her job in any case. Could not something more be done also?

This was one of the bravest decisions a polar explorer has ever taken. It meant leaving a drifting ship which could not be regained: it meant a return journey over drifting ice to land; the nearest known land was nearly five hundred miles south of the point from which he started northwards; and the journey would include travelling both by sea and by ice.

Undoubtedly there was more risk in leaving the Fram than in remaining in her. It is a laughable absurdity to say, as Greely did after Nansen’s almost miraculous return, that he had deserted his men in an ice-beset ship, and deserved to be censured for doing so.13 The ship was left in the command of Sverdrup. Johansen was chosen to be Nansen’s one companion, and we shall hear of him again in the Fram, this time with Amundsen in his voyage to the South.

The polar traveller is so interested in the adventure and hardships of Nansen’s sledge journey that his equipment, which is the most important side of his expedition to us who have gone South, is liable to be overlooked. The modern side of polar travel begins with Nansen. It was Nansen who first used a light sledge based upon the ski sledge of Norway, in place of the old English heavy sledge which was based upon the Eskimo type. Cooking apparatus, food, tents, clothing and the thousand and one details of equipment without which no journey nowadays stands much chance of success, all date back to Nansen in the immediate past, though beyond him of course is the experience of centuries of travellers. As Nansen himself wrote of the English polar men: “How well was their equipment thought out and arranged with the means they had at their disposal! Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. Most of what I prided myself upon, and what I thought to be new, I find they had anticipated. M’Clintock used the same things forty years ago. It was not their fault that they were born in a country where the use of snowshoes is unknown.⁠ ⁠…”14

All the more honour to the men who dared so much and travelled so far with the limited equipment of the past. The real point for us is that, just as Scott is the Father of Antarctic sledge travelling, so Nansen may be considered the modern Father of it all.

Nansen and Johansen started on March 14 when the Fram was in latitude 84° 4′ N., and the sun had only returned a few days before, with three sledges (two of which carried kayaks) and 28 dogs. They reached their northernmost camp on April 8, which Nansen has given in his book as being in latitude 86° 13.6′ N. But Nansen tells me that Professor Geelmuyden, who had his astronomical results and his diary, reckoned that owing to refraction the horizon was lifted, and if so the observation had to be reduced accordingly. Nansen therefore gave the reduced latitude in his book, but he considers that his horizon was very clear when he took that observation, and believes that his latitude was higher than that given. He used a sextant and the natural horizon.

They turned, and travelling back round pressed-up ice and open leads they failed to find the land they had been led to expect in latitude 83°, which indeed was proved to be nonexistent. At the end of June they started using the kayaks, which needed many repairs after their rough passage, to cross the open leads. They waited long in camp, that the travelling conditions might improve, and all the time Nansen saw a white spot he thought was cloud. At last, on July 24, land was in sight, which proved to be that white spot. Fourteen days later they reached it to find that it consisted of a series of islands. These they left behind them and, unable to say what land they had reached, for their watches had run down, they coasted on westwards and southwards until winter approached. They built a hut of moss and stones and snow, and roofed it with walrus skins cut from the animals while they lay in the sea, for they were too heavy for two men to drag on to the ice. When I met Nansen he had forgotten all about this, and would not believe that it had happened until he saw it in his own book. They lay in their old clothes that winter, so soaked with blubber that the only way to clean their shirts was to scrape them. They made themselves new clothes from blankets, and sleeping-bags from the skins of the bears which they ate, and started again in May of the following year to make Spitzbergen. They had been travelling a long month, during which time they had at least two very narrow escapes⁠—the first due to their kayaks floating away, when Nansen swam out into the icy sea and reached them just before he sank, and Johansen passed the worst moments of his life watching from the shore; the second caused by the attack of a walrus which went for Nansen’s kayak with tusks and flippers. And then one morning, as he looked round at the cold glaciers and naked cliffs, not knowing where he was, he heard a dog bark. Intensely excited, he started towards the sound, to be met by the leader of the English Jackson⁠–⁠Harmsworth Expedition whose party was wintering there, and who first gave him the definite news that he was on Franz Josef Land. Nansen and Johansen were finally landed at Vardo in the north of Norway, to learn that no tidings had yet been heard of the Fram. That very day she cleared the ice which had imprisoned her for nearly three years.

I cannot go into the Fram’s journey save to say that she had drifted as far north as 85° 5′ N., only eighteen geographical miles south of Nansen’s farthest north. But the sledge journey and the winter spent by the two men has many points in common with the experience of our own Northern Party, and often and often during the long winter of 1912 our thoughts turned with hope to Nansen’s winter, for we said if it had been done once why should it not be done again, and Campbell and his men survive.

Before Nansen started, the spirit of adventure, which has always led men into the unknown, combined with the increased interest in knowledge for its own sake to turn the thoughts of the civilized world southwards. It was becoming plain that a continent of the extent and climate which this polar land probably possessed might have an overwhelming influence upon the weather conditions of the whole Southern Hemisphere. The importance of magnetism was only rivalled by the mystery in which the whole subject was shrouded: and the region which surrounded the Southern Magnetic Pole of the earth offered a promising field of experiment and observation. The past history, through the ages, of this land was of obvious importance to the geological story of the earth, whilst the survey of land formations and ice action in the Antarctic was more useful perhaps to the physiographer than that of any other country in the world, seeing that he found here in daily and even hourly operation the conditions which he knew had existed in the ice ages of the past over the whole world, but which he could only infer from vestigial remains. The biological importance of the Antarctic might be of the first magnitude in view of the significance which attaches to the life of the sea in the evolutionary problem.

And it was with these objects and ideals that Scott’s first expedition, known officially as the British Antarctic Expedition of 1901⁠–⁠1904, but more familiarly as ‘The Discovery Expedition,’ from the name of the ship which carried it, was organized by the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, backed by the active support of the British Government. The executive officers and crew were Royal Navy almost without exception, whilst the scientific purposes of the expedition were served in addition by five scientists. These latter were not naval officers.

The Discovery left New Zealand on Christmas Eve 1901, and entered the belt of pack ice which always has to be penetrated in order to reach the comparatively open sea beyond, when just past the Antarctic Circle. But a little more than four days saw her through, in which she was lucky, as we now know. Scott landed at Cape Adare and then coasted down the western coast of Victoria Land just as Ross had done sixty years before. As he voyaged south he began to look for safe winter quarters for the ship, and when he pushed into McMurdo Sound on January 21, 1902, it seemed that here he might find both a sheltered bay into which the ship could be frozen, and a road to the southland beyond.

The open season which still remained before the freezing of the sea made progress impossible was spent in surveying the 500 miles of cliff which marks the northern limit of the Great Ice Barrier. Passing the extreme eastward position reached by Ross in 1842, they sailed on into an unknown world, and discovered a deep bay, called Balloon Bight, where the rounded snow-covered slopes undoubtedly were land and not, as heretofore, floating ice. Farther east, as they sailed, shallow soundings and gentle snow slopes gave place to steeper and more broken ridges, until at last small black patches in the snow gave undoubted evidence of rock; and an undiscovered land, now known as King Edward VII’s Land, rose to a height of several thousand feet. The presence of thick pack ahead, and the advance of the season, led Scott to return to McMurdo Sound, where he anchored the Discovery in a little bay at the end of the tongue of land now known as the Hut Point Peninsula, and built the hut which, though little used in the Discovery days, was to figure so largely in the story of this his last expedition.

The first autumn was spent in various short journeys of discovery⁠—discovery not only of the surrounding land but of many mistakes in sledging equipment and routine. It is amazing to one who looks back upon these first efforts of the Discovery Expedition that the results were not more disastrous than was actually the case. When one reads of dog-teams which refused to start, of pemmican which was considered to be too rich to eat, of two officers discussing the ascent of Erebus and back in one day, and of sledging parties which knew neither how to use their cookers or lamp, nor how to put up their tents, nor even how to put on their clothes, then one begins to wonder that the process of education was gained at so small a price. “Not a single article of the outfit had been tested; and amid the general ignorance that prevailed the lack of system was painfully apparent in everything.”15

This led to a tragedy. A returning sledge party of men was overtaken by a blizzard on the top of the Peninsula near Castle Rock. They quite properly camped, and should have been perfectly comfortable lying in their sleeping-bags after a hot meal. But the primus lamps could not be lighted, and as they sat in leather boots and inadequate clothing being continually frostbitten they decided to leave the tent and make their way to the ship⁠—sheer madness as we now know. As they groped their way in the howling snowdrift the majority of the party either slipped or rolled down a steep slippery snow slope some thousand feet high ending in a precipitous ice-cliff, below which lay the open sea. It is a nasty place on a calm summer day: in a blizzard it must be ghastly. Yet only one man, named Vince, shot down the slope and over the precipice into the sea below. How the others got back heaven knows. One seaman called Hare, who separated from the others and lay down under a rock, awoke after thirty-six hours, covered with snow but in full possession of his faculties and free from frostbites. The little cross at Hut Point commemorates the death of Vince. One of this party was a seaman called Wild, who came to the front and took the lead of five of the survivors after the death of Vince. He was to take the lead often in future expeditions under Shackleton and Mawson, and there are few men living who have so proved themselves as polar travellers.

I have dwelt upon this side of the early sledging deficiencies of the Discovery to show the importance of experience in Antarctic land travelling, whether it be at first or second hand. Scott and his men in 1902 were pioneers. They bought their experience at a price which might easily have been higher; and each expedition which has followed has added to the fund. The really important thing is that nothing of what is gained should be lost. It is one of the main objects of this book to hand on as complete a record as possible of the methods, equipment, food and weights used by Scott’s Last Expedition for the use of future explorers. “The first object of writing an account of a Polar voyage is the guidance of future voyagers: the first duty of the writer is to his successors.”16

The adaptability, invention and resource of the men of the Discovery when they set to work after the failures of the autumn to prepare for the successes of the two following summers showed that they could rise to their difficulties. Scott admitted that “food, clothing, everything was wrong, the whole system was bad.”17 In determining to profit by his mistakes, and working out a complete system of Antarctic travel, he was at his best; and it was after a winter of drastic reorganization that he started on November 2, 1902, on his first southern journey with two companions, Wilson and Shackleton.

It is no part of my job to give an account of this journey. The dogs failed badly: probably the Norwegian stock-fish which had been brought through the tropics to feed them was tainted: at any rate they sickened; and before the journey was done all the dogs had to be killed or had died. A fortnight after starting, the party was relaying⁠—that is, taking on part of their load and returning for the rest; and this had to be continued for thirty-one days.

A drawing of a man walking in the snow towards a tent in the distance.
The Last of the Dogs⁠—E. A. Wilson

The ration of food was inadequate and they became very hungry as time went on; but it was not until December 21 that Wilson disclosed to Scott that Shackleton had signs of scurvy which had been present for some time. On December 30, in latitude 82° 6′ S., they decided to return. By the middle of January the scurvy signs were largely increased and Shackleton was seriously ill and spitting blood. His condition became more and more alarming, and he collapsed on January 18, but revived afterwards. Sometimes walking by the sledge, sometimes being carried upon it, Shackleton survived: Scott and Wilson saved his life. The three men reached the ship on February 3, after covering 960 statute miles in 93 days. Scott and Wilson were both extremely exhausted and seriously affected by scurvy. It was a fine journey, the geographical results of which comprised the survey of some three hundred miles of new coastline, and a further knowledge of the Barrier upon which they travelled.

While Scott was away southwards an organized attempt was made to discover the nature of the mountains and glaciers which lay across the Sound to the west. This party actually reached the plateau which lay beyond, and attained a height of 8,900 feet, when “as far as they could see in every direction to the westward of them there extended a level plateau, to the south and north could be seen isolated nunataks, and behind them showed the high mountains which they had passed”: a practicable road to the west had been found.

I need note no more than these two most important of the many journeys carried out this season: nor is it necessary for me to give any account of the continuous and fertile scientific work which was accomplished in this virgin land. In the meantime a relief ship, the Morning, had arrived. It was intended that the Discovery should return this year as soon as the sea-ice in which she was imprisoned should break up and set her free. As February passed, however, it became increasingly plain that the ice conditions were altogether different from those of the previous year. On the 8th the Morning was still separated from the Discovery by eight miles of fast ice. March 2 was fully late for a low-powered ship to remain in the Sound, and on this date the Morning left. By March 13 all hope of the Discovery being freed that year was abandoned.

The second winter passed much as the first, and as soon as spring arrived sledging was continued. These spring journeys on the Barrier, with sunlight only by day and low temperatures at all times, entailed great discomfort and, perhaps worse, want of sleep, frostbites, and a fast accumulation of moisture in all one’s clothing and in the sleeping-bags, which resulted in masses of ice which had to be thawed out by the heat of one’s body before any degree of comfort could be gained. A fortnight was considered about the extreme limit of time for such a journey, and generally parties were not absent so long; for at this time a spring journey was considered a dreadful experience. “Wait till you’ve had a spring journey” was the threat of the old stagers to us. A winter journey lasting nearly three times as long as a spring journey was not imagined. I advise explorers to be content with imagining it in the future.

The hardest journey of this year was carried out by Scott with two seamen of whom much will be written in this history. Their names are Edgar Evans and Lashly. The object of the journey was to explore westwards into the interior of the plateau. By way of the Ferrar Glacier they reached the icecap after considerable troubles, not the least of which was the loss of the data necessary for navigation contained in an excellent publication called Hints to Travellers, which was blown away. Then for the first time it was seen what additional difficulties are created by the climate and position of this lofty plateau, which we now know extends over the Pole and probably reaches over the greater part of the Antarctic continent. It was the beginning of November: that is, the beginning of summer; but the conditions of work were much the same as those found during the spring journeys on the Barrier. The temperature dropped into the minus forties; but the worst feature of all was a continuous headwind blowing from west to east which combined with the low temperature and rarefied air to make the conditions of sledging extremely laborious. The supporting party returned, and the three men continued alone, pulling out westwards into an unknown waste of snow with no landmarks to vary the rough monotony. They turned homewards on December 1, but found the pulling very heavy; and their difficulties were increased by their ignorance of their exact position. The few glimpses of the land which they obtained as they approached it in the thick weather which prevailed only left them in horrible uncertainty as to their whereabouts. Owing to want of food it was impossible to wait for the weather to clear: there was nothing to be done but to continue their eastward march. Threading their way amidst the ice disturbances which mark the head of the glaciers, the party pushed blindly forward in air which was becoming thick with snowdrift. Suddenly Lashly slipped: in a moment the whole party was flying downwards with increasing speed. They ceased to slide smoothly; they were hurled into the air and descended with great force on to a gradual snow incline. Rising they looked round them to find above them an icefall 300 feet high down which they had fallen: above it the snow was still drifting, but where they stood there was peace and blue sky. They recognized now for the first time their own glacier and the well-remembered landmark, and far away in the distance was the smoking summit of Mount Erebus. It was a miracle.

Excellent subsidiary journeys were also made of which space allows no mention here: nor do they bear directly upon this last expedition. But in view of the Winter Journey undertaken by us, if not for the interest of the subject itself, some account must be given of those most aristocratic inhabitants of the Antarctic, the Emperor penguins, with whom Wilson and his companions in the Discovery now became familiar.

There are two kinds of Antarctic penguins⁠—the little Adélie with his blue-black coat and his white shirtfront, weighing 16 lbs., an object of endless pleasure and amusement, and the great dignified Emperor with long curved beak, bright orange head-wear and powerful flippers, a personality of 6½ stones. Science singles out the Emperor as being the more interesting bird because he is more primitive, possibly the most primitive of all birds. Previous to the Discovery Expedition nothing was known of him save that he existed in the pack and on the fringes of the continent.

We have heard of Cape Crozier as being the eastern extremity of Ross Island, discovered by Ross and named after the captain of the Terror. It is here that with immense pressures and rendings the moving sheet of the Barrier piles itself up against the mountain. It is here also that the great ice-cliff which runs for hundreds of miles to the east, with the Barrier behind it and the Ross Sea beating into its crevasses and caves, joins the basalt precipice which bounds the Knoll, as the two-knobbed saddle which forms Cape Crozier is called. Altogether it is the kind of place where giants have had a good time in their childhood, playing with ice instead of mud⁠—so much cleaner too!

But the slopes of Mount Terror do not all end in precipices. Farther to the west they slope quietly into the sea, and the Adélie penguins have taken advantage of this to found here one of their largest and most smelly rookeries. When the Discovery arrived off this rookery she sent a boat ashore and set up a post with a record upon it to guide the relief ship in the following year. The post still stands. Later it became desirable to bring the record left here more up to date, and so one of the first sledging parties went to try and find a way by the Barrier to this spot.

They were prevented from reaching the record by a series of most violent blizzards, and indeed Cape Crozier is one of the windiest places on earth, but they proved beyond doubt that a backdoor to the Adélie penguins’ rookery existed by way of the slopes of Mount Terror behind the Knoll. Early the next year another party reached the record all right, and while exploring the neighbourhood looked down over the 800-feet precipice which forms the snout of Cape Crozier. The sea was frozen over, and in a small bay of ice formed by the cliffs of the Barrier below were numerous little dots which resolved themselves into Emperor penguins. Could this be the breeding-place of these wonderful birds? If so, they must nurse their eggs in midwinter, in unimagined cold and darkness.

Five days more elapsed before further investigation could be made, for a violent blizzard kept the party in their tents. On October 18 they set out to climb the high pressure ridges which lie between the level barrier and the sea. They found that their conjectures were right: there was the colony of Emperors. Several were nursing chicks, but all the ice in the Ross Sea was gone; only the small bay of ice remained. The number of adult birds was estimated at four hundred, the number of living chicks was thirty, and there were some eighty dead ones. No eggs were found.18

Several more journeys were made to this spot while the Discovery was in the south, generally in the spring; and the sum total of the information gained came to something like this. The Emperor is a bird which cannot fly, lives on fish which it catches in the sea, and never steps on land even to breed. For a reason which was not then understood it lays its eggs upon the bare ice some time during the winter and carries out the whole process of incubation on the sea ice, resting the egg upon its feet pressed closely to a patch of bare skin in the lower abdomen, and protected from the intense cold by a loose falling lappet of skin and feathers. By September 12, the earliest date upon which a party arrived, all the eggs which were not broken or addled were hatched, and there were then about a thousand adult Emperors in the rookery. Arriving again on October 19, a party experienced a ten days’ blizzard which confined them during seven days to their tents, but during their windy visit they saw one of the most interesting scenes in natural history. The story must be told by Wilson, who was there:

“The day before the storm broke we were on an old outlying cone of Mount Terror, about 1,300 feet above the sea. Below us lay the Emperor penguin rookery on the bay ice, and Ross Sea, completely frozen over, was a plain of firm white ice to the horizon. There was not even the lane of open water which usually runs along the Barrier cliff stretching away as it does like a winding thread to the east and out of sight. No space or crack could be seen with open water. Nevertheless the Emperors were unsettled owing, there can be no doubt, to the knowledge that bad weather was impending. The mere fact that the usual canal of open water was not to be seen along the face of the Barrier meant that the ice in Ross Sea had a southerly drift. This in itself was unusual, and was caused by a northerly wind with snow, the precursor here of a storm from the southwest. The sky looked black and threatening, the barometer began to fall, and before long down came snowflakes on the upper heights of Mount Terror.

“All these warnings were an open book to the Emperor penguins, and if one knew the truth there probably were many others too. They were in consequence unsettled, and although the ice had not yet started moving the Emperor penguins had; a long file was moving out from the bay to the open ice, where a pack of someone or two hundred had already collected about two miles out at the edge of a refrozen crack. For an hour or more that afternoon we watched this exodus proceeding, and returned to camp, more than ever convinced that bad weather might be expected. Nor were we disappointed, for on the next day we woke to a southerly gale and smother of snow and drift, which effectually prevented any one of us from leaving our camp at all. This continued without intermission all day and night till the following morning, when the weather cleared sufficiently to allow us to reach the edge of the cliff which overlooked the rookery.

A drawing of two Emperor penguins in an ice field. One of the penguins has a chick by its legs.
The Emperor’s Rookery

“The change here was immense. Ross Sea was open water for nearly thirty miles; a long line of white pack ice was just visible on the horizon from where we stood, some 800 to 900 feet above the sea. Large sheets of ice were still going out and drifting to the north, and the migration of the Emperors was in full swing. There were again two companies waiting on the ice at the actual water’s edge, with some hundred more tailing out in single file to join them. The birds were waiting far out at the edge of the open water, as far as it was possible for them to walk, on a projecting piece of ice, the very next piece that would break away and drift to the north. The line of tracks in the snow along which the birds had gone the day before was now cut off short at the edge of the open water, showing that they had gone, and under the ice-cliffs there was an appreciable diminution in the number of Emperors left, hardly more than half remaining of all that we had seen there six days before.”19

Two days later the emigration was still in full swing, but only the unemployed seemed to have gone as yet. Those who were nursing chicks were still huddled under the ice-cliffs, sheltered as much as possible from the storm. Three days later (October 28) no ice was to be seen in the Ross Sea: the little bay of ice was gradually being eaten away: the same exodus was in progress and only a remnant of penguins was still left.

Of the conditions under which the Emperor lays her eggs, the darkness and cold and blighting winds, of the excessive mothering instinct implanted in the heart of every bird, male and female, of the mortality and gallant struggles against almost inconceivable odds, and the final survival of some 26 percent of the eggs, I hope to tell in the account of our Winter Journey, the object of which was to throw light upon the development of the embryo of this remarkable bird, and through it upon the history of their ancestors. As Wilson wrote:

“The possibility that we have in the Emperor penguin the nearest approach to a primitive form not only of a penguin but of a bird makes the future working out of its embryology a matter of the greatest possible importance. It was a great disappointment to us that although we discovered their breeding-ground, and although we were able to bring home a number of deserted eggs and chicks, we were not able to procure a series of early embryos by which alone the points of particular interest can be worked out. To have done this in a proper manner from the spot at which the Discovery wintered in McMurdo Sound would have involved us in endless difficulties, for it would have entailed the risks of sledge travelling in midwinter with an almost total absence of light. It would at any time require that a party of three at least, with full camp equipment, should traverse about a hundred miles of the Barrier surface in the dark and should, by moonlight, cross over with rope and axe the immense pressure ridges which form a chaos of crevasses at Cape Crozier. These ridges, moreover, which have taken a party as much as two hours of careful work to cross by daylight, must be crossed and recrossed at every visit to the breeding site in the bay. There is no possibility even by daylight of conveying over them the sledge or camping kit, and in the darkness of midwinter the impracticability is still more obvious. Cape Crozier is a focus for wind and storm, where every breath is converted, by the configuration of Mounts Erebus and Terror, into a regular drifting blizzard full of snow. It is here, as I have already stated, that on one journey or another we have had to lie patiently in sodden sleeping-bags for as many as five and seven days on end, waiting for the weather to change and make it possible for us to leave our tents at all. If, however, these dangers were overcome there would still be the difficulty of making the needful preparations from the eggs. The party would have to be on the scene at any rate early in July. Supposing that no eggs were found upon arrival, it would be well to spend the time in labelling the most likely birds, those for example that have taken up their stations close underneath the ice-cliffs. And if this were done it would be easier then to examine them daily by moonlight, if it and the weather generally were suitable: conditions, I must confess, not always easily obtained at Cape Crozier. But if by good luck things happened to go well, it would by this time be useful to have a shelter built of snow blocks on the sea-ice in which to work with the cooking lamp to prevent the freezing of the egg before the embryo was cut out, and in order that fluid solutions might be handy for the various stages of its preparation; for it must be borne in mind that the temperature all the while may be anything between zero and −50° F The whole work no doubt would be full of difficulty, but it would not be quite impossible, and it is with a view to helping those to whom the opportunity may occur in future that this outline has been added of the difficulties that would surely beset their path.”20

We shall meet the Emperor penguins again, but now we must go back to the Discovery, lying off Hut Point, with the season advancing and twenty miles of ice between her and the open sea. The prospects of getting out this year seeming almost less promising than those of the last year, an abortive attempt was made to saw a channel from a halfway point. Still, life to Scott and Wilson in a tent at Cape Royds was very pleasant after sledging, and the view of the blue sea framed in the tent door was very beautiful on a morning in January when two ships sailed into the frame. Why two? One was of course the Morning; the second proved to be the Terra Nova.

It seemed that the authorities at home had been alarmed at the reports brought back the previous year by the relief ship of the detention of the Discovery and certain outbreaks of scurvy which had occurred both on the ship and on sledge journeys. To make sure of relief two ships had been sent. That was nothing to worry about, but the orders they brought were staggering to sailors who had come to love their ship “with a depth of sentiment which cannot be surprising when it is remembered what we had been through in her and what a comfortable home she had proved.”21 Scott was ordered to abandon the Discovery if she could not be freed in time to accompany the relief ships to the north. For weeks there was little or no daily change. They started to transport the specimens and make the other necessary preparations. They almost despaired of freedom. Explosions in the ice were started in the beginning of February with little effect. But suddenly there came a change, and on the 11th, amidst intense excitement, the ice was breaking up fast. The next day the relief ships were but four miles away. On the 14th a shout of “The ships are coming, sir!” brought out all the men racing to the slopes above Arrival Bay. Scott wrote:

“The ice was breaking up right across the Strait, and with a rapidity which we had not thought possible. No sooner was one great floe borne away than a dark streak cut its way into the solid sheet that remained, and carved out another, to feed the broad stream of pack which was hurrying away to the northwest.

“I have never witnessed a more impressive sight; the sun was low behind us, the surface of the ice-sheet in front was intensely white, and in contrast the distant sea and its leads looked almost black. The wind had fallen to a calm, and not a sound disturbed the stillness about us.

“Yet in the midst of this peaceful silence was an awful unseen agency rending that great ice-sheet as though it had been naught but the thinnest paper. We knew well by this time the nature of our prison bars; we had not plodded again and again over those long dreary miles of snow without realizing the formidable strength of the great barrier which held us bound; we knew that the heaviest battleship would have shattered itself ineffectually against it, and we had seen a million-ton iceberg brought to rest at its edge. For weeks we had been struggling with this mighty obstacle⁠ ⁠… but now without a word, without an effort on our part, it was all melting away, and we knew that in an hour or two not a vestige of it would be left, and that the open sea would be lapping on the black rocks of Hut Point.”22

Almost more dramatic was the grounding of the Discovery off the shoal at Hut Point owing to the rise of a blizzard immediately after her release from the ice. Hour after hour she lay pounding on the shore, and when it seemed most certain that she had been freed only to be destroyed, and when all hope was nearly gone, the wind lulled, and the waters of the Sound, driven out by the force of the wind, returned and the Discovery floated off with little damage. The whole story of the release from the ice and subsequent grounding of the Discovery is wonderfully told by Scott in his book.

Some years after this I met Wilson in a shooting lodge in Scotland. He was working upon grouse disease for the Royal Commission which had been appointed, and I saw then for the first time something of his magnetic personality and glimpses also of his methods of work. He and Scott both meant to go back and finish the job, and I then settled that when they went I would go too if wishing could do anything. Meanwhile Shackleton was either in the South or making his preparations to go there.

He left England in 1908, and in the following Antarctic summer two wonderful journeys were made. The first, led by Shackleton himself, consisted of four men and four ponies. Leaving Cape Royds, where the expedition wintered in a hut, in November, they marched due south on the Barrier outside Scott’s track until they were stopped by the eastward trend of the range of mountains, and by the chaotic pressure caused by the discharge of a Brobdingnagian glacier.

But away from the main stream of the glacier, and separated from it by land now known as Hope Island, was a narrow and steep snow slope forming a gateway which opened on to the main glacier stream. Boldly plunging through this, the party made its way up the Beardmore Glacier, a giant of its kind, being more than twice as large as any other known. The history of their adventures will make anybody’s flesh creep. From the top they travelled due south toward the Pole under the trying conditions of the plateau and reached the high latitude of 88° 3′ S. before they were forced to turn by lack of food.

While Shackleton was essaying the geographical Pole another party of three men under Professor David reached the magnetic Pole, travelling a distance of 1,260 miles, of which 740 miles were relay work, relying entirely on man-haulage, and with no additional help. This was a very wonderful journey, and when Shackleton returned in 1909 he and his expedition had made good. During the same year the North Pole was reached by Peary after some twelve years of travelling in Arctic regions.

Scott published the plans of his second expedition in 1909. This expedition is the subject of the present history.

The Terra Nova sailed from the West India Dock, London, on June 1, 1910, and from Cardiff on June 15. She made her way to New Zealand, refitted and restowed her cargo, took on board ponies, dogs, motor sledges, certain further provisions and equipment, as well as such members of her executive officers and scientists as had not travelled out in her, and left finally for the South on November 29, 1910. She arrived in McMurdo Sound on January 4, 1911, and our hut had been built on Cape Evans and all stores landed in less than a fortnight. Shortly afterwards the ship sailed. The party which was left at Cape Evans under Scott is known as the Main Party.

But the scientific objects of the expedition included the landing of a second but much smaller party under Campbell on King Edward VII’s Land. While returning from an abortive attempt to land here they found a Norwegian expedition under Captain Roald Amundsen in Nansen’s old ship the Fram in the Bay of Whales: reference to this expedition will be found elsewhere.23 One member of Amundsen’s party was Johansen, the only companion of Nansen on his famous Arctic sledge journey, of which a brief outline has been given above.24 Campbell and his five companions were finally landed at Cape Adare, and built their hut close to Borchgrevinck’s old winter quarters.25 The ship returned to New Zealand under Pennell: came back to the Antarctic a year later with further equipment and provisions, and again two years later to bring back to civilization the survivors of the expedition.

The adventures and journeyings of the various members of the Main Party are so numerous and simultaneous that I believe it will help the reader who approaches this book without previous knowledge of the history of the expedition to give here a brief summary of the course of events. Those who are familiar already with these facts can easily skip a page or two.

Two parties were sent out during the first autumn: the one under Scott to lay a large depot on the Barrier for the Polar Journey, and this is called the Depot Journey; the other to carry out geological work among the Western Mountains, so called because they form the western side of McMurdo Sound: this is called the First Geological Journey, and another similar journey during the following summer is called the Second Geological Journey.

Both parties joined up at the old Discovery Hut at Hut Point in March 1911, and here waited for the sea to freeze a passage northwards to Cape Evans. Meanwhile the men left at Cape Evans were continuing the complex scientific work of the station. All the members of the Main Party were not gathered together at Cape Evans for the winter until May 12. During the latter half of the winter a journey was made by three men led by Wilson to Cape Crozier to investigate the embryology of the Emperor penguin: this is called the Winter Journey.

The journey to the South Pole absorbed the energies of most of the sledging members during the following summer of 1911⁠–⁠12. The motor party turned back on the Barrier; the dog party at the bottom of the Beardmore Glacier. From this point twelve men went forward. Four of these men under Atkinson returned from the top of the glacier in latitude 85° 3′ S.: they are known as the First Return Party. A fortnight later in latitude 87° 2′ S. three more men returned under Lieutenant Evans: these are the Second Return Party. Five men went forward, Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Seaman Evans. They reached the Pole on January 17 to find that Amundsen had reached it thirty-four days earlier. They returned 721 statute miles and perished 177 miles from their winter quarters.

The supporting parties got back safely, but Lieutenant Evans was very seriously ill with scurvy. The food necessary for the return of the Polar Party from One Ton Camp had not been taken out at the end of February 1912. Evans’ illness caused a hurried reorganization of plans, and I was ordered to take out this food with one lad and two dog-teams. This was done, and the journey may be called the Dog Journey to One Ton Camp.

We must now go back to the six men led by Campbell who were landed at Cape Adare in the beginning of 1911. They were much disappointed by the small amount of sledge work which they were able to do in the summer of 1911⁠–⁠1912, for the sea-ice in front of them was blown out early in the year, and they were unable to find a way up through the mountains behind them on to the plateau. Therefore, when the Terra Nova appeared on January 4, it was decided that she should land them with six weeks’ sledging rations and some extra biscuits, pemmican and general food near Mount Melbourne at Evans Coves, some 250 geographical miles south of Cape Adare, and some 200 geographical miles from our Winter Quarters at Cape Evans. Late on the night of January 8, 1912, they were camped in this spot and saw the last of the ship steaming out of the bay. They had arranged to be picked up again on February 18.

Let us return to McMurdo Sound. My two dog-teams arrived at Hut Point from One Ton Depot on March 16 exhausted. The sea-ice was still in from the Barrier to Hut Point, but from there onwards was open water, and therefore no communication was possible with Cape Evans. Atkinson, with one seaman, was at Hut Point and the situation which he outlined to me on arrival was something as follows:

The ship had left and there was now no possibility of her returning owing to the lateness of the season, and she carried in her Lieut. Evans, sick with scurvy, and five other officers and three men who were returning home this year. This left only four officers and four men at Cape Evans, in addition to the four of us at Hut Point.

The serious part of the news was that owing to a heavy pack the ship had been absolutely unable to reach Campbell’s party at Evans Coves. Attempt after attempt had made without success. Would Campbell winter where he was? Would he try to sledge down the coast?

In the absence of Scott the command of the expedition under the extraordinarily difficult circumstances which arose, both now and during the coming year, would naturally have devolved upon Lieutenant Evans. But Evans, very sick, was on his way to England. The task fell to Atkinson, and I hope that these pages will show how difficult it was, and how well he tackled it.

There were now, that is since the arrival of the dog-teams four of us at Hut Point; and no help could be got from Cape Evans owing to the open water which intervened. Two of us were useless for further sledging and the dogs were absolutely done. As time went on anxiety concerning the nonarrival of the Polar Party was added to the alarm we already felt about Campbell and his men; winter was fast closing down, and the weather was bad. So little could be done by two men. What was to be done? When was it to be done with the greatest possible chance of success? Added to all his greater anxieties Atkinson had me on his hands⁠—and I was pretty ill.

In the end he made two attempts.

The first with one seaman, Keohane, to sledge out on to the Barrier, leaving on March 26. They found the conditions very bad, but reached a point a few miles south of Corner Camp and returned. Soon after we knew the Southern Party must be dead.

Nothing more could be done until communication was effected with Winter Quarters at Cape Evans. This was done by a sledge journey over the newly frozen ice in the bays on April 10. Help arrived at Hut Point on April 14.

The second attempt was then made, and this consisted of a party of four men who tried to sledge up the Western Coast in order to meet and help Campbell if he was trying to sledge to us. This plucky attempt failed, as indeed it was practically certain it would.

The story of the winter that followed will be told, and of the decision which had to be taken to abandon either the search for the Polar Party (who must be dead) and their records, or Campbell and his men (who might be alive). There were not enough men left to do both. We believed that the Polar Party had come to grief through scurvy, or through falling into a crevasse⁠—the true solution never occurred to us, for we felt sure that except for accident or disease they could find their way home without difficulty. We decided to leave Campbell to find his way unaided down the coast, and to try and find the Polar Party’s records. To our amazement we found their snowed-up tent some 140 geographical miles from Hut Point, only 11 geographical miles from One Ton Camp. They had arrived there on March 19. Inside the tent were the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Oates had willingly walked out to his death some eighteen miles before in a blizzard. Seaman Evans lay dead at the bottom of the Beardmore Glacier.


Having found the bodies and the records the Search Party returned, proposing to make their way up the Western Coast in search of Campbell. On arrival at Hut Point with the dog-teams, I must have gone to open the hut door and found pinned on to it a note in Campbell’s handwriting; but my recollection of this apparently memorable incident is extraordinarily vague. It was many long months since we had had good news. This was their story.

When Campbell originally landed at Evans Coves he brought with him sledging provisions for six weeks, in addition to two weeks’ provisions for six men, 56 lbs. sugar, 24 lbs. cocoa, 36 lbs. chocolate and 210 lbs. of biscuit, some Oxo and spare clothing. In short, after the sledge work which they proposed, and actually carried out, the men were left with skeleton rations for four weeks. They had also a spare tent and an extra sleeping-bag. It was not seriously anticipated that the ship would have great difficulty in picking them up in the latter half of February.

Campbell’s party had carried out successful sledging and useful geological work in the region of Evans Coves. They had then camped on the beach and looked for the ship to relieve them. There was open water lashed to fury by the wind so far as they could see, and yet she did not come. They concluded that she must have been wrecked. The actual fact was that thick pack ice lay beyond their vision through which Pennell was trying to drive his ship time after time, until he had either to go or to be frozen in. He never succeeded in approaching nearer than 27 miles.

It was now that a blizzard wind started to blow down from the plateau behind them out into the continually open sea in front. The situation was bad enough already, but of course such weather conditions made it infinitely worse. Evans Coves is paved with boulders over which all journeys had to be fought leaning against the wind as it blew: when a lull came the luckless traveller fell forward on to his face. Under these circumstances it was decided that preparations must be made to winter where they were, and to sledge down the coast to Cape Evans in the following spring. The alternative of sledging down the coast in March and April never seems to have been seriously considered. At Hut Point, of course, we were entirely in the dark as to what the party would do, hence Atkinson’s journey over to the western side in April 1912.

Meanwhile the stranded men divided into two parties of three men each. The first under Campbell sank a shaft six feet down into a large snowdrift and thence, with pick and shovel, excavated a passage and at the end of it a cave, twelve feet by nine feet, and five feet six inches high. The second under Levick sought out and killed all the seal and penguin they could find, but their supply was pitifully small, and the men never had a full meal until midwinter night. One man always had to be left to look after the tents, which were already so worn and damaged that it was unsafe to leave them in the wind.

By March 17 the cave was sufficiently advanced for three men to move in. Priestley must tell how this was done, but it should not be supposed that the weather conditions were in any way abnormal on what they afterwards called Inexpressible Island:

“March 17. 7 p.m. Strong southwest breeze all day, freshening to a full gale at night. We have had an awful day, but have managed to shift enough gear into the cave to live there temporarily. Our tempers have never been so tried during the whole of our life together, but they have stood the strain pretty successfully.⁠ ⁠… May I never have such another three trips as were those today. Every time the wind lulled a little I fell over to windward, and at every gust I was pitched to leeward, while a dozen times or more I was taken off my feet and dashed against the ground or against unfriendly boulders. The other two had equally bad times. Dickason hurt his knee and ankle and lost his sheath knife, and Campbell lost a compass and some revolver cartridges in the two trips they made. Altogether it was lucky we got across at all.”26

It was a fortunate thing that this wind often blew quite clear without snowfall or drift. Two days later in the same gale the tent of the other three men collapsed on top of them at 8 a.m. At 4 p.m. the sun was going down and they settled to make their way across to their comrades. Levick tells the story as follows:

“Having done this [securing the remains of the tent, etc.], we started on our journey. This lay, first of all, across half a mile of clear blue ice, swept by the unbroken wind, which met us almost straight in the face. We could never stand up, so had to scramble the whole distance on ‘all fours,’ lying flat on our bellies in the gusts. By the time we had reached the other side we had had enough. Our faces had been rather badly bitten, and I have a very strong recollection of the men’s countenances, which were a leaden blue, streaked with white patches of frostbite. Once across, however, we reached the shelter of some large boulders on the shore of the island, and waited here long enough to thaw out our noses, ears, and cheeks. A scramble of another six hundred yards brought us to the half-finished igloo, into which we found that the rest of the party had barricaded themselves, and, after a little shouting, they came and let us in, giving us a warm welcome, and about the most welcome hot meal that I think any of us had ever eaten.”

A photograph of Priestley and Campbell standing together in front of a cabin.
Priestley and Campbell

Priestley continues:

“After the arrival of the evicted party we made hoosh, and as we warmed up from the meal, we cheered up and had one of the most successful singsongs we had ever had forgetting all our troubles for an hour or two. It is a pleasing picture to look back upon now, and, if I close my eyes, I can see again the little cave cut out in snow and ice with the tent flapping in the doorway, barely secured by ice-axe and shovel arranged crosswise against the side of the shaft. The cave is lighted up with three or four small blubber lamps, which give a soft yellow light. At one end lie Campbell, Dickason and myself in our sleeping-bags, resting after the day’s work, and, opposite to us, on a raised dais formed by a portion of the floor not yet levelled, Levick, Browning and Abbott sit discussing their seal hoosh, while the primus hums cheerily under the cooker containing the coloured water which served with us instead of cocoa. As the diners warm up jests begin to fly between the rival tents and the interchange is brisk, though we have the upper hand today, having an inexhaustible subject in the recent disaster to their tent, and their forced abandonment of their household gods. Suddenly someone starts a song with a chorus, and the noise from the primus is dwarfed immediately. One by one we go through our favourites, and the concert lasts for a couple of hours. By this time the lamps are getting low, and gradually the cold begins to overcome the effects of the hoosh and the cocoa. One after another the singers begin to shiver, and all thoughts of song disappear as we realize what we are in for. A night with one one-man bag between two men! There is a whole world of discomfort in the very thought, and no one feels inclined to jest about that for the moment. Those jests will come all right tomorrow when the night is safely past, but this evening it is anything but a cheery subject of contemplation. There is no help for it, however, and each of us prepares to take another man in so far as he can.”27

In such spirit and under very similar conditions this dauntless party set about passing through one of the most horrible winters which God has invented. They were very hungry, for the wind which kept the sea open also made the shore almost impossible for seals. There were red-letter days, however, such as when Browning found and killed a seal, and in its stomach, “not too far digested to be still eatable,” were thirty-six fish. And what visions of joy for the future. “We never again found a seal with an eatable meal inside him, but we were always hoping to do so, and a kill was, therefore, always a gamble. Whenever a seal was sighted in future, someone said, ‘Fish!’ and there was always a scramble to search the beast first.”28

They ate blubber, cooked with blubber, had blubber lamps. Their clothes and gear were soaked with blubber, and the soot blackened them, their sleeping-bags, cookers, walls and roof, choked their throats and inflamed their eyes. Blubbery clothes are cold, and theirs were soon so torn as to afford little protection against the wind, and so stiff with blubber that they would stand up by themselves, in spite of frequent scrapings with knives and rubbings with penguin skins, and always there were underfoot the great granite boulders which made walking difficult even in daylight and calm weather. As Levick said, “the road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but it seemed probable that hell itself would be paved something after the style of Inexpressible Island.”

But there were consolations; the long-waited-for lump of sugar: the singsongs⁠—and about these there hangs a story. When Campbell’s Party and the remains of the Main Party forgathered at Cape Evans in November 1912, Campbell would give out the hymns for Church. The first Sunday we had ‘Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him,’ and the second, and the third. We suggested a change, to which Campbell asked, “Why?” We said it got a bit monotonous. “Oh no,” said Campbell, “we always sang it on Inexpressible Island.” It was also about the only one he knew. Apart from this I do not know whether ‘Old King Cole’ or the Te Deum was more popular. For reading they had David Copperfield, the Decameron, the Life of Stevenson and a New Testament. And they did Swedish drill, and they gave lectures.

Their worst difficulties were scurvy29 and ptomaine poisoning, for which the enforced diet was responsible. From the first they decided to keep nearly all their unused rations for sledging down the coast in the following spring, and this meant that they must live till then on the seal and penguin which they could kill. The first dysentery was early in the winter, and was caused by using the salt from the seawater. They had some Cerebos salt, however, in their sledging rations, and used it for a week, which stopped the disorder and they gradually got used to the sea-ice salt. Browning, however, who had had enteric fever in the past, had dysentery almost continually right through the winter. Had he not been the plucky, cheerful man he is, he would have died.

In June again there was another bad attack of dysentery. Another thing which worried them somewhat was the ‘igloo back,’ a semipermanent kink caused by seldom being able to stand upright.

Then, in the beginning of September, they had ptomaine poisoning from meat which had been too long in what they called the oven, which was a biscuit box, hung over the blubber stove, into which they placed the frozen meat to thaw it out. This oven was found to be not quite level, and in a corner a pool of old blood, water and scraps of meat had collected. This and a tainted hoosh which they did not have the strength of mind to throw away in their hungry condition, seems to have caused the outbreak, which was severe. Browning and Dickason were especially bad.

They had their bad days: those first days of realization that they would not be relieved: days of depression, disease and hunger, all at once: when the seal seemed as if they would give out and they were thinking they would have to travel down the coast in the winter⁠—but Abbott killed two seals with a greasy knife, losing the use of three fingers in the process, and saved the situation.

But they also had their good, or less-bad, days: such was midwinter night when they held food in their hands and did not want to eat it, for they were full: or when they got through the Te Deum without a hitch: or when they killed some penguins; or got a ration of mustard plaster from the medical stores.

Never was a more cheerful or good-tempered party. They set out to see the humorous side of everything, and, if they could not do so one day, at any rate they determined to see to it the next. What is more they succeeded, and I have never seen a company of better welded men than that which joined us for those last two months in McMurdo Sound.

On September 30 they started home⁠—so they called it. This meant a sledge journey of some two hundred miles along the coast, and its possibility depended upon the presence of sea-ice, which we have seen to have been absent at Evans Coves. It also meant crossing the Drygalski Ice Tongue, an obstacle which bulked very formidably in their imaginations during the winter. They reached the last rise of this glacier in the evening of October 10, and then saw Erebus, one hundred and fifty miles off. The igloo and the past were behind: Cape Evans and the future were in front⁠—and the sea-ice was in as far as they could see.

Dickason was half crippled with dysentery when they started, but improved. Browning, however, was still very ill, but now they were able to eat a ration of four biscuits a day and a small amount of pemmican and cocoa which gave him a better chance than the continual meat. As they neared Granite Harbour, a month after starting, his condition was so serious that they discussed leaving him there with Levick until they could get medicine and suitable food from Cape Evans.

But their troubles were nearly over, for on reaching Cape Roberts they suddenly sighted the depot left by Taylor in the previous year. They searched round, like dogs, scratching in the drifts, and found⁠—a whole case of biscuits: and there were butter and raisins and lard. Day and night merged into one long lingering feast, and when they started on again their mouths were sore30 with eating biscuits. More, there is little doubt that the change of diet saved Browning’s life. As they moved down the coast they found another depot, and yet another. They reached Hut Point on November 5.

The story of this, our Northern Party, has been told in full by the two men most able to tell it: by Campbell in the second volume of Scott’s book, by Priestley in a separate volume called Antarctic Adventure.31 I have added only these few pages because, save in so far as their adventures touch the Main Party or the Ship, it is better that I should refer the reader to these two accounts than that I should try and write again at second hand what has been already twice told. I will only say here that the history of what these men did and suffered has been overshadowed by the more tragic tale of the Polar Party. They are not men who wish for public applause, but that is no reason why the story of a great adventure should not be known; indeed, it is all the more reason why it should be known. To those who have not read it I recommend Priestley’s book mentioned above, or Campbell’s equally modest account in Scott’s Last Expedition.32

The Terra Nova arrived at Cape Evans on January 18, 1913, just as we had started to prepare for another year. And so the remains of the expedition came home that spring. Scott’s book was published in the autumn.

The story of Scott’s Last Expedition of 1910⁠–⁠13 is a book of two volumes, the first volume of which is Scott’s personal diary of the expedition, written from day to day before he turned into his sleeping-bag for the night when sledging, or in the intervals of the many details of organization and preparation in the hut, when at Winter Quarters. The readers of this book will probably have read that diary and the accounts of the Winter Journey, the last year, the adventures of Campbell’s Party and the travels of the Terra Nova which follow. With an object which I will explain presently I quote a review of Scott’s book from the pen of one of Mr. Punch’s staff:33

“There is courage and strength and loyalty and love shining out of the second volume no less than out of the first; there were gallant gentlemen who lived as well as gallant gentlemen who died; but it is the story of Scott, told by himself, which will give the book a place among the great books of the world. That story begins in November 1910, and ends on March 29, 1912, and it is because when you come to the end, you will have lived with Scott for sixteen months, that you will not be able to read the last pages without tears. That message to the public was heartrending enough when it first came to us, but it was as the story of how a great hero fell that we read it; now it is just the tale of how a dear friend died. To have read this book is to have known Scott; and if I were asked to describe him, I think I should use some such words as those which, six months before he died, he used of the gallant gentleman who went with him, ‘Bill’ Wilson. ‘Words must always fail when I talk of him,’ he wrote; ‘I believe he is the finest character I ever met⁠—the closer one gets to him the more there is to admire. Every quality is so solid and dependable. Whatever the matter, one knows Bill will be sound, shrewdly practical, intensely loyal, and quite unselfish.’ That is true of Wilson, if Scott says so, for he knew men; but most of it is also true of Scott himself. I have never met a more beautiful character than that which is revealed unconsciously in these journals. His humanity, his courage, his faith, his steadfastness, above all, his simplicity, mark him as a man among men. It is because of his simplicity that his last message, the last entries in his diary, his last letters, are of such undying beauty. The letter of consolation (and almost of apology) which, on the verge of death, he wrote to Mrs. Wilson, wife of the man dying at his side, may well be Scott’s monument. He could have no finer. And he has raised a monument for those other gallant gentlemen who died⁠—Wilson, Oates, Bowers, Evans. They are all drawn for us clearly by him in these pages; they stand out unmistakably. They, too, come to be friends of ours, their death is as noble and as heartbreaking. And there were gallant gentlemen, I said, who lived⁠—you may read amazing stories of them. Indeed, it is a wonderful tale of manliness that these two volumes tell us. I put them down now; but I have been for a few days in the company of the brave⁠ ⁠… and every hour with them has made me more proud for those that died and more humble for myself.”

I have quoted this review at length, because it gives the atmosphere of hero-worship into which we were plunged on our return. That atmosphere was very agreeable; but it was a refracting medium through which the expedition could not be seen with scientific accuracy⁠—and the expedition was nothing if not scientific. Whilst we knew what we had suffered and risked better than anyone else, we also knew that science takes no account of such things; that a man is no better for having made the worst journey in the world; and that whether he returns alive or drops by the way will be all the same a hundred years hence if his records and specimens come safely to hand.

In addition to Scott’s Last Expedition and Priestley’s Antarctic Adventures, Griffith Taylor, who was physiographer to the Main Party, has written an account of the two geological journeys of which he was the leader, and of the domestic life of the expedition at Hut Point and at Cape Evans, up to February 1912, in a book called With Scott: The Silver Lining. This book gives a true glimpse into the more boisterous side of our life, with much useful information about the scientific part.

Though it bears little upon this book I cannot refrain from drawing the reader’s attention to, and earning some of his thanks for, a little book called Antarctic Penguins, written by Levick, the Surgeon of Campbell’s Party. It is almost entirely about Adélie penguins. The author spent the greater part of a summer living, as it were, upon sufferance, in the middle of one of the largest penguin rookeries in the world. He has described the story of their crowded life with a humour with which, perhaps, we hardly credited him, and with a simplicity which many writers of children’s stories might envy. If you think your own life hard, and would like to leave it for a short hour I recommend you to beg, borrow or steal this tale, and read and see how the penguins live. It is all quite true.

So there is already a considerable literature about the expedition, but no connected account of it as a whole. Scott’s diary, had he lived, would merely have formed the basis of the book he would have written. As his personal diary it has an interest which no other book could have had. But a diary in this life is one of the only ways in which a man can blow off steam, and so it is that Scott’s book accentuates the depression which used to come over him sometimes.

We have seen the importance which must attach to the proper record of improvements, weights and methods of each and every expedition. We have seen how Scott took the system developed by the Arctic Explorers at the point of development to which it had been brought by Nansen, and applied it for the first time to Antarctic sledge travelling. Scott’s Voyage of the Discovery gives a vivid picture of mistakes rectified, and of improvements of every kind. Shackleton applied the knowledge they gained in his first expedition, Scott in this, his second and last. On the whole I believe this expedition was the best equipped there has ever been, when the double purpose, exploratory and scientific, for which it was organized, is taken into consideration. It is comparatively easy to put all your eggs into one basket, to organize your material and to equip and choose your men entirely for one object, whether it be the attainment of the Pole, or the running of a perfect series of scientific observations. Your difficulties increase manyfold directly you combine the one with the other, as was done in this case. Neither Scott nor the men with him would have gone for the Pole alone. Yet they considered the Pole to be an achievement worthy of a great attempt, and “We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint.⁠ ⁠…”

It is, it must be, of the first importance that a system, I will not say perfected, but developed, to a pitch of high excellence at such a cost should be handed down as completely as possible to those who are to follow. I want to so tell this story that the leader of some future Antarctic expedition, perhaps more than one, will be able to take it up and say: “I have here the material from which I can order the articles and quantities which will be wanted for so many men for such and such a time; I have also a record of how this material was used by Scott, of the plans of his journeys and how his plans worked out, and of the improvements which his parties were able to make on the spot or suggest for the future. I don’t agree with such and such, but this is a foundation and will save me many months of work in preparation, and give me useful knowledge for the actual work of my expedition.” If this book can guide the future explorer by the light of the past, it will not have been written in vain.

But this was not my main object in writing this book. When I undertook in 1913 to write, for the Antarctic Committee, an Official Narrative on condition that I was given a free hand, what I wanted to do above all things was to show what work was done; who did it; to whom the credit of the work was due; who took the responsibility; who did the hard sledging; and who pulled us through that last and most ghastly year when two parties were adrift, and God only knew what was best to be done; when, had things gone on much longer, men would undoubtedly have gone mad. There is no record of these things, though perhaps the world thinks there is. Generally as a mere follower, without much responsibility, and often scared out of my wits, I was in the thick of it all, and I know.

Unfortunately I could not reconcile a sincere personal confession with the decorous obliquity of an Official Narrative; and I found that I had put the Antarctic Committee in a difficulty from which I could rescue them only by taking the book off their hands; for it was clear that what I had written was not what is expected from a Committee, even though no member may disapprove of a word of it. A proper Official Narrative presented itself to our imaginations and sense of propriety as a quarto volume, uniform with the scientific reports, dustily invisible on Museum shelves, and replete with⁠—in the words of my Commission⁠—“times of starting, hours of march, ground and weather conditions,” not very useful as material for future Antarcticists, and in no wise effecting any catharsis of the writer’s conscience. I could not pretend that I had fulfilled these conditions; and so I decided to take the undivided responsibility on my own shoulders. None the less the Committee, having given me access to its information, is entitled to all the credit of a formal Official Narrative, without the least responsibility for the passages which I have studied to make as personal in style as possible, so that no greater authority may be attached to them than I deserve.

I need hardly add that the nine years’ delay in the appearance of my book was caused by the war. Before I had recovered from the heavy overdraft made on my strength by the expedition I found myself in Flanders looking after a fleet of armoured cars. A war is like the Antarctic in one respect. There is no getting out of it with honour as long as you can put one foot before the other. I came back badly invalided; and the book had to wait accordingly.

A map tracing the journey from New Zealand to the South Pole.
From New Zealand to the South Pole⁠—Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Emery Walker Ltd., Collotypers.

The Worst Journey in the World

Antarctic 1910⁠–⁠1913

I

From England to South Africa

Take a bowsy short leave of your nymphs on the shore,
And silence their mourning with vows of returning,
Though never intending to visit them more.

Dido and Aeneas

Scott used to say that the worst part of an expedition was over when the preparation was finished. So no doubt it was with a sigh of relief that he saw the Terra Nova out from Cardiff into the Atlantic on June 15, 1910. Cardiff had given the expedition a most generous and enthusiastic sendoff, and Scott announced that it should be his first port on returning to England. Just three years more and the Terra Nova, worked back from New Zealand by Pennell, reached Cardiff again on June 14, 1913, and paid off there.

From the first everything was informal and most pleasant, and those who had the good fortune to help in working the ship out to New Zealand, under steam or sail, must, in spite of five months of considerable discomfort and very hard work, look back upon the voyage as one of the very happiest times of the expedition. To some of us perhaps the voyage out, the three weeks in the pack ice going South, and the Robinson Crusoe life at Hut Point are the pleasantest of many happy memories.

Scott made a great point that so far as was possible the personnel of the expedition must go out with the Terra Nova. Possibly he gave instructions that they were to be worked hard, and no doubt it was a good opportunity of testing our mettle. We had been chosen out of 8,000 volunteers, executive officers, scientific staff, crew, and all.

We differed entirely from the crew of an ordinary merchant ship both in our personnel and in our methods of working. The executive officers were drawn from the Navy, as were also the crew. In addition there was the scientific staff, including one doctor who was not a naval surgeon, but who was also a scientist, and two others called by Scott ‘adaptable helpers,’ namely Oates and myself. The scientific staff of the expedition numbered twelve members all told, but only six were on board: the remainder were to join the ship at Lyttelton, New Zealand, when we made our final embarcation for the South. Of those on the ship Wilson was chief of the scientific staff, and united in himself the various functions of vertebral zoologist, doctor, artist, and, as this book will soon show, the unfailing friend-in-need of all on board. Lieutenant Evans was in command, with Campbell as first officer. Watches were of course assigned immediately to the executive officers. The crew was divided into a port and starboard watch, and the ordinary routine of a sailing ship with auxiliary steam was followed. Beyond this no work was definitely assigned to any individual on board. How the custom of the ship arose I do not know, but in effect most things were done by volunteer labour. It was recognized that everyone whose work allowed turned to immediately on any job which was wanted, but it was an absolutely voluntary duty⁠—Volunteers to shorten sail? To coal? To shift cargo? To pump? To paint or wash down paintwork? They were constant calls⁠—some of them almost hourly calls, day and night⁠—and there was never any failure to respond fully. This applied not only to the scientific staff but also, whenever their regular duties allowed, to the executive officers. There wasn’t an officer on the ship who did not shift coal till he was sick of the sight of it, but I heard no complaints. Such a system soon singles out the real willing workers, but it is apt to put an undue strain upon them. Meanwhile most of the executive officers as well as the scientific staff had their own work to do, which they were left to fit in as most convenient.

The first days out from England were spent in such hard and crowded work that we shook down very quickly. I then noticed for the first time Wilson’s great gift of tact, and how quick he was to see the small things which make so much difference. At the same time his passion for work set a high standard. Pennell was another glutton.

We dropped anchor in Funchal Harbour, Madeira, about 4 p.m. on June 23, eight days out. The ship had already been running under sail and steam, the decks were as clear as possible, there was some paintwork to show, and with a good harbour stow she looked thoroughly workmanlike and neat. Some scientific work, in particular tow netting and magnetic observations, had already been done. But even as early as this we had spent hours on the pumps, and it was evident that these pumps were going to be a constant nightmare.

In Madeira, as everywhere, we were given freely of such things as we required. We left in the early morning of June 26, after Pennell had done some hours’ magnetic work with the Lloyd Creak and Barrow Dip Circle.

On June 29 (noon position lat. 27° 0′ N., long. 20° 1′ W.) it was possible to write: “A fortnight out today, and from the general appearance of the wardroom we might have been out a year.”

We were to a great extent strangers to one another when we left England, but officers and crew settled down to their jobs quickly, and when men live as close as we did they settle down or quarrel before very long. Let us walk into the cabins which surround the small wardroom aft. The first on the left is that of Scott and Lieutenant Evans, but Scott is not on board, and Wilson has taken his place. In the next cabin to them is Drake, the secretary. On the starboard side of the screw are Oates, Atkinson and Levick, the two latter being doctors, and on the port side Campbell and Pennell, who is navigator. Then Rennick and Bowers, the latter just home from the Persian Gulf⁠—both of these are watchkeepers. In the next cabin are Simpson, meteorologist, back from Simla, with Nelson and Lillie, marine biologists. In the last cabin, the Nursery, are the youngest, and necessarily the best behaved, of this community, Wright, the physicist and chemist, Gran the Norwegian ski-expert, and myself, Wilson’s helper and assistant zoologist. It is difficult to put a man down as performing any special job where each did so many, but that is roughly what we were.

Certain men already began to stand out. Wilson, with an apparently inexhaustible stock of knowledge on little things and big; always ready to give help, and always ready with sympathy and insight, a tremendous worker, and as unselfish as possible; a universal adviser. Pennell, as happy as the day was long, working out sights, taking his watch on the bridge, or if not on watch full of energy aloft, trimming coal, or any other job that came along; withal spending hours a day on magnetic work, which he did as a hobby, and not in any way as his job. Bowers was proving himself the best seaman on board, with an exact knowledge of the whereabouts and contents of every case, box and bale, and with a supreme contempt for heat or cold. Simpson was obviously a first-class scientist, devoted to his work, in which Wright gave him very great and unselfish help, while at the same time doing much of the ship’s work. Oates and Atkinson generally worked together in a solid, dependable and somewhat humorous way.

Evans, who will always be called Lieutenant Evans in this book to distinguish him from Seaman Evans, was in charge of the ship, and did much to cement together the rough material into a nucleus which was capable of standing without any friction the strains of nearly three years of crowded, isolated and difficult life, ably seconded by Victor Campbell, first officer, commonly called The Mate, in whose hands the routine and discipline of the ship was most efficiently maintained. I was very frightened of Campbell.

Scott himself was unable to travel all the way out to New Zealand in the Terra Nova owing to the business affairs of the expedition, but he joined the ship from Simon’s Bay to Melbourne.

The voyage itself on the sailing track from Madeira to the Cape was at first uneventful. We soon got into hot weather, and at night every available bit of deck space was used on which to sleep. The more particular slung hammocks, but generally men used such deck space as they could find, such as the top of the icehouse, where they were free from the running tackle, and rolled themselves into their blankets. So long as we had a wind we ran under sail alone, and on those days men would bathe over the side in the morning, but when the engines were going we could get the hose in the morning, which was preferred, especially after a shark was seen making for Bowers’ red breast as he swam.

The scene on deck in the early morning was always interesting. All hands were roused before six and turned on to the pumps, for the ship was leaking considerably. Normally, the well showed about ten inches of water when the ship was dry. Before pumping, the sinker would show anything over two feet. The ship was generally dry after an hour to an hour and a half’s pumping, and by that time we had had quite enough of it. As soon as the officer of the watch had given the order, “Vast pumping,” the first thing to do was to strip, and the deck was dotted with men trying to get the maximum amount of water from the sea in a small bucket let down on a line from the moving ship. First efforts in this direction would have been amusing had it not been for the caustic eye of the “Mate” on the bridge. If the reader ever gets the chance to try the experiment, especially in a swell, he will soon find himself with neither bucket nor water. The poor Mate was annoyed by the loss of his buckets.

Everybody was working very hard during these days; shifting coal, reefing and furling sail aloft, hauling on the ropes on deck, together with magnetic and meteorological observations, tow-netting, collecting and making skins and so forth. During the first weeks there was more cargo stowing and paintwork than at other times, otherwise the work ran in very much the same lines all the way out⁠—a period of nearly five months. On July 1 we were overhauled by the only ship we ever saw, so far as I can remember, during all that time, the Inverclyde, a barque out from Glasgow to Buenos Aires. It was an oily, calm day with a sea like glass, and she looked, as Wilson quoted, “like a painted ship upon a painted ocean,” as she lay with all sail set.

We picked up the N. E. Trade two days later, being then north of the Cape Verde Islands (lat. 22° 8′ N., long. 23° 5′ W. at noon). It was a Sunday, and there was a general ‘make and mend’ throughout the ship, the first since we sailed. During the day we ran from deep clear blue water into a darkish and thick green sea. This remarkable change of colour, which was observed by the Discovery Expedition in much the same place, was supposed to be due to a large mass of pelagic fauna called plankton. The plankton, which drifts upon the surface of the sea, is distinct from the nekton, which swims submerged. The Terra Nova was fitted with tow nets with very fine meshes for collecting these inhabitants of the open sea, together with the algae, or minute plant organisms, which afford them an abundant food supply.

The plankton nets can be lowered when the ship is running at full speed, and a great many such hauls were made during the expedition.

July 5 had an unpleasant surprise in store. At 10:30 a.m. the ship’s bell rang and there was a sudden cry of “Fire quarters.” Two Minimax fire extinguishers finished the fire, which was in the lazarette, and was caused by a lighted lamp which was upset by the roll of the ship. The result was a good deal of smoke, a certain amount of water below, and some singed paper, but we realized that a fire on such an old wooden ship would be a very serious matter, and greater care was taken after this.

Such a voyage shows Nature in her most attractive form, and always there was a man close by whose special knowledge was in the whales, porpoises, dolphins, fish, birds, parasites, plankton, radium and other things which we watched through microscopes or field-glasses. Nelson caught a Portuguese man-of-war (Arethusa) as it sailed past us close under the counter. These animals are common, but few can realize how beautiful they are until they see them, fresh-coloured from the deep sea, floating and sailing in a big glass bowl. It vainly tried to sail out, and vigorously tried to sting all who touched it. Wilson painted it.

From first to last the study of life of all kinds was of absorbing interest to all on board, and, when we landed in the Antarctic, as well as on the ship, everybody worked and was genuinely interested in all that lived and had its being on the fringe of that great sterile continent. Not only did officers who had no direct interest in anything but their own particular work or scientific subject spend a large part of their time in helping, making notes and keeping observations, but the seamen also had a large share in the specimens and data of all descriptions which have been brought back. Several of them became good pupils for skinning birds.

Meanwhile, perhaps the constant cries of “Whale, whale!” or “New bird!” or “Dolphins!” sometimes found the biologist concerned less eager to leave his meal than the observers were to call him forth. Good opportunities of studying the life of sea birds, whales, dolphins and other forms of life in the sea, even those comparatively few forms which are visible from the surface, are not too common. A modern liner moves so quickly that it does not attract life to it in the same way as a slow-moving ship like the Terra Nova, and when specimens are seen they are gone almost as soon as they are observed. Those who wish to study sea life⁠—and there is much to be done in this field⁠—should travel by tramp steamers, or, better still, sailing vessels.

Dolphins were constantly playing under the bows of the ship, giving a very good chance for identification, and whales were also frequently sighted, and would sometimes follow the ship, as did also hundreds of sea birds, petrels, shearwaters and albatross. It says much for the interest and keenness of the officers on board that a complete hourly log was kept from beginning to end of the numbers and species which were seen, generally with the most complete notes as to any peculiarity or habit which was noticed. It is to be hoped that full use will be made, by those in charge of the working out of these results, of these logs which were kept so thoroughly and sometimes under such difficult circumstances and conditions of weather and sea. Though many helped, this log was largely the work of Pennell, who was an untiring and exact observer.

We lost the N. E. Trade about July 7, and ran into the Doldrums. On the whole we could not complain of the weather. We never had a gale or big sea until after leaving South Trinidad, and though an old ship with no modern ventilation is bound to be stuffy in the tropics, we lived and slept on deck so long as it was not raining. If it rained at night, as it frequently does in this part of the world, a number of rolled-up forms could be heard discussing as to whether it was best to stick it above or face the heat below; and if the rain persisted, sleepy and somewhat snappy individuals were to be seen trying to force themselves and a maximum amount of damp bedding down the wardroom gangway. At the same time a thick wooden ship will keep fairly cool in the not severe heat through which we passed.

One want which was unavoidable was the lack of fresh water. There was none to wash in, though a glass of water was allowed for shaving! With an unlimited amount of sea water this may not seem much of a hardship; nor is it unless you have very dirty work to do. But inasmuch as some of the officers were coaling almost daily, they found that any amount of cold sea water, even with a euphemistically named ‘seawater soap,’ had no very great effect in removing the coal dust. The alternative was to make friends with the engine-room authorities and draw some water from the boilers.

Perhaps therefore it was not with purely disinterested motives that some of us undertook to do the stoking during the morning watch, and also later in the day during our passage through the tropics, since the engine-room staff was reduced by sickness. A very short time will convince anybody that the ease with which men accustomed to this work get through their watch is mainly due to custom and method. The ship had no forced draught nor modern ventilating apparatus. Four hours in the boiling fiery furnace which the Terra Nova’s stokehold formed in the tropics, unless there was a good wind to blow down the one canvas shaft, was a real test of staying power, and the actual shovelling of the coal into the furnaces, one after the other, was as child’s play to handling the ‘devil,’ as the weighty instrument used for breaking up the clinker and shaping the fire was called. The boilers were cylindrical marine or return tube boilers, the furnaces being six feet long by three feet wide, slightly lower at the back than at the front. The fire on the bars was kept wedge-shape, that is, some nine inches high at the back, tapering to about six inches in front against the furnace doors. The furnaces were corrugated for strength. We were supposed to keep the pressure on the gauge between 70 and 80, but it wanted some doing. For the most part it was done.

We did, however, get uncomfortable days with the rain sluicing down and a high temperature⁠—everything wet on deck and below. But it had its advantages in the fresh water it produced. Every bucket was on duty, and the ship’s company stripped naked and ran about the decks or sat in the stream between the laboratories and wardroom skylight and washed their very dirty clothes. The stream came through into our bunks, and no amount of caulking ever stopped it. To sleep with a constant drip of water falling upon you is a real trial. These hot, wet days were more trying to the nerves than the months of wet, rough but cooler weather to come, and it says much for the good spirit which prevailed that there was no friction, though we were crowded together like sardines in a tin.

July 12 was a typical day (lat. 4° 7′ N., long. 22° 4′ W.). A very hot, rainy night, followed by a squall which struck us while we were having breakfast, so we went up and set all sail, which took until about 9:30 a.m. We then sat in the water on the deck and washed clothes until just before midday, when the wind dropped, though the rain continued. So we went up and furled all sail, a tedious business when the sails are wet and heavy. Then work on cargo or coal till 7 p.m., supper, and glad to get to sleep.

On July 15 (lat. 0° 0′ N., long. 21° 6′ W.) we crossed the Line with all pomp and ceremony. At 1:15 p.m. Neptune in the person of Seaman Evans hailed and stopped the ship. He came on board with his motley company, who solemnly paced aft to the break of the poop, where he was met by Lieutenant Evans. His wife (Browning), a doctor (Paton), barber (Cheetham), two policemen and four bears, of whom Atkinson and Oates were two, grouped themselves round him while the barrister (Abbott) read an address to the captain, and then the procession moved round to the bath, a sail full of water slung in the break of the poop on the starboard side.

Nelson was the first victim. He was examined, then overhauled by the doctor, given a pill and a dose, and handed over to the barber, who lathered him with a black mixture consisting of soot, flour and water, was shaved by Cheetham with a great wooden razor, and then the policemen tipped him backwards into the bath where the bears were waiting. As he was being pushed in he seized the barber and took him with him.

Wright, Lillie, Simpson and Levick followed, with about six of the crew. Finally Gran, the Norwegian, was caught as an extra⁠—never having been across the Line in a British ship. But he threw the pill-distributing doctor over his head into the bath, after which he was lathered very gingerly, and Cheetham having been in once, refused to shave him at all, so they tipped him in and wished they had never caught him.

The procession re-formed, and Neptune presented certificates to those who had been initiated. The proceedings closed with a singsong in the evening.

These singsongs were of very frequent occurrence. The expedition was very fond of singing, though there was hardly anybody in it who could sing. The usual custom at this time was that everyone had to contribute a song in turn all round the table after supper. If he could not sing he had to compose a limerick. If he could not compose a limerick he had to contribute a fine towards the wine fund, which was to make some much-discussed purchases when we reached Cape Town. At other times we played the most childish games⁠—there was one called ‘The Priest of the Parish has lost his Cap,’ over which we laughed till we cried, and much money was added to the wine fund.

As always happens, certain songs became conspicuous for a time. One of these I am sure that Campbell, who was always at work and upon whom the routine of the ship depended, will never forget. I do not know who it was that started singing

“Everybody works but Father,
That poor old man,”

but Campbell, who was the only father on board and whose hair was popularly supposed to be getting thin on the top of his head, may remember.

We began to make preparations for a run ashore⁠—a real adventure on an uninhabited and unknown island. The sailing track of ships from England round the Cape of Good Hope lies out towards the coast of Brazil, and not far from the mysterious island of South Trinidad, 680 miles east of Brazil, in 20° 0′ S. and 29° 0′ W.

This island is difficult of access, owing to its steep rocky coast and the big Atlantic swell which seldom ceases. It has therefore been little visited, and as it is infested with land crabs the stay of the few parties which have been there has been short. But scientifically it is of interest, not only for the number of new species which may be obtained there, but also for the extraordinary attitude of wild sea birds towards human beings whom they have never learnt to fear. Before we left England it had been decided to attempt a landing and spend a day there if we should pass sufficiently near to it.

Those who have visited it in the past include the astronomer Halley, who occupied it, in 1700. Sir James Ross, outward bound for the Antarctic in 1839, spent a day there, landing “in a small cove a short distance to the northward of the Nine Pin Rock of Halley, the surf on all other parts being too great to admit of it without hazarding the destruction of our boats.” Ross also writes that “Horsburgh mentions⁠ ⁠… ‘that the island abounds with wild pig and goats; one of the latter was seen. With the view to add somewhat to the stock of useful creatures, a cock and two hens were put on shore; they seemed to enjoy the change, and, I have no doubt, in so unfrequented a situation, and so delightful a climate, will quickly increase in numbers.’ I am afraid we did not find any of their descendants, nor those of the pig and goats.”34 I doubt whether fowls would survive the land crabs very long. There are many wild birds on the island, however, which may feed the shipwrecked, and also a depot left by the Government for that purpose. Another visitor was Knight, who wrote a book called The Cruise of the Falcon, concerning his efforts to discover the treasure which is said to have been left there. Scott also visited it in the Discovery in 1901, when a new petrel was found which was afterwards called Œstrelata wilsoni, after the same ‘Uncle Bill’ who was zoologist of both Scott’s Expeditions.

And so it came about that on the evening of July 25 we furled sail and lay five miles from South Trinidad with all our preparations made for a very thorough search of this island of treasure. Everything was to be captured, alive or dead, animal, vegetable or mineral.

At half-past five the next morning we were steaming slowly towards what looked like a quite impregnable face of rock, with bare cliffs standing straight out of the water, which, luckily for us, was comparatively smooth. As we coasted to try and find a landing-place the sun was rising behind the island, which reaches to a height of two thousand feet, and the jagged cliffs stood up finely against the rosy sky.

A rocky island, shaded against the sunset.
South Trinidad⁠—E. A. Wilson

We dropped our anchor to the south of the island and a boat’s crew left to prospect for a landing-place, whilst Wilson seized the opportunity to shoot some birds as specimens, including two species of frigate bird, and the seamen caught some of the multitudinous fish. We also fired shots at the sharks which soon thronged round the ship, and about which we were to think more before the day was done.

The boat came back with the news that a possible landing-place had been found, and the landing parties got off about 8:30. The landing was very bad⁠—a ledge of rock weathered out of the cliff to our right formed, as it were, a staging along which it was possible to pass on to a steeply shelving talus slope in front of us. The sea being comparatively smooth, everybody was landed dry, with their guns and collecting gear.

The best account of South Trinidad is contained in a letter written by Bowers to his mother, which is printed here. But some brief notes which I jotted down at the time may also be of interest, since they give an account of a different part of the island:

“Having made a small depot of cartridges, together with a little fluffy tern and a tern’s egg, which Wilson found on the rocks, we climbed westward, round and up, to a point from which we could see into the East Bay. This was our first stand, and we shot several white-breasted petrel (Œstrelata trinitatis), and also black-breasted petrel (Œstrelata arminjoniana). Later on we got over the brow of a cliff where the petrel were nesting. We took two nests, on each of which a white-breasted and a black-breasted petrel were paired. Wilson caught one in his hands and I caught another on its nest; it really did not know whether it ought to fly away or not. This gives rise to an interesting problem, since these two birds have been classified as different species, and it now looks as though they are the same.

“The gannets and terns were quite extraordinary, like all the living things there. If you stay still enough the terns perch on your head. In any case they will not fly off the rocks till you are two or three feet away. Several gannets were caught in the men’s hands. All the fish which the biologist collected today can travel quite fast on land. When the Discovery was here Wilson saw a fish come out of the sea, seize a land crab about eighteen inches away and take it back into the water.

“The land crabs were all over the place in thousands; it seems probable that their chief enemies are themselves. They are regular cannibals.

“Then we did a real long climb northwards, over rocks and tufty grass till 1:30 p.m. From the point we had reached we could see both sides of the island, and the little Martin Vas islands in the distance.

“We found lots of little tern and terns’ eggs, lying out on the bare rock with no nest at all. Hooper also brought us two little gannets⁠—all fluffy, but even at this age larger than a rook. As we got further up we began to come across the fossilized trees for which the island is well known.

“Four or five Captain biscuits made an excellent lunch, and afterwards we started to the real top of the island, a hill rising to the west of us. It was covered with a high scrubby bush and rocks, and was quite thick; in fact there was more vegetation here than on all the rest we had seen, and in making our way through it we had to keep calling in order to keep touch with one another.

“The tree ferns were numerous, but stunted. The gannets were sleeping on the tops of the bushes, and some of the crabs had climbed up the bushes and were sunning themselves on the top. These crabs were round us in thousands⁠—I counted seven watching me out of one crack between two rocks.

“We sat down under the lee of the summit, and thought it would not be bad to be thrown away on a desert island, little thinking how near we were to being stranded, for a time at any rate.

“The crabs gathered round us in a circle, with their eyes turning towards us⁠—as if they were waiting for us to die to come and eat us. One big fellow left his place in the circle and waddled up to my feet and examined my boots. First with one claw and then with the other he took a taste of my boot. He went away obviously disgusted: one could almost see him shake his head.

“We collected, as well as our birds and eggs, some spiders, very large grasshoppers, woodlice, cockchafers, with big and small centipedes. In fact, the place teemed with insect life. I should add that their names are given rather from the general appearance of the animals than from their true scientific classes.

“We had a big and fast scramble down, and about half way, when we could watch the sea breaking on the rocks far below, we saw that there was a bigger swell running. It was getting late, and we made our way down as fast as we could⁠—denting our guns as we slipped on the rocks.

“The lower we got the bigger the sea which had risen in our absence appeared to be. No doubt it was the swell of a big disturbance far away, and when we reached the debris slope where we had landed, flanked by big cliffs, we found everybody gathered there and the boats lying off⁠—it being quite impossible for them to get near the shore.

“They had just got a lifeline ashore on a buoy. Bowers went out on to the rocks and secured it. We put our guns and specimens into a pile, out of reach, as we thought, of any possible sea. But just afterwards two very large waves took us⁠—we were hauling in the rope, and must have been a good thirty feet above the base of the wave. It hit us hard and knocked us all over the place, and wetted the guns and specimens above us through and through.

“We then stowed all gear and specimens well out of the reach of the seas, and then went out through the surf one by one, passing ourselves out on the line. It was ticklish work, but Hooper was the only one who really had a bad time. He did not get far enough out among the rocks which fringed the steep slope from which he started as a wave began to roll back. The next wave caught him and crashed him back, and he let go of the line. He was under quite a long time, and as the waves washed back all that we could do was to try and get the line to him. Luckily he succeeded in finding the slack of the line and got out.

“When we first got down to the shore and things were looking nasty, Wilson sat down on the top of a rock and ate a biscuit in the coolest possible manner. It was an example to avoid all panicking, for he did not want the biscuit.

“He remarked afterwards to me, apropos to Hooper, that it was a curious thing that a number of men, knowing that there was nothing they could do, could quietly watch a man fighting for his life, and he did not think that any but the British temperament could do so. I also found out later that he and I had both had a touch of cramp while waiting for our turn to swim out through the surf.”

The following is Bowers’ letter:

Sunday, 31st July.

“The past week has been so crowded with incident, really, that I don’t know where to start. Getting to land made me long for the mails from you, which are such a feature of getting to port. However, the strange uninhabited island which we visited will have to make up for my disappointment till we get to Capetown⁠—or rather Simon’s Town. Campbell and I sighted S. Trinidad from the fore yardarm on 25th, and on 26th, at first thing in the morning, we crept up to an anchorage in a sea of glass. The S. E. Trades, making a considerable sea, were beating on the eastern sides, while the western was like a millpond. The great rocks and hills to over 2,000 feet towered above us as we went in very close in order to get our anchor down, as the water is very deep to quite a short distance from the shore. West Bay was our selection, and so clear was the water that we could see the anchor at the bottom in 15 fathoms. A number of sharks and other fish appeared at once and several birds. Evans wanted to explore, so Oates, Rennick, Atkinson and myself went away with him⁠—pulling the boat. We examined the various landings and found them all rocky and dangerous. There was a slight surf although the sea looked like a millpond. We finally decided on a previously unused place, which was a little inlet among the rocks.

“There was nothing but rock, but there was a little nook where we decided to try and land. We returned to breakfast and found that Wilson and Cherry-Garrard had shot several Frigate and other birds from the ship, the little Norwegian boat⁠—called a Pram⁠—being used to pick them up. By way of explanation I may say that Wilson is a specialist in birds and is making a collection for the British Museum.

“We all landed as soon as possible. Wilson and Garrard with their guns for birds: Oates with the dogs, and Atkinson with a small rifle: Lillie after plants and geological specimens: Nelson and Simpson along the shore after sea beasts, etc.: and last but not least came the entomological party, under yours truly, with Wright and, later, Evans, as assistants. Pennell joined up with Wilson, so altogether we were ready to ‘do’ the island. I have taken over the collection of insects for the expedition, as the other scientists all have so much to do that they were only too glad to shove the small beasts on me. Atkinson is a specialist in parasites: it is called ‘Helminthology.’ I never heard that name before. He turns out the interior of every beast that is killed, and being also a surgeon, I suppose the subject must be interesting. White terns abounded on the island. They were ghostlike and so tame that they would sit on one’s hat. They laid their eggs on pinnacles of rock without a vestige of nest, and singly. They looked just like stones. I suppose this was a protection from the land-crabs, about which you will have heard. The land-crabs of Trinidad are a byword and they certainly deserve the name, as they abound from sea-level to the top of the island. The higher up the bigger they were. The surface of the hills and valleys was covered with loose boulders, and the whole island being of volcanic origin, coarse grass is everywhere, and at about 1,500 feet is an area of tree ferns and subtropical vegetation, extending up to nearly the highest parts. The withered trees of a former forest are everywhere and their existence unexplained, though Lillie had many ingenious theories. The island has been in our hands, the Germans’, and is now Brazilian. Nobody has been able to settle there permanently, owing to the land-crabs. These also exclude mammal life. Captain Kidd made a treasure depot there, and some five years ago a chap named Knight lived on the island for six months with a party of Newcastle miners⁠—trying to get at it. He had the place all right, but a huge landslide has covered up three-quarters of a million of the pirate’s gold. The land-crabs are little short of a nightmare. They peep out at you from every nook and boulder. Their dead staring eyes follow your every step as if to say, ‘If only you will drop down we will do the rest.’ To lie down and sleep on any part of the island would be suicidal. Of course, Knight had a specially cleared place with all sorts of precautions, otherwise he would never have survived these beasts, which even tried to nibble your boots as you stood⁠—staring hard at you the whole time. One feature that would soon send a lonely man off his chump is that no matter how many are in sight they are all looking at you, and they follow step by step with a sickly deliberation. They are all yellow and pink, and next to spiders seem the most loathsome creatures on God’s earth. Talking about spiders [Bowers always had the greatest horror of spiders]⁠—I have to collect them as well as insects. Needless to say I caught them with a butterfly net, and never touched one. Only five species were known before, and I found fifteen or more⁠—at any rate I have fifteen for certain. Others helped me to catch them, of course. Another interesting item to science is the fact that I caught a moth hitherto unknown to exist on the island, also various flies, ants, etc. Altogether it was a most successful day. Wilson got dozens of birds, and Lillie plants, etc. On our return to the landing-place we found to our horror that a southerly swell was rolling in, and great breakers were bursting on the beach. About five p.m. we all collected and looked at the whaler and pram on one side of the rollers and ourselves on the other. First it was impossible to take off the guns and specimens, so we made them all up to leave for the morrow. Second, a sick man had come ashore for exercise, and he could not be got off: finally, Atkinson stayed ashore with him. The breakers made the most awe-inspiring cauldron in our little nook, and it meant a tough swim for all of us. Three of us swam out first and took a line to the pram, and finally we got a good rope from the whaler, which had anchored well out, to the shore. I then manoeuvred the pram, and everybody plunged into the surf and hauled himself out with the rope. All well, but minus our belongings, and got back to the ship; very wet and ravenous was a mild way to put it. During my 12 to 4 watch that night the surf roared like thunder, and the ship herself was rolling like anything, and looked horribly close to the shore. Of course she was quite safe really. It transpired that Atkinson and the seaman had a horrible night with salt water soaked food, and the crabs and white terns which sat and watched them all night, squawking in chorus whenever they moved. It must have been horrible, though I would like to have stayed, and had I known anybody was staying would have volunteered. This with the noise of the surf and the cold made it pretty rotten for them. In the morning, Evans, Rennick, Oates and I, with two seamen and Gran, took the whaler and pram in to rescue the maroons. At first we thought we would do it by a rocket line to the end of the sheer cliff. The impossibility of such an idea was at once evident, so Gran and I went in close in the pram, and hove them lines to get off the gear first. I found the spoon-shaped pram a wonderful boat to handle. You could go in to the very edge of the breaking surf, lifted like a cork on top of the waves, and as long as you kept head to sea and kept your own head, you need never have got on the rocks, as the tremendous back-swish took you out like a shot every time. It was quite exciting, however, as we would slip in close in a lull, and the chaps in the whaler would yell, ‘Look out!’ if a big wave passed them, in which case you would pull out for dear life. Our first lines carried away, and then, with others, Rennick and I this time took the pram while Atkinson got as near the edge as safe to throw us the gear. I was pulling, and by watching our chances we rescued the cameras and glasses, once being carried over 12 feet above the rocks and only escaping by the back-swish. Then the luckiest incident of the day occurred, when in a lull we got our sick man down, and I jumped out, and he in, as I steadied the boat’s stern. The next minute the boat flew out on the backwash with the seaman absolutely dry, and I was of course enveloped in foam and blackness two seconds later by a following wave. Twice the day before this had happened, but this time for a moment I thought, ‘Where will my head strike?’ as I was like a feather in a breeze in that swirl. When I banked it was about 15 feet above, and, very scratched and winded, I clung on with my nails and scrambled up higher. The next wave, a bigger one, nearly had me, but I was just too high to be sucked back. Atkinson and I then started getting the gear down, Evans having taken my place in the pram. By running down between waves we hove some items into the boat, including the guns and rifles, which I went right down to throw. These were caught and put into the boat, but Evans was too keen to save a bunch of boots that Atkinson threw down, and the next minute the pram passed over my head and landed high and dry, like a bridge, over the rocks between which I was wedged. I then scrambled out as the next wave washed her still higher, right over and over, with Evans and Rennick just out in time. The next wave⁠—a huge one⁠—picked her up, and out she bumped over the rocks and out to sea she went, waterlogged, with the guns, fortunately, jammed under the thwarts. She was rescued by the whaler, baled out, and then Gran and one of the seamen manned her battered remains again, and we, unable to save the gear otherwise, lashed it to lifebuoys, threw it into the sea and let it drift out with the backwash to be picked up by the pram.

“Clothes, watches and ancient guns, rifles, ammunition, birds (dead) and all specimens were, with the basket of crockery and food, soaked with salt water. However, the choice was between that or leaving them altogether, as anybody would have said had they seen the huge rollers breaking among the rocks and washing 30 to 40 feet up with the spray; in fact, we were often knocked over and submerged for a time, clinging hard to some rock or one of the ropes for dear life. Evans swam off first. Then I was about half an hour trying to rescue a hawser and some lines entangled among the rocks. It was an amusing job. I would wait for a lull, run down and haul away, staying under for smaller waves and running up the rocks like a hare when the warning came from the boat that a series of big ones were coming in. I finally rescued most of it⁠—had to cut off some and got it to the place opposite the boat, and with Rennick secured it and sent it out to sea to be picked up. My pair of brown tennis shoes (old ones) had been washed off my feet in one of the scrambles, so I was wearing a pair of sea-boots⁠—Nelson’s, I found⁠—which, fortunately for him, was one of the few pairs saved. The pram came in, and waiting for a backwash Rennick swam off. I ran down after the following wave, and securing my green hat, which by the bye is a most useful asset, struck out through the boiling, and grabbed the pram safely as we were lifted on the crest of an immense roller. However, we were just beyond its breaking-point, so all was well, and we arrived aboard after eight hours’ wash and wetness, and none the worse, except for a few scratches, and yours truly in high spirits. We stayed there that night, and the following, Thursday, morning left. Winds are not too favourable so far, as we dropped the S. E. Trades almost immediately, and these are the variables between the Trades and the Westerlies. Still 2,500 miles off our destination. Evans has therefore decided to steer straight for Simon’s Town and miss out the other islands. It is a pity, but as it is winter down here, and the worst month of the year for storms at Tristan Da Cunha, it is perhaps just as well. I am longing to get to the Cape to have your letters and hear all about you. Except for the absence of news, life aboard is much to be desired. I simply love it, and enjoy every day of my existence here. Time flies like anything, and though it must have been long to you, to us it goes like the wind⁠—so different to that fortnight on the passage home from India.”35

After the return of the boat’s crew we left South Trinidad, and the zoologists had a busy time trying to save as many as possible of the bird skins which had been procured. They skinned on all through the following night, and, considering that the birds had been lying out in the tropics for twenty-four hours soaked with seawater and had been finally capsized in the overturned boat, the result was not so disappointing as was expected. But the eggs and many other articles were lost. Since the black-breasted and white-breasted petrels were seen flying and nesting paired together, it is reasonable to suppose that their former classification as two separate species will have to be revised.

Soon after leaving South Trinidad we picked up our first big long swell, logged at 8, and began to learn that the Terra Nova can roll as few ships can. This was followed by a stiff gale on our port beam, and we took over our first green seas. Bowers wrote home as follows:

August 7th, Sunday.

“All chances of going to Tristan are over, and we are at last booming along with strong Westerlies with the enormous Southern rollers lifting us like a cork on their crests. We have had a stiff gale and a very high sea, which is now over, though it is still blowing a moderate gale, and the usual crowd of Albatross, Mollymawks, Cape Hens, Cape Pigeons, etc., are following us. These will be our companions down to the South. Wilson’s idea is that, as the prevailing winds round the forties are Westerlies, these birds simply fly round and round the world⁠—via Cape Horn, New Zealand and the Cape of Good Hope. We have had a really good opportunity now of testing the ship’s behaviour, having been becalmed with a huge beam swell rolling 35° each way, and having stood out a heavy gale with a high sea. In both she has turned up trumps, and really I think a better little sea boat never floated. Compared to the Loch Torridon⁠—which was always awash in bad weather⁠—we are as dry as a cork, and never once shipped a really heavy sea. Of course a wooden ship has some buoyancy of herself, and we are no exception. We are certainly an exception for general seaworthiness⁠—if not for speed⁠—and a safer, sounder ship there could not be. The weather is now cool too⁠—cold, some people call it. I am still comfortable in cotton shirts and whites, while some are wearing Shetland gear. Nearly everybody is provided with Shetland things. I am glad you have marked mine, as they are all so much alike. I am certainly as well provided with private gear as anybody, and far better than most, so, being as well a generator of heat in myself, I should be OK in any temperature. By the bye Evans and Wilson are very keen on my being in the Western Party, while Campbell wants me with him in the Eastern Party. I have not asked to go ashore, but am keen on anything and am ready to do anything. In fact there is so much going on that I feel I should like to be in all three places at once⁠—East, West and Ship.”

II

Making Our Easting Down

“Ten minutes to four, sir!”

It is an oilskinned and dripping seaman, and the officer of the watch, or his so-called snotty, as the case may be, wakes sufficiently to ask:

“What’s it like?”

“Two hoops, sir!” answers the seaman, and makes his way out.

The sleepy man who has been wakened wedges himself more securely into his six foot by two⁠—which is all his private room on the ship⁠—and collects his thoughts, amid the general hubbub of engines, screw and the roll of articles which have worked loose, to consider how he will best prevent being hurled out of his bunk in climbing down, and just where he left his oilskins and sea-boots.

If, as is possible, he sleeps in the Nursery, his task may not be so simple as it may seem, for this cabin, which proclaims on one of the beams that it is designed to accommodate four seamen, will house six scientists or pseudo-scientists, in addition to a pianola. Since these scientists are the youngest in the expedition their cabin is named the Nursery.

Incidentally it forms also the gangway from the wardroom to the engine-room, from which it is divided only by a wooden door, which has a bad habit of swinging open and shutting with the roll of the ship and the weight of the oilskins hung upon it, and as it does so, wave upon wave, the clatter of the engines advances and recedes.

If, however, it is the officer of the watch he will be in a smaller cabin farther aft which he shares with one other man only, and his troubles are simplified.

Owing to the fact that the seams in the deck above have travelled many voyages, and have been strained in addition by the boat davits and deck-houses built on the poop, a good deal of water from this part of the deck, which is always awash in bad weather, finds its way below, that is into the upper bunks of our cabins. In order that only a minimum of this may find its way into our blankets a series of shoots, invented and carefully tended by the occupants of these bunks, are arranged to catch this water as it falls and carry it over our heads on to the deck of the cabin.

Thus it is that when this sleepy officer or scientist clambers down on to the deck he will, if he is lucky, find the water there, instead of leaving it in his bunk. He searches round for his sea-boots, gets into his oilskins, curses if the strings of his sou’wester break as he tries to tie them extra firmly round his neck, and pushes along to the open door into the wardroom. It is still quite dark, for the sun does not rise for another hour and a half, but the diminished light from the swinging oil-lamp which hangs there shows him a desolate early morning scene which he comes to hate⁠—especially if he is inclined to be sick.

As likely as not more than one sea has partially found its way down during the night, and a small stream runs over the floor each time the ship rolls. The white oilcloth has slipped off the table, and various oddments, dirty cocoa cups, ashtrays, and other litter from the night are rolling about too. The tin cups and plates and crockery in the pantry forrard of the wardroom come together with a sickening crash.

The screw keeps up a ceaseless chonk-chonk-chonk (pause), chonk-chonk-chonk (pause), chonk-chonk-chonk.

Watching his opportunity he slides down across the wet linoleum to the starboard side, whence the gangway runs up to the chart-house and so out on to the deck. Having glanced at the barograph slung up in the chart-room, and using all his strength to force the door out enough to squeeze through, he scrambles out into blackness.

The wind is howling through the rigging, the decks are awash. It is hard to say whether it is raining, for the spray cut off by the wind makes rain a somewhat insignificant event. As he makes his way up on to the bridge, not a very lofty climb, he looks to see what sail is set, and judges so far as he can the force of the wind.

Campbell, for he is the officer of the morning watch (4 a.m.⁠–⁠8 a.m.) has a talk with the officer he is relieving, Bowers. He is given the course, the last hour’s reading on the Cherub patent log trailing out over the stern, and the experiences of the middle watch of the wind, whether rising or falling or squalling, and its effect on the sails and the ship. “If you keep her on her present course, she’s all right, but if you try and bring her up any more she begins to shake. And, by the way, Penelope wants to be called at 4:30.” Bowers’ ‘snotty,’ who is Oates, probably makes some ribald remarks, such as no midshipman should to a full lieutenant, and they both disappear below. Campbell’s snotty, myself, appears about five minutes afterwards trying to look as though some important duty and not bed had kept him from making an earlier appearance. Meanwhile the leading hand musters the watch on deck and reports them all present.

“How about that cocoa?” says Campbell. Cocoa is a useful thing in the morning watch, and Gran, who used to be Campbell’s snotty, and whose English was not then perfect, said he was glad of a change because he “did not like being turned into a drumstick” (he meant a domestic).

So cocoa is the word and the snotty starts on an adventurous voyage over the deck to the galley which is forrard; if he is unlucky he gets a sea over him on the way. Here he finds the hands of the watch, smoking and keeping warm, and he forages round for some hot water, which he gets safely back to the pantry down in the wardroom. Here he mixes the cocoa and collects sufficient clean mugs (if he can find them), spoons, sugar and biscuits to go round. These he carefully “chocks off” while he goes and calls Wilson and gives him his share⁠—for Wilson gets up at 4:30 every morning to sketch the sunrise, work at his scientific paintings and watch the seabirds flying round the ship. Then back to the bridge, and woe betide him if he falls on the way, for then it all has to be done over again.

Pennell, who sleeps under the chart table on the bridge, is also fed and inquires anxiously whether there are any stars showing. If there are he is up immediately to get an observation, and then retires below to work it out and to tabulate the endless masses of figures which go to make up the results of his magnetic observations⁠—dip, horizontal force and total force of the magnetic needle.

A squall strikes the ship. Two blasts of the whistle fetches the watch out, and “Stand by topsail halyards,” “In inner jib,” sends one hand to one halyard, the midshipman of the watch to the other, and the rest on to foc’stle and to the jib downhaul. Down comes the jib and the man standing by the fore topsail halyard, which is on the weather side of the galley, is drenched by the crests of two big seas which come over the rail.

But he has little time to worry about things like this, for the wind is increasing and “Let go topsail halyards” comes through the megaphone from the bridge, and he wants all his wits to let go the halyard from the belaying-pins and jump clear of the rope tearing through the block as the topsail yard comes sliding down the mast.

“Clew up” is the next order, and then “All hands furl fore and main upper topsails,” and up we go out on to the yard. Luckily the dawn is just turning the sea grey and the ratlines begin to show up in relief. It is far harder for the first and middle watches, who have to go aloft in complete darkness. Once on the yard you are flattened against it by the wind. The order to take in sail always fetches Pennell out of his chart-house to come and take a hand.

The two sodden sails safely furled⁠—luckily they are small ones⁠—the men reach the deck to find that the wind has shifted a little farther aft and they are to brace round. This finished, it is broad daylight, and the men set to work to coil up preparatory to washing decks⁠—not that this would seem very necessary. Certainly there is no hose wanted this morning, and a general kind of tidying up and coiling down ropes is more what is done.

The two stewards, Hooper, who is to land with the Main Party, and Neale, who will remain with the Ship’s Party, turn out at six and rouse the afterguard for the pumps, a daily evolution, and soon an unholy din may be heard coming up from the wardroom. “Rouse and shine, rouse and shine: show a leg, show a leg” (a relic of the old days when seamen took their wives to sea). “Come on, Mr. Nelson, it’s seven o’clock. All hands on the pumps!”

From first to last these pumps were a source of much exercise and hearty curses. A wooden ship always leaks a little, but the amount of water taken in by the Terra Nova even in calm weather was extraordinary, and could not be traced until the ship was dry-docked in Lyttelton, New Zealand, and the forepart was flooded.

In the meantime the ship had to be kept as dry as possible, a process which was not facilitated by forty gallons of oil which got loose during the rough weather after leaving South Trinidad, and found its way into the bilges. As we found later, some never-to-be-sufficiently-cursed stevedore had left one of the bottom boards only half-fitted into its neighbours. In consequence the coal dust and small pieces of coal, which was stowed in this hold, found their way into the bilges. Forty gallons of oil completed the havoc and the pumps would gradually get more and more blocked until it was necessary to send for Davies, the carpenter, to take parts of them to pieces and clear out the oily coal balls which had stopped them. This pumping would sometimes take till nearly eight, and then would always have to be repeated again in the evening, and sometimes every watch had to take a turn. At any rate it was good for our muscles.

The pumps were placed amidships, just abaft the main mast, and ran down a shaft adjoining the after hatch, which led into the holds which were generally used for coal and patent fuel. The spout of the pump opened about a foot above the deck, and the plungers were worked by means of two horizontal handles, much as a bucket is wound up on the drum of a cottage well. Unfortunately, this part of the main deck, which is just forward of the break of the poop, is more subject to seas breaking inboard than any other part of the ship, so when the ship was labouring the task of those on the pump was not an enviable one. During the big gale going South the water was up to the men’s waists as they tried to turn the handles, and the pumps themselves were feet under water.

From England to Cape Town these small handles were a great inconvenience. There was very much pumping to be done and there were plenty of men to do it, but the handles were not long enough to allow more than four men to each handle. Also they gave no secure purchase when the ship was rolling heavily, and when a big roll came there was nothing to do but practically stop pumping and hold on, or you found yourself in the scuppers.

At Cape Town a great improvement was made by extending the crank handles right across the decks, the outside end turning in a socket under the rail. Fourteen men could then get a good purchase on the handles and pumping became a more pleasant exercise and less of a nuisance.

Periodically the well was sounded by an iron rod being lowered on the end of a rope, by which the part that came up wet showed the depth of water left in the bilge. When this had been reduced to about a foot in the well, the ship was practically dry, and the afterguard free to bathe and go to breakfast.

Meanwhile the hands of the watch had been employed on ropes and sails as the wind made necessary, and, when running under steam as well as sail, hoisting ashes up the two shoots from the ash-pits of the furnaces to the deck, whence they went into the ditch.

It is eight bells (8 o’clock) and the two stewards are hurrying along the decks, hoping to get the breakfast safely from galley to wardroom. A few naked officers are pouring seawater over their heads on deck, for we are under sail alone and there is no steam to work the hose. The watch keepers and their snotties of the night before are tumbling out of their bunks, and a great noise of conversation is coming from the wardroom, among which some such remarks as: “Give the jam a wind, Marie”; “After you with the coffee”; “Push along the butter” are frequent. There are few cobwebs that have not been blown away by breakfast-time.

Rennick is busy breakfasting preparatory to relieving Campbell on the bridge. Meanwhile, the hourly and four-hourly ship’s log is being made up⁠—force of the wind, state of the sea, height of the barometer, and all the details which a log has to carry⁠—including a reading of the distance run as shown by the patent log line⁠—(many is the time I have forgotten to take it just at the hour and have put down what I thought it ought to be, and not what it was).

The morning watch is finished.

Suddenly there is a yell from somewhere amidships⁠—“Steady”⁠—a stranger might have thought there was something wrong, but it is a familiar sound, answered by a “Steady it is, Sir,” from the man at the wheel, and an anything but respectful, “One⁠—two⁠—three⁠—Steady,” from everybody having breakfast. It is Pennell who has caused this uproar. And the origin is as follows:

Pennell is the navigator, and the standard compass, owing to its remoteness from iron in this position, is placed on the top of the icehouse. The steersman, however, steers by a binnacle compass placed aft in front of his wheel. But these two compasses for various reasons do not read alike at a given moment, while the standard is the truer of the two.

At intervals, then, Pennell or the officer of the watch orders the steersman to “Stand by for a steady,” and goes up to the standard compass, and watches the needle. Suppose the course laid down is S. 40 E. A liner would steer almost true to this course unless there was a big wind or sea. But not so the old Terra Nova. Even with a good steersman the needle swings a good many degrees either side of the S. 40 E. But as it steadies momentarily on the exact course Pennell shouts his “Steady,” the steersman reads just where the needle is pointing on the compass card before him, say S. 47 E., and knows that this is the course which is to be steered by the binnacle compass.

Pennell’s yells were so frequent and ear-piercing that he became famous for them, and many times in working on the ropes in rough seas and big winds, we have been cheered by this unmusical noise over our heads.

We left Simon’s Bay on Friday, September 2, ‘to make our Easting down’ from the Cape of Good Hope to New Zealand, that famous passage in the Roaring Forties which can give so much discomfort or worse to sailing ships on their way.

South Africa had been hospitable. The Admiral Commanding the Station, the Naval Dockyard, and H.M.S. Mutine and H.M.S. Pandora, had been more than kind. They had done many repairs and fittings for us and had sent fatigue parties to do it, thus releasing men for a certain amount of freedom on shore, which was appreciated after some nine weeks at sea. I can remember my first long bath now.

Scott, who was up country when we arrived, joined the ship here, and Wilson travelled ahead of us to Melbourne to carry out some expedition work, chiefly dealing with the Australian members who were to join us in New Zealand.

One or two of us went out to Wynberg, which Oates knew well, having been invalided there in the South African War with a broken leg, the result of a fight against big odds when, his whole party wounded, he refused to surrender. He told me later how he had thought he would bleed to death, and the man who lay next to him was convinced he had a bullet in the middle of his brain⁠—he could feel it wobbling about there! Just now his recollections only went so far as to tell of a badly wounded Boer who lay in the next bed to him when he was convalescent, and how the Boer insisted on getting up to open the door for him every time he left the ward, much to his own discomfort.

Otherwise the recollections which survive of South Africa are an excellent speech made on the expedition by John Xavier Merriman, and the remark of a seaman who came out to dinner concerning one John, the waiter, that “he moved about as quick as a piece of sticking-plaster!”

Leaving Simon’s Town at daybreak we did magnetic work all day, sailing out from False Bay with a biggish swell in the evening. We ran southerly in good weather until Sunday morning, when the swell was logged at 8 and the glass was falling fast. By the middle watch it was blowing a full gale and for some thirty hours we ran under reefed foresail, lower topsails and occasionally reefed upper topsails, and many of us were sick.

Then after two days of comparative calm we had a most extraordinary gale from the east, a thing almost unheard of in these latitudes (38° S. to 39° S.). All that we could do was to put the engines at dead slow and sail northerly as close to the wind as possible. Friday night, September 9, it blew force 10 in the night, and the morning watch was very lively with the lee rail under water.

Directly after breakfast on Saturday, September 10, we wore ship, and directly afterwards the gale broke and it was raining, with little wind, during the day.

The morning watch had a merry time on Tuesday, September 13, when a fresh gale struck them while they were squaring yards. So unexpected was it that the main yards were squared and the fore were still round, but it did not last long and was followed by two splendid days⁠—fine weather with sun, a good fair wind and the swell astern.

A painting of snowy hill swept by wind.
The Roaring Forties⁠—E. A. Wilson

The big swell which so often prevails in these latitudes is a most inspiring sight, and must be seen from a comparatively small ship like the Terra Nova for its magnitude to be truly appreciated. As the ship rose on the crest of one great hill of water the next big ridge was nearly a mile away, with a sloping valley between. At times these seas are rounded in giant slopes as smooth as glass; at others they curl over, leaving a milk-white foam, and their slopes are marbled with a beautiful spumy tracery. Very wonderful are these mottled waves: with a following sea, at one moment it seems impossible that the great mountain which is overtaking the ship will not overwhelm her, at another it appears inevitable that the ship will fall into the space over which she seems to be suspended and crash into the gulf which lies below.

But the seas are so long that they are neither dangerous nor uncomfortable⁠—though the Terra Nova rolled to an extraordinary extent, quite constantly over 50° each way, and sometimes 55°.

The cooks, however, had a bad time trying to cook for some fifty hands in the little galley on the open deck. Poor Archer’s efforts to make bread sometimes ended in the scuppers, and the occasional jangle of the ship’s bell gave rise to the saying that “a moderate roll rings the bell, and a big roll brings out the cook.”

Noon on Sunday, September 18, found us in latitude 39° 0′ S. and longitude 66° 9′ E., after a very good run, for the Terra Nova, of 200 miles in the last twenty-four hours. This made us about two days’ run from St. Paul, an uninhabited island formed by the remains of an old volcano, the crater of which, surrounded as it were by a horseshoe of land, forms an almost landlocked harbour. It was hoped to make a landing here for scientific work, but it is a difficult harbour to make. We ran another two hundred miles on Monday, and on Tuesday all preparations were made for the landing, with suitable equipment, and we were not a little excited at the opportunity.

At 4:30 a.m. the next morning all hands were turned out to take in sail preparatory to rounding St. Paul which was just visible. The weather was squally, but not bad. By 5 a.m., however, it was blowing a moderate gale, and by the time we had taken in all sail we had to give up hopes of a landing. We were thoroughly sick of sails by the time we finally reefed the foresail and ran before the wind under this and lower topsails.

We passed quite close to the island and could see into the crater, and the cliffs beyond which rose from it, covered with greenish grass. There were no trees, and of birds we only saw those which frequent these seas. We had hoped to find penguins and albatross nesting on the island at this time of the year, and this failure to land was most disappointing. The island is 860 feet high, and, for its size, precipitous. It extends some two miles in length and one mile in breadth.

The following day all the afterguard were turned on to shift coal. It should be explained that up to this time the bunkers, which lay one on the port and the other on the starboard side of the furnaces, had been entirely filled as required by two or more officers who volunteered from day to day.

We took on board 450 tons of Crown Patent Fuel at Cardiff in June 1910. This coal is in the form of bricks, and is most handy since it can be thrown by hand from the holds through the bunker doors in the boiler-room bulkhead which after a time was left higher than the sinking level of the coal. The coal to be landed was this patent fuel, and it was now decided to shift farther aft all the patent fuel which was left, and stack it against the boiler-room bulkhead, the coal which was originally there having been fed to the furnaces. Thus the dust which was finding its way through the floorboards, and choking the pumps, could be swept up, and a good stow could be made preparatory to the final fit-out in New Zealand, while the coal which was to be taken on board at Lyttelton could be loaded through the main hatch.

In the meantime the gale which had sprung up six days before and prevented us landing had died down. After leaving St. Paul we had let the fires out and run under sail alone, and the following two days we ran 119 and 141 miles respectively, being practically becalmed at times on the following day, and only running 66 miles.

By Tuesday night, September 27, we had finished the coaling, and we celebrated the occasion by a champagne dinner. At the same time we raised steam. Scott was anxious to push on, and so indeed was everybody else. But the wind was not disposed to help us, and headed us a good deal during the next few days, and it was not until October 2 that we were able to set all plain sail in the morning watch.

This absence of westerly winds in a region in which they are usually too strong for comfort was explained by Pennell by a theory that we were travelling in an anticyclone, which itself was travelling in front of a cyclone behind us. We were probably moving under steam about the same pace as the disturbance, which would average some 150 miles a day.

From this may be explained many of the reports of continual bad weather met by sailing ships and steamers in these latitudes. If we had been a sailing ship without auxiliary steam the cyclone would have caught us up, and we should have been travelling with it, and consequently in continual bad weather. On the other hand, a steamer pure and simple would have steamed through good and bad alike. But we, with our auxiliary steam, only made much the same headway as the disturbance travelling in our wake, and so remained in the anticyclone.

Physical observations were made on the outward voyage by Simpson and Wright36 into the atmospheric electricity over the ocean, one set of which consisted of an inquiry into the potential gradient, and observations were undertaken at Melbourne for the determination of the absolute value of the potential gradient over the sea.37 Numerous observations were also made on the radium content of the atmosphere over the ocean, to be compared afterwards with observations in the Antarctic air. The variations in radium content were not large. Results were also obtained on the voyage of the Terra Nova to New Zealand upon the subject of natural ionization in closed vessels.

In addition to the work of the ship and the physical work above mentioned, work in vertebrate zoology, marine biology and magnetism, together with four-hourly observations of the salinity and temperature of the sea, was carried out during the whole voyage.

In vertebrate zoology Wilson kept an accurate record of birds, and he and Lillie another record of whales and dolphins. All the birds which could be caught, both at sea and on South Trinidad Island, were skinned and made up into museum specimens. They were also examined for external and internal parasites by Wilson, Atkinson and myself, as were also such fish and other animals as could be caught, including flying fish, a shark, and last but not least, whales in New Zealand.

The method of catching these birds may be worth describing. A bent nail was tied to a line, the other end of which was made fast to the halyards over the stern. Sufficient length of line was allowed either to cause the nail to just trail in the sea in the wake of the ship or for the line to just clear the sea. Thus when the halyard was hoisted to some thirty or forty feet above the deck, the line would be covering a considerable distance of sea.

The birds flying round the ship congregate for the main part in the wake, for here they find the scraps thrown overboard on which they feed. I have seen six albatross all together trying to eat up an empty treacle tin.

As they fly to and fro their wings are liable to touch the line which is spread out over the sea. Sometimes they will hit the line with the tips of their wings, and then there is no resulting capture, but sooner or later a bird will touch the line with the part of the wing above the elbow-joint (humerus). It seems that on feeling the contact the bird suddenly wheels in the air, thereby causing a loop in the line which tightens round the bone. At any rate the next thing that happens is that the bird is struggling on the line and may be hauled on board.

The difficulty is to get a line which is light enough to fly in the air, but yet strong enough to hold the large birds, such as albatross, without breaking. We tried fishing line with no success, but eventually managed to buy some 5-ply extra strong cobbler’s thread, which is excellent for the purpose. But we wanted not only specimens, but also observations of the species, the numbers which appeared, and their habits, for little is known as yet of these sea birds. And so we enlisted the help of all who were interested, and it may be said that all the officers and many of the seamen had a hand in producing the log of sea birds, to which additions were made almost hourly throughout the daylight hours. Most officers and men knew the more common sea birds in the open ocean, and certainly of those in the pack and fringes of the Antarctic continent, which, with rare exceptions, is the southern limit of bird life.

A number of observations of whales, illustrated by Wilson, were made, but the results so far as the seas from England to the Cape and New Zealand are concerned, are not of great importance, partly because close views were seldom obtained, and partly because the whales inhabiting these seas are fairly well known. On October 3, 1910, in latitude 42° 7′ S. and longitude 111° 8′ E., two adults of Balaenoptera borealis (Northern Rorqual) were following the ship close under the counter, length 50 feet, with a light-coloured calf some 18⁠–⁠20 feet long swimming with them. It was established by this and by a later observation in New Zealand, when Lillie helped to cut up a similar whale at the Norwegian Whaling Station at the Bay of Islands, that this Rorqual which frequents the sub-Antarctic seas is identical with our Northern Rorqual;38 but this was the only close observation of any whales obtained before we left New Zealand.

General information with regard to such animals is useful, however, as showing the relative abundance of plankton on which the whales feed in the ocean. There are, for instance, more whales in the Antarctic than in warmer seas; and some whales at any rate (e.g. Humpback whales) probably come north into warmer waters in the winter rather for breeding purposes than to get food.39

With regard to dolphins four species were observed beyond question. The rarest dolphin seen was Tersio peronii, the peculiarity of which is that it has no dorsal fin. This was seen on October 20, 1910, in latitude 42° 1′ S. and longitude 153° 6′ E.

Reports of whales and dolphins which are not based upon carcases and skeletons must be accepted with caution. It is most difficult to place species with scientific accuracy which can only be observed swimming in the water, and of which more often than not only blows and the dorsal fins can be observed. The nomenclature of dolphins especially leaves much to be desired, and it is to be hoped that some expedition in the future will carry a Norwegian harpooner, who could do other work as well since they are very good sailors. Wilson was strongly of this opinion and tried hard to get a harpooner, but they are expensive people so long as the present boom in whaling lasts, and perhaps it was on the score of expense that the idea was regretfully abandoned. We carried whaling gear formerly taken on the Discovery Expedition, and kindly lent for this expedition by the Royal Geographical Society of London. A few shots were tried, but an unskilled harpooner stands very little chance. If you go whaling you must have had experience.

The ship was not slowed down to enable marine biological observations to be taken on this part of the expedition, but something like forty samples of plankton were taken with a full-speed net. We were unable to trawl on the bottom until we reached Melbourne, when a trawl was made in Port Phillip Harbour to try the gear and accustom men to its use. It was not a purpose of the expedition to spend time in deep-sea work until it reached Antarctic seas.

For four days the wind, such as there was of it, was dead ahead; it is not very often in the Forties that a ship cannot make progress for want of wind. But having set all plain sail on October 2 with a falling glass we got a certain amount of wind on the port beam, and did 158 miles in the next twenty-four hours. Sunday being quiet Scott read service while the officers and men grouped round the wheel. We seldom had service on deck; for Sundays became proverbial days for a blow on the way out, and service, if held at all, was generally in the wardroom. On one famous occasion we tried to play the pianola to accompany the hymns, but, since the rolls were scored rather for musical effect than for church services, the pianola was suddenly found to be playing something quite different from what was being sung. All through the expedition the want of someone who could play the piano was felt, and such a man is certainly a great asset in a life so far removed from all the pleasures of civilization. As Scott wrote in The Voyage of the Discovery, where one of the officers used to play each evening: “This hour of music has become an institution which none of us would willingly forgo. I don’t know what thoughts it brings to others, though I can readily guess; but of such things one does not care to write. I can well believe, however, that our music smooths over many a ruffle and brings us to dinner each night in that excellent humour, where all seem good-tempered, though ‘cleared for action’ and ready for fresh argument.”

The wind freshened to our joy; Scott was impatient; there was much to be done and the time for doing it was not too long, for it had been decided to leave New Zealand at an earlier date than had been attempted by any previous expedition, in order to penetrate the pack sooner and make an early start on the depot journey. The faintest glow of the Aurora Australis which was to become so familiar to us was seen at this time, but what aroused still more interest was the capture of several albatross on the lines flowing out over the stern.

The first was a “sooty” (cornicoides). We put him down on the deck, where he strutted about in the proudest way, his feet going flop⁠—flop⁠—flop as he walked. He was a most beautiful bird, sooty black body, a great black head with a line of white over each eye and a gorgeous violet line running along his black beak. He treated us with the greatest contempt, which, from such a beautiful creature, we had every appearance of deserving. Another day a little later we caught a wandering albatross, a black-browed albatross, and a sooty albatross all together, and set them on the deck tethered to the ventilators while their photographs were taken. They were such beautiful birds that we were loath to kill them, but their value as scientific specimens outweighed the wish to set them free, and we gave them ether so that they did not suffer.

The Southern Ocean is the home of these and many species of birds, but among them the albatross is preeminent. It has been mentioned that Wilson believed that the albatross, at any rate, fly round and round the world over these stormy seas before the westerly winds, landing but once a year on such islands as Kerguelen, St. Paul, the Auckland Islands and others to breed. If so, the rest that they can obtain upon the big breaking rollers which prevail in these latitudes must be unsatisfactory judged by the standard of more civilized birds. I have watched sea birds elsewhere of which the same individuals appeared to follow the ship day after day for many thousands of miles, but on this voyage I came to the conclusion that a different set of birds appeared each morning, and that they were hungry when they arrived. Certainly they flew astern and nearer to the ship in the morning, feeding on the scraps thrown overboard. As the day went on and the birds’ hunger was satisfied, they scattered, and such of them as continued to fly astern of the ship were a long way off. Hence we caught the birds in the early morning, and only one bird was caught after midday.

The wind continued favourable and was soon blowing quite hard. On Friday, October 7, we were doing 7.8 knots under sail alone, which was very good for the old Terra Push, as she was familiarly called: and we were then just 1,000 miles from Melbourne. By Saturday night we were standing by topgallant halyards. Campbell took over the watch at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was blowing hard and squally, but the ship still carried topgallants. There was a big following sea.

At 6:30 a.m. there occurred one of those incidents of sea life which are interesting though not important. Quite suddenly the first really big squall we had experienced on the voyage struck us. Topgallant halyards were let go, and the fore topgallant yard came down, but the main topgallant yard jammed when only half down. It transpired afterwards that a gasket which had been blown over the yard had fouled the block of the sheet of the main upper topsail. The topgallant yard was all tilted to starboard and swaying from side to side, the sail seemed as though it might blow out at any moment, and was making a noise like big guns, and the mast was shaking badly.

It was expected that the topgallant mast would go, but nothing could be done while the full fury of the wind lasted. Campbell paced quietly up and down the bridge with a smile on his face. The watch was grouped round the ratlines ready to go aloft, and Crean volunteered to go up alone and try and free the yard, but permission was refused. It was touch and go with the mast and there was nothing to be done.

The squall passed, the sail was freed and furled, and the next big squall found us ready to lower upper topsails and all was well. Finally the damage was a split sail and a strained mast.

The next morning a new topgallant sail was bent, but quite the biggest hailstorm I have ever seen came on in the middle of the operation. Much of the hail must have been inches in circumference, and hurt even through thick clothes and oilskins. At the same time there were several waterspouts formed. The men on the topgallant yard had a beastly time. Below on deck men made hail-balls and pretended they were snow.

From now onwards we ran on our course before a gale. By the early morning of October 12 Cape Otway light was in sight. Working double tides in the engine-room, and with every stitch of sail set, we just failed to reach Port Phillip Heads by midday, when the tide turned, and it was impossible to get through. We went up Melbourne Harbour that evening, very dark and blowing hard.

A telegram was waiting for Scott:

“Madeira. Am going South. Amundsen.”

This telegram was dramatically important, as will appear when we come to the last act of the tragedy. Captain Roald Amundsen was one of the most notable of living explorers, and was in the prime of life⁠—forty-one, two years younger than Scott. He had been in the Antarctic before Scott, with the Belgica Expedition in 1897⁠–⁠99, and therefore did not consider the South Pole in any sense our property. Since then he had realized the dream of centuries of exploration by passing through the Northwest Passage, and actually doing so in a 60-ton schooner in 1905. The last we had heard of him was that he had equipped Nansen’s old ship, the Fram, for further exploration in the Arctic. This was only a feint. Once at sea, he had told his men that he was going south instead of north; and when he reached Madeira he sent this brief telegram, which meant, “I shall be at the South Pole before you.” It also meant, though we did not appreciate it at the time, that we were up against a very big man.

The Admiral Commanding the Australian Station came on board. The event of the inspection was Nigger, the black ship’s cat, distinguished by a white whisker on the port side of his face, who made one adventurous voyage to the Antarctic and came to an untimely end during the second. The seamen made a hammock for him with blanket and pillow, and slung it forward among their own bedding. Nigger had turned in, not feeling very well, owing to the number of moths he had eaten, the ship being full of them. When awakened by the Admiral, Nigger had no idea of the importance of the occasion, but stretched himself, yawned in the most natural manner, turned over and went to sleep again.

This cat became a well-known and much photographed member of the crew of the Terra Nova. He is said to have imitated the Romans of old, being a greedy beast, by having eaten as much seal blubber as he could hold, made himself sick, and gone back and resumed his meal. He had most beautiful fur. When the ship was returning from the Antarctic in 1911 Nigger was frightened by something on deck and jumped into the sea, which was running fairly rough. However, the ship was hove to, a boat lowered, and Nigger was rescued. He spent another happy year on board, but disappeared one dark night when the ship was returning from her second journey to the South in 1912, during a big gale. He often went aloft with the men, of his own accord. This night he was seen on the main lower topsail yard, higher than which he never would go. He disappeared in a big squall, probably because the yard was covered with ice.

Wilson rejoined the ship at Melbourne; and Scott left her, to arrange further business matters, and to rejoin in New Zealand. When he landed I think he had seen enough of the personnel of the expedition to be able to pass a fair judgment upon them. I cannot but think that he was pleased. Such enthusiasm and comradeship as prevailed on board could bear only good fruit. It would certainly have been possible to find a body of men who could work a sailing ship with greater skill, but not men who were more willing, and that in the midst of considerable discomfort, to work hard at distasteful jobs and be always cheerful. And it must have been clear that with all the energy which was being freely expended, the expedition came first, and the individual nowhere. It is to the honour of all concerned that from the time it left London to the time it returned to New Zealand after three years, this spirit always prevailed.

Among the executive officers Scott was putting more and more trust in Campbell, who was to lead the Northern Party. He was showing those characteristics which enabled him to bring his small party safely through one of the hardest winters that men have ever survived. Bowers also had shown seamanlike qualities which are an excellent test by which to judge the Antarctic traveller; a good seaman in sail will probably make a useful sledger: but at this time Scott can hardly have foreseen that Bowers was to prove “the hardest traveller that ever undertook a Polar journey, as well as one of the most undaunted.” But he had already proved himself a first-rate sailor. Among the junior scientific staff too, several were showing qualities as seamen which were a good sign for the future. Altogether I think it must have been with a cheerful mind that Scott landed in Australia.

When we left Melbourne for New Zealand we were all a bit stale, which was not altogether surprising, and a run ashore was to do us a world of good after five months of solid grind, crowded up in a ship which thought nothing of rolling 50° each way. Also, though everything had been done that could be done to provide them, the want of fresh meat and vegetables was being felt, and it was an excellent thing that a body of men, for whom every precaution against scurvy that modern science could suggest was being taken, should have a good course of antiscorbutic food and an equally beneficial change of life before leaving civilization.

And so it was with some anticipation that on Monday morning, October 24, we could smell the land⁠—New Zealand, that home of so many Antarctic expeditions, where we knew that we should be welcomed. Scott’s Discovery, Shackleton’s Nimrod, and now again Scott’s Terra Nova have all in turn been berthed at the same quay in Lyttelton, for aught I know at the same No. 5 Shed, into which they have spilled out their holds, and from which they have been restowed with the addition of all that New Zealand, scorning payment, could give. And from there they have sailed, and thither their relief ships have returned year after year. Scott’s words of the Discovery apply just as much to the Terra Nova. Not only did New Zealand do all in her power to help the expedition in an official capacity, but the New Zealanders welcomed both officers and men with open arms, and “gave them to understand that although already separated by many thousands of miles from their native land, here in this new land they would find a second home, and those who would equally think of them in their absence, and welcome them on their return.”

But we had to sail round the southern coast of New Zealand and northwards up the eastern coast before we could arrive at our last port of call. The wind went ahead, and it was not until the morning of October 28 that we sailed through Lyttelton Heads. The word had gone forth that we should sail away on November 27, and there was much to be done in the brief month that lay ahead.

There followed four weeks of strenuous work into which was sandwiched a considerable amount of play. The ship was unloaded, when, as usual, men and officers acted alike as stevedores, and she was docked, that an examination for the source of the leak might be made by Mr. H. J. Miller of Lyttelton, who has performed a like service for more than one Antarctic ship. But the different layers of sheathing protecting a ship which is destined to fight against ice are so complicated that it is a very difficult matter to find the origin of a leak. All that can be said with any certainty is that the point where the water appears inside the skin of the ship is almost certainly not the locality in which it has penetrated the outside sheathing. “Our good friend Miller,” wrote Scott, “attacked the leak and traced it to the stern. We found the false stern split, and in one case a hole bored for a long-stern through-bolt which was much too large for the bolt.⁠ ⁠… The ship still leaks but the water can now be kept under with the hand pump by two daily efforts of a quarter of an hour to twenty minutes.” This in Lyttelton; but in a not far distant future every pump was choked, and we were baling with three buckets, literally for our lives.

Bowers’ feat of sorting and restowing not only the stores we had but the cheese, butter, tinned foods, bacon, hams and numerous other products which are grown in New Zealand, and which any expedition leaving that country should always buy there in preference to carrying them through the tropics, was a masterstroke of clear-headedness and organization. These stores were all relisted before stowing and the green-banded or Northern Party and red-banded or Main Party stores were not only easily distinguishable, but also stowed in such a way that they were forthcoming without difficulty at the right time and in their due order.

The two huts which were to form the homes of our two parties down South had been brought out in the ship and were now erected on a piece of waste ground near, by the same men who would be given the work to do in the South.

The gear peculiar to the various kinds of scientific work which it was the object of the expedition to carry out was also stowed with great care. The more bulky objects included a petrol engine and small dynamo, a very delicate instrument for making pendulum observations to test the gravity of the earth, meteorological screens, and a Dines anemometer. There was also a special hut for magnetic observations, of which only the framework was finally taken, with the necessary but bulky magnetic instruments. The biological and photographic gear was also of considerable size.

For the interior of the huts there were beds with spring mattresses⁠—a real luxury but one well worth the space and money⁠—tables, chairs, cooking ranges and piping, and a complete acetylene gas plant for both parties. There were also extensive ventilators which were not a great success. The problem of ventilation in polar regions still remains to be solved.

Food can be packed into a comparatively small space, but not so fuel, and this is one of the greatest difficulties which confront the polar traveller. It must be conceded that in this respect Norway, with her wonderful petrol-driven Fram, is far ahead of us. The Terra Nova depended on coal, and the length of the ship’s stay in the South, and the amount of exploration she could do after landing the shore parties, depended almost entirely upon how much coal she could be persuaded to hold after all the necessaries of modern scientific exploration had been wedged tightly into her.

The Terra Nova sailed from New Zealand with 425 tons of coal in her holds and bunkers, and 30 tons on deck in sacks. We were to hear more of those sacks.

Meanwhile stalls were being built under the forecastle for fifteen ponies, and, since room could not be found below for the remaining four, stalls were built on the port side of the fore hatch; the decks were caulked, and deck houses and other fittings which might carry away in the stormy seas of the South were further secured.

As the time of departure drew near, and each day of civilization appeared to be more and more desirable, the scene in Lyttelton became animated and congested. Here is a scientist trying to force just one more case into his small laboratory, or decanting a mass of clothing, just issued, into the bottom of his bunk, to be slept on since there was no room for it on the deck of his cabin. On the main deck Bowers is trying to get one more frozen sheep into the icehouse, in the rigging working parties are overhauling the running gear. The engine-room staff are busy on the engine, and though the ship is crowded there is order everywhere, and it is clean.

But the scene on the morning of Saturday, November 26, baffles description. There is no deck visible: in addition to 30 tons of coal in sacks on deck there are 2½ tons of petrol, stowed in drums which in turn are cased in wood. On the top of sacks and cases, and on the roof of the icehouse are thirty-three dogs, chained far enough apart to keep them from following their first instinct⁠—to fight the nearest animal they can see: the ship is a hubbub of howls. In the forecastle and in the four stalls on deck are the nineteen ponies, wedged tightly in their wooden stalls, and dwarfing everything are the three motor sledges in their huge crates, 6′ × 5′ × 4′, two of them on either side of the main hatch, the third across the break of the poop. They are covered with tarpaulins and secured in every possible way, but it is clear that in a big sea their weight will throw a great strain upon the deck. It is not altogether a cheerful sight. But all that care and skill can do has been done to ensure that the deck cargo will not shift, and that the animals may be as sheltered as possible from wind and seas. And it’s no good worrying about what can’t be helped.

III

Southward

Open the bones, and you shall nothing find
In the best face but filth; when, Lord, in Thee
The beauty lies in the discovery.

George Herbert

Telegrams from all parts of the world, special trains, all ships dressed, crowds and waving hands, steamers out to the Heads and a general hullabaloo⁠—these were the incidents of Saturday, November 26, 1910, when we slipped from the wharf at Lyttelton at 3 p.m. We were to call at Dunedin before leaving civilization, and arrived there on Sunday night. Here we took on the remainder of our coal. On Monday night we danced, in fantastic clothing for we had left our grand clothes behind, and sailed finally for the South the following afternoon amidst the greatest enthusiasm. The wives remained with us until we reached the open sea.

Amongst those who only left us at the last minute was Mr. Kinsey of Christchurch. He acted for Scott in New Zealand during the Discovery days, and for Shackleton in 1907. We all owe him a deep debt of gratitude for his help. “His interest in the expedition is wonderful, and such interest on the part of a thoroughly shrewd business man is an asset of which I have taken full advantage. Kinsey will act as my agent in Christchurch during my absence; I have given him an ordinary power of attorney, and I think have left him in possession of all the facts. His kindness to us was beyond words.”40

“Evening.⁠—Loom of land and Cape Saunders Light blinking.”41

The ponies and dogs were the first consideration. Even in quite ordinary weather the dogs had a wretched time. “The seas continually break on the weather bulwarks and scatter clouds of heavy spray over the backs of all who must venture into the waist of the ship. The dogs sit with their tails to this invading water, their coats wet and dripping. It is a pathetic attitude deeply significant of cold and misery; occasionally some poor beast emits a long pathetic whine. The group forms a picture of wretched dejection; such a life is truly hard for these poor creatures.”42

The ponies were better off. Four of them were on deck amidships and they were well boarded round. It is significant that these ponies had a much easier time in rough weather than those in the bows of the ship. “Under the forecastle fifteen ponies close side by side, seven one side, eight the other, heads together, and groom between⁠—swaying, swaying continually to the plunging, irregular motion.”

“One takes a look through a hole in the bulkhead and sees a row of heads with sad, patient eyes come swinging up together from the starboard side, whilst those on the port swing back; then up come the port heads, while the starboard recede. It seems a terrible ordeal for these poor beasts to stand this day after day for weeks together, and indeed though they continue to feed well the strain quickly drags down their weight and condition; but nevertheless the trial cannot be gauged from human standards.”43

The seas through which we had to pass to reach the pack-ice must be the most stormy in the world. Dante tells us that those who have committed carnal sin are tossed about ceaselessly by the most furious winds in the second circle of Hell. The corresponding hell on earth is found in the southern oceans, which encircle the world without break, tempest-tossed by the gales which follow one another round and round the world from West to East. You will find albatross there⁠—great Wanderers, and Sooties, and Mollymawks⁠—sailing as lightly before these furious winds as ever do Paolo and Francesca. Round the world they go. I doubt whether they land more than once a year, and then they come to the islands of these seas to breed.

There are many other beautiful seabirds, but most beautiful of all are the Snowy petrels, which approach nearer to the fairies than anything else on earth. They are quite white, and seemingly transparent. They are the familiar spirits of the pack, which, except to nest, they seldom if ever leave, flying “here and there independently in a mazy fashion, glittering against the blue sky like so many white moths, or shining snowflakes.”44 And then there are the Giant petrels, whose coloration is a puzzle. Some are nearly white, others brown, and they exhibit every variation between the one and the other. And, on the whole, the white forms become more general the farther south you go. But the usual theory of protective coloration will not fit in, for there are no enemies against which this bird must protect itself. Is it something to do with radiation of heat from the body?

A ship which sets out upon this journey generally has a bad time, and for this reason the overladen state of the Terra Nova was a cause of anxiety. The Australasian meteorologists had done their best to forecast the weather we must expect. Everything which was not absolutely necessary had been ruthlessly scrapped. Yet there was not a square inch of the hold and between-decks which was not crammed almost to bursting, and there was as much on the deck as could be expected to stay there. Officers and men could hardly move in their living quarters when standing up, and certainly they could not all sit down. To say that we were heavy laden is a very moderate statement of the facts.

Thursday, December 1, we ran into a gale. We shortened sail in the afternoon to lower topsails, jib and staysail. Both wind and sea rose with great rapidity, and before the night came our deck cargo had begun to work loose. “You know how carefully everything had been lashed, but no lashings could have withstood the onslaught of these coal sacks for long. There was nothing for it but to grapple with the evil, and nearly all hands were labouring for hours in the waist of the ship, heaving coal sacks overboard and re-lashing the petrol cases, etc., in the best manner possible under such difficult and dangerous circumstances. The seas were continually breaking over these people and now and again they would be completely submerged. At such times they had to cling for dear life to some fixture to prevent themselves being washed overboard, and with coal bags and loose cases washing about, there was every risk of such hold being torn away.

“No sooner was some semblance of order restored than some exceptionally heavy wave would tear away the lashing, and the work had to be done all over again.”45

The conditions became much worse during the night and things were complicated for some of us by seasickness. I have lively recollections of being aloft for two hours in the morning watch on Friday and being sick at intervals all the time. For sheer downright misery give me a hurricane, not too warm, the yard of a sailing ship, a wet sail and a bout of seasickness.

It must have been about this time that orders were given to clew up the jib and then to furl it. Bowers and four others went out on the bowsprit, being buried deep in the enormous seas every time the ship plunged her nose into them with great force. It was an education to see him lead those men out into that roaring inferno. He has left his own vivid impression of this gale in a letter home. His tendency was always to underestimate difficulties, whether the force of wind in a blizzard, or the troubles of a polar traveller. This should be remembered when reading the vivid accounts which his mother has so kindly given me permission to use:

“We got through the forties with splendid speed and were just over the fifties when one of those tremendous gales got us. Our lat. was about 52° S., a part of the world absolutely unfrequented by shipping of any sort, and as we had already been blown off Campbell Island we had nothing but a clear sweep to Cape Horn to leeward. One realized then how in the Nimrod⁠—in spite of the weather⁠—they always had the security of a big steamer to look to if things came to the worst. We were indeed alone, by many hundreds of miles, and never having felt anxious about a ship before, the old whaler was to give me a new experience.

“In the afternoon of the beginning of the gale I helped make fast the T.G. sails, upper topsails and foresail, and was horrified on arrival on deck to find that the heavy water we continued to ship, was starting the coal bags floating in places. These, acting as battering-rams, tore adrift some of my carefully stowed petrol cases and endangered the lot. I had started to make sail fast at 3 p.m. and it was 9:30 p.m. when I had finished putting on additional lashings to everything I could. So rapidly did the sea get up that one was continually afloat and swimming about. I turned in for 2 hours and lay awake hearing the crash of the seas and thinking how long those cases would stand it, till my watch came at midnight as a relief. We were under 2 lower topsails and hove to, the engines going dead slow to assist keeping head to wind. At another time I should have been easy in my mind; now the water that came aboard was simply fearful, and the wrenching on the old ship was enough to worry any sailor called upon to fill his decks with garbage fore and aft. Still ‘Risk nothing and do nothing,’ if funds could not supply another ship, we simply had to overload the one we had, or suffer worse things down south. The watch was eventful as the shaking up got the fine coal into the bilges, and this mixing with the oil from the engines formed balls of coal and grease which, ordinarily, went up the pumps easily; now however with the great strains, and hundreds of tons on deck, as she continually filled, the water started to come in too fast for the half-clogged pumps to cope with. An alternative was offered to me in going faster so as to shake up the big pump on the main engines, and this I did⁠—in spite of myself⁠—and in defiance of the first principles of seamanship. Of course, we shipped water more and more, and only to save a clean breach of the decks did I slow down again and let the water gain. My next card was to get the watch on the hand-pumps as well, and these were choked, too, or nearly so.

“Anyhow with every pump⁠—hand and steam⁠—going, the water continued to rise in the stokehold. At 4 a.m. all hands took in the fore lower topsail, leaving us under a minimum of sail. The gale increased to storm force (force 11 out of 12) and such a sea got up as only the Southern Fifties can produce. All the afterguard turned out and the pumps were vigorously shaken up⁠—sickening work as only a dribble came out. We had to throw some coal overboard to clear the after deck round the pumps, and I set to work to rescue cases of petrol which were smashed adrift. I broke away a plank or two of the lee bulwarks to give the seas some outlet as they were right over the level of the rail, and one was constantly on the verge of floating clean over the side with the cataract force of the backwash. I had all the swimming I wanted that day. Every case I rescued was put on the weather side of the poop to help get us on a more even keel. She sagged horribly and the unfortunate ponies⁠—though under cover⁠—were so jerked about that the weather ones could not keep their feet in their stalls, so great was the slope and strain on their forelegs. Oates and Atkinson worked among them like Trojans, but morning saw the death of one, and the loss of one dog overboard. The dogs, made fast on deck, were washed to and fro, chained by the neck, and often submerged for a considerable time. Though we did everything in our power to get them up as high as possible, the sea went everywhere. The wardroom was a swamp and so were our bunks with all our nice clothing, books, etc. However, of this we cared little, when the water had crept up to the furnaces and put the fires out, and we realized for the first time that the ship had met her match and was slowly filling. Without a pump to suck we started the forlorn hope of buckets and began to bale her out. Had we been able to open a hatch we could have cleared the main pump well at once, but with those appalling seas literally covering her, it would have meant less than 10 minutes to float, had we uncovered a hatch.

“The Chief Engineer (Williams) and carpenter (Davies), after we had all put our heads together, started cutting a hole in the engine room bulkhead, to enable us to get into the pump-well from the engine room; it was iron and, therefore, at least a 12 hours job. Captain Scott was simply splendid, he might have been at Cowes, and to do him and Teddy Evans credit, at our worst strait none of our landsmen who were working so hard knew how serious things were. Capt. Scott said to me quietly⁠—‘I am afraid it’s a bad business for us⁠—What do you think?’ I said we were by no means dead yet, though at that moment, Oates, at peril of his life, got aft to report another horse dead; and more down. And then an awful sea swept away our lee bulwarks clean, between the fore and main riggings⁠—only our chain lashings saved the lee motor sledge then, and I was soon diving after petrol cases. Captain Scott calmly told me that they ‘did not matter’⁠—This was our great project for getting to the Pole⁠—the much advertised motors that ‘did not matter’; our dogs looked finished, and horses were finishing, and I went to bale with a strenuous prayer in my heart, and ‘Yip-i-addy’ on my lips, and so we pulled through that day. We sang and re-sang every silly song we ever knew, and then everybody in the ship later on was put on 2-hour reliefs to bale, as it was impossible for flesh to keep heart with no food or rest. Even the freshwater pump had gone wrong so we drank neat lime juice, or anything that came along, and sat in our saturated state awaiting our next spell. My dressing gown was my great comfort as it was not very wet, and it is a lovely warm thing.

“To make a long yarn short, we found later in the day that the storm was easing a bit and that though there was a terrible lot of water in the ship, which, try as we could, we could not reduce, it certainly had ceased to rise to any great extent. We had reason to hope then that we might keep her afloat till the pump wells could be cleared. Had the storm lasted another day, God knows what our state would have been, if we had been above water at all. You cannot imagine how utterly helpless we felt in such a sea with a tiny ship⁠—the great expedition with all its hopes thrown aside for its life. God had shown us the weakness of man’s hand and it was enough for the best of us⁠—the people who had been made such a lot of lately⁠—the whole scene was one of pathos really. However, at 11 p.m. Evans and I with the carpenter were able to crawl through a tiny hole in the bulkhead, burrow over the coal to the pump-well cofferdam, where, another hole having been easily made in the wood, we got down below with Davy lamps and set to work. The water was so deep that you had to continually dive to get your hand on to the suction. After 2 hours or so it was cleared for the time being and the pumps worked merrily. I went in again at 4:30 a.m. and had another lap at clearing it. Not till the afternoon of the following day, though, did we see the last of the water and the last of the great gale. During the time the pumps were working, we continued the baling till the water got below the furnaces. As soon as we could light up, we did, and got the other pumps under weigh, and, once the ship was empty, clearing away the suction was a simple matter. I was pleased to find that after all I had only lost about 100 gallons of the petrol and bad as things had been they might have been worse.⁠ ⁠…

“You will ask where all the water came from seeing our forward leak had been stopped. Thank God we did not have that to cope with as well. The water came chiefly through the deck where the tremendous strain⁠—not only of the deck load, but of the smashing seas⁠—was beyond conception. She was caught at a tremendous disadvantage and we were dependent for our lives on each plank standing its own strain. Had one gone we would all have gone, and the great anxiety was not so much the existing water as what was going to open up if the storm continued. We might have dumped the deck cargo, a difficult job at best, but were too busy baling to do anything else.⁠ ⁠…

“That Captain Scott’s account will be moderate you may be sure. Still, take my word for it, he is one of the best, and behaved up to our best traditions at a time when his own outlook must have been the blackness of darkness.⁠ ⁠…”

Characteristically Bowers ends his account:

“Under its worst conditions this earth is a good place to live in.”

Priestley wrote in his diary:

“If Dante had seen our ship as she was at her worst, I fancy he would have got a good idea for another Circle of Hell, though he would have been at a loss to account for such a cheerful and ribald lot of Souls.”

The situation narrowed down to a fight between the incoming water and the men who were trying to keep it in check by baling her out. The Terra Nova will never be more full of water, nearly up to the furnaces, than she was that Friday morning, when we were told to go and do our damndest with three iron buckets. The constructors had not allowed for baling, only for the passage of one man at a time up and down the two iron ladders which connected the engine-room floor plates with the deck. If we used more than three buckets the business of passing them rapidly up, emptying them out of the hatchway, and returning them empty, became unprofitable. We were divided into two gangs, and all Friday and Friday night we worked two hours on and two hours off, like fiends.

Wilson’s Journal describes the scene:

“It was a weird night’s work with the howling gale and the darkness and the immense seas running over the ship every few minutes and no engines and no sail, and we all in the engine-room oil and bilge water, singing chanties as we passed up slopping buckets full of bilge, each man above slopping a little over the heads of all below him; wet through to the skin, so much so that some of the party worked altogether naked like Chinese coolies; and the rush of the wave backwards and forwards at the bottom grew hourly less in the dim light of a couple of engine-room oil lamps whose light just made the darkness visible, the ship all the time rolling like a sodden lifeless log, her lee gunwale under water every time.”

“There was one thrilling moment in the midst of the worst hour on Friday when we were realizing that the fires must be drawn, and when every pump had failed to act, and when the bulwarks began to go to pieces and the petrol cases were all afloat and going overboard, and the word was suddenly passed in a shout from the hands at work in the waist of the ship trying to save petrol cases that smoke was coming up through the seams in the afterhold. As this was full of coal and patent fuel and was next the engine-room, and as it had not been opened for the airing it required to get rid of gas, on account of the flood of water on deck making it impossible to open the hatchway, the possibility of a fire there was patent to everyone, and it could not possibly have been dealt with in any way short of opening the hatches and flooding the ship, when she must have foundered. It was therefore a thrilling moment or two until it was discovered that the smoke was really steam, arising from the bilge at the bottom having risen to the heated coal.”46

Meanwhile men were working for all our lives to cut through two bulkheads which cut off all communication with the suction of the hand-pumps. One bulkhead was iron, the other wood.

Scott wrote at this time:

“We are not out of the wood, but hope dawns, as indeed it should for me, when I find myself so wonderfully served. Officers and men are singing chanties over their arduous work. Williams is working in sweltering heat behind the boiler to get the door made in the bulkhead. Not a single one has lost his good spirits. A dog was drowned last night, one pony is dead and two others in a bad condition⁠—probably they too will go. Occasionally a heavy sea would bear one of them away, and he was only saved by his chain. Meares with some helpers had constantly to be rescuing these wretched creatures from hanging, and trying to find them better shelter, an almost hopeless task. One poor beast was found hanging when dead; one was washed away with such force that his chain broke and he disappeared overboard; the next wave miraculously washed him on board again and he is fit and well. [I believe the dog was Osman.] The gale has exacted heavy toll, but I feel all will be well if we can only cope with the water. Another dog has just been washed overboard⁠—alas! Thank God the gale is abating. The sea is still mountainously high but the ship is not labouring so heavily as she was.”47

The highest waves of which I can find any record were 36 feet high. These were observed by Sir James C. Ross in the North Atlantic.48

On December 2 the waves were logged, probably by Pennell, who was extremely careful in his measurements, as being ‘thirty-five feet high (estimated).’ At one time I saw Scott, standing on the weather rail of the poop, buried to his waist in green sea. The reader can then imagine the condition of things in the waist of the ship, “over and over again the rail, from the fore-rigging to the main, was covered by a solid sheet of curling water which swept aft and high on the poop.”49 At another time Bowers and Campbell were standing upon the bridge, and the ship rolled sluggishly over until the lee combings of the main hatch were under the sea. They watched anxiously, and slowly she righted herself, but “she won’t do that often,” said Bowers. As a rule if a ship gets that far over she goes down.


Our journey was uneventful for a time, but of course it was not by any means smooth. “I was much disturbed last night by the motion; the ship was pitching and twisting with short sharp movements on a confused sea, and with every plunge my thoughts flew to our poor ponies. This afternoon they are fairly well, but one knows that they must be getting weaker as time goes on, and one longs to give them a good sound rest with a ship on an even keel. Poor patient beasts! One wonders how far the memory of such fearful discomfort will remain with them⁠—animals so often remember places and conditions where they have encountered difficulties or hurt. Do they only recollect circumstances which are deeply impressed by some shock of fear or sudden pain, and does the remembrance of prolonged strain pass away? Who can tell? But it would seem strangely merciful if nature should blot out these weeks of slow but inevitable torture.”50

On December 7, noon position 61° 2′ S., 179° 6′ W., one berg was sighted far away to the west, as it gleamed every now and then in the sun. Two more were seen the next day, and at 6:22 a.m. on December 9, noon position 65° 8′ S., 177° 1′ W., the pack was sighted ahead by Rennick. All that day we passed bergs and streams of ice. The air became dry and bracing, the sea was calm, and the sun shining on the islands of ice was more than beautiful. And then Bump! We had just charged the first big floe, and we were in the pack.

“The sky has been wonderful, with every form of cloud in every condition of light and shade; the sun has continually appeared through breaks in the cloudy heavens from time to time, brilliantly illuminating some field of pack, some steep-walled berg, or some patch of bluest sea. So sunlight and shadow have chased each other across our scene. Tonight there is little or no swell⁠—the ship is on an even keel, steady, save for the occasional shocks on striking ice.

“It is difficult to express the sense of relief this steadiness gives after our storm-tossed passage. One can only imagine the relief and comfort afforded to the ponies, but the dogs are visibly cheered and the human element is full of gaiety. The voyage seems full of promise in spite of the imminence of delay.”51

We had met the pack farther north than any other ship.

What is pack? Speaking very generally indeed, in this region it is the sea-ice which forms over the Ross Sea area during the winter, and is blown northwards by the southerly blizzards. But as we shall see, the ice which forms over this area is of infinite variety. As a rule great sheets spread over the seas which fringe the Antarctic continent in the autumn, grow thicker and thicker during the winter and spring, and break up when the temperatures of sea and air rise in summer. Such is the ice which forms in normal seasons round the shores of McMurdo Sound, and up the coast of the western mountains of Victoria Land. In sheltered bays this ice will sometimes remain in for two years or even more, growing all the time, until some phenomenal breakup releases it. We found an example of this in the sea-ice which formed between Hut Point and the Barrier. But there are great waters which can never freeze for very long. Cape Crozier, for instance, where the Emperor penguins nest in winter, is one of the windiest places in the world. In July it was completely frozen over as far as we could see in the darkness from a height of 900 feet. Within a few days a hurricane had blown it all away, and the sea was black.

I believe, and we had experiences to prove me right, that there is a critical period early in the winter, and that if sea-ice has not frozen thick enough to remain fast by that time, it is probable that the sea will remain open for the rest of the year. But this does not mean that no ice will form. So great is the wish of the sea to freeze, and so cold is the air, that the wind has only to lull for one instant and the surface is covered with a thin film of ice, as though by magic. But the next blizzard tears it out by force or a spring tide coaxes it out by stealth, whether it be a foot thick or only a fraction of an inch. Such an example we had at our very doors during our last winter, and the untamed winds which blew as a result were atrocious.

Thus it is that floes from a few inches to twenty feet thick go voyaging out to join the belt of ice which is known as the pack. Scott seems to have thought that the whole Ross Sea freezes over.52 I myself think this doubtful, and I am, I believe, the only person living who has seen the Ross Sea open in midwinter. This was on the Winter Journey undertaken by Wilson, Bowers and myself in pursuit of Emperor penguin eggs⁠—but of that later.

It is clear that winds and currents are, broadly speaking, the governing factors of the density of pack-ice. By experience we know that clear water may be found in the autumn where great tracts of ice barred the way in summer. The tendency of the pack is northwards, where the ice melts into the warmer waters. But the bergs remain when all traces of the pack have disappeared, and, drifting northwards still, form the menace to shipping so well known to sailors rounding the Horn. It is not hard to imagine that one monster ice island of twenty miles in length, such as do haunt these seas, drifting into navigated waters and calving into hundreds of great bergs as it goes, will in itself produce what seamen call a bad year for ice. And the last stages of these, when the bergs have degenerated into ‘growlers,’ are even worse, for then the sharpest eye can hardly distinguish them as they float nearly submerged though they have lost but little of their powers of evil.

There are two main types of Antarctic berg. The first and most common is the tabular form. Bergs of this shape cruise about in thousands and thousands. A less common form is known as the pinnacled berg, and in almost every case this is a tabular berg which has been weathered or has capsized. The number of bergs which calve direct from a mountain glacier into the sea is probably not very great. Whence then do they come?

The origin of the tabular bergs was debated until a few years ago. They have been recorded up to forty and even fifty miles in length, and they have been called floe bergs, because it was supposed that they froze first as ordinary sea-ice and increased by subsequent additions from below. But now we know that these bergs calve off from the Antarctic Barriers, the largest of which is known as the Great Ice Barrier, which forms the southern boundary of the Ross Sea. We were to become very familiar with this vast field of ice. We know that its northern face is afloat, we guess that it may all be afloat. At any rate the open sea now washes against its face at least forty miles south of where it ran in the days of Ross. Though this Barrier may be the largest in the world, it is one of many. The most modern review of this mystery, Scott’s article on The Great Ice Barrier, must serve until the next firsthand examination by some future explorer.

A berg shows only about one-eighth of its total mass above water, and a berg two hundred feet high will therefore reach approximately fourteen hundred feet below the surface of the sea. Winds and currents have far more influence upon them than they have upon the pack, through which these bergs plough their way with a total disregard for such flimsy obstacles, and cause much chaos as they go. For the rest woe betide the ship which is so fixed into the pack that she cannot move if one of these monsters bears down upon her.

Words cannot tell the beauty of the scenes through which we were to pass during the next three weeks. I suppose the pack in winter must be a terrible place enough: a place of darkness and desolation hardly to be found elsewhere. But forms which under different conditions can only betoken horror now conveyed to us impressions of the utmost peace and beauty, for the sun had kissed them all.

“We have had a marvellous day. The morning watch was cloudy, but it gradually cleared until the sky was a brilliant blue, fading on the horizon into green and pink. The floes were pink, floating in a deep blue sea, and all the shadows were mauve. We passed right under a monster berg, and all day have been threading lake after lake and lead after lead. ‘There is Regent Street,’ said somebody, and for some time we drove through great streets of perpendicular walls of ice. Many a time they were so straight that one imagined they had been cut off with a ruler some hundreds of yards in length.”53

A painting of an iceberg floating in an icy sea.
Midnight⁠—E. A. Wilson

On another occasion:

“Stayed on deck till midnight. The sun just dipped below the southern horizon. The scene was incomparable. The northern sky was gloriously rosy and reflected in the calm sea between the ice, which varied from burnished copper to salmon pink; bergs and pack to the north had a pale greenish hue with deep purple shadows, the sky shaded to saffron and pale green. We gazed long at these beautiful effects.”54

But this was not always so. There was one day with rain, there were days of snow and hail and cold wet slush, and fog. “The position tonight is very cheerless. All hope that this easterly wind will open the pack seems to have vanished. We are surrounded with compacted floes of immense area. Openings appear between these floes and we slide crablike from one to another with long delays between. It is difficult to keep hope alive. There are streaks of water sky over open leads to the north, but everywhere to the south we have the uniform white sky. The day has been overcast and the wind force 3 to 5 from the E. N. E.⁠—snow has fallen from time to time. There could scarcely be a more dreary prospect for the eye to rest upon.”55

With the open water we left behind the albatross and the Cape pigeon which had accompanied us lately for many months. In their place we found the Antarctic petrel, “a richly piebald bird that appeared to be almost black and white against the ice floes,”56 and the Snowy petrel, of which I have already spoken.

No one of us whose privilege it was to be there will forget our first sight of the penguins, our first meal of seal meat, or that first big berg along which we coasted close in order that London might see it on the film. Hardly had we reached the thick pack, which prevailed after the suburbs had been passed, when we saw the little Adélie penguins hurrying to meet us. Great Scott, they seemed to say, what’s this, and soon we could hear the cry which we shall never forget. “Aark, aark,” they said, and full of wonder and curiosity, and perhaps a little out of breath, they stopped every now and then to express their feelings, “and to gaze and cry in wonder to their companions; now walking along the edge of a floe in search of a narrow spot to jump and so avoid the water, and with head down and much hesitation judging the width of the narrow gap, to give a little standing jump across as would a child, and running on the faster to make up for its delay. Again, coming to a wider lead of water necessitating a plunge, our inquisitive visitor would be lost for a moment, to reappear like a jack-in-the-box on a nearer floe, where wagging his tail, he immediately resumed his race towards the ship. Being now but a hundred yards or so from us he pokes his head constantly forward on this side and on that, to try and make out something of the new strange sight, crying aloud to his friends in his amazement, and exhibiting the most amusing indecision between his desire for further investigation and doubt as to the wisdom and propriety of closer contact with so huge a beast.”57

They are extraordinarily like children, these little people of the Antarctic world, either like children, or like old men, full of their own importance and late for dinner, in their black tailcoats and white shirtfronts⁠—and rather portly withal. We used to sing to them, as they to us, and you might often see “a group of explorers on the poop, singing ‘She has rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and she shall have music wherever she goes,’ and so on at the top of their voices to an admiring group of Adélie penguins.”58

Meares used to sing to them what he called ‘God save,’ and declared that it would always send them headlong into the water. He sang flat: perhaps that was why.

Two or more penguins will combine to push a third in front of them against a skua gull, which is one of their enemies, for he eats their eggs or their young if he gets the chance. They will refuse to dive off an ice-foot until they have persuaded one of their companions to take the first jump, for fear of the sea-leopard which may be waiting in the water below, ready to seize them and play with them much as a cat will play with a mouse. As Levick describes in his book about the penguins at Cape Adare: “At the place where they most often went in, a long terrace of ice about six feet in height ran for some hundreds of yards along the edge of the water, and here, just as on the sea-ice, crowds would stand near the brink. When they had succeeded in pushing one of their number over, all would crane their necks over the edge, and when they saw the pioneer safe in the water, the rest followed.”59

It is clear then that the Adélie penguin will show a certain spirit of selfishness in tackling his hereditary enemies. But when it comes to the danger of which he is ignorant his courage betrays want of caution. Meares and Dimitri exercised the dog-teams out upon the larger floes when we were held up for any length of time. One day a team was tethered by the side of the ship, and a penguin sighted them and hurried from afar off. The dogs became frantic with excitement as he neared them: he supposed it was a greeting, and the louder they barked and the more they strained at their ropes, the faster he bustled to meet them. He was extremely angry with a man who went and saved him from a very sudden end, clinging to his trousers with his beak, and furiously beating his shins with his flippers. It was not an uncommon sight to see a little Adélie penguin standing within a few inches of the nose of a dog which was almost frantic with desire and passion.

The pack-ice is the home of the immature penguins, both Emperor and Adélie. But we did not see any large numbers of immature Emperors during this voyage.

We soon became acquainted with the sea-leopard, which waits under the ice-foot for the little penguins; he is a brute, but sinuous and graceful as the seal world goes. He preys especially upon the Adélie penguin, and Levick found no less than eighteen penguins, together with the remains of many others, in the stomach of one sea-leopard. In the water the leopard seems “a trifle faster than the Adélies, as one of them occasionally would catch up with one of the fugitives, who then, realizing that speed alone would not avail him, started dodging from side to side, and sometimes swam rapidly round and round in a circle of about twelve feet diameter for a full minute or more, doubtless knowing that he was quicker in turning than his great heavy pursuer, but exhaustion would overtake him in the end, and we could see the head and jaws of the great sea-leopard rise to the surface as he grabbed his victim. The sight of a panic-stricken little Adélie tearing round and round in this manner was sadly common late in the season.”60

Fish and small seal have also been found in its stomach. With long powerful head and neck and a sinuous body, it is equipped with most formidable teeth with which it tears strips out of the still living birds, and flippers which are adapted entirely for speed in the water. It is a solitary animal with a large range of distribution. It has been supposed to bring forth its young in the pack, but nothing definite is known on this subject. One day we saw a big sea-leopard swimming along with the ship. He dived under the floes and reappeared from floe to floe as we went, and for a time we thought he was interested in us. But soon we sighted another lying away on a floe, and our friend in the water began to rear his head up perpendicularly, and seemed to be trying to wind his mate, as we supposed. He was down wind from her, and appeared to find her at a distance of 150 to 200 yards, and the last we saw of him he was heading up the side of the floe where she lay.

There are four kinds of seal in the Antarctic; of one of these, the sea-leopard, I have already spoken. Another is called the Ross seal, for Sir James Ross discovered it in 1840. It seems to be a solitary beast, living in the pack, and is peculiar for its “pug-like expression of countenance.”61 It has always been rare, and no single specimen was seen on this expedition, though the Terra Nova must have passed through more pack than most whalers see in a lifetime. It looks as if the Ross seal is more rare than was supposed.

A sea leopard lying on its back in the snow.
A Sea Leopard
A Weddell seal and its pup lying in the snow.
A Weddell Seal

The very common seal of the Antarctic is the Weddell, which seldom lives in the pack but spends its life catching fish close to the shores of the continent, and digesting them, when caught, lying sluggishly upon the ice-foot. We came to know them later in their hundreds in McMurdo Sound, for the Weddell is a land-loving seal and is only found in large numbers near the coast. Just at this time it was the crab-eating seal which we saw very fairly often, generally several of them together, but never in large numbers.

Wilson has pointed out in his article upon seals in the Discovery Report62 that the Weddell and the crab-eater seal, which are the two commoner of the Antarctic seals, have agreed to differ both in habit and in diet, and therefore they share the field successfully. He shows that “the two penguins which share the same area have differentiated in a somewhat similar manner.” The Weddell seal and the Emperor penguin “have the following points in common, namely, a littoral distribution, a fish diet and residential nonmigratory habit, remaining as far south the whole year round as open water will allow; whereas the other two (the crab-eating seal and the Adélie penguin) have in common a more pelagic habit, a crustacean diet, and a distribution definitely migratory in the case of the penguin, and although not so definitely migratory in the case of the seal, yet checked from coming so far south as Weddell’s seal in winter by a strong tendency to keep in touch with pelagic ice.”63 Wilson considers that the advantage lies in each case with the “nonmigratory and more southern species,” i.e. the Weddell seal and the Emperor penguin. I doubt whether he would confirm this now. The Emperor penguin, weighing six stones and more, seems to me to have a very much harder fight for life than the little Adélie.

Before the Discovery started from England in 1901 an ‘Antarctic Manual’ was produced by the Royal Geographical Society, giving a summary of the information which existed up to that date about this part of the world. It is interesting reading, and to the Antarctic student it proves how little was known in some branches of science at that date, and what strides were made during the next few years. To read what was known of the birds and beasts of the Antarctic and then to read Wilson’s Zoological Report of the Discovery Expedition is an education in what one man can still do in an out-of-the-way part of the world to elucidate the problems which await him.

The teeth of a crab-eating seal “are surmounted by perhaps the most complicated arrangement of cusps found in any living mammal.”64 The mouth is so arranged that the teeth of the upper jaw fit into those of the lower, and “the cusps form a perfect sieve⁠ ⁠… a hitherto unparalleled function for the teeth of a mammal.”65 The food of this seal consists mainly of Euphausiae, animals much like shrimps, which it doubtless keeps in its mouth while it expels the water through its teeth, like those whales which sift their food through their baleen plates. “This development of cusps in the teeth of the [crab-eating seal] is probably a more perfect adaptation to this purpose than in any other mammal, and has been produced at the cost of all usefulness in the teeth as grinders. The grit, however, which forms a fairly constant part of the contents of the stomach and intestines, serves, no doubt, to grind up the shells of the crustaceans, and in this way the necessity for grinders is completely obviated.”66

The sea-leopard has a very formidable set of teeth suitable for his carnivorous diet. The Weddell, living on fish, has a more simple group, but these are liable to become very worn in old age, due to his habit of gnawing out holes in the ice for himself, so graphically displayed on Ponting’s cinematograph. When he feels death approaching, the crab-eating seal, never inclined to live in the company of more than a few of his kind, becomes still more solitary. The Weddell seal will travel far up the glaciers of South Victoria Land, and there we have found them lying dead. But the crab-eating seal will wander even farther. He leaves the pack. “Thirty miles from the seashore and 3,000 feet above sea-level, their carcases were found on quite a number of occasions, and it is hard to account for such vagaries on other grounds than that a sick animal will go any distance to get away from its companions”67 (and perhaps it should be added from its enemies).

Often the under sides of the floes were coloured a peculiar yellow. This coloration is caused by minute unicellular plants called diatoms. The floating life of the Antarctic is most dense. “Diatoms were so abundant in parts of the Ross Sea, that a large plankton net (18 meshes to an inch) became choked in a few minutes with them and other members of the Phytoplankton. It is extremely probable that in such localities whales feed upon the plants as well as the animals of the plankton.”68 I do not know to what extent these open waters are frequented by whales during the winter, but in the summer months they are full of them, right down to the fringe of the continent. Most common of all is the kind of sea-wolf known as the Killer Whale, who measures 30 feet long. He hunts in packs up to at least a hundred strong, and as we now know, he does not confine his attacks to seal and other whales, but will also hunt man, though perhaps he mistakes him for a seal. This whale is a toothed beast and a flesh-eater, and is more properly a dolphin. But it seems that there are at least five or six other kinds of whales, some of which do not penetrate south of the pack, while others cruise in large numbers right up to the edge of the fast ice. They feed upon the minute surface life of these seas, and large numbers of them were seen not only by the Terra Nova on her various cruises, but also by the shore parties in the waters of McMurdo Sound. In both Wilson and Lillie we had skilled whale observers, and their work has gone far to elucidate the still obscure questions of whale distribution in the South.

The pack-ice offers excellent opportunities for the identification of whales, because their movements are more restricted than in the open ocean. In order to identify, the observer generally has only the blow, and then the shape of the back and fin as the whale goes down, to guide him. In the pack he sometimes gets more, as in the case of Balaenoptera acutorostrata (Piked whale) on March 3, 1911. The ship “was ploughing her way through thick pack-ice, in which the water was freezing between the floes, so that the only open spaces for miles around were those made by the slow movement of the ship. We saw several of these whales during the day, making use of the holes in the ice near the ship for the purpose of blowing. There was scarcely room between the floes for the whales to come up to blow in their usual manner, which consists in rising almost horizontally, and breaking the surface of the water with their backs. On this occasion they pushed their snouts obliquely out of the water, nearly as far as the eye, and after blowing, withdrew them below the water again. Commander Pennell noted that several times one rested its head on a floe not twenty feet from the ship, with its nostrils just on the waterline; raising itself a few inches, it would blow and then subside again for a few minutes to its original position with its snout resting on the floe. They took no notice of pieces of coal which were thrown at them by the men on board the ship.”69

But no whale which we saw in the pack, and we often saw it elsewhere also, was so imposing as the great Blue whale, some of which were possibly more than 100 feet long. “We used to watch this huge whale come to the surface again and again to blow, at intervals of thirty to forty seconds, and from the fact that at each of four or five appearances no vestige of a dorsal fin was visible, we began to wonder whether we had not found the Right whale that was once reported to be so abundant in Ross Sea. Again and again the spout went up into the cold air, a white twelve-foot column of condensed moisture, followed by a smooth broad back, and yet no fin. For some time we remained uncertain as to its identity, till at last in sounding for a longer disappearance and a greater depth than usual, the hinder third of the enormous beast appeared above the surface for the first time with its little angular dorsal fin, at once dispelling any doubts we might have had.”70

It is supposed to be the largest mammal that has ever existed.71 As it comes up to blow, “one sees first a small dark hump appear and then immediately a jet of grey fog squirted upwards fifteen to eighteen feet, gradually spreading as it rises vertically into the frosty air. I have been nearly in these blows once or twice and had the moisture in my face with a sickening smell of shrimpy oil. Then the hump elongates and up rolls an immense blue-grey or blackish-grey round back with a faint ridge along the top, on which presently appears a small hook-like dorsal fin, and then the whole sinks and disappears.”72

To the biologist the pack is of absorbing interest. If you want to see life, naked and unashamed, study the struggles of this ice-world, from the diatom in the ice-floe to the big killer whale; each stage essential to the life of the stage above, and living on the stage below:

The Protoplasmic Cycle

Big floes have little floes all around about ’em,
And all the yellow diatoms73 couldn’t do without ’em.
Forty million shrimplets feed upon the latter,
And they make the penguin and the seals and whales
Much fatter.

Along comes the Orca74 and kills these down below,
While up above the Afterguard75 attack them on the floe:
And if a sailor tumbles in and stoves the mushy pack in,
He’s crumpled up between the floes, and so they get
Their whack in.

Then there’s no doubt he soon becomes a Patent Fertilizer,
Invigorating diatoms, although they’re none the wiser,
So the protoplasm passes on its never-ceasing round,
Like a huge recurring decimal⁠ ⁠… to which no
End is found.76

We were early on the scene compared with previous expeditions, but I do not suppose this alone can explain the extremely heavy ice conditions we met. Possibly we were too far east. Our progress was very slow, and often we were hung up for days at a time, motionless and immovable, the pack all close about us. Patience and always more patience! “From the masthead one can see a few patches of open water in different directions, but the main outlook is the same scene of desolate hummocky pack.”77 And again: “We have scarcely moved all day, but bergs which have become quite old friends are on the move, and one has approached and almost circled us.”78

And then without warning and reason, as far as we could see, it would open out again, and broad black leads and lakes would appear where there had been only white snow and ice before, and we would make just a few more miles, and sometimes we would raise steam only to suffer further disappointment. Generally speaking, a dark black sky means open water, and this is known as an open-water sky; high lights in the sky mean ice, and this is known as “ice-blink.”

The changes were as sudden as they were unexpected. Thus early in the morning of Christmas Eve, about a fortnight after we had entered the pack, “we have come into a region of where the open water exceeds the ice; the former lies in great irregular pools three or four miles or more across and connecting with many leads. The latter⁠—and the fact is puzzling⁠—still contain floes of enormous dimensions; we have just passed one which is at least two miles in diameter.⁠ ⁠…” And then, “Alas! alas! at 7 a.m. this morning we were brought up with a solid sheet of pack extending in all directions, save that from which we had come.”79

Delay was always irksome to Scott. As time went on this waiting in the pack became almost intolerable. He began to think we might have to winter in the pack. And all the time our scanty supply of coal was being eaten up, until it was said that Campbell’s party would never be taken to King Edward VII’s Land. Scott found decisions to bank fires, to raise steam or to let fires out, most difficult at this time. “If one lets fires out it means a dead loss of over two tons, when the boiler has to be heated again. But this two tons would only cover a day under banked fires, so that for anything longer than twenty-four hours it is economy to put the fires out. At each stoppage one is called upon to decide whether it is to be for more or less than twenty-four hours.”80 Certainly England should have an oil-driven ship for polar work.

The Terra Nova proved a wonderfully fine ice ship. Bowers’ middle watch especially became famous for the way in which he put the ship at the ice, and more than once Scott was alarmed by the great shock and collisions which were the result: I have seen him hurry up from his cabin to put a stop to it! But Bowers never hurt the ship, and she gallantly responded to the calls made upon her. Sometimes it was a matter of forcing two floes apart, at others of charging and breaking one. Often we went again and again at some stubborn bit, backing and charging alternately, as well as the space behind us would allow. If sufficient momentum was gained the ship rode upon the thicker floes, rising up upon it and pressing it down beneath her, until suddenly, perhaps when its nearest edge was almost amidships, the weight became too great and the ice split beneath us. At other times a tiny crack, no larger than a vein, would run shivering from our bows, which widened and widened until the whole ship passed through without difficulty. Always when below one heard the grumbling of the ice as it passed along the side. But it was slow work, and hard on the engines. There were days when we never moved at all.

“I can imagine few things more trying to the patience than the long wasted days of waiting. Exasperating as it is to see the tons of coal melting away with the smallest mileage to our credit, one has at least the satisfaction of active fighting and the hope of better fortune. To wait idly is the worst of conditions. You can imagine how often and how restlessly we climbed to the crow’s nest and studied the outlook. And strangely enough there was generally some change to note. A water lead would mysteriously open up a few miles away, or the place where it had been would as mysteriously close. Huge icebergs crept silently towards or past us, and continually we were observing these formidable objects with range finder and compass to determine the relative movement, sometimes with misgivings as to our ability to clear them. Under steam the change of conditions was even more marked. Sometimes we would enter a lead of open water and proceed for a mile or two without hindrance; sometimes we would come to big sheets of thin ice which broke easily as our iron-shod prow struck them, and sometimes even a thin sheet would resist all our attempts to break it; sometimes we would push big floes with comparative ease and sometimes a small floe would bar our passage with such obstinacy that one would almost believe it possessed of an evil spirit; sometimes we passed through acres of sludgy sodden ice which hissed as it swept along the side, and sometimes the hissing ceased seemingly without rhyme or reason, and we found our screw churning the sea without any effect.

“Thus the steaming days passed away in an ever-changing environment and are remembered as an unceasing struggle.

“The ship behaved splendidly⁠—no other ship, not even the Discovery, would have come through so well. Certainly the Nimrod would never have reached the south water had she been caught in such pack. As a result I have grown strangely attached to the Terra Nova. As she bumped the floes with mighty shocks, crushing and grinding a way through some, twisting and turning to avoid others, she seemed like a living thing fighting a great fight. If only she had more economical engines she would be suitable in all respects.

A photograph of a sailing galleon surrounded by ice. Men on the ice have ropes attached to the ship.
Terra Nova

“Once or twice we got among floes which stood 7 or 8 feet above water, with hummocks and pinnacles as high as 25 feet. The ship could have stood no chance had such floes pressed against her, and at first we were a little alarmed in such situations. But familiarity breeds contempt; there never was any pressure in the heavy ice, and I’m inclined to think there never would be.

“The weather changed frequently during our journey through the pack. The wind blew strong from the west and from the east; the sky was often darkly overcast; we had snowstorms, flaky snow, and even light rain. In all such circumstances we were better placed in the pack than outside of it. The foulest weather could do us little harm. During quite a large percentage of days, however, we had bright sunshine, which, even with the temperature well below freezing, made everything look bright and cheerful. The sun also brought us wonderful cloud effects, marvellously delicate tints of sky, cloud and ice, such effects as one might travel far to see. In spite of our impatience we would not willingly have missed many of the beautiful scenes which our sojourn in the pack afforded us. Ponting and Wilson have been busy catching these effects, but no art can reproduce such colours as the deep blue of the icebergs.”81

As a rule the officer of the watch conned from the crow’s nest, shouting his orders to the steersman direct, and to the engine-room through the midshipman of the watch, who stood upon the bridge. It is thrilling work to the officer in charge, who not only has to face the immediate problem of what floes he dare and what he dare not charge, but also to puzzle out the best course for the future⁠—but I expect he soon gets sick of it.

About this time Bowers made a fancy sketch of the Terra Nova hitting an enormous piece of ice. The masts are all whipped forward, and from the crow’s nest is shot first the officer of the watch, followed by cigarette ends and empty cocoa mugs, and lastly the hay with which the floor was covered. Upon the forecastle stands Farmer Hayseed (Oates) chewing a straw with the greatest composure, and waiting until the hay shall fall at his feet, at which time he will feed it to his ponies. This crow’s nest, which was a barrel lashed to the top of the mainmast, to which entrance was gained by a hinged trapdoor, shielded the occupant from most of the wind. I am not sure that the steersman did not have the most uninviting job, but hot cocoa is a most comforting drink and there was always plenty to be had.

Rennick was busy sounding. The depths varied from 1,804 to at least 3,890 fathoms, and the bottom generally showed volcanic deposits. Our line of soundings showed the transition from the ocean depths to the continental shelf. A series of temperatures was gained by Nelson by means of reversible thermometers down to 3,891 metres.

The winch upon which the sounding line was wound was worked by hand on this cruise. It was worked mechanically afterwards, and of course this ought always to be done if possible. Just now it was a wearisome business, especially when we lowered a water-sample bottle one day to 1,800 metres, spent hours in winding it up and found it still open when it arrived at the surface! Water samples were also obtained at the various depths. Lillie and Nelson were both busy tow-netting for plankton with full-speed, Apstein, Nansen, 24-and 180-mesh nets.

I don’t think many at home had a more pleasant Christmas Day than we. It was beautifully calm with the pack all round. At 10 we had church with lots of Christmas hymns, and then decorated the wardroom with all our sledging flags. These flags are carried by officers on Arctic expeditions, and are formed of the St. George’s Cross with a continuation ending in a swallowtail in the heraldic colours to which the individual is entitled, and upon this is embroidered his crest. The men forrard had their Christmas dinner of fresh mutton at midday; there was plenty of penguin for them, but curiously enough they did not think it good enough for a Christmas dinner. The wardroom ate penguin in the evening, and after the toast of ‘absent friends’ we began to sing, and twice round the table everybody had to contribute a song. Ponting’s banjo songs were a great success, also Oates’s “The Vly on the tu-urmuts.” Meares sang “a little song about our Expedition, and many of the members that Southward would go,” of his own composition. The general result was that the watches were all over the place that night. At 4 a.m. Day whispered in my ear that there was nothing to do, and Pennell promised to call me if there was⁠—so I remembered no more until past six.

And Crean’s rabbit gave birth to seventeen little ones, and it was said that Crean had already given away twenty-two.

We had stopped and banked fires against an immense composite floe on the evening of Christmas Eve. How we watched the little changes in the ice and the wind, and scanned the horizon for those black patches which meant open water ahead. But always there was that same white sky to the south of us. And then one day there came the shadow of movement on the sea, the faintest crush on the brash ice, the whisper of great disturbances afar off. It settled again: our hopes were dashed to the ground. Then came the wind. It was so thick that we could not see far; but even in our restricted field changes were in progress.

“We commence to move between two floes, make 200 or 300 yards, and are then brought up bows on to a large lump. This may mean a wait of anything from ten minutes to half-an-hour, whilst the ship swings round, falls away, and drifts to leeward. When clear she forges ahead again and the operation is repeated. Occasionally when she can get a little way on she cracks the obstacle and slowly passes through it. There is a distinct swell⁠—very long, very low. I counted the period as about nine seconds. Everyone says the ice is breaking up.”82

On December 28 the gale abated. The sky cleared, and showed signs of open water ahead. It was cold in the wind but the sun was wonderful, and we lay out on deck and basked in its warmth, a cheerful, careless crowd. After breakfast there was a consultation between Scott and Wilson in the crow’s nest. It was decided to raise steam.

Meanwhile we sounded, and found a volcanic muddy bottom at 2,035 fathoms. The last sounding showed 1,400 fathoms; we had passed over a bank.

Steam came at 8 p.m. and we began to push forward. At first it was hard going, but slowly we elbowed our way until the spaces of open water became more frequent. Soon we found one or two large pools, several miles in extent; then the floes became smaller. Later we could see no really big floes at all; “the sheets of thin ice are broken into comparatively regular figures, none more than thirty yards across,” and “we are steaming amongst floes of small area evidently broken by swell, and with edges abraded by contact.”83

We could not be far from the southern edge of the pack. Twenty-four hours after raising steam we were still making good progress, checking sometimes to carve our way through some obstacle. At last we were getting a return for the precious coal expended. The sky was overcast, the outlook from the masthead flat and dreary, but hour by hour it became more obvious that we neared the threshold of the open sea. At 1 a.m. on Friday, December 30 (lat. about 71½° S., noon observation 72° 7′ S., 177° 9′ E.) Bowers steered through the last ice stream. Behind was some 400 miles of ice. Cape Crozier was 334 miles (geog.) ahead.

IV

Land

Beyond this flood a frozen continent
Lies dark and wilde, beat with perpetual storms
Of whirlwind and dire hail, which on firm land
Thaws not, but gathers heap, and ruin seems
Of ancient pile; all else deep snow and ice.⁠ ⁠…

Milton, Paradise Lost, II

“They say it’s going to blow like hell. Go and look at the glass.” Thus Titus Oates quietly to me a few hours before we left the pack.

I went and looked at the barograph and it made me feel seasick. Within a few hours I was sick, very sick; but we newcomers to the Antarctic had yet to learn that we knew nothing about its barometer. Nothing very terrible happened after all. When I got up to the bridge for the morning watch we were in open water and it was blowing fresh. It freshened all day, and by the evening it was blowing a southerly with a short choppy North Sea swell, and very warm. By 4 a.m. the next morning there was a big sea running and the dogs and ponies were having a bad time. Rennick had the morning watch these days, and I was his humble midshipman.

At 5:45 we sighted what we thought was a berg on the port bow. About three minutes later Rennick said, “There’s a bit of pack,” and I went below and reported to Evans. It was very thick with driving snow and also foggy, and before Evans got up to the bridge we were quite near the pack, and amongst bits which had floated from it, one of which must have been our berg. We took in the headsails as quickly as possible, these being the only sails set, and nosed along dead slow to leeward under steam alone. Gradually we could see either pack or the blink of it all along our port and starboard beam, while gradually we felt our way down a big patch of open water.

There was quite a meeting on the bridge, and it was decided to get well in, and lie in open water under lee of the pack till the gale blew itself out. “Under ordinary circumstances the safe course would have been to go about and stand to the east. But in our case we must risk trouble to get smoother water for the ponies. We passed a stream of ice over which the sea was breaking heavily, and one realized the danger of being amongst loose floes in such a sea. But soon we came to a compacter body of floes, and running behind this we were agreeably surprised to find comparatively smooth water. We ran on for a bit, then stopped and lay to.”84

All that day we lay behind that pack, steaming slowly to leeward every now and then, as the ice drifted down upon us. Towards night it began to clear. It was New Year’s Eve.

I turned in, thinking to wake in 1911. But I had not been long asleep when I found Atkinson at my side. “Have you seen the land?” he said. “Wrap your blankets round you, and go and see.” And when I got up on deck I could see nothing for a while. Then he said: “All the high lights are snow lit up by the sun.” And there they were: the most glorious peaks appearing, as it were like satin, above the clouds, the only white in a dark horizon. The first glimpse of Antarctic land, Sabine and the great mountains of the Admiralty Range. They were 110 miles away. But

Icy mountains high on mountains pil’d
Seem to the shivering sailor from afar
Shapeless and white, an atmosphere of cloud;85

and, truth to tell, I went back to my warm bunk. At midnight a rowdy mob, ringing the New Year in with the dinner-bell, burst into our Nursery. I expected to be hauled out, but got off with a dig in the ribs from Birdie Bowers.

In brilliant sunshine we coasted down Victoria Land. “Tonight it is absolutely calm, with glorious bright sunshine. Several people were sunning themselves at 11 o’clock! Sitting on deck and reading.”86

At 8:30 on Monday night, January 2, we sighted Erebus, 115 miles away. The next morning most of us were on the yards furling sail. We were heading for Cape Crozier, the northern face of Ross Island was open to our fascinated gaze, and away to the east stretched the Barrier face until it disappeared below the horizon. Adélie penguins and Killer whales were abundant in the water through which we steamed.

I have seen Fuji, the most dainty and graceful of all mountains; and also Kinchinjunga: only Michaelangelo among men could have conceived such grandeur. But give me Erebus for my friend. Whoever made Erebus knew all the charm of horizontal lines, and the lines of Erebus are for the most part nearer the horizontal than the vertical. And so he is the most restful mountain in the world, and I was glad when I knew that our hut would lie at his feet. And always there floated from his crater the lazy banner of his cloud of steam.

Now we had reached the Barrier face some five miles east of the point at which it joins the basalt cliffs of Cape Crozier. We could see the great pressure waves which had proved such an obstacle to travellers from the Discovery to the Emperor penguin rookery. The Knoll was clear, but the summit of Mount Terror was in the clouds. As for the Barrier we seemed to have known it all our lives, it was so exactly like what we had imagined it to be, and seen in the pictures and photographs.

Scott had a whaler launched, and we pulled in under the cliffs. There was a considerable swell.

“We were to examine the possibilities of landing, but the swell was so heavy in its break among the floating blocks of ice along the actual beach and ice foot that a landing was out of the question. We should have broken up the boat and have all been in the water together. But I assure you it was tantalizing to me, for there about six feet above us on a small dirty piece of the old bay ice about ten feet square one living Emperor penguin chick was standing disconsolately stranded, and close by stood one faithful old Emperor parent asleep. This young Emperor was still in the down, a most interesting fact in the bird’s life history at which we had rightly guessed, but which no one had actually observed before. It was in a stage never yet seen or collected, for the wings were already quite clean of down and feathered as in the adult, also a line down the breast was shed of down and part of the head. This bird would have been a treasure to me, but we could not risk life for it, so it had to remain where it was. It was a curious fact that with as much clean ice to live on as they could have wished for, these destitute derelicts of a flourishing colony, now gone north to sea on floating bay ice, should have preferred to remain standing on the only piece of bay ice left, a piece about ten feet square and now pressed up six feet above water level, evidently wondering why it was so long in starting north with the general exodus which must have taken place just a month ago. The whole incident was most interesting and full of suggestion as to the slow working of the brain of these queer people. Another point was most weird to see, that on the under side of this very dirty piece of sea-ice, which was about two feet thick and which hung over the water as a sort of cave, we could see the legs and lower halves of dead Emperor chicks hanging through, and even in one place a dead adult. I hope to make a picture of the whole quaint incident, for it was a corner crammed full of Imperial history in the light of what we already knew, and it would otherwise have been about as unintelligible as any group of animate or inanimate nature could possibly have been. As it is, it throws more light on the life history of this strangely primitive bird.⁠ ⁠…

“We were joking in the boat as we rowed under these cliffs and saying it would be a short-lived amusement to see the overhanging cliff part company and fall on us. So we were glad to find that we were rowing back to the ship and already 200 or 300 yards away from the place and in open water when there was a noise like crackling thunder and a huge plunge into the sea and a smother of rock dust like the smoke of an explosion, and we realized that the very thing had happened which we had just been talking about. Altogether it was a very exciting row, for before we got on board we had the pleasure of seeing the ship shoved in so close to these cliffs by a belt of heavy pack ice that to us it appeared a tossup whether she got out again or got forced in against the rocks. She had no time or room to turn, and got clear by backing out through the belt of pack stern first, getting heavy bumps under the counter and on the rudder as she did so, for the ice was heavy and the swell considerable.”87

Westward of Cape Crozier the sides of Mount Terror slope down to the sea, forming a possible landing-place in calm weather. Here there is a large Adélie penguin rookery in summer, and it was here that the Discovery left a record of her movements tied to a post to guide the relieving ship the following year. It was the return of a sledge party which tried to reach this record from the Barrier that led to Vince’s terrible death.88 As we coasted along we could see this post quite plainly, looking as new as the day it was erected, and we know now that there is communication with the Barrier behind, while this rookery itself is free from the blizzards which sweep out to sea by Cape Crozier. It was therefore an excellent place to winter and it was a considerable disappointment to find that it was impossible to land.

This was the first sight we had of a rookery of the little Adélie penguin. Hundreds of thousands of birds dotted the shore, and there were many thousands in the sea round the ship. As we came to know these rookeries better we came to look upon these quaint creatures more as familiar friends than as casual acquaintances. Whatever a penguin does has individuality, and he lays bare his whole life for all to see. He cannot fly away. And because he is quaint in all that he does, but still more because he is fighting against bigger odds than any other bird, and fighting always with the most gallant pluck, he comes to be considered as something apart from the ordinary bird⁠—sometimes solemn, sometimes humorous, enterprising, chivalrous, cheeky⁠—and always (unless you are driving a dog-team) a welcome and, in some ways, an almost human friend.

The alternative landing-place to Cape Crozier was somewhere in McMurdo Sound, the essential thing being that we should have access to and from the Barrier, such communication having to be by sea-ice, since the land is for the most part impassable. As we steamed from Cape Crozier to Cape Bird, the N. W. extremity of Ross Island, we carried out a detailed running survey.

When we neared Cape Bird and Beaufort Island we could see that there was much pack in the mouth of the Strait. By keeping close in to the land we avoided the worst of the trouble, and “as we rounded Cape Bird we came in sight of the old well-remembered landmarks⁠—Mount Discovery and the Western Mountains⁠—seen dimly through a hazy atmosphere. It was good to see them again, and perhaps after all we are better this side of the Island. It gives one a homely feeling to see such a familiar scene.”89

Right round from Cape Crozier to Cape Royds the coast is cold and forbidding, and for the most part heavily crevassed. West of Cape Bird are some small penguin rookeries, and high up on the ice slopes could be seen some grey granite boulders. These are erratics, brought by ice from the Western Mountains, and are evidence of a warmer past when the Barrier rose some two thousand feet higher than it does now, and stretched many hundreds of miles farther out to sea. But now the Antarctic is becoming colder, the deposition of snow is therefore farther north, and the formation of ice correspondingly less.

A drawing of sailors operating a winch aboard a ship.
Sounding⁠—E. A. Wilson
A photograph of a Husky dog on the snow.
Krisravitza

Many watched all night, as this new world unfolded itself, cape by cape and mountain by mountain. We pushed through some heavy floes and “at 6 a.m. (on January 4) we came through the last of the Strait pack some three miles north of Cape Royds. We steered for the Cape, fully expecting to find the edge of the pack-ice ranging westward from it. To our astonishment we ran on past the Cape with clear water or thin sludge ice on all sides of us. Past Cape Royds, past Cape Barne, past the glacier on its south side, and finally round and past Inaccessible Island, a good two miles south of Cape Royds. The Cape itself was cut off from the south. We could have gone farther, but the last sludge ice seemed to be increasing in thickness, and there was no wintering spot to aim for but Cape Armitage.90 I have never seen the ice of the Sound in such a condition or the land so free from snow. Taking these facts in conjunction with the exceptional warmth of the air, I came to the conclusion that it had been an exceptionally warm summer. At this point it was evident that we had a considerable choice of wintering spots. We could have gone to either of the small islands, to the mainland, the Glacier Tongue, or pretty well anywhere except Hut Point. My main wish was to choose a place that would not be easily cut off from the Barrier, and my eye fell on a cape which we used to call the Skuary, a little behind us. It was separated from the old Discovery quarters by two deep bays on either side of the Glacier Tongue, and I thought that these bays would remain frozen until late in the season, and that when they froze over again the ice would soon become firm. I called a council and put these propositions. To push on to the Glacier Tongue and winter there; to push west to the ‘tombstone’ ice and to make our way to an inviting spot to the northward of the cape we used to call ‘the Skuary.’ I favoured the latter course, and on discussion we found it obviously the best, so we turned back close around Inaccessible Island and steered for the fast ice off the Cape at full speed. After piercing a small fringe of thin ice at the edge of the fast floe the ship’s stem struck heavily on hard bay ice about a mile and a half from the shore. Here was a road to the Cape and a solid wharf on which to land our stores. We made fast with ice-anchors.”91

Scott, Wilson and Evans walked away over the sea-ice, but were soon back. They reported an excellent site for a hut on a shelving beach on the northern side of the Cape before us, which was henceforward called Cape Evans, after our second in command. Landing was to begin forthwith.

First came the two big motor sledges which took up so much of our deck space. In spite of the hundreds of tons of seawater which had washed over and about them they came out of their big crates looking “as fresh and clean as if they had been packed on the previous day.”92 They were running that same afternoon.

We had a horsebox for the ponies, which came next, but it wanted all Oates’ skill and persuasion to get them into it. All seventeen of them were soon on the floe, rolling and kicking with joy, and thence they were led across to the beach where they were carefully picketed to a rope run over a snow slope where they could not eat sand. Shackleton lost four out of eight ponies within a month of his arrival. His ponies were picketed on rubbly ground at Cape Royds, and ate the sand for the salt flavour it possessed. The fourth pony died from eating shavings in which chemicals had been packed. This does not mean that they were hungry, merely that these Manchurian ponies eat the first thing that comes in their way, whether it be a bit of sugar or a bit of Erebus.

Meanwhile the dog-teams were running light loads between the ship and the shore. “The great trouble with them has been due to the fatuous conduct of the penguins. Groups of these have been constantly leaping on to our floe. From the moment of landing on their feet their whole attitude expressed devouring curiosity and a pigheaded disregard for their own safety. They waddle forward, poking their heads to and fro in their usually absurd way, in spite of a string of howling dogs straining to get at them. ‘Hulloa!’ they seem to say, ‘here’s a game⁠—what do all you ridiculous things want?’ And they come a few steps nearer. The dogs make a rush as far as their harness or leashes allow. The penguins are not daunted in the least, but their ruffs go up and they squawk with semblance of anger, for all the world as though they were rebutting a rude stranger⁠—their attitude might be imagined to convey, ‘Oh, that’s the sort of animal you are; well, you’ve come to the wrong place⁠—we aren’t going to be bluffed and bounced by you,’ and then the final fatal steps forward are taken and they come within reach. There is a spring, a squawk, a horrid red patch on the snow, and the incident is closed.”93

Everything had to be sledged nearly a mile and a half across the sea-ice, but at midnight, after seventeen hours’ continuous work, the position was most satisfactory. The large amount of timber which went to make the hut was mostly landed. The ponies and dogs were sleeping in the sun on shore. A large green tent housed the hut builders, and the site for the hut was levelled.

“Such weather in such a place comes nearer to satisfying my ideal of perfection than any condition I have ever experienced. The warm glow of the sun with the keen invigorating cold of the air forms a combination which is inexpressibly health-giving and satisfying to me, whilst the golden light on this wonderful scene of mountain and ice satisfies every claim of scenic magnificence. No words of mine can convey the impressiveness of the wonderful panorama displayed to our eyes.⁠ ⁠… It’s splendid to see at last the effect of all the months of preparation and organisation. There is much snoring about me as I write (2 a.m.) from men tired after a hard day’s work and preparing for such another tomorrow. I also must sleep, for I have had none for 48 hours⁠—but it should be to dream happily.”94

Getting to bed about midnight and turning out at 5 a.m. we kept it up day after day. Petrol, paraffin, pony food, dog food, sledges and sledging gear, hut furniture, provisions of all kinds both for life at the hut and for sledging, coal, scientific instruments and gear, carbide, medical stores, clothing⁠—I do not know how many times we sledged over that sea-ice, but I do know that we were landed as regards all essentials in six days. “Nothing like it has been done before; nothing so expeditious and complete.”95⁠ ⁠… and “Words cannot express the splendid way in which everyone works.”96

The two motors, the two dog-teams, man-hauling parties, and, as they were passed for work by Oates, the ponies; all took part in this transport. As usual Bowers knew just where everything was, and where it was to go, and he was most ably seconded on the ship by Rennick and Bruce. Both man-hauling parties and pony-leaders commonly did ten journeys a day, a distance of over thirty miles. The ponies themselves did one to three or four journeys as they were considered fit.

Generally speaking the transport seemed satisfactory, but it soon became clear that sea-ice was very hard on the motor sledge runners. “The motor sledges are working well, but not very well; the small difficulties will be got over, but I rather fear they will never draw the loads we expect of them. Still they promise to be a help, and they are a lively and attractive feature of our present scene as they drone along over the floe. At a little distance, without silencers, they sound exactly like threshing machines.”97

The ponies were the real problem. It was to be expected that they would be helpless and exhausted after their long and trying voyage. Not a bit of it! They were soon rolling about, biting one another, kicking one another, and anyone else, with the best will in the world. After two days’ rest on shore, twelve of them were thought fit to do one journey, on which they pulled loads varying from 700 to 1,000 lbs. with ease on the hard sea-ice surface. But it was soon clear that these ponies were an uneven lot. There were the steady workers like Punch and Nobby; there were one or two definitely weak ponies like Blossom, Blücher and Jehu; and there were one or two strong but rather impossible beasts. One of these was soon known as Weary Willie. His outward appearance belied him, for he looked like a pony. A brief acquaintance soon convinced me that he was without doubt a cross between a pig and a mule. He was obviously a strong beast and, since he always went as slowly as possible and stopped as often as possible it was most difficult to form any opinion as to what load he was really able to draw. Consequently I am afraid there is little doubt that he was generally overloaded until that grim day on the Barrier when he was set upon by a dog-team. It was his final collapse at the end of the Depot journey which caused Scott to stay behind when we went out on the sea-ice. But of that I shall speak again.

Twice only have I ever seen Weary Willie trot. We were leading the ponies now as always with halters and without bits. Consequently our control was limited, especially on ice, but doubtless the ponies’ comfort was increased, especially in cold weather when a metal bit would have been difficult if not impossible. On this occasion he and I had just arrived at the ship after a trudge in which I seemed to be pulling both Weary and the sledge. Just then a motor backfired, and we started back across that floe at a pace which surprised Weary even more than myself, for he fell over the sledge, himself and me, and for days I felt like a big black bruise. The second occasion on which he got a move on was during the Depot journey when Gran on ski tried to lead him.

Christopher and Hackenschmidt were impossible ponies. Christopher, as we shall see, died on the Barrier a year after this, fighting almost to the last. Hackenschmidt, so called “from his vicious habit of using both fore and hind legs in attacking those who came near him,”98 led an even more lurid life but had a more peaceful end. Whether Oates could have tamed him I do not know: he would have done it if it were possible, for his management of horses was wonderful. But in any case Hackenschmidt sickened at the hut while we were absent on the Depot journey, for no cause which could be ascertained, gradually became too weak to stand, and was finally put out of his misery.

There was a breathless minute when Hackenschmidt, with a sledge attached to him, went galloping over the hills and boulders. Below him, all unconscious of his impending fate, was Ponting, adjusting a large camera with his usual accuracy. Both survived. There were runaways innumerable, and all kinds of falls. But these ponies could tumble about unharmed in a way which would cause an English horse to lie up for a week. “There is no doubt that the bumping of the sledges close at the heels of the animals is the root of the evil.”99

There were two adventures during this first week of landing stores which might well have had a more disastrous conclusion. The first of these was the adventure of Ponting and the Killer whales.

“I was a little late on the scene this morning, and thereby witnessed a most extraordinary scene. Some six or seven killer whales, old and young, were skirting the fast floe edge ahead of the ship; they seemed excited and dived rapidly, almost touching the floe. As we watched, they suddenly appeared astern, raising their snouts out of water. I had heard weird stories of these beasts, but had never associated serious danger with them. Close to the water’s edge lay the wire stern rope of the ship, and our two Eskimo dogs were tethered to this. I did not think of connecting the movement of the whales with this fact, and seeing them so close I shouted to Ponting, who was standing abreast of the ship. He seized his camera and ran towards the floe edge to get a close picture of the beasts, which had momentarily disappeared. The next moment the whole floe under him and the dogs heaved up and split into fragments. One could hear the booming noise as the whales rose under the ice and struck it with their backs. Whale after whale rose under the ice, setting it rocking fiercely; luckily Ponting kept his feet and was able to fly to security. By an extraordinary chance also, the splits had been made around and between the dogs, so that neither of them fell into the water. Then it was clear that the whales shared our astonishment, for one after another their huge hideous heads shot vertically into the air through the cracks which they had made. As they reared them to a height of six or eight feet it was possible to see their tawny head markings, their small glistening eyes, and their terrible array of teeth⁠—by far the largest and most terrifying in the world. There cannot be a doubt that they looked up to see what had happened to Ponting and the dogs.

“The latter were horribly frightened and strained to their chains, whining; the head of one killer must certainly have been within five feet of one of the dogs.

“After this, whether they thought the game insignificant, or whether they missed Ponting is uncertain, but the terrifying creatures passed on to other hunting grounds, and we were able to rescue the dogs, and what was even more important, our petrol⁠—five or six tons of which was waiting on a piece of ice which was not split away from the main mass.

“Of course, we have known well that killer whales continually skirt the edge of the floes and that they would undoubtedly snap up anyone who was unfortunate enough to fall into the water; but the facts that they could display such deliberate cunning, that they were able to break ice of such thickness (at least 2½ feet), and that they could act in unison, were a revelation to us. It is clear that they are endowed with singular intelligence, and in future we shall treat that intelligence with every respect.”100

We were to be hunted by these Killer whales again.

The second adventure was the loss of the third motor sledge. It was Sunday morning, January 8, and Scott had given orders that this motor was to be hoisted out of the ship. “This was done first thing and the motor placed on firm ice. Later Campbell told me one of the men had dropped a leg through crossing a sludgy patch some 200 yards from the ship. I didn’t consider it very serious, as I imagined the man had only gone through the surface crust. About 7 a.m. I started for the shore with a single man load, leaving Campbell looking about for the best crossing for the motor.”101

I find a note in my own diary as to what happened after that: “Last night the ice was getting very soft in places, and I was a little doubtful about leading ponies over a spot on the route to the hut which is about a quarter of a mile from the ship. It has been thawing very fast the last few days, and has been very hot as Antarctic weather goes. This morning was the same, and Bailey went in up to his neck.

“Some half-hour after the motor was put on to the floe, we were told to tow it on to firm ice as that near the ship was breaking up. All hands started on a long tow line. We got on to the rotten piece, and somebody behind shouted ‘You must run.’ From that moment everything happened very quickly. Williamson fell right in through the ice; immediately afterwards we were all brought up with a jerk. Then the line began to pull us backwards; the stern of the motor had sunk through the ice, and the whole car began to sink. It slowly went right through and disappeared and then the tow line followed it. Everything possible was done to hang on to the rope, but in the end we had to let it go, each man keeping his hold until he was dragged to the lip of the hole. Then we made for the fast ice, leaving the rotten bit between us and the ship.

“Pennell and Priestley sounded their way back to the ship, and Day asked Priestley to bring his goggles when he returned. They came back with a lifeline, Pennell leading. Suddenly the ice gave way under Priestley, who disappeared entirely and came up, so we learned afterwards, under the ice, there being a big current. In a moment Pennell was lying flat upon the floe on his chest, got his hand under Priestley’s arm, and so pulled him out. All Priestley said was, ‘Day, here are your goggles.’ We all got back to the ship, but communication between the ship and the shore was interrupted for the rest of the day, when a solid road was found right up to the ship in another place.”102

Meanwhile the hut was rising very quickly, and Davies, who was Chippy Chap, the carpenter, deserves much credit. He was a leading shipwright in the navy, always willing and bright, and with a very thorough knowledge of his job. I have seen him called up hour after hour, day and night, on the ship, when the pumps were choked by the coal balls which formed in the bilges, and he always arrived with a smile on his face. Altogether he was one of our most useful men. In this job of hut-building he was helped by two of our seamen, Keohane and Abbott, and others. Latterly I believe there were more people working than there were hammers!

A plan of this hut is given here. It was 50 feet long, by 25 feet wide, and 9 feet to the eaves. The insulation, which was very satisfactory, was seaweed, sewn up in the form of a quilt.

“The sides have double [match-] boarding inside and outside the frames, with a layer of our excellent quilted seaweed insulation between each pair of boardings. The roof has a single match-boarding inside, but on the outside is a match-boarding, then a layer of 2-ply ruberoid, then a layer of quilted seaweed, then a second match-boarding, and finally a cover of 3-ply ruberoid.”103

The floor consisted of a wooden boarding next the frame, then a quilt of seaweed, then a layer of felt upon which was a second boarding and finally linoleum.

We thought we should be warm, and we were. In fact, during the winter, with twenty-five men living there, and the cooking range going, and perhaps also the stove at the other end, the hut not infrequently became fuggy, big though it was.

The entrance was through a door in a porch before you got to the main door. In the porch were the generators of the acetylene gas, which was fitted throughout by Day, who was also responsible for the fittings of the ventilator, cooking range, and stove, the chimney pipes from these running along through the middle of the hut before entering a common vent. Little heat was lost. The pipes were fitted with dampers, and air inlets which could be opened or shut at will to control the ventilation. Besides a big ventilator in the top of the hut there was an adjustable air inlet also at the base of the chamber which formed the junction of the two chimneys. The purpose of this was also ventilation, but it was not successful.

The bulkhead which separated the men’s quarters, or mess deck, from the rest of the hut, was formed of such cases as contained goods in glass, including wine, which would have frozen and broken outside. The bulkhead did not go as high as the top of the hut. When the contents of a case were wanted, a side of the box was taken out, and the empty case then formed a shelf.

We started to live in the hut on January 18, beautifully warm, the gramophone going, and everybody happy. But for a long time before this most of the landing party had been living in tents on shore. It was very comfortable, far more so than might be supposed, judging only by the popular idea of a polar life. We were now almost landed, there were just a few things more to come over from the ship. “It was blowing a mild blizzard from the south, and I took a sledge over to the ship, which was quite blotted out in blinding snow at times. It was as hard to get an empty sledge over, as generally it is to drag a full one. Tea on the ship, which was very full of welcome, but also very full of the superiority of their own comforts over those of the land. Their own comforts were not so very obvious, since they had tried to get the stove in the wardroom going for the first time. They were all coughing in the smoke, and everything inside was covered with smuts.”104

The hut itself was some twelve feet above the sea, and situated upon what was now an almost sandy beach of black lava. It was thought that this was high enough to be protected from any swell likely to arrive in such a sheltered place, but, as we shall see, Scott was very anxious as to the fate of the hut, when, on the Depot journey, a swell removed not only miles of sea-ice and a good deal of Barrier, but also the end of Glacier Tongue. We never saw this beach again, for the autumn gales covered it with thick drifts of snow, and the thaw was never enough to remove this for the two other summers we spent here. There is no doubt this was an exceptional year for thaw. We never again saw a little waterfall such as was now tumbling down the rocks from Skua Lake into the sea.

The little hill of 66 feet high behind us was soon named Wind Vane Hill, and there were other meteorological instruments there besides. A snowdrift or ice-drift always forms to leeward of any such projection, and that beneath this hill was large enough for us to drive into it two ice caves. The first of these was to contain our larder, notably the frozen mutton carcasses brought down by us from New Zealand in the icehouse on deck. These, however, showed signs of mildew, and we never ate very freely of them. Seal and penguin were our stock meat foods, and mutton was considered to be a luxury.

The second cave, 13 feet long by 5 feet wide, hollowed out by Simpson and Wright, was for the magnetic instruments. The temperature of these caves was found to be fairly constant. Unfortunately, this was the only drift into which we could tunnel, and we had no such mass of snow and ice as is afforded by the Barrier, which can be burrowed, and was burrowed extensively by Amundsen and his men.

The cases containing the bulk of our stores were placed in stacks arranged by Bowers up on the sloping ground to the west of the hut, beginning close to the entrance door. The sledges lay on the hill side above them. This arrangement was very satisfactory during the first winter, but the excessive blizzards of the second winter and the immense amount of snow which was gathering about the camp caused us to move everything up to the top of the ridge behind the hut where the wind kept them more clear. Amundsen found it advisable to put his cases in two long lines.105

The dogs were tethered to a long chain or rope. The ponies’ stable was built against the northern side of the hut, and was thus sheltered from the blizzards which always blow here from the south. Against the south side of the hut Bowers built himself a storeroom. “Every day he conceives or carries out some plan to benefit the camp.”106

“Scott seems very cheery about things,” I find in my diary about this time. And well he might be. A man could hardly be better served. We slaved until we were nearly dead-beat, and then we found something else to do until we were quite dead-beat. Ship’s company and landing parties alike, not only now but all through this job, did their very utmost, and their utmost was very good. The way men worked was fierce.

“If you can picture our house nestling below this small hill on a long stretch of black sand, with many tons of provision cases ranged in neat blocks in front of it and the sea lapping the ice-foot below, you will have some idea of our immediate vicinity. As for our wider surroundings it would be difficult to describe their beauty in sufficiently glowing terms. Cape Evans is one of the many spurs of Erebus and the one that stands closest under the mountain, so that always towering above us we have the grand snowy peak with its smoking summit. North and south of us are deep bays, beyond which great glaciers come rippling over the lower slopes to thrust high blue-walled snouts into the sea. The sea is blue before us, dotted with shining bergs or ice floes, whilst far over the Sound, yet so bold and magnificent as to appear near, stand the beautiful Western Mountains with their numerous lofty peaks, their deep glacial valley and clear cut scarps, a vision of mountain scenery that can have few rivals.”107

A photograph of a man holding a pickaxe with his back to the camera, facing Mt. Erebus in the distance.
Mt. Erebus, the Ramp and the Hut

“Before I left England people were always telling me the Antarctic must be dull without much life. Now we are in ourselves a perfect farmyard. There are nineteen ponies fifty yards off and thirty dogs just behind, and they howl like the wolves they are at intervals, led by Dyk. The skuas are nesting all round and fighting over the remains of the seals which we have killed, and the penguins which the dogs have killed, whenever they have got the chance. The collie bitch which we have brought down for breeding purposes wanders about the camp. A penguin is standing outside my tent, presumably because he thinks he is going to moult here. A seal has just walked up into the horse lines⁠—there are plenty of Weddell and penguins and whales. On board we have Nigger and a blue Persian kitten, with rabbits and squirrels. The whole place teems with life.

“Franky Drake is employed all day wandering round for ice for watering the ship. Yesterday he had made a pile out on the floe, and the men wanted to have a flag put on it, and have it photographed, and called ‘Mr. Drake’s Furthest South.’ ”108

January 25 was fixed as the day upon which twelve of us, with eight ponies and the two dog-teams, were to start south to lay a depot upon the Barrier for the Polar Journey. Scott was of opinion that the bays between us and the Hut Point Peninsula would freeze over in March, probably early in March, and that we should most of us get back to Cape Evans then. At the same time the ponies could not come down over the cliffs of this tongue of land, and preparations had to be made for a lengthy stay at Hut Point for them and their keepers. For this purpose Scott meant to use the old Discovery hut at Hut Point.109

On January 15 he took Meares and one dog-team, and started for Hut Point, which was fifteen statute miles to the south of us. They crossed Glacier Tongue, finding upon it a depot of compressed fodder and maize which had been left by Shackleton. The open water to the west nearly reached the Tongue.

On arrival at the hut Scott was shocked to find it full of snow and ice. This was serious, and, as we found afterwards the drifted snow had thawed down into ice: the whole of the inside of this hut was a big ice block. In the middle of this ice was a pile of cases left by the Discovery as a depot. They were, we knew, full of biscuit.

“There was something too depressing in finding the old hut in such a desolate condition. I had had so much interest in seeing all the old landmarks and the huts apparently intact. To camp outside and feel that all the old comforts and cheer had departed was dreadfully heartrending.”110

That night “we slept badly till the morning and, therefore, late. After breakfast we went up the hills; there was a keen S. E. breeze, but the sun shone and my spirits revived. There was very much less snow everywhere than I had ever seen. The ski run was completely cut through in two places, the Gap and Observation Hill almost bare, a great bare slope on the side of Arrival Heights, and on top of Crater Heights an immense bare tableland. How delighted we should have been to see it like this in the old days! The pond was thawed and the confervae green in fresh water. The hole which we had dug in the mound in the pond was still there, as Meares discovered by falling into it up to his waist, and getting very wet.

“On the south side we could see the pressure ridges beyond Pram Point as of old⁠—Horseshoe Bay calm and unpressed⁠—the sea-ice pressed on Pram Point and along the Gap ice front, and a new ridge running around C. Armitage about 2 miles off. We saw Ferrar’s old thermometer tubes standing out of the snow slope as though they’d been placed yesterday. Vince’s cross might have been placed yesterday⁠—the paint was so fresh and the inscription so legible.”111

We had two officers who had been with Shackleton in his 1908 Expedition⁠—Priestley, who was in our Northern Party, and Day, who was in charge of our motors. Priestley with two others sledged over to Cape Royds and has left an account of the old hut there:

“After pitching tent Levick and I went over to the hut to forage. On the way I visited Derrick Point and took a large seven-pound tin of butter while Levick opened up the hut. It was very dark inside but I pulled the boarding down from the windows so that we could see all right. It was very funny to see everything lying about just as we had left it, in that last rush to get off in the lull of the blizzard. On Marston’s bunk was a sixpenny copy of the Story of Bessie Costrell, which someone had evidently read and left open. Perhaps what brought the old times back again more than anything else was the fact that as I came out of the larder the sleeve of my wind clothes caught the tap of the copper and turned it on. When I heard the drip of the water I turned instinctively and turned the tap off, almost expecting to hear Bobs’ raucous voice cursing me for my clumsiness. Perhaps what strikes one more forcibly than anything else is the fact that nothing has been disturbed. On the table was the remains of a batch of bread that Bobs had cooked for us and that was only partially consumed before the Nimrod called for us. Some of the rolls showed the impression of bites given to them in 1909. All round the bread were the sauces, pickles, pepper and salt of our usual standing lunch, and a half-opened tin of gingerbreads was a witness to the dryness of the climate for they were still crisp as the day they were opened.

“In the cubicle near the larder were the loose tins that poor Armytage and myself had collected from all round the hut before we left.

“On the shelves of my cubicle are still stacked the magazines and paper brought down by the relief ship. Nothing is changed at all except the company. It is almost dismal. I expect to see people come in through the door after a walk over the surrounding hills.

“We had not much time to look round us; for Campbell was cooking in the tent, so we slung a few tins of jam, a plum-pudding, some tea, and gingerbreads into a sack, and returned to camp. By this time it was snowing heavily and continued to do so after dinner so that we turned in immediately (1:30 p.m.) and went off to sleep. One thing worth mentioning is that on several of the drifts are well-defined hoof marks, some of them looking so new that we could have sworn that they had been made this year.

“The Old Sport [Levick] gave us a start by suddenly announcing that he could see a ship quite close, and for some time we were on tenterhooks, but his ship proved to be the Terra Nova ice-anchored off the Skuary.

“The whole place is very eerie, there is such a feeling of life about it. Not only do I feel it but the others do also. Last night after I turned in I could have sworn that I heard people shouting to each other.

“I thought that I had only got an attack of nerves but Campbell asked me if I had heard any shouting, for he had certainly done so. It must have been the seals calling to each other, but it certainly did sound most human. We are getting so worked up that we should not be a bit surprised to see a settlement of Japanese or some other such people some day when we stroll round towards Blacksand Beach. The Old Sport created some amusement this evening by opening a tin of Nestlé’s milk at both ends instead of making the two holes at one end. He informed us that he had got so used to using two whole tins of milk for cocoa for fourteen people at night that he always opened them that way.

“As a consequence we have to spend most of our spare time making bungs to keep the milk in the tin.”112

Meanwhile, as was to be expected, the action of the, I suspect, abnormal summer sea temperature was showing its effect upon the sea-ice. Sea-ice thaws from below when the temperature of the water rises. The northern ice goes out first here, being next to the open water, but big thaw pools form at the same time wherever a current of water flows over shallows, as at the end of Cape Evans, Hut Point and Cape Armitage.

On January 17 the ice was breaking away between the point of Cape Evans and the ship, although a road still remained fast between the ship and the shore. The ship began to get up steam, but the fast ice broke away quickly that night. I believe they got steam in three hours, twelve hours being the time generally allowed: only just in time, however, for she broke adrift as it was reported. The next morning she made fast to the ice only 200 yards from the ice-foot of the Cape.

“For the present the position is extraordinarily comfortable. With a southerly blow she would simply bind on to the ice, receiving great shelter from the end of the Cape. With a northerly blow she might turn rather close to the shore, where the soundings run to three fathoms, but behind such a stretch of ice she could scarcely get a sea or swell without warning. It looks a wonderfully comfortable little nook, but of course one can be certain of nothing in this place; one knows from experience how deceptive the appearance of security may be.”113

The ship’s difficulties were largely due to the shortage of coal. Again on the night of January 20⁠–⁠21 we had an anxious time.

“Fearing a little trouble I went out of the hut in the middle of the night and saw at once that she was having a bad time⁠—the ice was breaking with a northerly swell and the wind increasing, with the ship on dead lee shore; luckily the ice anchors had been put well in on the floe and some still held. Pennell was getting up steam and his men struggling to replace the anchors.

“We got out the men and gave some help. At 6 steam was up, and I was right glad to see the ship back out to windward, leaving us to recover anchors and hawsers.”114

A big berg drove in just after the ship had got away, and grounded where she had been lying. The ship returned in the afternoon, and it seems that she was searching round for an anchorage, and trying to look behind this berg. There was a strongish northerly wind blowing. The currents and soundings round Cape Evans were then unknown. The current was setting strongly from the north through the strip of sea which divides Inaccessible Island from Cape Evans, a distance of some two-thirds of a mile. The engines were going astern, but the current and wind were too much for her, and the ship ran aground, being fast for some considerable distance aft⁠—some said as far as the mainmast.

“Visions of the ship failing to return to New Zealand and of sixty people waiting here arose in my mind with sickening pertinacity, and the only consolation I could draw from such imaginations was the determination that the southern work should go on as before⁠—meanwhile the least ill possible seemed to be an extensive lightening of the ship with boats as the tide was evidently high when she struck⁠—a terribly depressing prospect.

“Some three or four of us watched it gloomily from the shore whilst all was bustle on board, the men shifting cargo aft. Pennell tells me they shifted 10 tons in a very short time.

“The first ray of hope came when by careful watching one could see that the ship was turning very slowly, then one saw the men running from side to side and knew that an attempt was being made to roll her off. The rolling produced a more rapid turning movement at first, and then she seemed to hang again. But only for a short time; the engines had been going astern all the time and presently a slight movement became apparent. But we only knew she was getting clear when we heard cheers on board, and more cheers from the whaler.

“Then she gathered stern way and was clear. The relief was enormous.”115

All this took some time, and Scott himself came back into the hut with us and went on bagging provisions for the Depot journey. At such times of real disaster he was a very philosophical man. We were not yet ready to go sledging, but on January 23 the ice in North Bay all went out, and that in South Bay began to follow it. Because this was our road to the Barrier, it was suddenly decided that we must start on the Depot journey the following day or perhaps not at all. Already it was impossible to get sledges south off the Cape: but there was a way to walk the ponies along the land until they could be scrambled down a steep rubbly slope on to sea-ice which still remained. Would it float away before we got there? It was touch and go. “One breathes a prayer that the Road holds for the few remaining hours. It goes in one place between a berg in open water and a large pool of the Glacier face⁠—it may be weak in that part, and at any moment the narrow isthmus may break away. We are doing it on a very narrow margin.”116

V

The Depot Journey

The dropping of the daylight in the west.

Robert Browning
January to March 1911
Scott Meares Crean
Wilson Atkinson Forde
Lieut. Evans Cherry-Garrard Dimitri
Bowers Gran
Oates Keohane

Imaginative friends of the thirteen men who started from Cape Evans on January 24, 1911, may have thought of them as athletes, trained for some weeks or months to endure the strains which they were to face, sleeping a good nine hours a night, eating carefully regulated meals and doing an allotted task each day under scientific control.

They would be far from the mark. For weeks we had turned in at midnight too tired to take off our clothes, and had been lucky if we were allowed to sleep until 5 a.m. We had eaten our meals when we could, and we had worked in the meantime just as hard as it was physically possible to do. If we sat down on a packing-case we went to sleep.

And we finally left the camp in a state of hurry bordering upon panic. Since the ice to the south of us, the road to the Barrier, was being nibbled away by thaw, winds and tides, it was impossible to lead the ponies down from the Cape on to the sea-ice. The open sea was before us and on our right front. It was necessary to lead them up among the lava blocks which lay on the escarpment of Erebus, southeastwards towards Land’s End, and thence to slide them down a steep but rubbly slope to the ice which still remained. As a matter of fact that ice went out the very next day.

During the last two days provisions had been bagged with the utmost despatch; sledges packed; letters scribbled; clothing sorted and rough alterations to it made. Scott was busy, with Bowers’ help, making such arrangements as could be suggested for a further year’s stay, for which the ship was to order the necessaries. Oates was busy weighing out the pony food for the journey, sorting harness, and generally managing a most unruly mob of ponies. Many were the arguments as to the relative value of a pair of socks or their equivalent weight in tobacco, for we were allowed 12 lbs. of private gear apiece, to consist of everything which we did not habitually wear on our bodies. This included such things as:

My most vivid recollection of the day we started is the sight of Bowers, out of breath, very hot, and in great pain from a bad knock which he had given his knee against a rock, being led forward by his big pony Uncle Bill, over whom temporarily he had but little control. He had been left behind in the camp, giving last instructions about the storage of cases and management of provisions, and had practically lost himself in trying to follow us over what was then unknown ground. He was wearing all the clothing which was not included in his personal gear, for he did not think it fair to give the pony the extra weight. He had bruised his leg in an ugly way, and for many days he came to me to bandage it. He was afraid that if he let the doctors see it they would forbid him to go forward. He had had no sleep for seventy-two hours.

That first night (January 24) we pitched our inexperienced camp not far from Hut Point. But our first taste of sledging was not without incident. Starting with the ponies only we walked them to Glacier Tongue, where the ice and open water joined, and as we went we watched the ship pass us out in the Strait and moor up to the end of the Tongue. Getting the ponies across the Tongue with its shallow but numerous crevasses and holes was ticklish work, but we tethered them safely off the Terra Nova, which meanwhile was landing dogs, sledges and gear. Then we got some lunch on board. A large lead in the sea-ice to the south of the Tongue necessitated some hours’ work in man-hauling all sledges along the back of the Tongue until a way could be found down on to safe ice. We then followed with the ponies. “If a pony falls into one of these holes I shall sit down and cry,” said Oates. Within three minutes my pony was wallowing, with only his head and forelegs visible, in a mess of brash and snow, which had concealed a crack in the sea-ice which was obviously not going to remain much longer in its present position. We got lashings round him and hauled him out. Poor Guts! He was fated to drown: but in an hour he appeared to have forgotten all about his mishap, and was pulling his first load towards Hut Point as gallantly as always.

The next day we took further stores from the ship to the camp which had formed. Some of these loads were to be left on the edge of the Barrier when we got there, but for the present we had to relay, that is, take one load forward and come back for another.

On the 26th we sledged back to the ship for our last load, and said goodbye on the sea-ice to those men with whom we had already worked so long, to Campbell and his five companions who were to suffer so much, to cheery Pennell and his ship’s company.

Before we left, Scott thanked Pennell and his men “for their splendid work. They have behaved like bricks, and a finer lot of men never sailed in a ship.⁠ ⁠… It was a little sad to say farewell to all these good fellows and Campbell and his men. I do most heartily trust that all will be successful in their ventures, for indeed their unselfishness and their generous high spirit deserve reward. God bless them.”

Four of that Depot party were never to see these men again, and Pennell, Commander of the Queen Mary, went down with his ship in the battle of Jutland.

Two days later, January 28, we sledged our first loads on to the Barrier. By that day we had done nearly ninety miles of relay work, first from the ship at Glacier Tongue to our camp off Hut Point, and then onwards. Those first days of sledging were wonderful! What memories they must have brought to Scott and Wilson when to us, who had never seen them before, these much-discussed landmarks were almost like old friends. As we made our way over the frozen sea every seal-hole was of interest, and every type of windswept snow a novelty. The peak of Terror opened out behind the crater of Erebus, and we walked under Castle Rock and Danger Slope until, rounding the promontory, we saw the little jagged Hut Point, and on it the cross placed there to Vince’s memory, all unchanged. There was the old Discovery hut and the Bay in which the Discovery lay, and from which she was almost miraculously freed at the last moment, only to be flung upon the shoal which runs out from the Point, where some tins of the old Discovery days lie on the bottom still and glint in the evening sun. And round about the Bay were the Heights of which we had read, Observation Hill, and Crater Hill separated from it by The Gap⁠—through which the wind was streaming; of course it was, for this must be the famous Hut Point wind.

A few hundred more blizzards had swept over it since those days, but it was all just the same, even to Ferrar’s little stakes placed across the glacierets to mark their movement, more, even to the footsteps still plainly visible on the slopes.

The ponies were dragging up to 900 lbs. each these days, and though they did not seem to be unduly distressed, two of them soon showed signs of lameness. This caused some anxiety, but the trouble was mended by rest. On the whole, though the surface was hard, I think we were giving them too much weight.

The sea-ice off Hut Point and Observation Hill was already very dangerous, and had we then had the experience and knowledge of sea-ice with which we can now look back, it is probable that we should not have slept so easily upon its surface. Parties travelling to Hut Point and beyond in summer must keep well out from the Point and Cape Armitage. But all haste was being made to transport the necessary stores on to the Barrier surface, where a big home depot could be made, so far as we could judge, in safety. The pressure ridges in the sea-ice between Cape Armitage and Pram Point, which are formed by the movement of the Barrier, were large, and in some of the hollows countless seals were playing in the water. Judging by the size of these ridges and by the thickness of this ice when it broke up, the ice south of Hut Point was at least two years old.

I well remember the day we took the first of our loads on to the Barrier. I expect we were all a little excited, for to walk upon the Barrier for the first time was indeed an adventure: what kind of surface was it, and how about these beastly crevasses of which we had read so much? Scott was ahead, and so far as we could see there was nothing but the same level of ice all round⁠—when suddenly he was above us, walking up the sloping and quite invisible drift. A minute after and our ponies and sledges were up and over the tide crack, and beneath us soft and yielding snow, very different from the hard windswept surface of the frozen sea, which we had just left. Really it was rather prosaic and a tame entrance. But the Barrier is a tricky place, and it takes years to get to know her.

On our outward journey this day Oates did his best to kill a seal. My own tent was promised some kidneys if we were good, and our mouths watered with the prospect of the hoosh before us. The seal had been left for dead, and when on our homeward way we neared the place of his demise Titus went off to carve our dinner from him. The next thing we saw was the seal lolloping straight for his hole, while Oates did his best to stab him. The quarry made off safely not much hurt, for, as we discovered later, a clasp-knife is quite useless to kill a seal. Oates returned with a bad cut, as his hand had slipped down the knife; and it was a long time before he was allowed to forget it.

This Barrier, which we were to know so well, was soft, too soft for the ponies, and apparently flat. Only to our left, some hundreds of yards distant, there were two little snowy mounds. We got out the telescope which we carried, but could make nothing of them. While we held our ponies Scott walked towards them, and soon we saw him brushing away snow and uncovering something dark beneath. They were tents, obviously left by Shackleton or his men when the Nimrod was embarking his Southern party from the Barrier. They were snowed up outside, and iced up inside almost to the caps. Afterwards we dug them out, a good evening’s work. The fabric was absolutely rotten, we just tore it down with our hands, but the bamboos and caps were as sound as ever. When we had dug down to the floor-cloth we found everything intact as when it was left. The cooker was there and a primus⁠—Scott lighted it and cooked a meal; we often used it afterwards. And there were Rowntree’s cocoa, Bovril, Brand’s extract of beef, sheep’s tongues, cheese and biscuits⁠—all open to the snow and all quite good. We ate them for several days. There is something impressive in these first meals off food which has been exposed for years.

It was on a Saturday, January 28, that we took our first load a short half-mile on to the Barrier and left it at a place afterwards known as the Fodder Depot. Two days later we moved our camp 1 mile 1,200 yards farther on to the Barrier and here was erected the main depot, known as Safety Camp. “Safety” because it was supposed that even if a phenomenal breakup of sea-ice should occur, and take with it part of the Barrier, this place would remain. Subsequent events proved the supposition well founded. This short bit of Barrier sledging gave all of us food for thought, for the surface was appallingly soft, and the poor ponies were sinking deep. It was obvious that no animals could last long under such conditions. But somehow Shackleton had got his four a long way.

There was now no hurry, for there was plenty of food. It was only when we went on from here that we must economize food and travel fast. It was determined to give the ponies a rest while we made the depot and rearranged sledges, which we did on the following day. We had with us one pair of pony snowshoes, a circle of wire as a foundation, hooped round with bamboo, and with beckets of the same material. The surface suggested their trial, which was completely successful. The question of snowshoes had been long and anxiously considered, and shoes for all the ponies were at Cape Evans; but as we had so lately landed from the ship the ponies had not been trained in their use, and they had not been brought.

Scott immediately sent Wilson and Meares with a dog-team to see whether the sea-ice would allow them to reach Cape Evans and bring back shoes for the other ponies. Meanwhile the next morning saw us trying to accustom the animals to wearing snowshoes by exercising them in the one pair we possessed. But it seemed no use continuing to do this after the dog party came in. They had found the sea-ice gone between Glacier Tongue and Winter Quarters and so were empty-handed. They reported that a crevasse at the edge of the Tongue had opened under the sledge, which had tilted back into the crevasse but had run over it. These Glacier Tongue crevasses are shallow things; Gran fell into one later and walked out of the side of the Tongue on to the sea-ice beyond!

It was determined to start on the following day with five weeks’ provisions for men and animals; to go forward for about fourteen days, depot two weeks’ provisions and return. Most unfortunately Atkinson would have to be left behind with Crean to look after him. He had chafed his foot, and the chafe had suppurated. To his great disappointment there was no alternative but to lie up. Luckily we had another tent, and there was the cooker and primus we had dug out of Shackleton’s tent. Poor Crean was to spend his spare time in bringing up loads from the Fodder Depot to Safety Camp and, worse still from his point of view, dig a hole downwards into the Barrier for scientific observations!

We left the following morning, February 2, and marched on a patchy surface for five miles (Camp 4). The temperature was above zero and Scott decided to see whether the surface was not better at night. On the whole, it is problematical whether this is the case⁠—we came to the conclusion later that the ideal surface for pulling a sledge on ski was found at a temperature of about +16°. But there is no doubt whatever that ponies should do their work at night, when the temperature is colder, and rest and sleep when the sun has its greatest altitude and power. And so we camped and turned in to our sleeping-bags at 4 p.m. and marched again soon after midnight, doing five miles before and five miles after lunch: lunch, if you please, being about 1 a.m., and a very good time, for just then the daylight seemed to be thin and bleak and one always felt the cold.

Our road lay eastwards through the Strait, some twenty-five miles in width, which runs between the low, rather uninteresting scarp of White Island to the south, and the beautiful slopes of Erebus and Terror to the north. This part of the Barrier is stagnant, but the main stream in front of us, unchecked by land, flows uninterruptedly northwards towards the Ross Sea. Only where the stream presses against the Bluff, White Island and, most important of all, Cape Crozier, and rubs itself against the nearly stationary ice upon which we were travelling, pressures and rendings take place, forming some nasty crevasses. It was intended to steer nearly east until this line was crossed some distance north of White Island, and then steer due south.

It is most difficult on a large snow surface to say whether it is flat. Certainly there are plenty of big crevasses for several miles in this neighbourhood, though they are generally well covered, and we found only very small ones on this outward journey. I am inclined to think there are also some considerable pressure waves. As we came up to Camp 5 we floundered into a pocket of soft snow in which one pony after another plunged deeper and deeper until they were buried up to their bellies and could move no more. I suppose it was an old crevasse filled with soft snow, or perhaps one of the pressure-ridge hollows which had been recently drifted up. My own pony somehow got through with his sledge to the other side, and every moment I expected the ground to fall below us and a chasm to swallow us up. The others had to be unharnessed and led out. The only set of snowshoes was then put on to Bowers’ big pony and he went back and drew the stranded sledges out. Beyond we pitched our camp.

On February 3⁠–⁠4 we marched for ten miles to Camp 6. In the last five miles we crossed several crevasses, our first; and I heard Oates ask someone what they looked like. “Black as hell,” he said, but we saw no more just now, for this march carried us beyond the line of pressure which runs between White Island and Cape Crozier. This halt was called Corner Camp, as we turned here and marched due south. Corner Camp will be heard of again and again in this story: it is thirty miles from Hut Point.

By 4 p.m. it was blowing our first Barrier blizzard. We were to find out afterwards that a Corner Camp blizzard blows nearly as often as a Hut Point wind. The Bluff seems to be the breeding-place for these disturbances, which pour out towards the sea by way of Cape Crozier. Corner Camp is in the direct line between the two.

One summer blizzard is much like another. The temperature, never very low, rises, and you are not cold in the tent. Sometimes a blizzard is a very welcome rest: after weeks of hard pulling, dragging yourself awake each morning, feeling as though you had only just gone to sleep, with the mental strain perhaps which work among crevasses entails, it is most pleasant to be put to bed for two or three days. You may sleep dreamlessly nearly all the time, rousing out for meals, or waking occasionally to hear from the soft warmth of your reindeer bag the deep boom of the tent flapping in the wind, or drowsily you may visit other parts of the world, while the drifting snow purrs against the green tent at your head.

But outside there is raging chaos. It is blowing a full gale: the air is full of falling snow, and the wind drives this along and adds to it the loose snow which is lying on the surface of the Barrier. Fight your way a few steps away from the tent, and it will be gone. Lose your sense of direction and there is nothing to guide you back. Expose your face and hands to the wind, and they will very soon be frostbitten. And this at midsummer. Imagine the added cold of spring and autumn: the cold and darkness of winter.

The animals suffer most, and during this first blizzard all our ponies were weakened, and two of them became practically useless. It must be remembered that they had stood for five weeks upon a heaving deck; they had been through one very bad gale: the time during which we were unloading the ship was limited, and since that time they had dragged heavy loads the greater part of 200 miles. Nothing was left undone for them which we could manage, but necessarily the Antarctic is a grim place for ponies. I think Scott felt the sufferings of the ponies more than the animals themselves. It was different for the dogs. These fairly warm blizzards were only a rest for them. Snugly curled up in a hole in the snow they allowed themselves to be drifted over. Bieleglas and Vaida, two half brothers who pulled side by side, always insisted upon sharing one hole, and for greater warmth one would lie on the top of the other. At intervals of two hours or so they fraternally changed places.

This blizzard lasted three days.

We now marched nearly due south, the open Barrier in front, Mount Terror and the sea behind, for five days, covering fifty-four miles, when, being now level with the southern extremity of the Bluff, we laid the Bluff Depot. The bearings of Bluff Depot, as well as those of Corner Camp, are given in Scott’s Last Expedition.

The characteristics of these days were the collapse of two of the ponies, Blücher and Blossom, and the partial collapse of a third, Jimmy Pigg, although the surface hardened, becoming a marbled series of windswept ridges and domes in this region. For the rest the new hands were finding out how to keep warm on the Barrier, how to pitch a tent and cook a meal in twenty minutes, and the thousand and one little tips which only experience can teach. But all the care in the world could do little for the poor ponies.

It must be confessed at once that some of these ponies were very poor material, and it must be conceded that Oates who was in charge of them started with a very great handicap. From first to last it was Oates’ consummate management, seconded by the care and kindness of the ponies’ leaders, which obtained results which often exceeded the most sanguine hopes.

One evening we watched Scott digging crumbly blocks of snow out of the Barrier and building a rough wall, something like a grouse butt, to the south of his pony. In our inmost hearts I fear we viewed these proceedings with distrust, and saw in it but little usefulness⁠—one little bit of leaky wall in a great plain of snow. But a very little wind (which you must understand comes almost invariably from the south) convinced us from personal experience what a boon these walls could be. Henceforward every night on camping each pony leader built a wall behind his pony while his pemmican was cooking, and came out after supper to finish this wall before he turned in to his sleeping-bag⁠—no small thing when you consider that the warmth of your hours of rest depends largely upon getting into your bag immediately you have eaten your hoosh and cocoa. And not seldom you might hear a voice in your dreams: “Bill! Nobby’s kicked his wall down”; and out Bill would go to build it up again.