NEARING THE END
Seven men from all the world, back
to town again,
Seven men from out of hell.
It is wonderful how quickly the weeks seemed to
pass. Situated as we were, Time became quite an object of study
to us and its imperceptible drift was almost a reality, considering
that each day was another step towards liberty--freedom from the
tyranny of the wind. In a sense, the endless surge of the blizzard
was a slow form of torture, and the subtle effect it had on the
mind was measurable in the delight with which one greeted a calm,
fine morning, or noted some insignificant fact which bespoke the
approach of a milder season. Thus in August, although the weather
was colder, there were the merest signs of thawing along the edges
of the snow packed against the rocky faces which looked towards
the sun; Weddell seals came back to the land, and the petrels would
at times appear in large flocks; all of which are very commonplace
events which any one might have expected, but at the time they had
more than their face value.
August 5 was undoubtedly a great
day from our very provincial point of view. On the 4th there had
been a dense drift, during which the Hut was buttressed round with
soft snow which rose above the eaves and half filled the entrance-veranda.
The only way in which the night- watchman could keep the hourly
observations was to dig his way out frequently with a shovel. In
the early morning hours of the 5th the wind abated and veered right
round from south through east to north-east, from which quarter
it remained as a fresh breeze with falling snow. By 7 A.M. the air
was still, and outside there was a dead world of whiteness; flocculent
heaps of down rolling up to where glimpses of rock streaked black
near the skyline of the ridges, striated masses of livid cloud overhead,
and to the horizon the dark berg-strewn sea, over which the snow
We did not linger over the scenery, but
set to work to hoist to the head of the mainmast the aerial, which
had been hurriedly put together. The job occupied till lunch-time,
and then a jury-mast was fixed to the southern supporting mast,
and by dusk the aerial hung in position. Bickerton was the leading
spirit in the work and subsequently steadied the mainmast with eighteen
wire stays, in the determination to make it stable enough to weather
the worst hurricane. The attempt was so successful that in an ordinary
fifty-mile ``blow'' the mast vibrated slightly, and in higher
winds exhibited the smallest degree of movement.
o'clock that night, Jeffryes, who felt so benefited by his rest
that he was eager to commence operating once more, had soon ``attuned''
his instrument to Macquarie Island, and in a few minutes communication
We learned from the Governor-General,
Lord Denman, that her Majesty the Queen was ``graciously pleased
to consent to the name `Queen Mary Land' being given to newly
discovered land.'' The message referred to the tract of
Antarctic coast which had been discovered and mapped by Wild and
his party to the west.
On August 6 Macquarie Island signalled
that they had run short of provisions. The message was rather a
paradox: `` Food done, but otherwise all right.'' However,
on August 11, we were reassured to hear that the `Tutanekai',
a New Zealand Government steamer, had been commissioned to relieve
the party, and that Sawyer through ill-health had been obliged to
return to Australia. A sealing-ship, the `Rachel Cohen', after
battling for almost the whole month of July against gales, in an
endeavour to reach the island, with stores for our party and the
sealers, had returned damaged to port.
Marvellous to relate
we had two calm days in succession, and on the 6th the snow lay
so deeply round the Hut that progression without skis was a laborious
flounder. The dogs plunged about in great glee, rolling in the snow
and ``playing off'' their surplus energy after being penned
for a long spell in the shelter.
On skis one could push up
the first slopes of the glacier for a long distance. Soft snow had
settled two feet thick even on the steep icy downfalls. The sea
to the north was frozen into large cakes between which ran a network
of dark water ``leads.'' With glasses we could make out
in the near distance five seals and two tall solitary figures which
were doubtless Emperor penguins. During the whole day nimbus clouds
had hung heavily from the sky, and snow had fallen in grains and
star-like crystals. Gradually the nimbus lightened, a rift appeared
overhead, and,the edges of the billowy cumulus were burnished in
the light of the low sun. The sea-horizon came sharply into sight
through fading mist. Bergs and islands, from being ghostly images,
rose into sharp-featured reality. The masts and Hut, with a dark
riband of smoke floating from the chimney, lay just below, and two
of the men were walking out to the harbour-ice where a seal had
just landed, while round them scampered the dogs in high spirits.
That was sufficient to set us sliding downhill, ploughing deep furrows
through the soft drift and reaching the Hut in quick time.
During August we were able to do more work outside, thus enlarging
our sphere of interest. Bage, who had been busy up till August 8
with his daily magnetograph records, ran short of bromide papers
and now had to be contented with taking ``quick runs'' at
intervals, especially when the aurora was active. His astronomical
observations had been very disappointing owing to the continuous
wind and drift. Still, in September, which was marked by periods
of fine weather, a few good star observations were possible. Shafts
were sunk in the sea-ice and up on the glacier, just above the zone
where the ice was loaded with stones and debris--the lower moraine.
The glacier shaft was dug to a depth of twenty-four feet, and several
erratics were met with embedded in the ice. In this particular part
the crystalline structure of the ice resembled that of a gneiss,
showing that it had flowed under pressure. I was able to make measurements
of ablation on the glacier, to take observations of the temperature
and salinity of the sea-water, and to estimate the forward movement
of the seaward cliffs of the ice-cap.
now became quite a popular diversion. With a slight smattering of
``gneiss,'' ``felspar,'' ``weathered limestone,''
``garnets,'' and ``glacial markings'' the amateurs
went off and made many finds on the moraines, and the specimens
were cached in heaps, to be later brought home by the dogs, some
of which were receiving their first lessons in sledge-pulling.
Rather belated, but none the less welcome, our midwinter wireless
greetings arrived on August 17 from many friends who could only
imagine how much they were appreciated, and from various members
of the Expedition who had spent the previous year in Adelie Land
and who knew the meaning of an Antarctic winter. A few evenings
later, Macquarie Islanders had their reward in the arrival of the
`Tutanekai' from New Zealand with supplies of food, and, piecing
together a few fragments of evidence ``dropped in the ether,''
we judged that they were having a night of revelry.
was in a fierce humour on the morning of August 16, mounting to
one hundred and five miles per hour between 9 and 10 A.M., and carrying
with it a very dense drift.
We were now in a position to
sit down and generalize about the wind. It is a tiresome thing to
have it as the recurring insistent theme of our story, but to have
had it as the continual obstacle to our activity, the opposing barrier
to the simplest task, was even more tedious.
A river, rather
a torrent, of air rushes from the hinterland northward year after
year, replenished from a source which never fails. We had reason
to believe that it was local in character, as apparently a gulf
of open water about one hundred miles in width--the D'Urville
Sea--exists to the north of Adelie Land. Thus, far back in the interior--back
to the South Geographical Pole itself--across one thousand six hundred
miles of lofty plateau--is a zone of high barometric pressure, while
to the north lies the D'Urville Sea and beyond it the Southern
Ocean--a zone of low pressure. As if through a contracted outlet,
thereby increasing the velocity of the flow, the wind sweeps down
over Adelie Land to equalize the great air-pressure system. And
so, in winter, the chilling of the plateau leads to the development
of a higher barometric pressure and, as the open water to the north
persists, to higher winds. In summer the suns shines on the Pole
for six months, the uplands of the continent are warmed and the
northern zone of low pressure pushes southward. So, in Adelie Land,
short spells of calm weather may be expected over a period of barely
three months around the summer solstice. This explanation is intentionally
popular. The meteorological problem is one which can only be fully
discussed when all the manifold observations have been gathered
together, from other contemporary Antarctic expeditions, from our
two stations on the Antarctic continent, and from Macquarie Island;
all taken in conjunction with weather conditions around Australia
and New Zealand. Then, when all the evidence is arrayed and compared,
some general truths of particular value to science and, maybe, to
commerce, should emerge.
Of one thing we were certain, and
that was that Adelie Land was the windiest place in the world. To
state the fact more accurately: such wind-velocities as prevail
at sea-level in Adelie Land are known in other parts of the world
only at great elevations in the atmosphere. The average wind-velocity
for our first year proved to be approximately fifty miles per hour.
The bare figures convey more when they are compared with the following
average annual wind-velocities quoted from a book of reference:
Europe, 10.3 miles per hour; United States, 9.5 miles per hour;
Southern Asia, 6.5 miles per hour; West Indies, 6.2 miles per hour.
Reference has already been made to the fact that often the high
winds ceased abruptly for a short interval. Many times during 1913
we had opportunities of judging this phenomenon and, as an example,
quoted September 6.
A diagrammatic sketch illustrating the meteorological
the main base, noon, September 6, 1913
On that day a south-by-east hurricane fell off and
the drift cleared suddenly from about the Hut at 11.20 A.M. On the
hills to the south there was a dense grey wall of flying snow. Whirlies
tracked about at intervals and overhead a fine cumulus cloud formed,
revolving rapidly. Over the recently frozen sea there was an easterly
breeze, while about the Hut itself there were light northerly airs.
Later in the day the zone of southern wind and drift crept down
and once more overwhelmed us. Evidently the ``eye'' of a
cyclonic storm had passed over.
During September the sea
was frozen over for more than two weeks, and the meteorological
conditions varied from their normal phase. It appeared as if we
were situated on the battlefield, so to speak, of opposing forces.
The pacific influence of the ``north'' would hold sway for
a few hours, a whole day, or even for a few days. Then the vast
energies of the ``south'' would rise to bursting-point and
a ``through blizzard'' would be the result.
11, although there was a wind of seventy miles per hour, the sea-ice
which had become very solid during a few days of low temperature
was not dispersed. Next day we found it possible to walk in safety
to the Mackellar Islets. On the way rushes of southerly wind accompanied
by a misty drift followed behind us. Then a calm intervened, and
the sun momentarily appeared and shone warmly. Suddenly from the
north-west came breezy puffs which settled into a light wind as
we went north. On the way home we could not see the
for clouds of drift, and, when approaching the mouth of the boat-harbour,
these clouds were observed to roll down the lower slopes of the
glacier and, reaching the shore, rise into the air in columns. They
then sailed away northward at a higher altitude, almost obscuring
the sun with a fine fog. On the same night the ``south''
had gained the mastery, and the wind blew with its accustomed strength.
Again, on September 24, McLean had a unique experience. He was
digging ice in a fifty-mile wind with moderate drift close to the
Hut and, on finishing his work, walked down to the harbour-ice to
see if there were any birds about. He was suddenly surprised to
leave the wind and drift behind and to walk out into an area of
calm. The water lapped alongside the ice-foot, blue in the brilliant
sunlight. Away to the west a few miles distant a fierce wind was
blowing snow like fine spume over the brink of the cliffs. Towards
the north-west one could plainly see the junction between calm water
and foam-crested waves. To the south the drift drove off the hills,
passed the Hut, and then gyrated upwards and thinned away seawards
at an altitude of several hundred feet.
The wind average
for September was 36.8 miles per hour, as against 53.7 for September
of the previous year. There were nine ``pleasant'' days,
that is, days on which it was possible to walk about outside and
enjoy oneself. On the 27th there was a very severe blizzard. The
wind was from the south-east: the first occasion on which it had
blown from any direction but south-by-east at a high velocity. The
drift was extremely dense, the roof of the Hut being invisible at
a distance of six feet. Enormous ramps of snow formed in the vicinity,
burying most of the cases and the air-tractor sledge completely.
The anemograph screen was blown over and smashed beyond all repair.
So said the Meteorological Notes in the October number of the `Adelie
Speaking of temperature in general, it was
found that the mean- temperature for the first year was just above
zero; a very low temperature for a station situated near the Circle.
The continual flow of cold air from the elevated interior of the
continent accounts for this. If Adelie Land were a region of calms
or of northerly winds, the average temperature would be very much
higher. On the other hand, the temperature at sea-level was never
depressed below -28 degrees F., though with a high wind we found
that uncomfortable enough, even in burberrys. During the spring
sledging in 1912 the lowest temperature recorded was -35 degrees
F. and it was hard to keep warm in sleeping-bags. The wind made
all the difference to one's resistance.
There was an
unusually heavy snowfall during 1913. When the air was heavily charged
with moisture, as in midsummer, the falls would consist of small
(sago) or larger (tapioca) rounded pellets. Occasionally one would
see beautiful complicated patterns in the form of hexagonal flakes.
When low temperatures were the rule, small, plain, hexagonal stars
or spicules fell. Often throughout a single snowfall many types
would be precipitated. Thus, in September, in one instance, the
fall commenced with fluffy balls and then passed to tapioca snow,
sago snow, six-rayed stars and spicules.
was still maintained, though September was found to be such a ``disturbed''
month--possibly owing to the brilliant aurorae --that not a great
many messages were exchanged. Jeffryes was not in the best of health,
so that Bickerton took over the operating work. Though at first
signals could only be received slowly, Bickerton gradually improved
with practice and was able to ``keep up his end'' until
November 20, when daylight became continuous. One great advantage,
which by itself justified the existence of the wireless plant, was
the fact that time-signals were successfully received from Melbourne
Observatory by way of Macquarie Island, and Bage was thus able to
improve on his earlier determinations and to establish a fundamental
During this same happy month of September, whose
first day marked the event of ``One hundred days to the coming of
the Ship'' there was a great revival in biological work.
Hodgeman made several varieties of bag-traps which were lowered
over the edge of the harbour-ice, and many large ``worms''
and crustaceans were caught and preserved.
On September 14
Bickerton started to construct a hand-dredge, which was ready for
use by the next evening. It was a lovely, cloudless day on the 16th
and the sea-ice, after more than two weeks, still spread to the
north in a firm, unbroken sheet. We went out on skis to reconnoitre,
and found that the nearest ``lead'' was too far away to
make dredging a safe proposition. So we were contented to kill a
seal and bring it home before lunch, continuing to sink the ice-shaft
above the moraine for the rest of the day.
The wind rose
to the ``seventies'' on September 17, and the sea-ice was
scattered to the north. On the 19th--a fine day--there were many
detached pieces of floe which drifted in with a northerly breeze,
and on one of these, floating in an ice-girt cove to the west, a
sea-leopard was observed sunning himself. He was a big, vicious-looking
brute, and we determined to secure him if possible. The first thing
was to dispatch him before he escaped from the floe. This Madigan
did in three shots from a Winchester rifle. A long steel-shod sledge
was then dragged from the Hut and used to bridge the interval between
the ice- foot and the floe. After the specimen had been flayed,
the skin and a good supply of dogs' meat were hauled across
and sledged home. On the 30th another sea-leopard came swimming
in near the harbour's entrance, apparently on the look-out for
seals or penguins. Including the one seen during 1912, only three
of these animals were observed during our two years' sojourn
in Adelie Land.
Dredgings in depths up to five fathoms were
done inside the boat harbour and just off its entrance on five separate
occasions between September 22 and the end of the month. Many ``worms,''
crustaceans, pteropods, asteroids, gastropods and hydroids were
obtained, and McLean and I had many interesting hours classifying
the specimens. The former preserved and labelled them, establishing
a small laboratory in the loft above the ``dining-room.''
The only disadvantage of this arrangement was that various ``foreign
bodies'' would occasionally come tumbling through the interspaces
between the flooring boards of the loft while a meal was in progress.
Some Antarctic petrels were shot and examined for external and
internal parasites. Fish were caught in two traps made by Hodgeman
and myself in October, but unfortunately the larger of the two was
lost during a blizzard. However, on October 11 a haul of fifty-two
fish was made with hand-lines off the boat harbour, and we had a
pleasant change in the menu for dinner. They were of the type known
as Notothenia, to which reference has already been made.
By October 13, when a stray silver-grey petrel appeared, every one
was on the qui vive for the coming of the penguins. In 1912 they
had arrived on October 12, and as there was much floating ice on
the northern horizon, we wondered if their migration to land had
The winds were very high for the ensuing two
days, and on the 17th the horizon was clearer and more ``water sky''
was visible. Before lunch on that day there was not a living thing
along the steep, overhanging ice-foot, but by the late afternoon
thirteen birds had effected a landing, and those who were not resting
after their long swim were hopping about making a survey of the
nearest rookeries. One always has a ``soft spot'' for these
game little creatures--there is something irresistibly human about
them--and, situated as we were, the wind seemed of little account
now that the foreshores were to be populated by the penguins--our
harbingers of summer and the good times to be. Three days later,
at the call of the season, a skua gull came flapping over the Hut.
It was rather a singular circumstance that on the evening of
the 17th, coincident with the disappearance of the ice on the horizon,
wireless signals suddenly came through very strongly in the twilight
at 9.30 P.M., and for many succeeding nights continued at the same
intensity. On the other hand, during September, when the sea was
either firmly frozen or strewn thickly with floe-ice, communication
was very fitful and uncertain. The fact is therefore suggested that
wireless waves are for some reason more readily transmitted across
a surface of water than across ice.
The weather during the
rest of October and for the first weeks of November took on a phase
of heavy snowfalls which we knew were inevitable before summer could
be really established. The winds were very often in the ``eighties''
and every four or five days a calm might be expected.
penguins had a tempestuous time building their nests, and resuming
once more the quaint routine of their rookery life. In the hurricanes
they usually ceased work and crouched behind rocks until the worst
was over. A great number of birds were observed to have small wounds
on the body which had bled and discoloured their feathers. In one
case a penguin had escaped, presumably from a sea-leopard, with
several serious wounds, and had staggered up to a rookery, dying
there from loss of blood. Almost immediately the frozen carcase
was mutilated and torn by skua gulls.
On October 31 the good
news was received that the `Aurora' would leave Australia on
November 15. There were a great number of things to be packed, including
the lathe, the motor and dynamos, the air-tractor engine, the wireless
``set'' and magnetic and meteorological instruments. Outside
the Hut, many cases of kerosene and provisions, which might be required
for the Ship, had been buried to a depth of twelve feet in places
during the southeast hurricane in September. So we set to work in
great spirits to prepare for the future.
McLean was busy
collecting biological specimens, managing to secure a large number
of parasites from penguins, skua gulls, giant petrels, snow petrels,
Wilson petrels, seals and an Emperor penguin, which came up on the
harbour-ice. On several beautiful days, with a sea-breeze wafting
in from the north, large purple and brown jelly-fish came floating
to the ice-foot. Many were caught in a hand-net and preserved in
formalin. In his shooting excursions McLean happened on a small
rocky ravine to the east where, hovering among nests of snow and
Wilson petrels, a small bluish-grey bird,* not unlike Prion Banksii,
was discovered. Four specimens were shot, and, later, several old
nests were found containing the unhatched eggs of previous years.
** On arrival in Australia this bird proved to be new to science.
On the highest point of Azimuth Hill, overlooking the sea, a
Memorial Cross was raised to our two lost comrades.
evening in November! At ten o'clock a natural picture in shining
colours is painted on the canvas of sea and sky. The northern dome
is a blush of rose deepening to a warm terra-cotta along the horizon,
and the water reflects it upward to the gaze. Tiny Wilson petrels
flit by like swallows; seals shove their dark forms above the placid
surface; the shore is lined with penguins squatting in grotesque
repose. The south is pallid with light--the circling sun. Adelie
Land is at peace!
For some time Madigan, Hodgeman and I had
been prepared to set out on a short sledging journey to visit Mount
Murchison and to recover if possible the instruments cached by the
Eastern Coastal and the Southern Parties. It was not until November
23 that the weather ``broke'' definitely, and we started
up the old glacier ``trail'' assisted by a good team of
Aladdin's Cave was much the same as we had left
it in the previous February, except that a fine crop of delicate
ice-crystals had formed on its walls. We carried with us a small
home-made wireless receiving set, and arrangements were made with
Bickerton and Bage to call at certain hours. As an ``aerial''
a couple of lengths of copper wire were run out on the surface of
the ice. At the first ``call'' Madigan heard the signals
strongly and distinctly, but beyond five and a half miles nothing
more was received.
Resuming the journey on the following
day, we made a direct course for Madigan Nunatak and then steered
southeast for Mount Murchison, pitching camp at its summit on the
night of November 28.
On the 29th Madigan and Hodgeman made
a descent into the valley, on whose southern side rose Aurora Peak.
The former slid away on skis and had a fine run to the bottom, while
Hodgeman followed on the sledge drawn by Monkey and D'Urville,
braking with an ice-axe driven into the snow between the cross-bars.
Their object was to find the depot of instruments and rocks which
the Eastern Coastal Party were forced to abandon when fifty-three
miles from home. They were unsuccessful in the search, as an enormous
amount of snow had fallen on the old surface during the interval
of almost a year. Indeed, on the knoll crowning Mount Murchison,
where a ten-foot flagpole had been left, snow had accumulated so
that less than a foot of the top of the pole was showing. Nine feet
of hard compressed snow scarcely marked by one's footsteps--the
contribution of one year! To such a high isolated spot drift-snow
would not reach, so that the annual snowfall must greatly exceed
the residuum found by us, for the effect of the prevailing winds
would be to reduce it greatly.
On the third day after leaving
Mount Murchison for the Southern Party's depot, sixty-seven
miles south of Winter Quarters, driving snow commenced, and a blizzard
kept us in camp for seven days. When the drift at last moderated
we were forced to make direct for the Hut, as the time when the
Ship was expected to arrive had passed.
Descending the long
blue slopes of the glacier just before midnight on December 12,
we became aware of a faint black bar on the seaward horizon. Soon
a black speck had moved to the windward side of the bar--and
it could be nothing but the smoke of the `Aurora'. The moment
of which we had dreamt for months had assuredly come. The Ship was
There were wild cheers down at the Hut when they
heard the news. They could not believe us and immediately rushed
up with glasses to the nearest ridge to get the evidence of their
own senses. The masts, the funnel and the staunch hull rose out
of the ocean as we watched on the hills through the early hours
of a superb morning. The sun was streaming warmly over the plateau
and a cool land breeze had sprung up from the south, as the `Aurora'
rounded the Mackellar Islets and steamed up to her old anchorage.
We picked out familiar figures on the bridge and poop, and made
a bonfire of kerosene, benzine and lubricating oil in a rocky crevice
in their honour.
The indescribable moment was when Davis
came ashore in the whale-boat, manned by two of the Macquarie Islanders
(Hamilton and Blake), Hurley and Hunter. They rushed into the Hut,
and we tried to tell the story of a year in a few minutes.
On the Ship we greeted Gillies, Gray, de la Motte, Ainsworth,
Sandell and Correll. It was splendid to know that the world contained
so many people, and to see these men who had stuck to the Expedition
through ``thick and thin.'' Then came the fusillade of letters,
magazines and ``mysterious'' parcels and boxes. At dinner
we sat down reunited in the freshly painted ward-room, striving
to collect our bewildered thoughts at the sight of a white tablecloth,
Australian mutton, fresh vegetables, fruit and cigars.
two long years were over--for the moment they were to be effaced
in the glorious present. We were to live in a land where drift and
wind were unknown, where rain fell in mild, refreshing showers,
where the sky was blue for long weeks, and where the memories of
the past were to fade into a dream--a nightmare?
CHAPTER XXV LIFE ON MACQUARIE