FROM MACQUARIE ISLAND TO ADELIE LAND
The morning following our farewell to Ainsworth
and party at the north end of the island found us steaming
down the west coast, southward bound.
of fresh water was scanty, and the only resource was to
touch at Caroline Cove. As a matter of fact, there were
several suitable localities on the east coast, but the strong
easterly weather then prevailing made a landing impossible.
On the ship nearing the south end, the wind subsided.
She then crept into the lee of the cliffs, a boat was dropped
and soundings disclosed a deep passage at the mouth of Caroline
Cove and ample water within. There was, however, limited
space for manoeuvring the vessel if a change should occur
in the direction of the wind. The risk was taken; the `Aurora'
felt her way in, and, to provide against accident, was anchored
by Captain Davis with her bow toward the entrance. Wild
then ran out a kedge anchor to secure the stern.
During the cruise down the coast the missing stock of our
only anchor had been replaced by Gillies and Hannam. Two
oregon ``dead men'', bolted together on the shank,
made a clumsy but efficient makeshift.
barrels were taken ashore, repeatedly filled and towed off
to the ship. It was difficult at first to find good water,
for the main stream flowing down from the head of the bay
was contaminated by the penguins which made it their highway
to a rookery. After a search, an almost dry gulley bed was
found to yield water when a pit was dug in its bed. This
spot was some eighty yards from the beach and to reach it
one traversed an area of tussocks between which sea elephants
wallowed in soft mire.
A cordon of men was made and
buckets were interchanged, the full ones descending and
the empty ones ascending. The barrels on the beach were
thus speedily filled and taken off by a boat's crew.
At 11 P.M. darkness came, and it was decided to complete
the work on the following day.
As we rowed to the
ship, the water was serenely placid. From the dark environing
hills came the weird cries of strange birds. There was a
hint of wildness, soon to be forgotten in the chorus of
a 'Varsity song and the hearty shouts of the rowers.
About 2 A.M. the officer on watch came down to report
to Captain Davis a slight change in the direction of the
breeze. At 3 A.M. I was again awakened by hearing Captain
Davis hasten on deck, and by a gentle bumping of the ship,
undoubtedly against rock. It appeared that the officer on
watch had left the bridge for a few minutes, while the wind
freshened and was blowing at the time nearly broadside-on
from the north. This caused the ship to sag to leeward,
stretching the bow and stern cables, until she came in contact
with the kelp-covered, steep, rocky bank on the south side.
The narrow limits of the anchorage were responsible for
this dangerous situation.
All hands were immediately
called on deck and set to work hauling on the stern cable.
In a few minutes the propeller and rudder were out of danger.
The engines were then started slowly ahead, and, as we came
up to the bower anchor, the cable was taken in. The wind
was blowing across the narrow entrance to the Cove, so that
it was advisable to get quickly under way. The kedge anchor
was abandoned, and we steamed straight out to sea with the
bower hanging below the bows. The wind increased, and there
was no other course open but to continue the southward voyage.
The day so inauspiciously begun turned out beautifully
sunny. There was additional verve in our Christmas celebration,
as Macquarie Island and the Bishop and Clerk, in turn, sank
below the northern horizon.
During the stay at the
island little attention had been given to scientific matters.
All our energies had been concentrated on speedily landing
the party which was to carry out such special work, so as
to allow us to get away south as soon as possible. Enough
had been seen to indicate the wide scientific possibilities
of the place.
For some days we were favoured by exceptional
weather; a moderate breeze from the north-east and a long,
lazy swell combining to make our progress rapid.
The sum of the experiences of earlier expeditions had shown
that the prevailing winds south of 60 degrees S. latitude
were mainly south-easterly, causing a continuous streaming
of the pack from east to west. Our obvious expedient on
encountering the ice was to steam in the same direction
as this drift. It had been decided before setting out that
we would confine ourselves to the region west of the meridian
of 158 degrees E. longitude. So it was intended to reach
the pack, approximately in that meridian, and, should we
be repulsed, to work steadily to the west in expectation
of breaking through to the land.
Regarding the ice
conditions over the whole segment of the unknown tract upon
which our attack was directed, very little was known. Critically
examined, the reports of the American squadron under the
command of Wilkes were highly discouraging. D'Urville
appeared to have reached his landfall without much hindrance
by ice, but that was a fortunate circumstance in view of
the difficulties Wilkes had met. At the western limit of
the area we were to explore, the Germans in the `Gauss'
had been irrevocably trapped in the ice as early as the
month of February. At the eastern limit, only the year before,
the `Terra Nova' of Scott's expedition, making a
sally into unexplored waters, had sighted new land almost
on the 158th meridian, but even though it was then the end
of summer, and the sea was almost free from the previous
season's ice, they were not able to reach the land on
account of the dense pack.
In the early southern
summer, at the time of our arrival, the ice conditions were
expected to be at their worst. This followed from the fact
that not only would local floes be encountered, but also
a vast expanse of pack fed by the disintegrating floes of
the Ross Sea, since, between Cape Adare and the Balleny
Islands, the ice drifting to the north-west under the influence
of the south-east winds is arrested in an extensive sheet.
On the other hand, were we to wait for the later season,
no time would remain for the accomplishment of the programme
which had been arranged. So we svere forced to accept things
as we found them, being also prepared to make the most of
any chance opportunity.
In planning the Expedition,
the probability of meeting unusually heavy pack had been
borne in mind, and the three units into which the land parties
and equipment were divided had been disposed so as to facilitate
the landing of a base with despatch, and, maybe, under difficult
circumstances. Further, in case the ship were frozen in,
``wireless'' could be installed and the news immediately
communicated through Macquarie Island to Australia.
At noon on December 27 whales were spouting all round
us, and appeared to be travelling from west to east. Albatrosses
of several species constantly hovered about, and swallow-like
Wilson petrels--those nervous rangers of the high seas--would
sail along the troughs and flit over the crests of the waves,
to vanish into sombre distance.
Already we were steaming
through untravelled waters, and new discoveries might be
expected at any moment. A keen interest spread throughout
the ship. On several occasions, fantastic clouds on the
horizon gave hope of land, only to be abandoned on further
advance. On December 28 and 29 large masses of floating
kelp were seen, and, like the flotsam met with by Columbus,
still further raised our hopes.
The possibility of undiscovered
islands existing in the Southern Ocean, south of Australia
and outside the ice-bound region, kept us vigilant. So few
ships had ever navigated the waters south of latitude 55
degrees, that some one and a quarter million square miles
lay open to exploration. As an instance of such a discovery
in the seas south of New Zealand may be mentioned Scott
Island, first observed by the `Morning', one of the
relief ships of the British Expedition of 1902.
weather remained favourable for sounding and other oceanographical
work, but as it was uncertain how long these conditions
would last, and in view of the anxiety arising from overloaded
decks and the probability of gales which are chronic in
these latitudes, it was resolved to land one of the bases
as soon as possible, and thus rid the ship of superfluous
cargo. The interesting but time-absorbing study of the ocean-depths
was therefore postponed for a while.
to the Antarctic land to be expected ahead, many of Wilkes's
landfalls, where they had been investigated by later expeditions,
had been disproved. It seemed as if he had regarded the
northern margin of the solid floe and shelf-ice as land;
perhaps also mistaking bergs, frozen in the floe and distorted
by mirage, for ice-covered land. Nevertheless, his soundings,
and the light thrown upon the subject by the Scott and Shackleton
expeditions, left no doubt in my mind that land would be
found within a reasonable distance south of the position
assigned by Wilkes. Some authorities had held that any land
existing in this region would be found to be of the nature
of isolated islands. Those familiar with the adjacent land,
however, were all in favour of it being continental--a continuation
of the Victoria Land plateau. The land lay to the south
beyond doubt; the problem was to reach it through the belt
of ice- bound sea. Still, navigable pack-ice might be ahead,
obviating the need of driving too far to the west.
``Ice on the starboard bow!'' At 4 P.M. on December
29 the cry was raised, and shortly after we passed alongside
a small caverned berg whose bluish-green tints called forth
general admiration. In the distance others could be seen.
One larger than the average stood almost in our path. It
was of the flat-topped, sheer-walled type, so characteristic
of the Antarctic regions; three-quarters of a mile long
and half a mile wide, rising eighty feet above the sea.
It has been stated that tabular bergs are typical of
the Antarctic as opposed to the Arctic. This diversity is
explained by a difference in the glacial conditions. In
the north, glaciation is not so marked and, as a rule, coastal
areas are free from ice, except for valley- glaciers which
transport ice from the high interior down to sea-level.
There, the summer temperature is so warm that the lower
parts of the glaciers become much decayed, and, reaching
the sea, break up readily into numerous irregular, pinnacled
bergs of clear ice. In the south, the tabular forms result
from the fact that the average annual temperature is colder
than that prevailing at the northern axis of the earth.
They are so formed because, even at sea-level, no appreciable
amount of thawing takes place in midsummer. The inland ice
pushes out to sea in enormous masses, and remains floating
long before it ``calves'' to form bergs. Even though
its surface has been thrown into ridges as it was creeping
over the uneven land, all are reduced to a dead level or
slightly undulating plain, in the free-floating condition,
and are still further effaced by dense drifts and repeated
falls of snow descending upon them. The upper portion of
a table- topped berg consists, therefore, of consolidated
snow; neither temperature nor pressure having been sufficient
to metamorphose it into clear ice. Such a berg in old age
becomes worn into an irregular shape by the action of waves
and weather, and often completely capsizes, exposing its
A light fog obscured the surrounding
sea and distant bergs glided by like spectres. A monstrous
block on the starboard side had not been long adrift, for
it showed but slight signs of weathering.
thickened over a grey swell that shimmered with an oily
lustre. At 7 P.M. pack-ice came suddenly to view, and towards
it we steered, vainly peering through the mists ahead in
search of a passage. The ice was closely packed, the pieces
being small and wellworn. On the outskirts was a light brash
which steadily gave place to a heavier variety, composed
of larger and more angular fragments. A swishing murmur
like the wind in the tree-tops came from the great expanse.
It was alabaster-white and through the small, separate chips
was diffused a pale lilac coloration. The larger chunks,
by their motion and exposure to wind and current, had a
circle of clear water; the deep sea-blue hovering round
their water-worn niches. Here and there appeared the ochreous-yellow
colour of adhering films of diatoms.
As we could
not see what lay beyond, and the pack was becoming heavier,
the ship was swung round and headed out.
to the west through open water and patches of trailing brash,
we were encouraged to find the pack trending towards the
south. By pushing through bars of jammed floes and dodging
numerous bergs, twenty miles were gained due southwards
before the conditions had changed. The fog cleared, and
right ahead massive bergs rose out of an ice-strewn sea.
We neared one which was a mile in length and one hundred
feet in height. The heaving ocean, dashing against its mighty,
glistening walls, rushed with a hollow boom into caverns
of ethereal blue; gothic portals to a cathedral of resplendent
The smaller bergs and fragments of floe crowded
closer together, and the two men at the wheel had little
time for reverie. Orders came in quick succession--``Starboard!
Steady!'' and in a flash--``Hard-a- port!''
Then repeated all over again, while the rudder-chains scraped
and rattled in their channels.
Gradually the swell
subsided, smoothed by the weight of ice. The tranquillity
of the water heightened the superb effects of this glacial
world. Majestic tabular bergs whose crevices exhaled a vaporous
azure; lofty spires, radiant turrets and splendid castles;
honeycombed masses illumined by pale green light within
whose fairy labyrinths the water washed and gurgled. Seals
and penguins on magic gondolas were the silent denizens
of this dreamy Venice. In the soft glamour of the midsummer
midnight sun, we were possessed by a rapturous wonder--the
rare thrill of unreality.
The ice closed in, and
shock after shock made the ship vibrate as she struck the
smaller pieces full and fair, followed by a crunching and
grinding as they scraped past the sides. The dense pack
had come, and hardly a square foot of space showed amongst
the blocks; smaller ones packing in between the larger,
until the sea was covered with a continuous armour of ice.
The ominous sound arising from thousands of faces rubbing
together as they gently oscillated in the swell was impressive.
It spoke of a force all-powerful, in whose grip puny ships
might be locked for years and the less fortunate receive
their last embrace.
The pack grew heavier and the
bergs more numerous, embattled in a formidable array. If
an ideal picture, from our point of view it was impenetrable.
No ``water sky'' showed as a distant beacon; over
all was reflected the pitiless, white glare of the ice.
The `Aurora' retreated to the open sea, and headed to
the west in search of a break in the ice-front. The wind
blew from the south-east, and, with sails set to assist
the engines, rapid progress was made.
prospect was disappointing, for the heavy pack was ranged
in a continuous bar. The over-arching sky invariably shone
with that yellowish-white effulgence known as ``ice blink,"
indicative of continuous ice, in contrast with the dark
water sky, a sign of open water, or a mottled sky proceeding
from an ice-strewn
but navigable sea.
can be made in dense pack, provided it is not too heavy,
advance is necessarily very slow--a few miles a day, and
that at the expense of much coal. Without a well-defined
``water sky' it would have been foolish to have entered.
Further, everything pointed to heavier ice-conditions in
the south, and, indeed, in several places we reconnoitred,
and such was proved to be the case. Large bergs were numerous,
which, on account of being almost unaffected by surface
currents because of their ponderous bulk and stupendous
draught, helped to compact the sllallow surface-ice under
the free influence of currents and winds. In our westerly
course we were sometimes able to edge a little to the south,
but were always reduced to our old
position within a
few hours. Long projecting ``tongues'' were met
at intervals and, when narrow or open, we pushed through
Whales were frequently seen, both rorquals
and killers. On the pack, sea-leopards and crab-eater seals
sometimes appeared. At one time as many as a hundred would
be counted from the bridge and at other
a single one could be sighted. They were not alarmed, unless
the ship happened to bump against ice-masses within a short
distance of them. A small sea-leopard, shot from the fo'c'sle
by a well-directed bullet from Wild, was taken on board
as a specimen; the meat serving as a great treat for the
On January 2, when driving through a tongue
of pack, a halt was made to ``ice ship.'' A number
of men scrambled over the side on to a large piece of floe
and handed up the ice. It was soon discovered, however,
that the swell was too great, for masses of ice ten tons
or more in weight swayed about under the stern, endangering
the propeller and rudder--the vulnerable parts of the vessel.
So we moved on, having secured enough fresh-water ice to
supply a pleasant change after the sormewhat discoloured
tank-water then being served out. The ice still remained
compact and forbidding, but each day we hoped to discover
a weak spot through which we might probe to the land itself.
On the evening of January 2 we saw a high, pinnacled
berg, a few miles within the edge of the pack, closely resembling
a rocky peak; the transparent ice of which it was composed
appeared, in the dull light, of a much darker hue than the
surrounding bergs. Another adjacent block exhibited a large
black patch on its northern face, the exact nature of which
could not be ascertained at a distance. Examples of rock
debris embedded in bergs had already been observed, and
it was presumed that this was a similar case. These were
all hopeful signs, for the earthy matter must, of course,
have been picked up by the ice during its repose upon some
At this same spot, large flocks of
silver-grey petrels were seen resting on the ice and skimming
the water in search of food. As soon as we had entered the
ice-zone, most of our old companions, such as the albatross,
had deserted, while a new suite of Antarctic birds had taken
their place. These included the beautiful snow petrel, the
Antarctic petrel, and the small, lissome Wilson petrel--a
link with the bird-life of more temperate seas.
the evening of January 3 the wind was blowing fresh from
the south-east and falling snow obscured the horizon. The
pack took a decided turn to the north, which fact was particularly
disappointing in view of the distance we had already traversed
to the west. We were now approaching the longitude of D'Urville's
landfall, and still the pack showed no signs of slackening.
I was beginning to feel very anxious, and had decided not
to pass that longitude without resorting to desperate measures.
The change in our fortunes occurred at five o'clock
next morning, when the Chief Officer, Toucher, came
down from the bridge to report that the atmosphere was clearing
and that there appeared to be land- ice near by. Sure enough,
on the port side, within a quarter of a mile, rose a massive
barrier of ice extending far into the mist and separated
from the ship by a little loose pack-ice. The problem to
be solved was, whether it was the seaward face of an ice-covered
continent, the ice-capping of a low island or only a flat-topped
iceberg of immense proportions.
By 7 A.M. a corner
was reached where the ice-wall trended southward, limned
on the horizon in a series of bays and headlands. An El
Dorado had opened before us, for the winds coming from the
east of south had
cleared the pack away from the lee
of the ice-wall, so that in the distance a comparatively
clear sea was visible, closed by a bar of ice, a few miles
in extent. Into this we steered, hugging the ice-wall, and
were soon in the open, speeding along in glorious sunshine,
bringing new sights into view every moment.
The wall, along the northern face, was low--from
thirty to seventy feet in height--but the face along which
we were now progressing gradually rose in altitude to the
south. It was obviously a shelf-ice formation (or a glacier-tongue
projection of it), exactly similar in build, for instance,
to the Great Ross Barrier so well described by Ross, Scott,
and others. At the north-west corner, at half a dozen places
within a few miles of each other, the wall was puckered
up and surmounted by semi-conical eminences, half as high
as the face itself. These peculiar elevations were unlike
anything previously recorded and remained unexplained for
a while, until closer inspection showed them to be the result
of impact with other ice-masses--a curious but conceivable
On pieces of broken floe Weddell seals were
noted. They were the first seen on the voyage and a sure
indication of land, for their habitat ranges over the coastal
waters of Antarctic lands.
A large, low, dome-topped elevation, about
one mile in diameter, was passed on the starboard side,
at a distance of two miles from the long ice-cliff. This
corresponded in shape with what Ross frequently referred
to as an ``ice island,'' uncertain whether it was
a berg or ice-covered land. A sounding close by gave two
hundred and eight fathoms, showing that we were on the continental
shelf, and increasing tile probability that the ``ice island''
Birds innumerable appeared on every
hand: snow petrels, silver petrels, Cape pigeons and Antarctic
petrels. They fluttered in hundreds about our bows. Cape
pigeons are well known in lower latitudes, and it was interesting
to find them so far south. As they have chessboard-like
markings on the back when seen in flight, there is no mistaking
The ice-wall or glacier-tongue now took a turn
to the south-east. At this point it had risen to a great
height, about two hundred feet sheer. A fresh wind was blowing
in our teeth from the south-south- east, and beyond this
point would be driving us on to the cliffs. We put the ship
about, therefore, and made for the lee side of the
In isolated coveys on the inclined
top of the ``island'' were several flocks, each
containing hundreds of Antarctic petrels. At intervals they
would rise into the air in clouds, shortly afterwards to
settle down again on the snow.
Captain Davis moved
the ship carefully against the lee wall of the ``island,''
with a view of replenishing our watersupply, but it was
unscalable, and we were forced to withdraw. Crouched on
a small projection near the water's edge was a seal,
trying to evade the eyes of a dozen large grampuses which
were playing about near our stern. These monsters appeared
to be about twenty-five feet in length. They are the most
formidable predacious mammals of the Antarctic seas, and
annually account for large numbers of seals, penguins, and
other cetaceans. The sea-leopard is its competitor, though
not nearly so ferocious as the grampus, of whom it lives
The midnight hours were spent off the
``ice island'' while we wafted for a decrease in
the wind. Bars of cirrus clouds covered the whole sky--the
presage of a coming storm. The wind arose, and distant objects
were blotted out by driving snow. An attempt was made to
keep the ship in shelter by steaming into the wind, but
as ``ice island'' and glacier-tongue were lost in
clouds of snow, we were fortunate to make the lee of the
latter, about fourteen miles to the north. There we steamed
up and down until the afternoon of January 5, when the weather
improved. A sounding was taken and the course was once more
set for the south.
The sky remained overcast, the
atmosphere foggy, and a south-south-east wind was blowing
as we came abreast of the ``ice island,'' which,
by the way, was discovered to have drifted several miles
to the north, thus proving itself to be a free-floating
berg. The glacier-tongue on the port side took a sharp turn
to the east-south-east, disappearing on the horizon. As
there was no pack in sight and the water was merely littered
with fragments of ice, it appeared most likely that the
turn in the glacier-tongue was part of a great sweeping
curve ultimately joining with the southward land. On our
south-south-east course we soon lost sight of the ice-cliffs
in a gathering fog.
On the afternoon of January
6 the wind abated and the fog began to clear. At 5 P.M.
a line of ice confronted us and, an hour later, the `Aurora'
was in calm water under another mighty ice face trending
across our course. This wall was precisely similar to the
one seen on the previous evening, and might well have been
a continuation of it. It is scarcely credible that when
the `Aurora' came south the following year, the glacier-tongue
first discovered had entirely disappeared. It was apparently
nothing more than a huge iceberg measuring forty miles in
length. Specially valuable, as clearing up any doubt that
may have remained, was its re-discovery the following year
some fifty miles to the north-west. Close to the face of
the new ice-wall, which proved to he a true glacier-tongue,
a mud bottom was found at a depth of three hundred and ninety-five
While we were steaming in calm water to
the south-west, the massive front, serrated by shallow bays
and capes, passed in magnificent review. Its height attained
a maximum of one hundred and fifty feet. In places the sea
had eaten out enormous blue grottoes. At one spot, several
of these had broken into each other to form a huge domed
cavern, the roof of which hung one hundred feet above the
sea. The noble portico was flanked by giant pillars.
The glacier-tongue bore all the characters of shelf-ice,
by which is meant a floating extension of the land-ice.**
A table-topped berg in the act of formation was seen, separated
from the parent body of shelf-ice by a deep fissure several
yards in width.
** Subsequently this shelf-ice formation
was found to be a floating glacier-tongue sixty miles in
length, the seaward exttension of a large glacier which
we named the Mertz Glacier.
At 11 P.M. the `Aurora'
entered a bay, ten miles wide, bounded on the east by the
shelf-ice wall and on the west by a steep snow-covered promontory
rising approximately two thousand feet in height, as yet
seen dimly in hazy outline through the mist. No rock was
visible, but the contour of the ridge was clearly that of
There was much jubilation among
the watchers on deck at the prospect. Every available field-glass
and telescope was brought to bear upon it. It was almost
certainly the Antarctic continent, though, at that time,
its extension to the east, west and south remained to
be proved. The shelf-ice was seen to be securely attached
to it and, near its point of junction with the undulating
land-ice, we beheld the mountains of this mysterious land
haloed in ghostly mist.
While passing the extremity
of the western promontory, we observed an exposure of rock,
jutting out of the ice near sea-level, in the face of a
scar left by an avalanche. Later, when passing within half
a cable's length of several berg-like masses of ice
lying off the coast, rock was again visible in black relief
against the water's edge, forming a pedestal for the
ice. The ship was kept farther offshore, after this warning,
for though she was designed to buffet with the ice, we had
no desire to test her resistance to rock.
was very irregular, and as an extra precaution, soundings
were taken every few minutes. Through a light fog all that
could be seen landwards was a steep, sloping, icy surface
descending from the interior, and terminating abruptly in
a seaward cliff fifty to two hundred feet in height.
The ice-sheet terminating in this wall presented a more
broken surface than the floating shelf-ice. It was riven
and distorted by gaping crevasses; an indication of the
rough bed over which it had travelled.
another bay was entered and many rocky islets appeared on
its western side. The engines were stopped for a few hours,
and the voyage was resumed in clearer weather on the following
All day we threaded our way between islands
and bergs. Seals and penguins swam around, the latter squawking
and diving in a most amusing manner.
glided by an iceberg, at least one hundred and fifty feet
high, rising with a faceted, perpendicular face chased with
soft, snowy traceries and ornamented with stalactites. Splits
and rents broke into the margin, and from each streamed
the evanescent, azure vapour. Each puncture and tiny grotto
was filled with it, and a sloping cap of shimmering snow
spread over the summit. The profile-view was an exact replica
of a battleship, grounded astern. The bold contour of the
bow was perfect, and the massive flank had
and shattered by shell-fire in a desperate naval battle.
This berg had heeled over considerably, and the original
water-line ran as a definite rim, thirty feet above the
green water. From this rim shelved down a smooth and polished
base, marked with fine vertical striae.
varied from twenty to two hundred fathoms, and, accordingly,
the navigation was particularly anxious work.
along about fifteen miles of coast, where the inland ice
came down steeply to the sea, was a marginal belt of sea,
about two or three miles in width, thickly strewn with rocky
islets. Of these some were flat and others peaked, but all
were thickly populated by penguins, petrels and seals. The
rocks appeared all to be gneisses and schists.
that night we lay off a possible landing-place for one of
our bases, but, on more closely inspecting it in the morning,
we decided to proceed farther west into a wide sweeping
bay which opened ahead. About fifty miles ahead, on the
far side of Commonwealth Bay, as we named it, was a cape
which roughly represented in position Cape Decouverte, the
most easterly extension of Adelie Land seen by D'Urville
in 1840. Though Commonwealth Bay and the land already seen
had never before been sighted, all was placed under the
territorial name of Adelie Land.
The land was so
overwhelmed with ice that, even at sea-level, the rock was
all but entirely hidden. Here was an ice age in all earnestness;
a picture of Northern Europe during the Great Ice Age some
fifty thousand years ago. It was evident that the glaciation
of Adelie Land was much more severe than that in higher
Antarctic latitudes, as exampled on the borders of the Ross
Sea; the arena of Scott's, Shackleton's and other
expeditions. The temperature could not be colder, so we
were led to surmise that the snowfall must be excessive.
The full truth was to be ascertained by bitter experience,
after spending a year on the spot.
I had hoped to
find the Antarctic continent in these latitudes bounded
by a rocky and attractive coast like that in the vicinity
of Cape Adare; the nearest well-explored region. It had
proved otherwise, only too well endorsing the scanty information
supplied by D'Urville and Wilkes of the coastline seen
by them. A glance at the austere plateau and the ice-fettered
coast was evidence of a rigid, inhospitable climate. It
was apparent, too, that only a short summer could be expected
in these latitudes, thus placing limitations upon our operations.
If three bases were to be landed it was important that
they should be spread at sufficiently wide intervals. If
one were placed in Adelie Land, the ship would probably
have to break through the pack in establishing each of the
other two bases. Judging by our previous experience there
was no certain prospect of this being effected. The successful
landing of three bases in suitable positions, sufficiently
far apart for advantageous co-operation in geographical,
meteorological and other observations, had now become problematical.
In addition, one of the parties was not as strong as I would
have liked, considering what would be undoubtedly its strenuous
For some days the various phases of the situation
had occupied my mind, and I now determined to risk two bases,
combining the smallest of the three parties with the Main
Base. Alterations in the personnel of the third party were
also made, by which the Main Base would be increased in
strength for scientific work, and the other party under
the leadership of Wild would be composed of men of specially
good sledging calibre, besides being representative of the
leading branches of our scientific programme.
had a splendid lot of men, and I had no difficulty in choosing
for Wild seven companions who could be relied upon to give
a good account of themselves. It was only by assuring myself
of their high efficiency that I could expect to rest from
undue anxiety throughout the year of our separation. The
composition of the two parties was as follows:
R. Bage, F. H. Bickerton, J. H. Close,
P. E. Correll, W. H. Hannam, A. J. Hodgeman, J. G. Hunter,
J. F. Hurley, C. F. Laseron, C. T. Madigan, A. L. McLean,
X. Mertz, H. D. Murphy, B. E. S. Ninnis, F. L. Stillwell,
E. N. Webb, L. H. Whetter and myself.
G. Dovers, C. T. Harrisson, C. A. Hoadley,
S. E. Jones, A. L. Kennedy, M. H. Moyes, A. D. Watson, and
F. Wild (leader).
I was now anxious to find a suitable
location for our Main Base; two reasons making it an urgent
matter. The first was, that as we advanced to the west we
were leaving the South Magnetic Pole, and I was anxious
to have our magnetographs running as near the latter as
possible. Secondly, we would be daily increasing our distance
from Macquarie Island, making wireless communication more
At noon on January 8, while I was weighing
the pros and cons with Captain Davis, Wild came in to say
that there was a rocky exposure about fifteen miles off
on the port side, and suggested altering our course to obtain
a better view of it.
Just after 4 P.M., when the
ship was about one mile from the nearest rocks, the whale-boat
was lowered and manned. We rowed in with the object of making
a closer investigation. From the ship's deck, even when
within a mile, the outcrop had appeared to project directly
from under the inland ice-sheet. Now, however, we were surprised
to find ourselves amongst an archipelago of islets. These
were named the Mackellar Islets, in remembrance of one who
had proved a staunch friend of the Expedition.
seals and Adelie penguins in thousands rested upon the rocks;
the latter chiefly congregated upon a long, low, bare islet
situated in the centre. This was the largest of the group,
measuring about half a mile in length; others were not above
twenty yards in diameter. As we came inshore, the main body
of the archipelago was found to be separated by a mile and
a half from the mainland. A point which struck us at the
time was that the islets situated on the southern side of
the group were capped by unique masses of ice; resembling
iced cakes. Later we were able to see them in process of
formation. In the violent southerly hurricanes prevalent
in Adelie Land, the spray breaks right over them. Part of
it is deposited and frozen, and by increments the icing
of these monstrous ``cakes'' is built up. The amount
contributed in winter makes up for loss by thawing in midsummer.
As the islets to windward shelter those in their lee, the
latter are destitute of these natural canopies.
were taken at frequent intervals with a hand lead-line,
manipulated by Madigan. The water was on the whole shallow,
varying from a few to twenty fathoms. The bottom was clothed
by dense, luxuriant seaweed. This rank growth along the
littoral was unexpected, for nothing of the kind exists
on the Ross Sea coasts within five or six fathoms of the
Advancing towards the mainland, we observed
a small islet amongst the rocks, and towards it the boat
was directed. We were soon inside a beautiful, miniature
harbour completely land-locked. The sun shone gloriously
in a blue sky as we stepped ashore on a charming ice-quay--
the first to set foot on the Antarctic continent between
Cape Adare and Gaussberg, a distance of one thousand eight
Wild and I proceeded to make a tour
of exploration. The rocky area at Cape Denison, as it was
named, was found to be about one mile in length and half
a mile in extreme width. Behind it rose the inland ice,
ascending in a regular slope and apparently free of crevasses--
an outlet for our sledging parties in the event of the sea
not firmly freezing over. To right and left of this oasis,
as the visitor to Adelie Land must regard the welcome rock,
the ice was heavily crevassed and fell sheer to the sea
in cliffs, sixty to one hundred and fifty feet in height.
Two small dark patches in the distance were the only evidences
of rock to relieve the white monotony of the coast.
In landing cargo on Antarctic shores, advantage is generally
taken of the floe-ice on to which the materials can be unloaded
and at once sledged away to their destination. Here, on
the other hand, there was open water, too shallow for the
`Aurora' to be moored alongside the ice-foot. The only
alternative was to anchor the ship at a distance and discharge
the cargo by boats running to the ideal harbour we had discovered.
Close to the boat harbour was suitable ground for the erection
of a hut, so that the various impedimenta would have to
be carried only a short distance. For supplies of fresh
meat, in the emergency of being marooned for a number of
years, there were many Weddell seals at hand, and on almost
all the neighbouring ridges colonies of penguins were busy
rearing their young.
As a station for scientific
investigations, it offered a wider field than the casual
observer would have imagined. So it came about that the
Main Base was finally settled at Cape Denison, Commonwealth
We arrived on board at 8 P.M., taking a
seal as food for the dogs. Without delay, the motor-launch
was dropped into the water, and both it and the whale-boat
loaded with frozen carcasses of mutton, cases of
and other perishable goods.
While some of us went
ashore in the motor-launch, with the whale-boat in tow,
the `Aurora' steamed round the Mackellar Islets seeking
for a good anchorage under the icy barrier, immediately
to the west of the boat harbour. The day had been perfect,
vibrant with summer and life, but towards evening a chill
breeze sprang up, and we in the motor-launch had to beat
against it. By the time we had reached the head of the harbour,
Hoadley had several fingers frost-bitten and all were feeling
the cold, for we were wearing light garments in anticipation
of fine weather. The wind strengthened every minute, and
showers of fine snow were soon whistling down the glacier.
No time was lost in landing the cargo, and, with a rising
blizzard at our backs, we drove out to meet the `Aurora'.
On reaching the ship a small gale was blowing and our boats
were taken in tow.
The first thing to be considered
was the mooring of the `Aurora' under the lee of the
ice-wall, so as to give us an opportunity of getting the
boats aboard. In the meantime they were passed astern, each
manned by several hands to keep them bailed out; the rest
of us having scrambled up the side. Bringing the ship to
anchor in such a wind in uncharted, shoal water was difficult
to do in a cool and methodical manner. The sounding machine
was kept running with rather dramatic results; depths jumping
from five to thirty fathoms in the ship's length, and
back again to the original figure in the same distance.
A feeling of relief passed round when, after much manceuvring,
the anchor was successfully bedded five hundred yards from
the face of the cliff.
Just at this time the motor-launch
broke adrift. Away it swept before a wind of forty-five
miles per hour. On account of the cold, and because the
engine was drenched with sea-water, some difficulty was
found in starting the motor. From the ship's deck we
could see Bickerton busily engaged with it. The rudder had
been unshipped, and there was no chance of replacing it,
for the boat was bobbing about on the waves in a most extraordinary
manner. However, Whetter managed to make a jury-rudder which
served the purpose, while Hunter, the other occupant, was
kept laboriously active with the pump.
They had drifted
half a mile, and were approaching the rocks of an islet
on which the sea was breaking heavily. Just as every one
was becoming very apprehensive, the launch began to forge
ahead, and the men had soon escaped from their dangerous
predicament. By the united efforts of all hands the boats
were hoisted on board and everything was made as ``snug''
The wind steadily increased, and it
seemed impossible for the anchor to hold. The strain on
the cable straightened out a steel hook two inches in diameter.
This caused some embarrassment, as the hook was part of
the cable attachment under the fo'c'sle-head. It
is remarkable, however, that after this was adjusted the
ship did not lose her position up to the time of departure
from Adelie Land.
Though we were so close under the
shelter of a lofty wall, the waves around us were at least
four feet in height and when the wind increased to sixty-five
and seventy miles per hour, their crests were cut off and
the surface was hidden by a sheet of racing spindrift.
Everything was securely lashed in readiness for going
to sea, in case the cable should part. Final arrangements
were then made to discharge the cargo quickly as soon as
the wind moderated.
Two days had elapsed before the
wind showed any signs of abatement. It was 8 P.M. on January
10 when the first boat ventured off with a small cargo,
but it was not till the following morning that a serious
start was made. In good weather, every trip between the
ship and the boat harbour, a distance of a mile, meant that
five or six tons had been landed. It was usual for the loaded
launch to tow both whale-boats heavily laden and, in addition,
a raft of hut timbers or wireless masts. Some of the sailors,
while engaged in building rafts alongside the ship, were
capsized into the water and after that the occupation was
not a popular one.
Ashore, Wild had rigged a derrick,
using for its construction two of the wireless royal masts.
It was thus possible to cope with the heavier packages at
the landing-place. Of the last-named the air-tractor sledge
was by far the most troublesome. With plenty of manual labour,
under Wild's skilful direction, this heavy machine was
hoisted from the motor-launch, and then carefully swung
on to the solid ice-foot.
Captain Davis superintended
the discharging operations on the ship, effected by the
crew and some of the land party under the direction of the
ship's officers. Wild supervised conveyance ashore,
and the landing, classification, and safe storage of the
various boat-loads. Gillies and Bickerton took alternate
shifts in driving the motor- launch. The launch proved invaluable,
and we were very glad that it had been included in the equipment,
for it did a remarkable amount of work in a minimum of time.
In view of the difficulty of embarking the boats, if
another hurricane should arise, tents were erected ashore,
so that a party could remain there with the boats moored
in a sheltered harbour.
Everything went well until
just before midnight on January 12, when the wind again
swept down. Wild, four of the men and I were forced to remain
ashore. We spent the time constructing a temporary hut of
benzine cases, roofed with planks; the walls of which were
made massive to resist the winds. This structure was henceforth
known as the ``Benzine Hut'.
The barometer dropped
to 28.5 inches and the wind remained high. We were struck
with the singular fact that, even in the height of some
of these hurricanes, the sky remained serene and the sun
shone brightly. It had been very different when the ship
was amongst the pack a few miles to the north, for, there,
cloudy and foggy conditions had been the rule. The wind
coming to us from the south was dry; obviously an argument
for the continental extension of the land in that direction.
At 2 A.M. on January 15 a pre-arranged whistle was sounded
from the `Aurora', advising those of us ashore that
the sea had moderated sufficiently to continue unloading.
Wild sped away in the launch, but before he had reached
the ship the wind renewed its activity. At last, after 2
P.M. on the same day it ceased, and we were able to carry
on work until midnight, when the wind descended on us once
more. This time, eighteen men remained ashore. After twelve
hours there was another lull, and unloading was then continued
with only a few intermissions from 1 P.M. on January 16
until the afternoon of January 19.
Never was landing
so hampered by adverse conditions, and yet, thanks to the
assiduous application of all, a great assortment of materials
was safely embarked. Comprised among them were the following:
twenty-three tons of coal briquettes, two complete living-huts,
a magnetic observatory, the whole of the wireless equipment,
including masts, and more than two thousand packages of
general supplies containing sufficient food for two years,
utensils, instruments, benzine, kerosene, lubricating oils
an air-tractor and other sledges.
Then came the time
for parting. There was a great field before Wild's party
to the west, and it was important that they should be able
to make the most of the remainder of the season. My great
regret was that I could not be with them. I knew that I
had men of experience and ability in Davis and Wild, and
felt that the work entrusted to them was in the best of
hands. Through the medium of wireless telegraphy I hoped
to keep in touch with the Macquarie Island party, the Western
Base,** and the ship itself, when in Australian waters.
** They were supplied with masts and a receiving set
sufficiently sensitive to pick up messages from a distance
of fivc or six hundred miles.
It was my idea that
Wild's party should proceed west and attempt to effect
a landing and establish a western wintering station at some
place not less than four hundred miles west of Adelie Land.
On the way, whenever opportunity presented itself, they
were to cache provisions at intervals along the coast in
places liable to be visited by sledging parties.
The location of such caches and of the Western Base, it
was hoped, would be communicated to us at the Main Base,
through the medium of wireless telegraphy from Hobart.
All members of the land parties and the ship's officers
met in the ward-room. There were mutual good wishes expressed
all round, and then we celebrated previous Antarctic explorers,
more especially D'Urville and Wilkes. The toast was
drunk in excellent Madeira presented to us by Mr. J. T.
Buchanan, who had carried this sample round the world with
him when a member of the celebrated `Challenger' expedition.
The motor-launch was hoisted and the anchor raised.
Then at 8.45 P.M. on January 19 we clambered over the side
into one of the whale-boats and pushed off for Cape Denison,
shouting farewells back to the `Aurora'. Several hours
later she had disappeared below the north-western horizon,
and we had set to work to carve out a home in Adelie Land.
CHAPTER IV - NEW