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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for June, 1911

Tuesday, June 20th 1911

Tuesday, June 20th, 1911

Last night the temperature fell to -36º, the lowest we have had this year. On the Ramp the minimum was -31º, not the first indication of a reversed temperature gradient. We have had a calm day, as is usual with a low thermometer.

It was very beautiful out of doors this morning; as the crescent moon was sinking in the west, Erebus showed a heavy vapour cloud, showing that the quantity is affected by temperature rather than pressure.
I’m glad to have had a good run on ski.

The Cape Crozier party are preparing for departure, and heads have been put together to provide as much comfort as the strenuous circumstances will permit. I came across a hint as to the value of a double tent in Sverdrup’s book, ‘New Land,’ and (P.O.) Evans has made a lining for one of the tents; it is secured on the inner side of the poles and provides an air space inside the tent. I think it is going to be a great success, and that it will go far to obviate the necessity of considering the question of snow huts – though we shall continue our efforts in this direction also.

Another new departure is the decision to carry eiderdown sleeping-bags inside the reindeer ones.
With such an arrangement the early part of the journey is bound to be comfortable, but when the bags get iced difficulties are pretty certain to arise.

Day has been devoting his energies to the creation of a blubber stove, much assisted of course by the experience gained at Hut Point.

The blubber is placed in an annular vessel, A. The oil from it passes through a pipe, B, and spreads out on the surface of a plate, C, with a containing flange; _d d_ are raised points which serve as heat conductors; _e e_ is a tin chimney for flame with air holes at its base.

To start the stove the plate C must be warmed with spirit lamp or primus, but when the blubber oil is well alight its heat is quite sufficient to melt the blubber in And keep up the oil supply – the heat gradually rises until the oil issues from B in a vaporised condition, when, of course, the heat given off by the stove is intense.

This stove was got going this morning in five minutes in the outer temperature with the blubber hard frozen. It will make a great difference to the Crozier Party if they can manage to build a hut, and the experience gained will be everything for the Western Party in the summer. With a satisfactory blubber stove it would never be necessary to carry fuel on a coast journey, and we shall deserve well of posterity if we can perfect one.

The Crozier journey is to be made to serve a good many trial ends. As I have already mentioned, each man is to go on a different food scale, with a view to determining the desirable proportion of fats and carbohydrates. Wilson is also to try the effect of a double wind-proof suit instead of extra woollen clothing.

If two suits of wind-proof will keep one as warm in the spring as a single suit does in the summer, it is evident that we can face the summit of Victoria Land with a very slight increase of weight.

I think the new crampons, which will also be tried on this journey, are going to be a great success. We have returned to the last _Discovery_ type with improvements; the magnalium sole plates of our own crampons are retained but shod with 1/2-inch steel spikes; these plates are rivetted through canvas to an inner leather sole, and the canvas is brought up on all sides to form a covering to the ‘finnesko’ over which it is laced – they are less than half the weight of an ordinary ski boot, go on very easily, and secure very neatly.

Midwinter Day, the turn of the season, is very close; it will be good to have light for the more active preparations for the coming year.

Monday, June 19th 1911

Monday, June 19th, 1911

A pleasant change to find the air calm and the sky clear – temperature down to -28º. At 1.30 the moon vanished behind the western mountains, after which, in spite of the clear sky, it was very dark on the floe. Went out on ski across the bay, then round about the cape, and so home, facing a keen northerly wind on return.

Atkinson is making a new fish trap hole; from one cause and another, the breaking of the trap, and the freezing of the hole, no catch has been made for some time. I don’t think we shall get good catches during the dark season, but Atkinson’s own requirements are small, and the fish, though nice enough, are not such a luxury as to be greatly missed from our ‘menu.’

Our daily routine has possessed a settled regularity for a long time. Clissold is up about 7 A.M. to start the breakfast. At 7.30 Hooper starts sweeping the floor and setting the table. Between 8 and 8.30 the men are out and about, fetching ice for melting, &c. Anton is off to feed the ponies, Demetri to see the dogs; Hooper bursts on the slumberers with repeated announcements of the time, usually a quarter of an hour ahead of the clock. There is a stretching of limbs and an interchange of morning greetings, garnished with sleepy humour. Wilson and Bowers meet in a state of nature beside a washing basin filled with snow and proceed to rub glistening limbs with this chilling substance. A little later with less hardihood some others may be seen making the most of a meagre allowance of water. Soon after 8.30 I manage to drag myself from a very comfortable bed and make my toilet with a bare pint of water. By about ten minutes to 9 my clothes are on, my bed is made, and I sit down to my bowl of porridge; most of the others are gathered about the table by this time, but there are a few laggards who run the nine o’clock rule very close. The rule is instituted to prevent delay in the day’s work, and it has needed a little pressure to keep one or two up to its observance. By 9.20 breakfast is finished, and before the half-hour has struck the table has been cleared. From 9.30 to 1.30 the men are steadily employed on a programme of preparation for sledging, which seems likely to occupy the greater part of the winter. The repair of sleeping-bags and the alteration of tents have already been done, but there are many other tasks uncompleted or not yet begun, such as the manufacture of provision bags, crampons, sealskin soles, pony clothes, &c.

Hooper has another good sweep up the hut after breakfast, washes the mess traps, and generally tidies things. I think it a good thing that in these matters the officers need not wait on themselves; it gives long unbroken days of scientific work and must, therefore, be an economy of brain in the long run.

We meet for our mid-day meal at 1.30 or 1.45, and spend a very cheerful half-hour over it. Afterwards the ponies are exercised, weather permitting; this employs all the men and a few of the officers for an hour or more – the rest of us generally take exercise in some form at the same time. After this the officers go on steadily with their work, whilst the men do odd jobs to while away the time. The evening meal, our dinner, comes at 6.30, and is finished within the hour. Afterwards people read, write, or play games, or occasionally finish some piece of work. The gramophone is usually started by some kindly disposed person, and on three nights of the week the lectures to which I have referred are given. These lectures still command full audiences and lively discussions.

At 11 P.M. the acetylene lights are put out, and those who wish to remain up or to read in bed must depend on candle-light. The majority of candles are extinguished by midnight, and the night watchman alone remains awake to keep his vigil by the light of an oil lamp.

Day after day passes in this fashion. It is not a very active life perhaps, but certainly not an idle one. Few of us sleep more than eight hours out of the twenty-four.

On Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning some extra bathing takes place; chins are shaven, and perhaps clean garments donned. Such signs, with the regular Service on Sunday, mark the passage of the weeks.

To-night Day has given us a lecture on his motor sledge. He seems very hopeful of success, but I fear is rather more sanguine in temperament than his sledge is reliable in action. I wish I could have more confidence in his preparations, as he is certainly a delightful companion.

Sunday, June 18th 1911

Sunday, June 18th, 1911

Another blizzard – the weather is distressing. It ought to settle down soon, but unfortunately the moon is passing.
Held the usual Morning Service. Hymns not quite successful to-day.

To-night Atkinson has taken the usual monthly measurement. I don’t think there has been much change.

Saturday, June 17th 1911

Saturday, June 17th, 1911

Northerly wind, temperature changeable, dropping to -16º.

Wind doubtful in the afternoon. Moon still obscured – it is very trying. Feeling dull in spirit to-day.

Friday, June 16th 1911

Friday, June 16th, 1911

Overcast again – little wind but also little moonlight. Jimmy Pigg quite recovered.

Went round the bergs in the afternoon. A great deal of ice has fallen from the irregular ones, showing that a great deal of weathering of bergs goes on during the winter and hence that the life of a berg is very limited, even if it remains in the high latitudes.

To-night Debenham lectured on volcanoes. His matter is very good, but his voice a little monotonous, so that there were signs of slumber in the audience, but all woke up for a warm and amusing discussion succeeding the lecture.

The lecturer first showed a world chart showing distribution of volcanoes, showing general tendency of eruptive explosions to occur in lines. After following these lines in other parts of the world he showed difficulty of finding symmetrical linear distribution near McMurdo Sound. He pointed out incidentally the important inference which could be drawn from the discovery of altered sandstones in the Erebus region. He went to the shapes of volcanoes:

The massive type formed by very fluid lavas – Mauna Loa (Hawaii), Vesuvius, examples.
The more perfect cones formed by ash talus – Fujiama, Discovery.
The explosive type with parasitic cones – Erebus, Morning, Etna.

Fissure eruption – historic only in Iceland, but best prehistoric examples Deccan (India) and Oregon (U.S.).
There is small ground for supposing relation between adjacent volcanoes – activity in one is rarely accompanied by activity in the other. It seems most likely that vent tubes are entirely separate.

Products of volcanoes. – The lecturer mentioned the escape of quantities of free hydrogen – there was some discussion on this point afterwards; that water is broken up is easily understood, but what becomes of the oxygen? Simpson suggests the presence of much oxidizable material.

CO2 as a noxious gas also mentioned and discussed – causes mythical ‘upas’ tree – sulphurous fumes attend final stages.
Practically little or no heat escapes through sides of a volcano.
There was argument over physical conditions influencing explosions – especially as to barometric influence. There was a good deal of disjointed information on lavas, ropy or rapid flowing and viscous – also on spatter cones and caverns.
In all cases lavas cool slowly – heat has been found close to the surface after 87 years. On Etna there is lava over ice. The lecturer finally reviewed the volcanicity of our own neighbourhood. He described various vents of Erebus, thinks Castle Rock a ‘plug’ – here some discussion – Observation Hill part of old volcano, nothing in common with Crater Hill. Inaccessible Island seems to have no connection with Erebus.
Finally we had a few words on the origin of volcanicity and afterwards some discussion on an old point – the relation to the sea. Why are volcanoes close to sea? Debenham thinks not cause and effect, but two effects resulting from same cause.

Great argument as to whether effect of barometric changes on Erebus vapour can be observed. Not much was said about the theory of volcanoes, but Debenham touched on American theories – the melting out from internal magma.

There was nothing much to catch hold of throughout, but discussion of such a subject sorts one’s ideas.

Thursday, June 15th 1911

Thursday, June 15th, 1911

Keen cold wind overcast sky till 5.30 P.M. Spent an idle day.

Jimmy Pigg had an attack of colic in the stable this afternoon. He was taken out and doctored on the floe, which seemed to improve matters, but on return to the stable he was off his feed.

This evening the Soldier tells me he has eaten his food, so I hope all be well again.

Wednesday, June 14th 1911

Wednesday, June 14th, 1911

Storms are giving us little rest. We found a thin stratus over the sky this morning, foreboding ill. The wind came, as usual with a rush, just after lunch. At first there was much drift – now the drift has gone but the gusts run up to 65 m.p.h.

Had a comfortless stroll around the hut; how rapidly things change when one thinks of the delights of yesterday! Paid a visit to Wright’s ice cave; the pendulum is installed and will soon be ready for observation. Wright anticipates the possibility of difficulty with ice crystals on the agate planes.

He tells me that he has seen some remarkably interesting examples of the growth of ice crystals on the walls of the cave and has observed the same unaccountable confusion of the size of grains in the ice, showing how little history can be gathered from the structure of ice.

This evening Nelson gave us his second biological lecture, starting with a brief reference to the scientific classification of the organism into Kingdom, Phylum, Group, Class, Order, Genus, Species; he stated the justification of a biologist in such an expedition, as being ‘To determine the condition under which organic substances exist in the sea.’

He proceeded to draw divisions between the bottom organisms without power of motion, benthon, the nekton motile life in mid-water, and the plankton or floating life. Then he led very prettily on to the importance of the tiny vegetable organisms as the basis of all life.

In the killer whale may be found a seal, in the seal a fish, in the fish a smaller fish, in the smaller fish a copepod, and in the copepod a diatom. If this be regular feeding throughout, the diatom or vegetable is essentially the base of all.

Light is the essential of vegetable growth or metabolism, and light quickly vanishes in depth of water, so that all ocean life must ultimately depend on the phyto-plankton. To discover the conditions of this life is therefore to go to the root of matters.

At this point came an interlude – descriptive of the various biological implements in use in the ship and on shore. The otter trawl, the Agassiz trawl, the ‘D’ net, and the ordinary dredger.

A word or two on the using of ‘D’ nets and then explanation of sieves for classifying the bottom, its nature causing variation in the organisms living on it.

From this he took us amongst the tow-nets with their beautiful silk fabrics, meshes running 180 to the inch and materials costing 2 guineas the yard – to the German tow-nets for quantitative measurements, the object of the latter and its doubtful accuracy, young fish trawls.

From this to the chemical composition of sea water, the total salt about 3.5 per cent, but variable: the proportions of the various salts do not appear to differ, thus the chlorine test detects the salinity quantitatively. Physically plankton life must depend on this salinity and also on temperature, pressure, light, and movement.
(If plankton only inhabits surface waters, then density, temperatures, &c., of surface waters must be the important factors. Why should biologists strive for deeper layers? Why should not deep sea life be maintained by dead vegetable matter?)

Here again the lecturer branched off into descriptions of water bottles, deep sea thermometers, and current-meters, the which I think have already received some notice in this diary. To what depth light may extend is the difficult problem and we had some speculation, especially in the debate on this question. Simpson suggested that laboratory experiment should easily determine. Atkinson suggested growth of bacteria on a scratched plate. The idea seems to be that vegetable life cannot exist without red rays, which probably do not extend beyond 7 feet or so. Against this is an extraordinary recovery of Holosphera Firidis by German expedition from 2000 fathoms; this seems to have been confirmed. Bowers caused much amusement by demanding to know ‘If the pycnogs (pycnogonids) were more nearly related to the arachnids (spiders) or crustaceans.’ As a matter of fact a very sensible question, but it caused amusement because of its sudden display of long names. Nelson is an exceedingly capable lecturer; he makes his subject very clear and is never too technical.

Tuesday, June 13th 1911

Tuesday, June 13th, 1911

A very beautiful day. We revelled in the calm clear moonlight; the temperature has fallen to -26º. The surface of the floe perfect for ski – had a run to South Bay in forenoon and was away on a long circuit around Inaccessible Island in the afternoon. In such weather the cold splendour of the scene is beyond description; everything is satisfying, from the deep purple of the starry sky to the gleaming bergs and the sparkle of the crystals under foot.

Some very brilliant patches of aurora over the southern shoulder of the mountain. Observed an exceedingly bright meteor shoot across the sky to the northward.

On my return found Debenham and Gran back from Cape Armitage. They had intended to start back on Sunday, but were prevented by bad weather; they seemed to have had stronger winds than we.

On arrival at the hut they found poor little ‘Mukaka’ coiled up outside the door, looking pitifully thin and weak, but with enough energy to bark at them.

This dog was run over and dragged for a long way under the sledge runners whilst we were landing stores in January (the 7th). He has never been worth much since, but remained lively in spite of all the hardships of sledging work. At Hut Point he looked a miserable object, as the hair refused to grow on his hindquarters. It seemed as though he could scarcely continue in such a condition, and when the party came back to Cape Evans he was allowed to run free alongside the sledge.

On the arrival of the party I especially asked after the little animal and was told by Demetri that he had returned, but later it transpired that this was a mistake – that he had been missed on the journey and had not turned up again later as was supposed.

I learned this fact only a few days ago and had quite given up the hope of ever seeing the poor little beast again. It is extraordinary to realise that this poor, lame, half-clad animal has lived for a whole month by himself. He had blood on his mouth when found, implying the capture of a seal, but how he managed to kill it and then get through its skin is beyond comprehension. Hunger drives hard.

Moonlight Photograph of the Winterquarters Hut and Camp with Mount Erebus in the background. (One day past full moon). June 13th 1911
“Moonlight Photograph of the Winterquarters Hut and Camp with Mount Erebus in the background. (One day past full moon). June 13th 1911”

Monday, June 12th 1911

Monday, June 12th, 1911

The weather is not kind to us. There has not been much wind to-day, but the moon has been hid behind stratus cloud. One feels horribly cheated in losing the pleasure of its light. I scarcely know what the Crozier party can do if they don’t get better luck next month.

Debenham and Gran have not yet returned; this is their fifth day of absence.

Bowers and Cherry-Garrard went to Cape Royds this afternoon to stay the night. Taylor and Wright walked there and back after breakfast this morning. They returned shortly after lunch.

Went for a short spin on ski this morning and again this afternoon. This evening Evans has given us a lecture on surveying. He was shy and slow, but very painstaking, taking a deal of trouble in preparing pictures, &c.

I took the opportunity to note hurriedly the few points to which I want attention especially directed. No doubt others will occur to me presently. I think I now understand very well how and why the old surveyors (like Belcher) failed in the early Arctic work.

1. Every officer who takes part in the Southern Journey ought to have in his memory the approximate variation of the compass at various stages of the journey and to know how to apply it to obtain a true course from the compass. The variation changes very slowly so that no great effort of memory is required.

2. He ought to know what the true course is to reach one depôt from another.

3. He should be able to take an observation with the theodolite.

4. He should be able to work out a meridian altitude observation.

5. He could advantageously add to his knowledge the ability to work out a longitude observation or an ex-meridian altitude.

6. He should know how to read the sledgemeter.

7. He should note and remember the error of the watch he carries and the rate which is ascertained for it from time to time.

8. He should assist the surveyor by noting the coincidences of objects, the opening out of valleys, the observation of new peaks, &c.

Sunday, June 11th 1911

Sunday, June 11th, 1911

A fine clear morning, the moon now revolving well aloft and with full face.

For exercise a run on ski to the South Bay in the morning and a dash up the Ramp before dinner. Wind and drift arose in the middle of the day, but it is now nearly calm again.

At our morning service Cherry-Garrard, good fellow, vamped the accompaniment of two hymns; he received encouraging thanks and will cope with all three hymns next Sunday.

Day by day news grows scant in this midwinter season; all events seem to compress into a small record, yet a little reflection shows that this is not the case. For instance I have had at least three important discussions on weather and ice conditions to-day, concerning which many notes might be made, and quite a number of small arrangements have been made.

If a diary can be so inadequate here how difficult must be the task of making a faithful record of a day’s events in ordinary civilised life! I think this is why I have found it so difficult to keep a diary at home.