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Scott's Last Expedition

Friday, July 14th 1911

We have had a horrible fright and are not yet out of the wood.

At noon yesterday one of the best ponies, ‘Bones,’ suddenly went off his feed – soon after it was evident that he was distressed and there could be no doubt that he was suffering from colic. Oates called my attention to it, but we were neither much alarmed, remembering the speedy recovery of ‘Jimmy Pigg’ under similar circumstances. Later the pony was sent out for exercise with Crean. I passed him twice and seemed to gather that things were well, but Crean afterwards told me that he had had considerable trouble. Every few minutes the poor beast had been seized with a spasm of pain, had first dashed forward as though to escape it and then endeavoured to lie down. Crean had had much difficulty in keeping him in, and on his legs, for he is a powerful beast. When he returned to the stable he was evidently worse, and Oates and Anton patiently dragged a sack to and fro under his stomach. Every now and again he attempted to lie down, and Oates eventually thought it wiser to let him do so. Once down, his head gradually drooped until he lay at length, every now and again twitching very horribly with the pain and from time to time raising his head and even scrambling to his legs when it grew intense. I don’t think I ever realised before how pathetic a horse could be under such conditions; no sound escapes him, his misery can only be indicated by those distressing spasms and by dumb movements of the head turned with a patient expression always suggestive of appeal. Although alarmed by this time, remembering the care with which the animals are being fed I could not picture anything but a passing indisposition. But as hour after hour passed without improvement, it was impossible not to realise that the poor beast was dangerously ill. Oates administered an opium pill and later on a second, sacks were heated in the oven and placed on the poor beast; beyond this nothing could be done except to watch – Oates and Crean never left the patient. As the evening wore on I visited the stable again and again, but only to hear the same tale – no improvement. Towards midnight I felt very downcast. It is so very certain that we cannot afford to lose a single pony – the margin of safety has already been far overstepped, we are reduced to face the circumstance that we must keep all the animals alive or greatly risk failure.

So far everything has gone so well with them that my fears of a loss had been lulled in a growing hope that all would be well – therefore at midnight, when poor ‘Bones’ had continued in pain for twelve hours and showed little sign of improvement, I felt my fleeting sense of security rudely shattered.

It was shortly after midnight when I was told that the animal seemed a little easier. At 2.30 I was again in the stable and found the improvement had been maintained; the horse still lay on its side with outstretched head, but the spasms had ceased, its eye looked less distressed, and its ears pricked to occasional noises. As I stood looking it suddenly raised its head and rose without effort to its legs; then in a moment, as though some bad dream had passed, it began to nose at some hay and at its neighbour. Within three minutes it had drunk a bucket of water and had started to feed.
I went to bed at 3 with much relief. At noon to-day the immediate cause of the trouble and an indication that there is still risk were disclosed in a small ball of semi-fermented hay covered with mucus and containing tape worms; so far not very serious, but unfortunately attached to this mass was a strip of the lining of the intestine.

Atkinson, from a humanly comparative point of view, does not think this is serious if great care is taken with the food for a week or so, and so one can hope for the best.

Meanwhile we have had much discussion as to the first cause of the difficulty. The circumstances possibly contributing are as follows: fermentation of the hay, insufficiency of water, overheated stable, a chill from exercise after the gale – I think all these may have had a bearing on the case. It can scarcely be coincidence that the two ponies which have suffered so far are those which are nearest the stove end of the stable. In future the stove will be used more sparingly, a large ventilating hole is to be made near it and an allowance of water is to be added to the snow hitherto given to the animals. In the food line we can only exercise such precautions as are possible, but one way or another we ought to be able to prevent any more danger of this description.

Dr Simpson at the telephone and Sidereal Clock. July 14th 1911
“Dr Simpson at the telephone and Sidereal Clock. July 14th 1911”

Edward Nelson testing Thermometres. July 14th 1911
“Edward Nelson testing Thermometres. July 14th 1911”

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