Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge » Scott's Last Expedition skip to primary navigation skip to content


Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for August, 1911

Monday, August 21st 1911

Monday, August 21st, 1911

Weights and measurements last evening. We have remained surprisingly constant. There seems to have been improvement in lung power and grip is shown by spirometer and dynamometer, but weights have altered very little. I have gone up nearly 3 lbs. in winter, but the increase has occurred during the last month, when I have been taking more exercise. Certainly there is every reason to be satisfied with the general state of health.

The ponies are becoming a handful. Three of the four exercised to-day so far have run away – Christopher and Snippets broke away from Oates and Victor from Bowers. Nothing but high spirits, there is no vice in these animals; but I fear we are going to have trouble with sledges and snow-shoes. At present the Soldier dare not issue oats or the animals would become quite unmanageable. Bran is running low; he wishes he had more of it.

Sunday, August 20th 1911

Sunday, August 20th, 1911

The long-expected blizzard came yesterday – a good honest blow, the drift vanishing long before the wind. This and the rise of temperature (to 2º) has smoothed and polished all ice or snow surfaces. A few days ago I could walk anywhere in my soft finnesko with sealskin soles; to-day it needed great caution to prevent tumbles. I think there has been a good deal of ablation.

The sky is clear to-day, but the wind still strong though warm. I went along the shore of the North Bay and climbed to the glacier over one of the drifted faults in the ice face. It is steep and slippery, but by this way one can arrive above the Ramp without touching rock and thus avoid cutting soft footwear.

The ice problems in our neighbourhood become more fascinating and elusive as one re-examines them by the returning light; some will be solved.

Friday, August 18th 1911

Friday, August 18th, 1911

Atkinson lectured on ‘Scurvy’ last night. He spoke clearly and slowly, but the disease is anything but precise. He gave a little summary of its history afloat and the remedies long in use in the Navy.

He described the symptoms with some detail. Mental depression, debility, syncope, petechiae, livid patches, spongy gums, lesions, swellings, and so on to things that are worse. He passed to some of the theories held and remedies tried in accordance with them. Ralph came nearest the truth in discovering decrease of chlorine and alkalinity of urine. Sir Almroth Wright has hit the truth, he thinks, in finding increased acidity of blood – acid intoxication – by methods only possible in recent years.

This acid condition is due to two salts, sodium hydrogen carbonate and sodium hydrogen phosphate; these cause the symptoms observed and infiltration of fat in organs, leading to feebleness of heart action. The method of securing and testing serum of patient was described (titration, a colorimetric method of measuring the percentage of substances in solution), and the test by litmus paper of normal or super-normal solution. In this test the ordinary healthy man shows normal 30 to 50: the scurvy patient normal 90.

Lactate of sodium increases alkalinity of blood, but only within narrow limits, and is the only chemical remedy suggested.

So far for diagnosis, but it does not bring us much closer to the cause, preventives, or remedies. Practically we are much as we were before, but the lecturer proceeded to deal with the practical side.

In brief, he holds the first cause to be tainted food, but secondary or contributory causes may be even more potent in developing the disease. Damp, cold, over-exertion, bad air, bad light, in fact any condition exceptional to normal healthy existence. Remedies are merely to change these conditions for the better. Dietetically, fresh vegetables are the best curatives – the lecturer was doubtful of fresh meat, but admitted its possibility in polar climate; lime juice only useful if regularly taken. He discussed lightly the relative values of vegetable stuffs, doubtful of those containing abundance of phosphates such as lentils. He touched theory again in continuing the cause of acidity to bacterial action – and the possibility of infection in epidemic form. Wilson is evidently slow to accept the ‘acid intoxication’ theory; his attitude is rather ‘non proven.’ His remarks were extremely sound and practical as usual. He proved the value of fresh meat in polar regions.

Scurvy seems very far away from us this time, yet after our Discovery experience, one feels that no trouble can be too great or no precaution too small to be adopted to keep it at bay. Therefore such an evening as last was well spent.

It is certain we shall not have the disease here, but one cannot foresee equally certain avoidance in the southern journey to come. All one can do is to take every possible precaution.

Ran over to Tent Island this afternoon and climbed to the top – I have not been there since 1903. Was struck with great amount of loose sand; it seemed to get smaller in grain from S. to N. Fine view from top of island: one specially notices the gap left by the breaking up of the Glacier Tongue.

The distance to the top of the island and back is between 7 and 8 statute miles, and the run in this weather is fine healthy exercise. Standing on the island to-day with a glorious view of mountains, islands, and glaciers, I thought how very different must be the outlook of the Norwegians. A dreary white plain of Barrier behind and an uninviting stretch of sea ice in front. With no landmarks, nothing to guide if the light fails, it is probable that they venture but a very short distance from their hut.

The prospects of such a situation do not smile on us.

The weather remains fine – this is the sixth day without wind.

Thursday, August 17th 1911

Thursday, August 17th, 1911

The weather has been extremely kind to us of late; we haven’t a single grumble against it. The temperature hovers pretty constantly at about -35º, there is very little wind and the sky is clear and bright. In such weather one sees well for more than three hours before and after noon, the landscape unfolds itself, and the sky colours are always delicate and beautiful. At noon to-day there was bright sunlight on the tops of the Western Peaks and on the summit and steam of Erebus – of late the vapour cloud of Erebus has been exceptionally heavy and fantastic in form.

The balloon has become a daily institution. Yesterday the instrument was recovered in triumph, but to-day the threads carried the searchers in amongst the icebergs and soared aloft over their crests – anon the clue was recovered beyond, and led towards Tent Island, then towards Inaccessible, then back to the bergs. Never was such an elusive thread. Darkness descended with the searchers on a strong scent for the Razor Backs: Bowers returned full of hope.

The wretched Lassie has killed every one of her litter. She is mother for the first time, and possibly that accounts for it. When the poor little mites were alive she constantly left them, and when taken back she either trod on them or lay on them, till not one was left alive. It is extremely annoying.

As the daylight comes, people are busier than ever. It does one good to see so much work going on.

Tuesday, August 15th 1911

Tuesday, August 15th, 1911

The instrument recovered from the balloon shows an ascent of 2 1/2 miles, and the temperature at that height only 5º or 6º C. below that at the surface. If, as one must suppose, this layer extends over the Barrier, it would there be at a considerably higher temperature than the surface Simpson has imagined a very cold surface layer on the Barrier.
The acetylene has suddenly failed, and I find myself at this moment writing by daylight for the first time.

The first addition to our colony came last night, when ‘Lassie’ produced six or seven puppies – we are keeping the family very quiet and as warm as possible in the stable.

It is very pleasant to note the excellent relations which our young Russians have established with other folk; they both work very hard, Anton having most to do. Demetri is the more intelligent and begins to talk English fairly well. Both are on the best terms with their mess-mates, and it was amusing last night to see little Anton jamming a felt hat over P.O. Evans’ head in high good humour.

Wright lectured on radium last night.

The transformation of the radio-active elements suggestive of the transmutation of metals was perhaps the most interesting idea suggested, but the discussion ranged mainly round the effect which the discovery of radio-activity has had on physics and chemistry in its bearing on the origin of matter, on geology as bearing on the internal heat of the earth, and on medicine in its curative powers. The geologists and doctors admitted little virtue to it, but of course the physicists boomed their own wares, which enlivened the debate.

Monday, August 14th 1911

Monday, August 14th, 1911

Since the comparatively short storm of Friday, in which we had a temperature of -30º with a 50 m.p.h. wind, we have had two delightfully calm days, and to-day there is every promise of the completion of a third. On such days the light is quite good for three to four hours at midday and has a cheering effect on man and beast.

The ponies are so pleased that they seize the slightest opportunity to part company with their leaders and gallop off with tail and heels flung high. The dogs are equally festive and are getting more exercise than could be given in the dark. The two Esquimaux dogs have been taken in hand by Clissold, as I have noted before. He now takes them out with a leader borrowed from Meares, usually little ‘Noogis.’ On Saturday the sledge capsized at the tide crack; Clissold was left on the snow whilst the team disappeared in the distance. Noogis returned later, having eaten through his harness, and the others were eventually found some two miles away, ‘foul’ of an ice hummock. Yesterday Clissold took the same team to Cape Royds; they brought back a load of 100 lbs. a dog in about two hours. It would have been a good performance for the best dogs in the time, and considering that Meares pronounced these two dogs useless, Clissold deserves a great deal of credit.

Yesterday we had a really successful balloon ascent: the balloon ran out four miles of thread before it was released, and the instrument fell without a parachute. The searchers followed the clue about 2 1/2 miles to the north, when it turned and came back parallel to itself, and only about 30 yards distant from it. The instrument was found undamaged and with the record properly scratched.

Nelson has been out a good deal more of late. He has got a good little run of serial temperatures with water samples, and however meagre his results, they may be counted as exceedingly accurate; his methods include the great scientific care which is now considered necessary for this work, and one realises that he is one of the few people who have been trained in it. Yesterday he got his first net haul from the bottom, with the assistance of Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard.

Atkinson has some personal interest in the work. He has been getting remarkable results himself and has discovered a host of new parasites in the seals; he has been trying to correlate these with like discoveries in the fishes, in hope of working out complete life histories in both primary and secondary hosts.

But the joint hosts of the fishes may be the mollusca or other creatures on which they feed, and hence the new fields for Atkinson in Nelson’s catches. There is a relative simplicity in the round of life in its higher forms in these regions that would seem especially hopeful for the parasitologist.

My afternoon walk has become a pleasure; everything is beautiful in this half light and the northern sky grows redder as the light wanes.

Friday, August 11th 1911

Friday, August 11th, 1911

The long-expected blizzard came in the night; it is still blowing hard with drift.

Yesterday evening Oates gave his second lecture on ‘Horse management.’ He was brief and a good deal to the point. ‘Not born but made’ was his verdict on the good manager of animals. ‘The horse has no reasoning power at all, but an excellent memory’; sights and sounds recall circumstances under which they were previously seen or heard. It is no use shouting at a horse: ten to one he will associate the noise with some form of trouble, and getting excited, will set out to make it. It is ridiculous for the rider of a bucking horse to shout ‘Whoa!’ – ‘I know,’ said the Soldier, ‘because I have done it.’ Also it is to be remembered that loud talk to one horse may disturb other horses. The great thing is to be firm and quiet.

A horse’s memory, explained the Soldier, warns it of events to come. He gave instances of hunters and race-horses which go off their feed and show great excitement in other ways before events for which they are prepared; for this reason every effort should be made to keep the animals quiet in camp. Rugs should be put on directly after a halt and not removed till the last moment before a march.

After a few hints on leading the lecturer talked of possible improvements in our wintering arrangements. A loose box for each animal would be an advantage, and a small amount of litter on which he could lie down. Some of our ponies lie down, but rarely for more than 10 minutes – the Soldier thinks they find the ground too cold. He thinks it would be wise to clip animals before the winter sets in. He is in doubt as to the advisability of grooming. He passed to the improvements preparing for the coming journey – the nose bags, picketing lines, and rugs. He proposes to bandage the legs of all ponies. Finally he dealt with the difficult subjects of snow blindness and soft surfaces: for the first he suggested dyeing the forelocks, which have now grown quite long. Oates indulges a pleasant conceit in finishing his discourses with a merry tale. Last night’s tale evoked shouts of laughter, but, alas! it is quite unprintable! Our discussion hinged altogether on the final subjects of the lecture as concerning snow blindness – the dyed forelocks seem inadequate, and the best suggestion seems the addition of a sun bonnet rather than blinkers, or, better still, a peak over the eyes attached to the headstall. I doubt if this question will be difficult to settle, but the snow-shoe problem is much more serious. This has been much in our minds of late, and Petty Officer Evans has been making trial shoes for Snatcher on vague ideas of our remembrance of the shoes worn for lawn mowing.

Besides the problem of the form of the shoes, comes the question of the means of attachment. All sorts of suggestions were made last night as to both points, and the discussion cleared the air a good deal. I think that with slight modification our present pony snow-shoes made on the grating or racquet principle may prove best after all. The only drawback is that they are made for very soft snow and unnecessarily large for the Barrier; this would make them liable to be strained on hard patches. The alternative seems to be to perfect the principle of the lawn mowing shoe, which is little more than a stiff bag over the hoof.

Perhaps we shall come to both kinds: the first for the quiet animals and the last for the more excitable. I am confident the matter is of first importance.

Thursday, August 10th 1911

Thursday, August 10th, 1911

There has been very little to record of late and my pen has been busy on past records.

The weather has been moderately good and as before wholly incomprehensible. Wind has come from a clear sky and from a clouded one; we had a small blow on Tuesday but it never reached gale force; it came without warning, and every sign which we have regarded as a warning has proved a bogey. The fact is, one must always be prepared for wind and never expect it.

The daylight advances in strides. Day has fitted an extra sash to our window and the light admitted for the first time through triple glass. With this device little ice collects inside.

The ponies are very fit but inclined to be troublesome: the quiet beasts develop tricks without rhyme or reason. Chinaman still kicks and squeals at night. Anton’s theory is that he does it to warm himself, and perhaps there is something in it. When eating snow he habitually takes too large a mouthful and swallows it; it is comic to watch him, because when the snow chills his inside he shuffles about with all four legs and wears a most fretful, aggrieved expression: but no sooner has the snow melted than he seizes another mouthful. Other ponies take small mouthfuls or melt a large one on their tongues – this act also produces an amusing expression. Victor and Snippets are confirmed wind suckers. They are at it all the time when the manger board is in place, but it is taken down immediately after feeding time, and then they can only seek vainly for something to catch hold of with their teeth. ‘Bones’ has taken to kicking at night for no imaginable reason. He hammers away at the back of his stall merrily; we have covered the boards with several layers of sacking, so that the noise is cured, if not the habit. The annoying part of these tricks is that they hold the possibility of damage to the pony. I am glad to say all the lice have disappeared; the final conquest was effected with a very simple remedy – the infected ponies were washed with water in which tobacco had been steeped. Oates had seen this decoction used effectively with troop horses. The result is the greater relief, since we had run out of all the chemicals which had been used for the same purpose.

I have now definitely told off the ponies for the Southern Journey, and the new masters will take charge on September 1. They will continually exercise the animals so as to get to know them as well as possible. The arrangement has many obvious advantages. The following is the order:

Bowers Victor.
Evans (P.O.) Snatcher.
Wilson Nobby.
Crean Bones.
Atkinson Jehu.
Keohane Jimmy Pigg.
Wright Chinaman.
Oates Christopher.
Cherry-Garrard Michael.
Myself & Oates Snippets.

The first balloon of the season was sent up yesterday by Bowers and Simpson. It rose on a southerly wind, but remained in it for 100 feet or less, then for 300 or 400 feet it went straight up, and after that directly south over Razor Back Island. Everything seemed to go well, the thread, on being held, tightened and then fell slack as it should do. It was followed for two miles or more running in a straight line for Razor Back, but within a few hundred yards of the Island it came to an end. The searchers went round the Island to try and recover the clue, but without result. Almost identically the same thing happened after the last ascent made, and we are much puzzled to find the cause.

The continued proximity of the south moving air currents above is very interesting.

The Crozier Party are not right yet, their feet are exceedingly sore, and there are other indications of strain. I must almost except Bowers, who, whatever his feelings, went off as gaily as usual on the search for the balloon.

Saw a very beautiful effect on my afternoon walk yesterday: the full moon was shining brightly from a quarter exactly opposite to the fading twilight and the icebergs were lit on one side by the yellow lunar light and on the other by the paler white daylight. The first seemed to be gilded, while the diffused light of day gave to the other a deep, cold, greenish-blue colour – the contrast was strikingly beautiful.

Patrick Keohane finishing his model of the “Terra Nova”. August 10th 1911
“Patrick Keohane finishing his model of the “Terra Nova”. August 10th 1911”

Sunday, August 6th 1911

Sunday, August 6th, 1911

Sunday with its usual routine. Hymn singing has become a point on which we begin to take some pride to ourselves. With our full attendance of singers we now get a grand volume of sound.

The day started overcast. Chalky is an excellent adjective to describe the appearance of our outlook when the light is much diffused and shadows poor; the scene is dull and flat.

In the afternoon the sky cleared, the moon over Erebus gave a straw colour to the dissipating clouds. This evening the air is full of ice crystals and a stratus forms again. This alternation of clouded and clear skies has been the routine for some time now and is accompanied by the absence of wind which is delightfully novel.

The blood of the Crozier Party, tested by Atkinson, shows a very slight increase of acidity – such was to be expected, and it is pleasing to note that there is no sign of scurvy. If the preserved foods had tended to promote the disease, the length of time and severity of conditions would certainly have brought it out. I think we should be safe on the long journey.

I have had several little chats with Wilson on the happenings of the journey. He says there is no doubt Cherry-Garrard felt the conditions most severely, though he was not only without complaint, but continuously anxious to help others.

Apropos, we both conclude that it is the younger people that have the worst time; Gran, our youngest member (23), is a very clear example, and now Cherry-Garrard at 26.

Wilson (39) says he never felt cold less than he does now; I suppose that between 30 and 40 is the best all round age. Bowers is a wonder of course. He is 29. When past the forties it is encouraging to remember that Peary was 52!!

Saturday, August 5th 1911

Saturday, August 5th, 1911

The sky has continued to wear a disturbed appearance, but so far nothing has come of it. A good deal of light snow has been falling to-day; a brisk northerly breeze is drifting it along, giving a very strange yet beautiful effect in the north, where the strong red twilight filters through the haze.

The Crozier Party tell a good story of Bowers, who on their return journey with their recovered tent fitted what he called a ‘tent downhaul’ and secured it round his sleeping-bag and himself. If the tent went again, he determined to go with it.

Our lecture programme has been renewed. Last night Simpson gave a capital lecture on general meteorology. He started on the general question of insolation, giving various tables to show proportion of sun’s heat received at the polar and equatorial regions. Broadly, in latitude 80º one would expect about 22 per cent, of the heat received at a spot on the equator.

He dealt with the temperature question by showing interesting tabular comparisons between northern and southern temperatures at given latitudes. So far as these tables go they show the South Polar summer to be 15º colder than the North Polar, but the South Polar winter 3º warmer than the North Polar, but of course this last figure would be completely altered if the observer were to winter on the Barrier. I fancy Amundsen will not concede those 3º!!

From temperatures our lecturer turned to pressures and the upward turn of the gradient in high southern latitudes, as shown by the Discovery Expedition. This bears of course on the theory which places an anticyclone in the South Polar region. Lockyer’s theories came under discussion; a good many facts appear to support them. The westerly winds of the Roaring Forties are generally understood to be a succession of cyclones. Lockyer’s hypothesis supposes that there are some eight or ten cyclones continually revolving at a rate of about 10º of longitude a day, and he imagines them to extend from the 40th parallel to beyond the 60th, thus giving the strong westerly winds in the forties and easterly and southerly in 60º to 70º. Beyond 70º there appears to be generally an irregular outpouring of cold air from the polar area, with an easterly component significant of anticyclone conditions.

Simpson evolved a new blizzard theory on this. He supposes the surface air intensely cooled over the continental and Barrier areas, and the edge of this cold region lapped by warmer air from the southern limits of Lockyer’s cyclones. This would produce a condition of unstable equilibrium, with great potentiality for movement. Since, as we have found, volumes of cold air at different temperatures are very loath to mix, the condition could not be relieved by any gradual process, but continues until the stream is released by some minor cause, when, the ball once started, a huge disturbance results. It seems to be generally held that warm air is passing polewards from the equator continuously at the high levels. It is this potentially warm air which, mixed by the disturbance with the cold air of the interior, gives to our winds so high a temperature.

Such is this theory – like its predecessor it is put up for cockshies, and doubtless by our balloon work or by some other observations it will be upset or modified. Meanwhile it is well to keep one’s mind alive with such problems, which mark the road of advance.