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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for September, 1911

Thursday, September 14th 1911

Thursday, September 14th, 1911

Another interregnum. I have been exceedingly busy finishing up the Southern plans, getting instruction in photographing, and preparing for our jaunt to the west. I held forth on the ‘Southern Plans’ yesterday; everyone was enthusiastic, and the feeling is general that our arrangements are calculated to make the best of our resources. Although people have given a good deal of thought to various branches of the subject, there was not a suggestion offered for improvement. The scheme seems to have earned full confidence: it remains to play the game out.
The last lectures of the season have been given. On Monday Nelson gave us an interesting little resume of biological questions, tracing the evolutionary development of forms from the simplest single-cell animals.

To-night Wright tackled ‘The Constitution of Matter’ with the latest ideas from the Cavendish Laboratory: it was a tough subject, yet one carries away ideas of the trend of the work of the great physicists, of the ends they achieve and the means they employ. Wright is inclined to explain matter as velocity; Simpson claims to be with J.J. Thomson in stressing the fact that gravity is not explained.
These lectures have been a real amusement and one would be sorry enough that they should end, were it not for so good a reason.

I am determined to make some better show of our photographic work on the Southern trip than has yet been accomplished – with Ponting as a teacher it should be easy. He is prepared to take any pains to ensure good results, not only with his own work but with that of others – showing indeed what a very good chap he is.

To-day I have been trying a colour screen – it is an extraordinary addition to one’s powers.

To-morrow Bowers, Simpson, Petty Officer Evans, and I are off to the west. I want to have another look at the Ferrar Glacier, to measure the stakes put out by Wright last year, to bring my sledging impressions up to date (one loses details of technique very easily), and finally to see what we can do with our cameras. I haven’t decided how long we shall stay away or precisely where we shall go; such vague arrangements have an attractive side.

We have had a fine week, but the temperature remains low in the twenties, and to-day has dropped to -35º. I shouldn’t wonder if we get a cold snap.

Sunday, September 10th 1911

Sunday, September 10th, 1911

A whole week since the last entry in my diary. I feel very negligent of duty, but my whole time has been occupied in making detailed plans for the Southern journey. These are finished at last, I am glad to say; every figure has been checked by Bowers, who has been an enormous help to me. If the motors are successful, we shall have no difficulty in getting to the Glacier, and if they fail, we shall still get there with any ordinary degree of good fortune. To work three units of four men from that point onwards requires no small provision, but with the proper provision it should take a good deal to stop the attainment of our object. I have tried to take every reasonable possibility of misfortune into consideration, and to so organise the parties as to be prepared to meet them. I fear to be too sanguine, yet taking everything into consideration I feel that our chances ought to be good. The animals are in splendid form. Day by day the ponies get fitter as their exercise increases, and the stronger, harder food toughens their muscles. They are very different animals from those which we took south last year, and with another month of training I feel there is not one of them but will make light of the loads we shall ask them to draw. But we cannot spare any of the ten, and so there must always be anxiety of the disablement of one or more before their work is done.

E. R. Evans, Forde, and Gran left early on Saturday for Corner Camp. I hope they will have no difficulty in finding it. Meares and Demetri came back from Hut Point the same afternoon – the dogs are wonderfully fit and strong, but Meares reports no seals up in the region, and as he went to make seal pemmican, there was little object in his staying. I leave him to come and go as he pleases, merely setting out the work he has to do in the simplest form. I want him to take fourteen bags of forage (130 lbs. each) to Corner Camp before the end of October and to be ready to start for his supporting work soon after the pony party – a light task for his healthy teams. Of hopeful signs for the future none are more remarkable than the health and spirit of our people. It would be impossible to imagine a more vigorous community, and there does not seem to be a single weak spot in the twelve good men and true who are chosen for the Southern advance. All are now experienced sledge travellers, knit together with a bond of friendship that has never been equalled under such circumstances. Thanks to these people, and more especially to Bowers and Petty Officer Evans, there is not a single detail of our equipment which is not arranged with the utmost care and in accordance with the tests of experience.

It is good to have arrived at a point where one can run over facts and figures again and again without detecting a flaw or foreseeing a difficulty.

I do not count on the motors – that is a strong point in our case – but should they work well our earlier task of reaching the Glacier will be made quite easy. Apart from such help I am anxious that these machines should enjoy some measure of success and justify the time, money, and thought which have been given to their construction. I am still very confident of the possibility of motor traction, whilst realising that reliance cannot be placed on it in its present untried evolutionary state – it is satisfactory to add that my own view is the most cautious one held in our party. Day is quite convinced he will go a long way and is prepared to accept much heavier weights than I have given him. Lashly’s opinion is perhaps more doubtful, but on the whole hopeful. Clissold is to make the fourth man of the motor party. I have already mentioned his mechanical capabilities. He has had a great deal of experience with motors, and Day is delighted to have his assistance.

We had two lectures last week – the first from Debenham dealing with General Geology and having special reference to the structures of our region. It cleared up a good many points in my mind concerning the gneissic base rocks, the Beacon sand-stone, and the dolerite intrusions. I think we shall be in a position to make fairly good field observations when we reach the southern land.

The scientific people have taken keen interest in making their lectures interesting, and the custom has grown of illustrating them with lantern slides made from our own photographs, from books, or from drawings of the lecturer. The custom adds to the interest of the subject, but robs the reporter of notes. The second weekly lecture was given by Ponting. His store of pictures seems unending and has been an immense source of entertainment to us during the winter. His lectures appeal to all and are fully attended. This time we had pictures of the Great Wall and other stupendous monuments of North China. Ponting always manages to work in detail concerning the manners and customs of the peoples in the countries of his travels; on Friday he told us of Chinese farms and industries, of hawking and other sports, most curious of all, of the pretty amusement of flying pigeons with aeolian whistling pipes attached to their tail feathers.

Ponting would have been a great asset to our party if only on account of his lectures, but his value as pictorial recorder of events becomes daily more apparent. No expedition has ever been illustrated so extensively, and the only difficulty will be to select from the countless subjects that have been recorded by his camera – and yet not a single subject is treated with haste; the first picture is rarely counted good enough, and in some cases five or six plates are exposed before our very critical artist is satisfied.
This way of going to work would perhaps be more striking if it were not common to all our workers here; a very demon of unrest seems to stir them to effort and there is now not a single man who is not striving his utmost to get good results in his own particular department.

It is a really satisfactory state of affairs all round. If the Southern journey comes off, nothing, not even priority at the Pole, can prevent the Expedition ranking as one of the most important that ever entered the polar regions.

On Friday Cherry-Garrard produced the second volume of the S.P.T. – on the whole an improvement on the first. Poor Cherry perspired over the editorial, and it bears the signs of labour – the letterpress otherwise is in the lighter strain: Taylor again the most important contributor, but now at rather too great a length; Nelson has supplied a very humorous trifle; the illustrations are quite delightful, the highwater mark of Wilson’s ability. The humour is local, of course, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there can be no other form of popular journal.

The weather has not been good of late, but not sufficiently bad to interfere with exercise, &c.

Sunday, September 3rd 1911

Sunday, September 3rd, 1911

The weather still remains fine, the temperature down in the minus thirties. All going well and everyone in splendid spirits. Last night Bowers lectured on Polar clothing. He had worked the subject up from our Polar library with critical and humorous ability, and since his recent journey he must be considered as entitled to an authoritative opinion of his own. The points in our clothing problems are too technical and too frequently discussed to need special notice at present, but as a result of a new study of Arctic precedents it is satisfactory to find it becomes more and more evident that our equipment is the best that has been devised for the purpose, always excepting the possible alternative of skins for spring journeys, an alternative we have no power to adopt. In spite of this we are making minor improvements all the time.

Friday, September 1st 1911

Friday, September 1st, 1911

A very windy night, dropping to gusts in morning, preceding beautifully calm, bright day. If September holds as good as August we shall not have cause of complaint. Meares and Demetri started for Hut Point just before noon. The dogs were in fine form. Demetri’s team came over the hummocky tide crack at full gallop, depositing the driver on the snow. Luckily some of us were standing on the floe. I made a dash at the bow of the sledge as it dashed past and happily landed on top; Atkinson grasped at the same object, but fell, and was dragged merrily over the ice. The weight reduced the pace, and others soon came up and stopped the team. Demetri was very crestfallen. He is extremely active and it’s the first time he’s been unseated.

There is no real reason for Meares’ departure yet awhile, but he chose to go and probably hopes to train the animals better when he has them by themselves. As things are, this seems like throwing out the advance guard for the summer campaign.

I have been working very hard at sledging figures with Bowers’ able assistance. The scheme develops itself in the light of these figures, and I feel that our organisation will not be found wanting, yet there is an immense amount of detail, and every arrangement has to be more than usually elastic to admit of extreme possibilities of the full success or complete failure of the motors.

I think our plan will carry us through without the motors (though in that case nothing else must fail), and will take full advantage of such help as the motors may give. Our spring travelling is to be limited order. E. Evans, Gran, and Forde will go out to find and re-mark ‘Corner Camp.’ Meares will then carry out as much fodder as possible with the dogs. Simpson, Bowers, and I are going to stretch our legs across to the Western Mountains. There is no choice but to keep the rest at home to exercise the ponies. It’s not going to be a light task to keep all these frisky little beasts in order, as their food is increased. To-day the change in masters has taken place: by the new arrangement

Wilson takes Nobby
Cherry-Garrard takes Michael
Wright takes Chinaman
Atkinson takes Jehu.

The new comers seem very pleased with their animals, though they are by no means the pick of the bunch.