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Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter IX: The Work and the Workers’ Category

Sunday, May 14th 1911

Sunday, May 14th, 1911

Grey and dull in the morning.

Exercised the ponies and held the usual service. This morning I gave Wright some notes containing speculations on the amount of ice on the Antarctic continent and on the effects of winter movements in the sea ice. I want to get into his head the larger bearing of the problems which our physical investigations involve. He needs two years here to fully realise these things, and with all his intelligence and energy will produce little unless he has that extended experience.

The sky cleared at noon, and this afternoon I walked over the North Bay to the ice cliffs – such a very beautiful afternoon and evening – the scene bathed in moonlight, so bright and pure as to be almost golden, a very wonderful scene. At such times the Bay seems strangely homely, especially when the eye rests on our camp with the hut and lighted windows.
I am very much impressed with the extraordinary and general cordiality of the relations which exist amongst our people. I do not suppose that a statement of the real truth, namely, that there is no friction at all, will be credited – it is so generally thought that the many rubs of such a life as this are quietly and purposely sunk in oblivion. With me there is no need to draw a veil; there is nothing to cover. There are no strained relations in this hut, and nothing more emphatically evident than the universally amicable spirit which is shown on all occasions.

Such a state of affairs would be delightfully surprising under any conditions, but it is much more so when one remembers the diverse assortment of our company.

This theme is worthy of expansion. To-night Oates, captain in a smart cavalry regiment, has been ‘scrapping’ over chairs and tables with Debenham, a young Australian student.

It is a triumph to have collected such men.

The temperature has been down to -23º, the lowest yet recorded here – doubtless we shall soon get lower, for I find an extraordinary difference between this season as far as it has gone and those of 1902-3.

Saturday, May 13th 1911

Saturday, May 13th, 1911

The wind dropped about 10 last night. This morning it was calm and clear save for a light misty veil of ice crystals through which the moon shone with scarce clouded brilliancy, surrounded with bright cruciform halo and white paraselene. Mock moons with prismatic patches of colour appeared in the radiant ring, echoes of the main source of light. Wilson has a charming sketch of the phenomenon.

I went to Inaccessible Island, and climbing some way up the steep western face, reassured myself concerning the ice. It was evident that there had been no movement in consequence of yesterday’s blow.

In climbing I had to scramble up some pretty steep rock faces and screens, and held on only in anticipation of gaining the top of the Island and an easy descent. Instead of this I came to an impossible overhanging cliff of lava, and was forced to descend as I had come up. It was no easy task, and I was glad to get down with only one slip, when I brought myself up with my ice axe in the nick of time to prevent a fall over a cliff. This Island is very steep on all sides. There is only one known place of ascent; it will be interesting to try and find others.

After tea Atkinson came in with the glad tidings that the dog team were returning from Hut Point. We were soon on the floe to welcome the last remnant of our wintering party. Meares reported everything well and the ponies not far behind.

The dogs were unharnessed and tied up to the chains; they are all looking remarkably fit – apparently they have given no trouble at all of late; there have not even been any fights.

Half an hour later Day, Lashly, Nelson, Forde, and Keohane arrived with the two ponies – men and animals in good form.
It is a great comfort to have the men and dogs back, and a greater to contemplate all the ten ponies comfortably stabled for the winter. Everything seems to depend on these animals.

I have not seen the meteorological record brought back, but it appears that the party had had very fine calm weather since we left them, except during the last three days when wind has been very strong. It is curious that we should only have got one day with wind.

I am promised the sea-freezing record to-morrow. Four seals were got on April 22, the day after we left, and others have been killed since, so that there is a plentiful supply of blubber and seal meat at the hut – the rest of the supplies seem to have been pretty well run out. Some more forage had been fetched in from the depot. A young sea leopard had been killed on the sea ice near Castle Rock three days ago, this being the second only found in the Sound.

It is a strange fact that none of the returning party seem to greatly appreciate the food luxuries they have had since their return. It would have been the same with us had we not had a day or two in tents before our return. It seems more and more certain that a very simple fare is all that is needed here – plenty of seal meat, flour, and fat, with tea, cocoa, and sugar; these are the only real requirements for comfortable existence.

The temperatures at Hut Point have not been as low as I expected. There seems to have been an extraordinary heat wave during the spell of calm recorded since we left – the thermometer registering little below zero until the wind came, when it fell to -20º. Thus as an exception we have had a fall instead of a rise of temperature with wind.

[The exact inventory of stores at Hut Point here recorded has no immediate bearing on the history of the expedition, but may be noted as illustrating the care and thoroughness with which all operations were conducted. Other details as to the carbide consumed in making acetylene gas may be briefly quoted. The first tin was opened on February 1, the second on March 26. The seventh on May 20, the next eight at the average interval of 9 1/2 days.]

Friday, May 12th 1911

Friday, May 12th, 1911

Yesterday morning was quiet. Played football in the morning; wind got up in the afternoon and evening.
All day it has been blowing hard, 30 to 60 miles an hour; it has never looked very dark overhead, but a watery cirrus has been in evidence for some time, causing well marked paraselene.

I have not been far from the hut, but had a great fear on one occasion that the ice had gone out in the Strait.

The wind is dropping this evening, and I have been up to Wind Vane Hill. I now think the ice has remained fast.
There has been astonishingly little drift with the wind, probably due to the fact that there has been so very little snowfall of late.

Atkinson is pretty certain that he has isolated a very motile bacterium in the snow. It is probably air borne, and though no bacteria have been found in the air, this may be carried in upper currents and brought down by the snow. If correct it is an interesting discovery.

To-night Debenham gave a geological lecture. It was elementary. He gave little more than the rough origin and classification of rocks with a view to making his further lectures better understood.

Wednesday, May 10th 1911

Wednesday, May 10th, 1911

It has been blowing from the South 12 to 20 miles per hour since last night; the ice remains fast. The temperature -12º to -19º. The party does not come. I went well beyond Inaccessible Island till Hut Point and Castle Rock appeared beyond Tent Island, that is, well out on the space which was last seen as open water. The ice is 9 inches thick, not much for eight or nine days’ freezing; but it is very solid – the surface wet but very slippery. I suppose Meares waits for 12 inches in thickness, or fears the floe is too slippery for the ponies.

Yet I wish he would come.

I took a thermometer on my walk to-day; the temperature was -12º inside Inaccessible Island, but only -8º on the sea ice outside – the wind seemed less outside. Coming in under lee of Island and bergs I was reminded of the difficulty of finding shelter in these regions. The weather side of hills seems to afford better shelter than the lee side, as I have remarked elsewhere. May it be in part because all lee sides tend to be filled by drift snow, blown and weathered rock debris? There was a good lee under one of the bergs; in one corner the ice sloped out over me and on either side, forming a sort of grotto; here the air was absolutely still.

Ponting gave us an interesting lecture on Burmah, illustrated with fine slides. His descriptive language is florid, but shows the artistic temperament. Bowers and Simpson were able to give personal reminiscences of this land of pagodas, and the discussion led to interesting statements on the religion, art, and education of its people, their philosophic idleness, &c. Our lectures are a real success.

Monday, May 8th – Tuesday, May 9th 1911

Tuesday, May 9th, 1911

As one of the series of lectures I gave an outline of my plans for next season on Monday evening. Everyone was interested naturally. I could not but hint that in my opinion the problem of reaching the Pole can best be solved by relying on the ponies and man haulage. With this sentiment the whole company appeared to be in sympathy. Everyone seems to distrust the dogs when it comes to glacier and summit. I have asked everyone to give thought to the problem, to freely discuss it, and bring suggestions to my notice. It’s going to be a tough job; that is better realised the more one dives into it.

To-day (Tuesday) Debenham has been showing me his photographs taken west. With Wright’s and Taylor’s these will make an extremely interesting series – the ice forms especially in the region of the Koettlitz glacier are unique.

The Strait has been frozen over a week. I cannot understand why the Hut Point party doesn’t return.

The weather continues wonderfully calm though now looking a little unsettled. Perhaps the unsettled look stops the party, or perhaps it waits for the moon, which will be bright in a day or two.

Any way I wish it would return, and shall not be free from anxiety till it does.

Cherry-Garrard is experimenting in stone huts and with blubber fires – all with a view to prolonging the stay at Cape Crozier.

Bowers has placed one thermometer screen on the floe about 3/4′ out, and another smaller one above the Ramp. Oddly, the floe temperature seems to agree with that on Wind Vane Hill, whilst the hut temperature is always 4º or 5º colder in calm weather. To complete the records a thermometer is to be placed in South Bay.

Science – the rock foundation of all effort!!

Sunday, May 7th 1911

Sunday, May 7th, 1911

Daylight now is very short. One wonders why the Hut Point party does not come. Bowers and Cherry-Garrard have set up a thermometer screen containing maximum thermometers and thermographs on the sea floe about 3/4′ N.W. of the hut. Another smaller one is to go on top of the Ramp. They took the screen out on one of Day’s bicycle wheel carriages and found it ran very easily over the salty ice where the sledges give so much trouble. This vehicle is not easily turned, but may be very useful before there is much snowfall.

Yesterday a balloon was sent up and reached a very good height (probably 2 to 3 miles) before the instrument disengaged; the balloon went almost straight up and the silk fell in festoons over the rocky part of the Cape, affording a very difficult clue to follow; but whilst Bowers was following it, Atkinson observed the instrument fall a few hundred yards out on the Bay – it was recovered and gives the first important record of upper air temperature.

Atkinson and Crean put out the fish trap in about 3 fathoms of water off the west beach; both yesterday morning and yesterday evening when the trap was raised it contained over forty fish, whilst this morning and this evening the catches in the same spot have been from twenty to twenty-five. We had fish for breakfast this morning, but an even more satisfactory result of the catches has been revealed by Atkinson’s microscope. He had discovered quite a number of new parasites and found work to last quite a long time.

Last night it came to my turn to do night watchman again, so that I shall be glad to have a good sleep to-night.

Yesterday we had a game of football; it is pleasant to mess about, but the light is failing.
Clissold is still producing food novelties; to-night we had galantine of seal – it was excellent.

Saturday, May 6th 1911

Saturday, May 6th, 1911

Two more days of calm, interrupted with occasional gusts.

Yesterday, Friday evening, Taylor gave an introductory lecture on his remarkably fascinating subject – modern physiography.

These modern physiographers set out to explain the forms of land erosion on broad common-sense lines, heedless of geological support. They must, in consequence, have their special language. River courses, they say, are not temporary – in the main they are archaic. In conjunction with land elevations they have worked through geographical cycles, perhaps many. In each geographical cycle they have advanced from infantile V-shaped forms; the courses broaden and deepen, the bank slopes reduce in angle as maturer stages are reached until the level of sea surface is more and more nearly approximated. In senile stages the river is a broad sluggish stream flowing over a plain with little inequality of level. The cycle has formed a Peneplain. Subsequently, with fresh elevation, a new cycle is commenced. So much for the simple case, but in fact nearly all cases are modified by unequal elevations due to landslips, by variation in hardness of rock, &c. Hence modification in positions of river courses and the fact of different parts of a single river being in different stages of cycle.

Taylor illustrated his explanations with examples: The Red River, Canada – Plain flat though elevated, water lies in pools, river flows in ‘V’ ‘infantile’ form.

The Rhine Valley – The gorgeous scenery from Mainz down due to infantile form in recently elevated region.
The Russian Plains – Examples of ‘senility.’

Greater complexity in the Blue Mountains – these are undoubted earth folds; the Nepean River flows through an offshoot of a fold, the valley being made as the fold was elevated – curious valleys made by erosion of hard rock overlying soft.

River piracy – Domestic, the short circuiting of a meander, such as at Coo in the Ardennes; Foreign, such as Shoalhaven River, Australia – stream has captured river.

Landslips have caused the isolation of Lake George and altered the watershed of the whole country to the south.
Later on Taylor will deal with the effects of ice and lead us to the formation of the scenery of our own region, and so we shall have much to discuss.

Friday, May 5th 1911

Friday, May 5th, 1911

Another calm day following a quiet night. Once or twice in the night a light northerly wind, soon dying away. The temperature down to -12º. What is the meaning of this comparative warmth? As usual in calms the Wind Vane Hill temperature is 3º or 4º higher. It is delightful to contemplate the amount of work which is being done at the station. No one is idle – all hands are full, and one cannot doubt that the labour will be productive of remarkable result.

I do not think there can be any life quite so demonstrative of character as that which we had on these expeditions. One sees a remarkable reassortment of values. Under ordinary conditions it is so easy to carry a point with a little bounce; self-assertion is a mask which covers many a weakness. As a rule we have neither the time nor the desire to look beneath it, and so it is that commonly we accept people on their own valuation. Here the outward show is nothing, it is the inward purpose that counts. So the ‘gods’ dwindle and the humble supplant them. Pretence is useless.

One sees Wilson busy with pencil and colour box, rapidly and steadily adding to his portfolio of charming sketches and at intervals filling the gaps in his zoological work of _Discovery_ times; withal ready and willing to give advice and assistance to others at all times; his sound judgment appreciated and therefore a constant referee.

Simpson, master of his craft, untiringly attentive to the working of his numerous self-recording instruments, observing all changes with scientific acumen, doing the work of two observers at least and yet ever seeking to correlate an expanded scope. So the current meteorological and magnetic observations are taken as never before by Polar expeditions.

Wright, good-hearted, strong, keen, striving to saturate his mind with the ice problems of this wonderful region. He has taken the electrical work in hand with all its modern interest of association with radio-activity.

Evans, with a clear-minded zeal in his own work, does it with all the success of result which comes from the taking of pains. Therefrom we derive a singularly exact preservation of time – an important consideration to all, but especially necessary for the physical work. Therefrom also, and including more labour, we have an accurate survey of our immediate surroundings and can trust to possess the correctly mapped results of all surveying data obtained. He has Gran for assistant.

Taylor’s intellect is omnivorous and versatile – his mind is unceasingly active, his grasp wide. Whatever he writes will be of interest – his pen flows well.

Debenham’s is clearer. Here we have a well-trained, sturdy worker, with a quiet meaning that carries conviction; he realises the conceptions of thoroughness and conscientiousness.

To Bowers’ practical genius is owed much of the smooth working of our station. He has a natural method in line with
which all arrangements fall, so that expenditure is easily and exactly adjusted to supply, and I have the inestimable advantage of knowing the length of time which each of our possessions will last us and the assurance that there can be no waste. Active mind and active body were never more happily blended. It is a restless activity, admitting no idle moments and ever budding into new forms.

So we see the balloons ascending under his guidance and anon he is away over the floe tracking the silk thread which held it. Such a task completed, he is away to exercise his pony, and later out again with the dogs, the last typically self-suggested, because for the moment there is no one else to care for these animals. Now in a similar manner he is spreading thermometer screens to get comparative readings with the home station. He is for the open air, seemingly incapable of realising any discomfort from it, and yet his hours within doors spent with equal profit. For he is intent on tracking the problems of sledging food and clothing to their innermost bearings and is becoming an authority on past records. This will be no small help to me and one which others never could have given.

Adjacent to the physicist’s corner of the hut Atkinson is quietly pursuing the subject of parasites. Already he is in a new world. The laying out of the fish trap was his action and the catches are his field of labour. Constantly he comes to ask if I would like to see some new form and I am taken to see some protozoa or ascidian isolated on the slide plate of his microscope. The fishes themselves are comparatively new to science; it is strange that their parasites should have been under investigation so soon.

Atkinson’s bench with its array of microscopes, test-tubes, spirit lamps, &c., is next the dark room in which Ponting spends the greater part of his life. I would describe him as sustained by artistic enthusiasm. This world of ours is a different one to him than it is to the rest of us – he gauges it by its picturesqueness – his joy is to reproduce its pictures artistically, his grief to fail to do so. No attitude could be happier for the work which he has undertaken, and one cannot doubt its productiveness. I would not imply that he is out of sympathy with the works of others, which is far from being the case, but that his energies centre devotedly on the minutiae of his business.

Cherry-Garrard is another of the open-air, self-effacing, quiet workers; his whole heart is in the life, with profound eagerness to help everyone. ‘One has caught glimpses of him in tight places; sound all through and pretty hard also.’ Indoors he is editing our Polar journal, out of doors he is busy making trial stone huts and blubber stoves, primarily with a view to the winter journey to Cape Crozier, but incidentally these are instructive experiments for any party which may get into difficulty by being cut off from the home station. It is very well to know how best to use the scant resources that nature provides in these regions. In this connection I have been studying our Arctic library to get details concerning snow hut building and the implements used for it.

Oates’ whole heart is in the ponies. He is really devoted to their care, and I believe will produce them in the best possible form for the sledging season. Opening out the stores, installing a blubber stove, &c., has kept _him_ busy, whilst his satellite, Anton, is ever at work in the stables – an excellent little man.

Evans and Crean are repairing sleeping-bags, covering felt boots, and generally working on sledging kit. In fact there is no one idle, and no one who has the least prospect of idleness.

Thursday, May 4th 1911

Thursday, May 4th, 1911

From the small height of Wind Vane Hill (64 feet) it was impossible to say if the ice in the Strait had been out after yesterday’s wind. The sea was frozen, but after twelve hours’ calm it would be in any case. The dark appearance of the ice is noticeable, but this has been the case of late since the light is poor; little snow has fallen or drifted and the ice flowers are very sparse and scattered.

We had an excellent game of football again to-day–the exercise is delightful and we get very warm. Atkinson is by far the best player, but Hooper, P.O. Evans, and Crean are also quite good. It has been calm all day again.

Went over the sea ice beyond the Arch berg; the ice half a mile beyond is only 4 inches. I think this must have been formed since the blow of yesterday, that is, in sixteen hours or less.

Such rapid freezing is a hopeful sign, but the prompt dissipation of the floe under a southerly wind is distinctly the reverse.

I am anxious to get our people back from Hut Point, mainly on account of the two ponies; with so much calm weather there should have been no difficulty for the party in keeping up its supply of blubber; an absence of which is the only circumstance likely to discomfort it.

The new ice over which I walked is extraordinarily slippery and free from efflorescence. I think this must be a further sign of rapid formation.

Wednesday, May 3rd 1911

Thursday, May 4th, 1911

Another calm day, very beautiful and clear. Wilson and Bowers took our few dogs for a run in a sledge. Walked myself out over ice in North Bay–there are a good many cracks and pressures with varying thickness of ice, showing how tide and wind shift the thin sheets–the newest leads held young ice of 4 inches.

The temperature remains high, the lowest yesterday -13°; it should be much lower with such calm weather and clear skies. A strange fact is now very commonly noticed: in calm weather there is usually a difference of 4° or 5° between the temperature at the hut and that on Wind Vane Hill (64 feet), the latter being the higher. This shows an inverted temperature.

As I returned from my walk the southern sky seemed to grow darker, and later stratus cloud was undoubtedly spreading up from that direction–this at about 5 P.M. About 7 a moderate north wind sprang up. This seemed to indicate a southerly blow, and at about 9 the wind shifted to that quarter and blew gustily, 25 to 35 m.p.h. One cannot see the result on the Strait, but I fear it means that the ice has gone out again in places. The wind dropped as suddenly as it had arisen soon after midnight.

In the evening Simpson gave us his first meteorological lecture–the subject, ‘Coronas, Halos, Rainbows, and Auroras.’ He has a remarkable power of exposition and taught me more of these phenomena in the hour than I had learnt by all previous interested inquiries concerning them.

I note one or two points concerning each phenomenon.

Corona.–White to brown inside ring called Aureola–outside are sometimes seen two or three rings of prismatic light in addition. Caused by diffraction of light round drops of water or ice crystals; diameter of rings inversely proportionate to size of drops or crystals–mixed sizes of ditto causes aureola without rings.

Halos.–Caused by refraction and reflection through and from ice crystals. In this connection the hexagonal, tetrahedonal type of crystallisation is first to be noted; then the infinite number of forms in which this can be modified together with result of fractures: two forms predominate, the plate and the needle; these forms falling through air assume definite position–the plate falls horizontally swaying to and fro, the needle turns rapidly about its longer axis, which remains horizontal. Simpson showed excellent experiments to illustrate; consideration of these facts and refraction of light striking crystals clearly leads to explanation of various complicated halo phenomena such as recorded and such as seen by us on the Great Barrier, and draws attention to the critical refraction angles of 32° and 46°, the radius of inner and outer rings, the position of mock suns, contra suns, zenith circles, &c.

Further measurements are needed; for instance of streamers from mock suns and examination of ice crystals. (Record of ice crystals seen on Barrier Surface.)

Rainbows.–Caused by reflection and refraction from and through drops of water–colours vary with size of drops, the smaller the drop the lighter the colours and nearer to the violet end of the spectrum–hence white rainbow as seen on the Barrier, very small drops.

Double Bows–diameters must be 84° and 100°–again from laws of refraction–colours: inner, red outside; outer, red inside–i.e. reds come together.

Wanted to see more rainbows on Barrier. In this connection a good rainbow was seen to N.W. in February from winter quarters. Reports should note colours and relative width of bands of colour.

Iridescent Clouds.–Not yet understood; observations required, especially angular distance from the sun.

Auroras.–Clearly most frequent and intense in years of maximum sun spots; this argues connection with the sun.

Points noticed requiring confirmation:

Arch: centre of arch in magnetic meridian.

Shafts: take direction of dipping needle.

Bands and Curtains with convolutions–not understood.

Corona: shafts meeting to form.

Notes required on movement and direction of movement–colours seen–supposed red and possibly green rays preceding or accompanying movement. Auroras are sometimes accompanied by magnetic storms, but not always, and vice versa–in general significant signs of some connection–possible common dependents on a third factor. The phenomenon further connects itself in form with lines of magnetic force about the earth.

(Curious apparent connection between spectrum of aurora and that of a heavy gas, ‘argon.’ May be coincidence.)

Two theories enunciated:

Arrhenius.–Bombardments of minute charged particles from the sun gathered into the magnetic field of the earth.

Birkeland.–Bombardment of free negative electrons gathered into the magnetic field of the earth.

It is experimentally shown that minute drops of water are deflected by light.

It is experimentally shown that ions are given off by dried calcium, which the sun contains.

Professor Störmer has collected much material showing connection of the phenomenon with lines of magnetic force.