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


Scott's Last Expedition

Archive for the ‘Chapter X: In Winter Quarters: Modern Style’ Category

Wednesday, May 31st 1911

Wednesday, May 31st, 1911

The sky was overcast this morning and the temperature up to -13º. Went out after lunch to ‘Land’s End.’ The surface of snow was sticky for ski, except where drifts were deep. There was an oppressive feel in the air and I got very hot, coming in with head and hands bare.

At 5, from dead calm the wind suddenly sprang up from the south, force 40 miles per hour, and since that it has been blowing a blizzard; wind very gusty, from 20 to 60 miles. I have never known a storm come on so suddenly, and it shows what possibility there is of individuals becoming lost even if they only go a short way from the hut.

To-night Wilson has given us a very interesting lecture on sketching. He started by explaining his methods of rough sketch and written colour record, and explained its suitability to this climate as opposed to coloured chalks, &c. – a very practical method for cold fingers and one that becomes more accurate with practice in observation. His theme then became the extreme importance of accuracy, his mode of expression and explanation frankly Ruskinesque. Don’t put in meaningless lines – every line should be from observation. So with contrast of light and shade – fine shading, subtle distinction, everything – impossible without care, patience, and trained attention.

He raised a smile by generalising failures in sketches of others of our party which had been brought to him for criticism. He pointed out how much had been put in from preconceived notion. ‘He will draw a berg faithfully as it is now and he studies it, but he leaves sea and sky to be put in afterwards, as he thinks they must be like sea and sky everywhere else, and he is content to try and remember how these should be done.’ Nature’s harmonies cannot be guessed at.

He quoted much from Ruskin, leading on a little deeper to ‘Composition,’ paying a hearty tribute to Ponting.

The lecture was delivered in the author’s usual modest strain, but unconsciously it was expressive of himself and his whole-hearted thoroughness. He stands very high in the scale of human beings – how high I scarcely knew till the experience of the past few months.

There is no member of our party so universally esteemed; only to-night I realise how patiently and consistently he has given time and attention to help the efforts of the other sketchers, and so it is all through; he has had a hand in almost every lecture given, and has been consulted in almost every effort which has been made towards the solution of the practical or theoretical problems of our polar world.

The achievement of a great result by patient work is the best possible object lesson for struggling humanity, for the results of genius, however admirable, can rarely be instructive. The chief of the Scientific Staff sets an example which is more potent than any other factor in maintaining that bond of good fellowship which is the marked and beneficent characteristic of our community.

Tuesday, May 30th 1911

Tuesday, May 30th, 1911

Am busy with my physiological investigations. Atkinson reported a sea leopard at the tide crack; it proved to be a crab-eater, young and very active. In curious contrast to the sea leopard of yesterday in snapping round it uttered considerable noise, a gasping throaty growl.

Went out to the outer berg, where there was quite a collection of people, mostly in connection with Ponting, who had brought camera and flashlight.

It was beautifully calm and comparatively warm. It was good to hear the gay chatter and laughter, and see ponies and their leaders come up out of the gloom to add liveliness to the scene. The sky was extraordinarily clear at noon and to the north very bright.

We have had an exceptionally large tidal range during the last three days – it has upset the tide gauge arrangements and brought a little doubt on the method. Day is going into the question, which we thoroughly discussed to-day. Tidal measurements will be worse than useless unless we can be sure of the accuracy of our methods. Pools of salt water have formed over the beach floes in consequence of the high tide, and in the chase of the crab eater to-day very brilliant flashes of phosphorescent light appeared in these pools. We think it due to a small cope-pod. I have just found a reference to the same phenomena in Nordenskild’s ‘Vega.’ He, and apparently Bellot before him, noted the phenomenon. An interesting instance of bi-polarity.

Another interesting phenomenon observed to-day was a cirrus cloud lit by sunlight. It was seen by Wilson and Bowers 5º above the northern horizon – the sun is 9º below our horizon, and without refraction we calculate a cloud could be seen which was 12 miles high. Allowing refraction the phenomenon appears very possible.

Monday, May 29th 1911

Monday, May 29th, 1911

Another beautiful calm day. Went out both before and after the mid-day meal. This morning with Wilson and Bowers towards the thermometer off Inaccessible Island. On the way my companionable dog was heard barking and dimly seen – we went towards him and found that he was worrying a young sea leopard. This is the second found in the Strait this season. We had to secure it as a specimen, but it was sad to have to kill. The long lithe body of this seal makes it almost beautiful in comparison with our stout, bloated Weddells. This poor beast turned swiftly from side to side as we strove to stun it with a blow on the nose. As it turned it gaped its jaws wide, but oddly enough not a sound came forth, not even a hiss.

After lunch a sledge was taken out to secure the prize, which had been photographed by flashlight.

Ponting has been making great advances in flashlight work, and has opened up quite a new field in which artistic results can be obtained in the winter.

Lecture – Japan. To-night Ponting gave us a charming lecture on Japan with wonderful illustrations of his own. He is happiest in his descriptions of the artistic side of the people, with which he is in fullest sympathy. So he took us to see the flower pageants. The joyful festivals of the cherry blossom, the wistaria, the iris and chrysanthemum, the sombre colours of the beech blossom and the paths about the lotus gardens, where mankind meditated in solemn mood. We had pictures, too, of Nikko and its beauties, of Temples and great Buddhas. Then in more touristy strain of volcanoes and their craters, waterfalls and river gorges, tiny tree-clad islets, that feature of Japan – baths and their bathers, Ainos, and so on. His descriptions were well given and we all of us thoroughly enjoyed our evening.

Sunday, May 28th 1911

Sunday, May 28th, 1911

Quite an excitement last night. One of the ponies (the grey which I led last year and salved from the floe) either fell or tried to lie down in his stall, his head being lashed up to the stanchions on either side. In this condition he struggled and kicked till his body was twisted right round and his attitude extremely uncomfortable. Very luckily his struggles were heard almost at once, and his head ropes being cut, Oates got him on his feet again. He looked a good deal distressed at the time, but is now quite well again and has been out for his usual exercise.

Held Service as usual.

This afternoon went on ski around the bay and back across. Little or no wind; sky clear, temperature -25º. It was wonderfully mild considering the temperature – this sounds paradoxical, but the sensation of cold does not conform to the thermometer – it is obviously dependent on the wind and less obviously on the humidity of the air and the ice crystals floating in it. I cannot very clearly account for this effect, but as a matter of fact I have certainly felt colder in still air at -10º than I did to-day when the thermometer was down to -25º, other conditions apparently equal.

The amazing circumstance is that by no means can we measure the humidity, or indeed the precipitation or evaporation. I have just been discussing with Simpson the insuperable difficulties that stand in the way of experiment in this direction, since cold air can only hold the smallest quantities of moisture, and saturation covers an extremely small range of temperature.

Saturday, May 27th 1911

Saturday, May 27th, 1911

A very unpleasant, cold, windy day. Annoyed with the conditions, so did not go out.

In the evening Bowers gave his lecture on sledging diets. He has shown great courage in undertaking the task, great perseverance in unearthing facts from books, and a considerable practical skill in stringing these together. It is a thankless task to search polar literature for dietary facts and still more difficult to attach due weight to varying statements. Some authors omit discussion of this important item altogether, others fail to note alterations made in practice or additions afforded by circumstances, others again forget to describe the nature of various food stuffs.

Our lecturer was both entertaining and instructive when he dealt with old time rations; but he naturally grew weak in approaching the physiological aspect of the question. He went through with it manfully and with a touch of humour much appreciated; whereas, for instance, he deduced facts from ‘the equivalent of Mr. Joule, a gentleman whose statements he had no reason to doubt.’

Wilson was the mainstay of the subsequent discussion and put all doubtful matters in a clearer light. ‘Increase your fats (carbohydrate)’ is what science seems to say, and practice with conservativism is inclined to step cautiously in response to this urgence. I shall, of course, go into the whole question as thoroughly as available information and experience permits. Meanwhile it is useful to have had a discussion which aired the popular opinions.

Feeling went deepest on the subject of tea versus cocoa; admitting all that can be said concerning stimulation and reaction, I am inclined to see much in favour of tea. Why should not one be mildly stimulated during the marching hours if one can cope with reaction by profounder rest during the hours of inaction?

Friday, May 26th 1911

Friday, May 26th, 1911

A calm and clear day – a nice change from recent weather. It makes an enormous difference to the enjoyment of this life if one is able to get out and stretch one’s legs every day. This morning I went up the Ramp. No sign of open water, so that my fears for a broken highway in the coming season are now at rest. In future gales can only be a temporary annoyance – anxiety as to their result is finally allayed.

This afternoon I searched out ski and ski sticks and went for a short run over the floe. The surface is quite good since the recent snowfall and wind. This is satisfactory, as sledging can now be conducted on ordinary lines, and if convenient our parties can pull on ski. The young ice troubles of April and May have passed away. It is curious that circumstances caused us to miss them altogether during our stay in the Discovery.

We are living extraordinarily well. At dinner last night we had some excellent thick seal soup, very much like thick hare soup; this was followed by an equally tasty seal steak and kidney pie and a fruit jelly. The smell of frying greeted us on awaking this morning, and at breakfast each of us had two of our nutty little Notothenia fish after our bowl of porridge. These little fish have an extraordinarily sweet taste – bread and butter and marmalade finished the meal. At the midday meal we had bread and butter, cheese, and cake, and to-night I smell mutton in the preparation. Under the circumstances it would be difficult to conceive more appetising repasts or a regime which is likely to produce scorbutic symptoms. I cannot think we shall get scurvy.

Nelson lectured to us to-night, giving a very able little elementary sketch of the objects of the biologist. A fact struck one in his explanation of the rates of elimination. Two of the offspring of two parents alone survive, speaking broadly; this the same of the human species or the ‘ling,’ with 24,000,000 eggs in the roe of each female! He talked much of evolution, adaptation, &c. Mendelism became the most debated point of the discussion; the transmission of characters has a wonderful fascination for the human mind. There was also a point striking deep in the debate on Professor Loeb’s experiments with sea urchins; how far had he succeeded in reproducing the species without the male spermatozoa? Not very far, it seemed, when all was said.

A theme for a pen would be the expansion of interest in polar affairs; compare the interests of a winter spent by the old Arctic voyagers with our own, and look into the causes. The aspect of everything changes as our knowledge expands.

The expansion of human interest in rude surroundings may perhaps best be illustrated by comparisons. It will serve to recall such a simple case as the fact that our ancestors applied the terms horrid, frightful, to mountain crags which in our own day are more justly admired as lofty, grand, and beautiful.

The poetic conception of this natural phenomenon has followed not so much an inherent change of sentiment as the intimacy of wider knowledge and the death of superstitious influence. One is much struck by the importance of realising limits.

Thursday, May 25th 1911

Thursday, May 25th, 1911

It has been blowing from south with heavy gusts and snow, temperature extraordinarily high, -6º. This has been a heavy gale. The weather conditions are certainly very interesting; Simpson has again called attention to the wind in February, March, and April at Cape Evans – the record shows an extraordinary large percentage of gales. It is quite certain that we scarcely got a fraction of the wind on the Barrier and doubtful if we got as much at Hut Point.

Wednesday, May 24th 1911

Wednesday, May 24th, 1911

A quiet day with northerly wind; the temperature rose gradually to zero. Having the night duty, did not go out. The moon has gone and there is little to attract one out of doors.

Atkinson gave us an interesting little discourse on parasitology, with a brief account of the life history of some ecto- and some endo-parasites – Nematodes, Trematodes. He pointed out how that in nearly every case there was a secondary host, how in some cases disease was caused, and in others the presence of the parasite was even helpful. He acknowledged the small progress that had been made in this study. He mentioned ankylostomiasis, blood-sucking worms, Bilhartsia (Trematode) attacking bladder (Egypt), Filaria (round tapeworm), Guinea worm, Trichina (pork), and others, pointing to disease caused.

From worms he went to Protozoa-Trypanosomes, sleeping sickness, host tsetse-fly – showed life history comparatively, propagated in secondary host or encysting in primary host – similarly malarial germs spread by Anopheles mosquitoes – all very interesting.

In the discussion following Wilson gave some account of the grouse disease worm, and especially of the interest in finding free living species almost identical; also part of the life of disease worm is free living. Here we approached a point pressed by Nelson concerning the degeneration consequent on adoption of the parasitic habit. All parasites seem to have descended from free living beasts. One asks ‘what is degeneration?’ without receiving a very satisfactory answer. After all, such terms must be empirical.

Tuesday, May 23rd 1911

Tuesday, May 23rd, 1911

We spent the morning mustering the stores within and without the hut, after a cold night which we passed very comfortably in our bags.

We found a good quantity of flour and Danish butter and a fair amount of paraffin, with smaller supplies of assorted articles – the whole sufficient to afford provision for such a party as ours for about six or eight months if well administered. In case of necessity this would undoubtedly be a very useful reserve to fall back upon. These stores are somewhat scattered, and the hut has a dilapidated, comfortless appearance due to its tenantless condition; but even so it seemed to me much less inviting than our old Discovery hut at C. Armitage.

After a cup of cocoa there was nothing to detain us, and we started back, the only useful articles added to our weights being a scrap or two of leather and _five hymn-books_. Hitherto we have been only able to muster seven copies; this increase will improve our Sunday Services.

Monday, May 22nd 1911

Monday, May 22nd, 1911

Wilson, Bowers, Atkinson, Evans (P.O.), Clissold, and self went to C. Royds with a ‘go cart’ carrying our sleeping-bags, a cooker, and a small quantity of provision.

The ‘go cart’ consists of a framework of steel tubing supported on four bicycle wheels.
The surface of the floes carries 1 to 2 inches of snow, barely covering the salt ice flowers, and for this condition this vehicle of Day’s is excellent. The advantage is that it meets the case where the salt crystals form a heavy frictional surface for wood runners. I’m inclined to think that there are great numbers of cases when wheels would be more efficient than runners on the sea ice.

We reached Cape Royds in 2 1/2 hours, killing an Emperor penguin in the bay beyond C. Barne. This bird was in splendid plumage, the breast reflecting the dim northern light like a mirror.

It was fairly dark when we stumbled over the rocks and dropped on to Shackleton’s Hut. Clissold started the cooking-range, Wilson and I walked over to the Black beach and round back by Blue Lake.

The temperature was down at -31º and the interior of the hut was very cold.