THE SHIP'S STORY
by Captain J. K. Davis
By sport of bitter weather
We're warty, strained, and scarred
From the kentledge on
To the slings upon the yard.
Dr. Mawson's plans, as laid
before the Royal Geographical Society in 1911, provided for an extensive
oceanographical campaign in the immense stretch of ocean to the
southward of Australia. Very little was known of the sea-floor in
this area, there being but a few odd soundings only, beyond a moderate
distance from the Australian coast. Even the great Challenger expedition
had scarcely touched upon it; and so our Expedition had a splendid
field for investigation.
The first discovery made in this
connexion on board the `Aurora' was the fact that deep-water
work is more intricate than books would make it appear. Although
text-books had been carefully studied on the subject, it was found
that most of them passed over the practical side of the work in
a few words, insufficient to give us much help in carrying out difficult
operations with the vessel rolling and tumbling about in the heavy
seas of the Southern Ocean.
So it was only after a good deal
of hard work and many disappointments that the experience was gained
which enabled us, during the later stages of the Expedition, to
do useful and successful work.
Before passing on to the operations
of the `Aurora' during the winter of 1912, I shall briefly refer
to the equipment provided for oceanographical work.
Automatic Sounding Machine was situated on the port side of the
forecastle head. It was suitable for depths up to six thousand fathoms,
being fitted with a grooved wheel so as to be driven by a rope belt
from a steam-winch or other engine. The wire was wound in by means
of a small horizontal steam-engine which had been specially designed
for the `Scotia', of the Scottish Antarctic Expedition (1902)
and was kindly lent to us by Dr. W. S. Bruce.
The wire as
it is paid out passes over a measuring wheel, the revolutions of
which record on a dial the number of fathoms out. A spring brake,
which is capable of stopping the reel instantly, is kept out of
action by the tension of the wire, but when the sinker strikes the
bottom, the loss of tension allows the brake to spring back and
stop the reel. The depth can then be read off on the dial.
A hollow iron tube called a driver is attached to a piece of
hemp line spliced into the outer end of the sounding wire. This
driver bears one or two weights to the bottom and detaches them
on striking it; a specimen of the bottom being recovered in the
hollow part of the tube which is fitted with valves to prevent water
from running through it on the way up. Immediately the driver and
weight strike the bottom, the reel automatically stops paying out
To obtain a deep-sea sounding on the `Aurora',
the vessel was stopped, turned so as to bring the wind on the port-bow
and kept as nearly stationary as possible; the engines being used
to balance any drift of the vessel due to wind or sea.
difficulties of sounding in the Southern Ocean were much increased
by the almost constant, heavy swell. The breaking strain of the
wire being only two hundred and forty pounds and the load it had
to carry to the bottom weighing nearly fifty-six pounds in air,
it could easily be understood that the sudden strain imposed by
the violent rolling of the vessel often resulted in the parting
of the wire. We soon learnt to handle both vessel and sounding machine
in such a way as to entail the least possible strain on the wire.
Of all the operations conducted on board the `Aurora', deep-sea
trawling was the one about which we had most to learn. Dr. W. S.
Bruce gave me most valuable advice on the subject before we left
England. Later, this was supplemented by a cruise in Australian
waters on the `Endeavour', of the Commonwealth Fisheries Investigation.
Here I was able to observe various trawling operations in progress,
subsequently applying the information gained to our own requirements
on the `Aurora'.
A short description of our trawling
arrangements may be useful to those who are engaged in this work
on board a vessel not specially designed for it.
provided with three thousand fathoms of tapered steel wire (varying
from one and three-quarters to one and a half inches in circumference
and weighing roughly a ton to the thousand fathoms in air); this
was kept on a large iron reel (A) mounted on standards and controlled
by a friction-brake. This reel was situated on the starboard side
of the main deck, the wire being wound on to it by means of a chain-drive
from the forward cargo-winch.
For heaving in, our steam-windlass
was fitted with a specially constructed drum (B), which absorbed
the crushing strain and then allowed the slack wire to be wound
on the reel (A), which was driven as nearly as possible at the same
speed; the windlass usually heaving at the rate of four hundred
and fifty fathoms per hour.
A wooden derrick (D), provided
with topping lift and guys, was mounted on the foremast by means
of a band and goose-neck. At the outer end of the derrick, the dynamometer
and a fourteen-inch block were attached. The maximum strain which
could be supported was ten tons. In paying out, the wire was led
from the head of the derrick to a snatch-block on the quarter (E),
constructed so as to admit of its disengagement from the wire when
it was necessary to heave in. This block kept the wire clear of
the propeller and allowed us to have the vessel moving slow or fast
as required, while the trawl was being paid out. The positions of
the various parts of the trawling gear are shown in the plan on
the opposite page.
Plan illustrating the arrangements for deep-sea
trawling on board
Before trawling in deep water
the vessel was stopped and a sounding obtained; then the derrick
was hoisted, the wire rove through the various blocks, the trawl
shackled on, and the men distributed at their stations. When all
was ready, the engines were put at half-speed (three knots), a course
was given to the helmsman and the trawl lowered into the water.
When it was flowing nicely just astern, the order, ``Slack away,''
was given; the wire being paid out evenly by means of the friction-brakes.
In one thousand five hundred fathoms of water, after the two-thousand-fathom
mark had passed out, the order was given, ``Hold on and make fast.''
Speed was now reduced to one and a half knots and the wire
watched until it gave a decided indication of the trawl dragging
over the bottom. The strain was now taken by the windlass-barrel,
controlled by a screw-brake, backed if necessary by a number of
turns round the forward bitts. A slow drag over the bottom was generally
continued for one hour. The engines were then stopped, and the order
came, ``Stand by to heave away.'' This was quickly followed
by ``Knock out,'' which meant the disengaging of the after-block
from the wire and allowed the vessel to swing round head-on to the
wire. ``Vast heaving'' indicated the appearance of the net
at the surface, and, when the mouth of the net was well above the
bulwarks the derrick was topped up vertically, the lower part of
the net dragged inboard and the cod-end untied, the catch being
thus allowed to empty itself on deck. The contents of the haul supplied
the biologists with the work of sorting and bottling for the next
twelve hours or more.
The form of trawl used on board the
`Aurora' was known as a Monagasque trawl, of a type employed
by the Prince of Monaco. As will be seen from the sketch, it is
of simple construction and possesses the advantage of having both
sides similar so that it is immaterial which lands on the bottom.
The winter cruise in the Sub-Antarctic began on May 18, 1912,
after we had refitted in Sydney and taken on board all the oceanographic
apparatus, during the previous month. Leaving Port Jackson, we proceeded
to Port Kembla, N.S.W., and took in four hundred and eleven tons
The following was the personnel of the ship's
officers on this and the two following cruises: Chief Officer, F.
D. Fletcher; Chief Engineer, F. J. Gillies; Second Officer, P. Gray;
Third Officer, C. P. de la Motte.
During the first dredging
cruise, Mr. E. R. Waite, from the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch,
was in charge of the biological work.
My plan was to go through
Bass Strait and then to sail towards the Royal Company Islands as
given on the French chart, before heading for Macquarie Island.
From thence we should steam across to the Auckland Islands. At both
the latter places Mr. Waite would be able to secure specimens. It
was not expected that the weather would permit of much trawling,
but we anticipated some good soundings. As a matter of fact, sub-antarctic
weather in the winter may be predicted with some certainty: strong
winds, heavy seas, much fog and general gloom.
We had a fine
run through Bass Strait with a light south-east breeze, arriving
off King's Island at noon on May 28. The trawling gear was got
ready for the following day, but the sea was too high and the ship
continued south towards the position of the Royal Company Islands.
On June 1 we were in latitude 53 degrees south, longitude 152
degrees east, and had been cruising about fruitlessly in heavy weather
for days waiting for an opportunity to dredge. After being at sea
for a whole fortnight we had only three soundings to our credit,
and it was, therefore, resolved to make for Macquarie Island.
On the 7th we reached the island and anchored at North-East
Bay in twelve fathoms, about one mile from land.
stiff pull ashore, next day, we landed and found the party all well.
They had built a comfortable hut and were enjoying life as far as
possible, despite the constant gales and continuous days of fog.
We then climbed up the hill to the wireless station, where everything
was in splendid order. Two small huts had been erected, one for
the engine and the other for the receiving apparatus. Sandell and
Sawyer, the two operators, were to be congratulated on the efficient
way the station had been kept going under very considerable difficulty.
In addition to the routine work with Hobart and Wellington they
had occasionally communicated with stations over two thousand miles
I was able to send the following message to Professor
David: ```Aurora' arrived Macquarie Island; all well, June 7;
constant gales and high seas have prevented dredging so far. Royal
Company Islands not found in the position indicated on the chart.''
We were able to land some stores for the use of the land party
under Ainsworth. Meteorological, biological and geological work
were all in progress and the scientific records should be of great
value. Up to the date of our arrival, no wireless messages had been
received from Adelie Land. As Dr. Mawson was in ignorance of its
exact location, the position of the Western Base under Wild was
given to Ainsworth to forward to Adelie Land in case communication
should be established.
After Mr. Waite had obtained several
birds, it was decided to move down to Lusitania Bay to secure some
Royal penguins and a sea-elephant. Two days later, the `Aurora'
anchored in the bay, three-quarters of a mile from the beach, in
sixteen fathoms; the weather was very misty. Mr. Waite and Mr. Haines,
the taxidermist, were rowed ashore.
The island, above a height
of three hundred feet from sea-level, was shrouded in mist throughout
the day, and, before dark, all signs of the land had disappeared.
The mist did not clear until 6 P.M. on the 15th.
for a whole fortnight at Macquarie Island, during which time the
highest velocity of the wind recorded on shore was thirty-five miles
per hour, although, during the winter, gales are almost of daily
occurrence. On June 22, the date of departure, a course was set
for the Auckland Islands, which lie in the track of homeward-bound
vessels from Australia via Cape Horn.
The group was discovered
in 1806 by Captain Bristow of the `Ocean', owned by Samuel Enderby.
It comprises one main island and several smaller ones, separated
by narrow channels. There are two spacious harbours; a northern,
now called Port Ross, and a southern, Carnley Harbour. The islands
are situated about one hundred and eighty miles south of Stewart
Island (New Zealand).
After a run of three hundred and forty
miles on a northeast course, we entered Carnley Harbour and anchored
off Flagstaff Point. A breeze blew strong from the west-northwest.
Next day, June 25, we stood up to Figure of Eight Island and found
good holding for the anchor in nine and a half fathoms.
eastern entrance to Carnley Harbour is formed by two bluff points,
about two miles apart; its upper extremity terminating in a lagoon.
The site of Musgrave's house (``Epigwaith'') is on the
east side of this lagoon. Here he spent twenty months after the
Auckland Island (from the Admiralty Chart)
showing the track
of the `Aurora'
We set off in the motor-launch
on the 26th to visit Camp Cove, where we found the two huts maintained
by the New Zealand Government for the benefit of castaways. In the
larger hut there were potatoes, biscuits, tinned meats and matches.
The smaller hut was empty but on the outside were carved many names
of shipwrecked mariners. The `Amakura' had visited the depot
in November 1911. The various depots established on the island by
the New Zealand Government are visited every six months.
While in Carnley Harbour we were able to make several hauls with
the small dredge.
After passing up the eastern coast of the
main island we entered Port Ross and anchored west of Shoe Island.
On June 30 the depot on Erebus Cove was visited, where three white
sheds contain the usual necessaries for unfortunate castaways. The
New Zealand Government steamer, `Hinemoa', while on a
scientific expedition to the Sub-Antarctic in 1907, rescued the
sixteen survivors of the barque `Dundonald', two thousand two
hundred and three tons, which had been wrecked on Disappointment
Island. The captain and ten men had been drowned and the chief officer
had died from the effects of exposure and starvation.
July 2 we went to Observation Point, finding there a flat stone
commemorating the visit of the German Scientific Expedition of 1874.
The biologist found various kinds of petrels on Shoe Island,
where the turf was riddled in all directions by their burrows.
At Rose Island, close by, there are some fine basaltic columns,
eighty feet high, weathered out into deep caverns along their base.
In Sandy Bay, Enderby Island, there was an extensive depot.
Among the stores I found a Venesta case marked s.y. `Nimrod',
which contained dried vegetables and evidently formed part of the
stores which were sold on the return of the British Antarctic Expedition
After leaving the Auckland Islands for New Zealand,
we were fortunate in having fairly good weather. Five soundings
were taken, and, on July 9, the trawl was put over in three hundred
and forty-five fathoms. The net unfortunately fouled on a rocky
bottom and so we gained nothing but experience in the operation.
The `Aurora' arrived at Port Lyttleton on July 11 and we
received a very kind welcome from the people of Christchurch. Mr.
J. J. Kinsey, well known in connexion with various British Antarctic
expeditions, gave us valuable assistance during our stay. We were
back again in Melbourne on the 17th of the month.
first oceanographical cruise of the `Aurora' did not prove very
fruitful in results, chiefly on account of the stormy weather, it
provided the necessary training for officers and men in the handling
of the deep-sea gear, and we were able to realize later how much
we had learnt on our first cruise.
The ship, after undergoing
a thorough overhaul at the State dockyard at Williamstown, Victoria,
undertook a second deep-sea cruise.
Leaving Hobart on November
12, 1912, she laid her course to the southward in order to obtain
soundings for a complete section of the sea-floor, as nearly as
possible on the meridian of Hobart. Our time was limited to one
month, during which a visit to Macquarie Island for the purpose
of landing stores and mail had to be made. Professor T. Flynn of
Hobart University accompanied the vessel in charge of the biological
An interesting discovery was made two hundred miles
south of Tasmania. Here it was proved that a rocky ridge rose like
a huge mountain from depths of more than two thousand fathoms to
within five hundred and forty fathoms of the surface. A great number
of soundings were taken in the vicinity of this rise, subsequently
named the Mill Rise, until a heavy gale drove us far from its situation.
On November 21 we were not far from Macquarie Island and, at
7 P.M., sounded in one thousand four hundred and fifty fathoms.
As the weather was remarkably fine for these latitudes we decided
to lower the trawl. Before dark it was being towed slowly towards
the east with one thousand nine hundred fathoms of wire out.
We spent an anxious night hoping that the weather would remain
fine long enough to permit us to get the gear on board again. We
had been driving before a light westerly wind, when the trawl caught
on the bottom and stopped the vessel.
A very heavy strain
was imposed on the wire as the vessel rose in the swell; the dynamometer
registering up to seven tons. I decided to wait for daylight before
attempting to heave in the trawl. At 3 A.M. we cast the wire off
the after-block and started to heave away; it was two hours before
the trawl cleared the bottom and the strain was reduced.
At 8 A.M. the trawl was once more on board, the frames being bent
and twisted and the net badly torn. On sounding, the depth was found
to be only six hundred and thirty-six fathoms, so that we had evidently
put over the trawl on to the edge of a steep rise and then drifted
In view of our position--only thirty miles from
Macquarie Island0--this accident might have been expected. But opportunities
of trawling had been so few that risks had to be taken when the
weather quieted down for a few hours. Our only consolation on this
occasion was that we recovered the gear.
The following evening,
at 7.30, the anchor was dropped in North-East Bay, Macquarie Island,
and we were immediately boarded by our land party who were all well.
They had become very clever boatmen during their stay, using a small
dinghy to make coastal journeys.
On November 24 we left the anchorage
at 9 A.M. and spent the day in its vicinity. More than one hundred
soundings were taken, which Blake, the geological surveyor,
was to plot on the chart of the island
which he had almost completed.
Some idea of the steepness of the submarine mountain of which
Macquarie Island forms the crest may be gathered from a sounding,
taken ten and a half miles east of the island, which gave two thousand
seven hundred and forty-five fathoms and no bottom. In other words,
if the sea were to dry up, there would be a lofty mountain rising
from the plain of the ocean's bed to a height of nearly eighteen
A great deal of work still required to be
done off Macquarie Island, but, as the uneven and rocky nature of
the bottom prevented dredging, I decided to sail on the 25th, continuing
the voyage towards the Auckland Islands.
Several people had
expressed belief in a submarine ridge connecting Macquarie Island
with the Auckland group. Three soundings which we obtained on this
voyage did not support the suggestion, ranging as they did from
one thousand eight hundred and fifty-five to two thousand four hundred
and thirty fathoms, eighty-five miles south-west of the Auckland
group. We were the more glad to obtain these soundings, as, during
the winter cruise, in the same waters, the weather had forced us
to abandon the attempt.
On November 28 we took several soundings
on the eastern side of the Auckland Islands, but did not prolong
our stay as we wished to investigate the ridge south of Tasmania--the
Mill Rise. The course was therefore directed westward with a view
to outlining the eastern edge of this submarine elevation.
The first sounding to indicate that we were once more approaching
the Mill Rise was in one thousand and seventy-six fathoms. Continuing
west we secured the next record in one thousand three hundred fathoms,
limiting the southern extremity of the ridge which extends northward
for nearly one hundred miles. From this sounding the water shoaled
quickly as we steered north. Thus, on the same day, we were in eight
hundred and thirty-five fathoms at noon, in seven hundred and thirty-five
fathoms at 3.40 P.M. and in seven hundred and ten fathoms at 7.30
P.M. After the last sounding we lowered the rock-gripper. On the
first trial, however, it failed to shut and, on the second, only
a little fine sand was recovered. As it was blowing hard most of
the time, we were very fortunate in being able to do this piece
An inspection of the chart reveals the fact that
the main direction of the shallowest water is in a north-west and
south-east direction, but the number of soundings obtained was too
small to give more than a general outline. Later, we were able to
add to these on the voyage southward to relieve the Antarctic Bases.
The weather was so bad and the sea so heavy that we were unable
to obtain soundings on December 9, and, as dredging under such conditions
was out of the question, I decided to steer for the east coast of
Tasmania, where dredging might be possible under the lee of the
land. The constant gales were very disheartening, the last having
continued for four days with only short intervals of moderate weather.
On December 12 and 13, in calmer water, some thirty miles off
the east coast of Tasmania, trawlings were made successfully in
one thousand three hundred fathoms and seventy-five fathoms respectively.
From the deeper trawling were obtained a large octopus and several
Just before noon on December 14 we arrived
in Hobart and immediately began preparations for the voyage to the
On December 24, 1912, preparations for sailing
were complete. For ten days every one connected with the `Aurora'
had been working at high pressure, and Christmas Day, our last day
ashore, was to be celebrated as a well-earned holiday.
was on board a good supply of coal, five hundred and twenty-one
tons, and a very heavy mail of letters and packages for the members
of the Expedition who had been isolated in the far South for more
than twelve months. We were to take thirty-five sheep on board as
well as twenty-one dogs, presented by Captain Amundsen upon his
return from his South Polar expedition. Captain James Davis, of
Hobart, of long whaling experience, was to accompany us to give
an expert opinion upon such whales as we might meet. Mr. Van Waterschoot
van der Gracht, who had had previous experience in the Antarctic,
joined as marine artist, and Mr. S. N. Jeffryes as wireless operator.
With C. C. Eitel, Secretary of the Expedition, the whole party on
A very pleasant Christmas
was spent ashore. The ship's company of twenty-three men met
for dinner, and we did not forget to wish a ``Merry Christmas''
to our leader and his twenty-six comrades who were holding their
celebration amid the icy solitudes of Antarctica. I was glad, on
this festive occasion, to be able to congratulate
men on their willing and loyal service during the previous twelve
months; every one had done his best to advance the objects of the
The attractions of Hobart, at this season, are
so numerous, and Tasmanian hospitality so boundless, that it gives
me great pleasure to place on record that every man was at his post
on the `Aurora' at 10 A.M. on Boxing Day.
As we drew
away from the wharf amid the cheers of those who had come to wish
us God-speed, the weather was perfect and the scene on the Derwent
bright and cheering. Captain James Davis acted as pilot.
At 11.30 A.M. we had embarked the twenty-one dogs, which were brought
off from the Quarantine Station, and were steaming down Storm Bay.
Outside there was a heavy swell, and the wind was freshening from
the west. The course was laid south 50 degrees west, true.
For the next two days there was a westerly gale with a very
high sea, and the dogs and sheep had a bad time, as a good deal
of water came aboard. Two of the sheep had to be killed. By the
afternoon of the 29th it had moderated, and a sounding was secured.
This storm was followed by another from the west-northwest.
The `Aurora' weathered it splendidly, although one sea came
over everything and flooded the cabins, while part of the rail of
the forecastle head was carried away on the morning of the 31st.
At this time we were in the vicinity of the reputed position of
the Royal Company Islands. A sounding was taken with great difficulty,
finding two thousand and twenty fathoms and a mud bottom.
January 4, 1918, was a fine day, with a fresh westerly breeze
and a high sea. Occasionally there were snow squalls. At night the
wireless operator was able to hear H.M.S. `Drake' at Hobart,
and also the station at Macquarie Island; the ship having been fitted
to receive wireless signals before sailing.
Next day the
sun was bright and there was only a moderate westerly swell. Large
bunches of kelp were frequently seen drifting on the surface. ``Blue
Billys''** flew in great numbers about the ship. Two soundings
were obtained in one thousand nine hundred fathoms. ** Prion Banksii.
On the 8th a heavy swell came from the south-east. During the
morning a sounding realized two thousand two hundred and seventy
fathoms and the sample of mud contained a small, black manganese
nodule. At 8 P.M. a floating cask was sighted and taken aboard after
much difficulty. It turned out to be a ship's oil cask, empty,
giving no clue from whence it came.
The first ice was observed
about 6 P.M. on the 10th. The water was still deep--more than two
By noon on January 11 loose pack came into
view, with a strong blink of heavier pack to the south. The course
was changed to south-west. At 7 P.M. the ship was steaming west
in clear water, a few bergs being in sight and a marked ice-blink
to the south. Several whales appeared which Captain James Davis
reported were ``blue whales'' (finners or rorquals).
After we had been steering westward until almost midnight, the
course was altered to south-west in the hope of encountering the
shelf-ice barrier (met in 1912) well to the east of the Main Base
station. On the 12th we sailed over the position of the ice-tongue
in 1912 without seeing a trace of it, coming up with heavy broken
floe at 10 A.M.
For four hours the `Aurora' pushed through
massive floes and ``bergy bits,'' issuing into open water
with the blink of ice-covered land to the south. At nine o'clock
Adelie Land was plainly visible, and a course was set for the Main
Base. In squally weather we reached the Mackellar Islets at midnight,
and by 2 A.M. on the 13th dropped anchor in Commonwealth Bay under
the ice-cliffs in twenty fathoms.
At 6 A.M. Fletcher, the
chief officer, reported that a heavy gust of wind had struck the
ship and caused the chain to carry away the lashing of the heavy
relieving-tackle. The chain then ran over the windlass, and, before
anything could be done, the pointer to which the end of the chain
was attached had been torn from the bolts, and our best ground-tackle
was lost overboard. It was an exasperating accident.
o'clock the port anchor was dropped in ten fathoms, about eight
hundred yards west of the first anchorage, with ninety fathoms of
chain. The wind shifted suddenly to the north, and the `Aurora'
swung inshore until her stern was within one hundred yards of the
cliffs; but the depth at this distance proved to be seventeen fathoms.
After a few northerly puffs, the wind shifted to the south-east
and then died away.
At 2.30 P.M. the launch was hoisted over
and the mail was taken ashore, with sundry specimens of Australian
fruit as ``refreshment'' for the shore-party. The boat harbour
was reached before any one ashore had seen the `Aurora'. At
the landing-place we were greeted most warmly by nine wild-looking
men; some with beards bleached by the weather. They all looked healthy
and in very fair condition, after the severe winter, as they danced
about in joyous excitement.
We learned that five sledging
parties had left the Hut: Bage, Webb and Hurley had returned from
the south, Stillwell, Close and Laseron from the east, and the others
were still out. In Dr. Mawson's instructions, all parties were
to be back at the Hut by January 15, 1913.
The launch made
some trips to and from the ship with specimens during the afternoon.
I returned on board and had a look at the cable. The weather was
fine, but changes were apt to occur without much warning. At midnight
it was blowing a gale from the south-east, and the chain was holding
well. The launch was hoisted up in the davits and communication
with the shore was suspended until 8 A.M. on January 15.
The lull was of two hours' duration, during which Murphy came
aboard and furnished me with some particulars about the sledging
parties still away.
Dr. Mawson, with Ninnis and Mertz, had
gone to the south-east. They were well provisioned and had taken
eighteen dogs for transport purposes. Bickerton, Hodgeman and Whetter
had been out forty-three days to the west and had food for forty
days only. Madigan, McLean and Correll had been away for seventy
days in an easterly direction.
Dr. Mawson had left a letter
for me with instructions to take charge if he failed to return to
time, that is not later than January 15, 1913.
16 a party was observed from the ship coming in over the slope.
There was much speculation as to its personnel since, at a distance,
the three figures could not be recognized. The launch took us ashore
and we greeted Madigan, McLean and Correll who had returned from
a very successful expedition along the eastern coast over sea-ice.
Madigan and Bage came on board during the forenoon of the 17th
and we had a long consultation about the position of affairs owing
to the non-return of two parties. It was decided to re-erect the
wireless mast and stay it well while the ship was waiting, so that,
in case of any party being left at the Main Base, the wireless station
would be in working order.**
** It should be borne in mind
that during the summer months (November, December, January and part
of February) wireless communication with the outside world is impossible
owing to continuous daylight reducing
the effective range. In
summer the range was only a few hundred miles, and the effective
working distance for all times of the day probably not above one
At one o'clock on the morning of January
18, de la Motte, the officer on watch, reported that a party could
be seen descending the glacier. This proved to be Bickerton, Hodgeman
and Whetter returning from their trip along the west coast. Thus
Dr. Mawson's party was the only one which had not yet returned.
All day work on the wireless mast went along very satisfactorily,
while Captain James Davis and Chief Officer Fletcher spent their
time in the launch dragging for the cable lost on the morning of
our arrival. The launch returned at 10.30 P.M. and Captain Davis
reported that the grapnel had been buoyed until operations could
On January 19 we tried to recover the chain,
and to this end the `Aurora' was taken over to the position
where the grapnels had been buoyed and was anchored. All efforts
to secure the chain were unsuccessful. At 7 P.M. we decided to return
to our former position, having a hard job to raise the anchor, which
appeared to have dragged under a big rock. Finally it broke away
and came up in a mass of kelp, and with the stock ``adrift.''
The latter was secured and we steamed back, ``letting go''
in eleven fathoms with ninety fathoms of chain.
Mawson's party was a week overdue, I considered that the time
had arrived to issue a provisional notice to the members of the
Expedition at Commonwealth Bay concerning the establishment of a
relief party to operate from the Main Base.
A party of four
left the Hut on the 20th, keeping a sharp look-out to the south-east
for any signs of the missing party. They travelled as far as the
air-tractor sledge which had been abandoned ten miles to the south,
bringing it back to the Hut.
I decided to remain at Commonwealth
Bay until January 30. If the leader's party had not returned
by that day, a search party was to proceed eastward while the `Aurora'
sailed for Wild's Base. From the reports of the gales which
prevailed during the month of March in 1912, and considering the
short daylight there was at that time, I felt that it would be risking
the lives of all on board to return to the Main Base after relieving
Wild's party. I resolved, therefore, to wait _as long as possible_.
As a result of a consultation with Madigan and Bage, I had a provisional
notice drafted, to be posted up in the Hut on January 22.
This notice was to the effect that the non-arrival of the leader's
party rendered it necessary to prepare for the establishment of
a relief expedition at Winter Quarters and appointed Bage, Bickerton,
Hodgeman, Jeffryes and McLean as members, under the command of Madigan;
to remain in Antarctica for another year if necessary.
the same evening I went ashore to inspect the wireless mast, which
was practically complete. The work had been done thoroughly and,
provided the mast itself did not buckle, the stays were likely to
hold. Hannam, Bickerton and Jeffryes were busy placing the engine
and instruments in position.
I then went up the slope for
about a mile. The Winter Quarters looked like a heap of stones;
boundless ice rose up to the southern skyline; the dark water to
the north was broken by an occasional berg or the ice-covered islands.
This wonderful region of ice and sea looks beautiful on a fine day.
But what a terrible, vast solitude, constantly swept by icy winds
and drift, stretches away to the south! A party will go out to-morrow
to visit the depot at the top of the slope. This is the seventh
day we have been waiting and hoping to welcome the absentees!
On the 23rd the breeze was very strong in the forenoon, but
the wind moderated about 4 P.M., when the launch was able to leave
for the shore. We could see a search party (Hodgeman, Stillwell,
and Correll) marching against a strong south-east wind on their
way to examine the depot at Aladdin's Cave and its vicinity.
Though there was a moderate south-easter blowing, communication
with the land went on during the day. I went ashore early, but the
search party did not return until noon. They had remained at Aladdin's
Cave overnight and marched farther south next morning, approaching
a line of dense drift, without seeing anything.
It was arranged
that another party of three men should start next morning (January
25) and, going in a southeasterly direction, make a search for five
days, laying a depot at their farthest point. Hodgeman, Hurley and
McLean made preparations to set out. I left instructions that a
flag should be flown on the wireless mast if Dr. Mawson returned.
I now went through the supplies of provisions and coal which
were to be landed for the use of the Relief Party. I intended to
try and have everything on shore by January 29, taking advantage
of any short interval of fair weather to send a boatload to the
On the 25th there was a hard south-east gale
blowing until the afternoon, when it moderated sufficiently to send
off the launch with thirteen bags of coal, Gillies being in charge.
The boat harbour was reached in safety, the wind freshening to a
gale before 6 P.M.
Terrific gusts followed in rapid succession
and, without warning, the cable parted sixty fathoms from the anchor
at 9 P.M. Having cleared the reefs to leeward, we managed to get
in the rest of the chain and then stood along the coast to the north-west.
By keeping about three miles from the shore, we seemed to be beyond
the reach of the more violent gusts, but a short sea holding the
ship broadside to the wind during the squalls, rendered it difficult
to maintain a fixed course.
With reefs and bergs around,
the increasing darkness about midnight made our position unpleasant.
The engines had to be stopped and the ship allowed to drift with
the wind, owing to a bearing becoming hot, but in a quarter of an
hour they were moving once more.
Early on January 26 the
`Aurora' was about half-way between Winter Quarters and the
western point of Commonwealth Bay, when the wind suddenly ceased,
and then came away light from the north-west. We could see that
a south-east gale was still raging close inshore. Over the sea,
towards the north, dark clouds were scudding with great rapidity
along the horizon: the scene of a violent disturbance.
returned towards our late anchorage. On reaching it, the south-east
wind had moderated considerably, and we let go our spare anchor
and what had been saved of the chain.
To the north, violent
gusts appeared to be travelling in various directions, but, to our
astonishment, these gusts, after approaching our position at a great
rate, appeared to curve upwards; the water close to the ship was
disturbed, and nothing else. This curious phenomenon lasted for
about an hour and then the wind came with a rush from the south-east,
testing the anchor-chain in the more furious squalls.
gale was in its third day on the 27th, and there was a ``hurricane
sky'' during the morning. The wind would die away, only
to blow more fiercely than before. The suddenness with which the
changes occurred may be gathered from the following extracts from
``January 27. 6 A.M. A whole
gale blowing from the south-east.
``9 A.M. Light airs from
north to east. Launch taking coal ashore.
``11 A.M. Last
cargo of coal had just left ship when the wind freshened from
the south-east. The launch had just got inside the boat harbour
when a terrific gust struck the vessel and our chain parted.
We were blown out to sea while heaving in thirty fathoms of
chain which remained.
``4 P.M. We have been steaming
backwards and forwards until the wind died away. The launch
has just come off and taken another load of stores to the boat
``7 P.M. The weather is moderating with rising
barometer. Nearly everything required by the Relief Party is
now ashore. Two or three trips will take the remainder.
``We shall steam about for a few hours, and make the anchorage
early to-morrow morning.''
Next morning a kedge-anchor (about
five hundred-weights) was lowered with the remainder of the
chain. For a time this held the ship, but a gust of wind from the
southeast caused it to drag. It was, therefore, hauled up and, on
coming to the surface, was seen to have lost a fluke.
equipment, coal and food were now on shore for the use of the Relief
Party. I had given them everything that could be spared from the
provisions set apart for the use of the ship's company. Next
day I purposed to cruise along the coast to the east, if the weather
January 29 was fine, so we steamed off at 6.30
A.M. As no flag was seen on the wireless mast, we knew that Dr.
Mawson had not returned. A course was kept two or three miles from
the ice-cliffs beyond the fringe of rocky islets.
At 4 A.M. on the 30th we
were alongside the Mertz Glacier and reached the head of the
bay at the confluence of glacier with land-ice. Mount Murchison
was only dimly visible, but the weather was clear along the
glacier-tongue. Signals were fired and a big kite flown at a
height of about five hundred feet to attract attention on shore
in case the missing party were near.
``1.30 P.M. We are
now about half a mile from the head of the inlet. From the appearance
of the country (heavily crevassed) approach to the sea by a
sledging-party would be extremely difficult. There is no floe-ice
at the foot of the cliff.
``10.30 P.M. We are approaching
the end of the glacier-tongue around which there is a collection
of pack. There is some drift ahead and it is difficult to see
far. We have passed the eastern limit of coast to be searched.
``10.35 P.M. The glacier-tongue is trending to the east
and a line of heavy pack extends to the north, with many large
bergs. No sign of flag or signal on the end of the barrier.
``January 31. We left the glacier-tongue
at 8 A.M. and steered back
to Winter Quarters.
``At noon we could see Madigan
Nunatak, a rocky patch, high up on the slope.
P.M. Sighted the large grounded berg, fifteen miles from the
``9 P.M. Off Main Base. There is no flag to
be seen on the wireless mast!
``Dr. Mawson's party is now
sixteen days overdue; there must be something seriously amiss. But
from our examination of the line of coast as far as 64 degrees 45'
south, 146 degrees 19' east, there does not appear to be any
probability of finding traces along the shore line at the base of
No communication with the
shore was possible until the wind, which had again risen, had moderated.
We could just stand off and on until a favourable opportunity occurred.
Once the returning ten members of the Expedition were embarked it
was imperative to hasten towards Wild's Base.
gale in Commonwealth Bay! The seven days which followed I do not
think any of us will forget. From February 1 to 7 it blew a continuous
heavy gale, interrupted only when the wind increased to a full hurricane
** (eighty miles an hour).
** * The maximum wind-velocity
recorded at this time by the anemometer on shore was approximately
eighty miles an hour.
We endeavoured to maintain a position
under the cliffs where the sea had not room to become heavy. This
entailed a constant struggle, as, with a full head of steam during
the squalls, the vessel drove steadily seaward to where the rising
waves broke on board and rendered steering more perplexing. Then,
when it had moderated to a mere ``howl,'' we would crawl
back, only to be driven out again by the next squall. The blinding
spray which was swept out in front of the squalls froze solidly
on board and lent additional difficulty to the operation of ``wearing
It was on this occasion that we realized
what a fine old vessel the `Aurora' was, and, as we slowly moved
back to shelter, could appreciate how efficiently our engine-room
staff under Gillies were carrying out their duties. The ordinary
steaming speed was six knots, yet for the whole of this week, without
a hitch, the ship was being driven at an equivalent of ten knots.
The fact of having this reserve power undoubtedly saved us from
A typical entry from my diary reads:
6. Just as the sun was showing over the ice-slopes this morning
(4 A.M.) the wind became very violent with the most terrific squalls
I have ever experienced. Vessel absolutely unmanageable, driving
out to sea. I was expecting the masts to go overboard every minute.
This was the worst, I think, lasting about two hours. At 6 A.M.,
still blowing very hard but squalls less violent, gradually made
shelter during the morning....''
On February 8 the
weather improved after 1 A.M. The gusts were less violent and the
lulls were of longer duration. At 9 A.M. there was only a gentle
breeze. We steamed in towards the boat harbour and signalled for
the launch to come off with the ten members of the shore-party.
The latter had been instructed to remain at the Hut until the vessel
was ready to sail. Here, while the gale had been in full career,
they had helped to secure enough seal and penguin-meat to keep the
Relief Party and their dogs for another year.
were brief while the launch discharged the men and their belongings.
Instructions were handed over to Madigan directing him to follow
the course believed to have been taken by Dr. Mawson and to make
an exhaustive search, commencing as soon as the `Aurora' left
Commonwealth Bay. Madigan gave me a letter containing a report of
the work done by the party which had left on the 25th.
appears that they had been confined in Aladdin's Cave for twenty-four
hours by dense drift and then, in moderate drift, made four miles
to the south-east. Here they camped and were not able to move for
thirty-six hours in a high wind with thick snow.
On the 28th the drift decreased
in amount and, though it was only possible to see a few hundred
yards and crevasses were frequent, they kept a course of east 30
degrees south for six miles. A snow-mound was built and on top of
it were placed provisions and a note giving the bearing and distance
from Aladdin's Cave.
In the afternoon the wind subsided
and it became clear. Eight miles on the same course brought them
to their farthest camp, twenty-three miles from the Hut. A mound
of eleven feet was erected here, provisions and a note being left
and some black bunting wound among the snow-blocks. The depot was
on a ridge and, with glasses, several miles could be swept to the
The party consisted of McLean, Hodgeman and Hurley.
De la Motte and Hannam took the Relief Party ashore in the launch
and, as soon as they had returned--at 11.30 A.M.--we steamed out
of the bay. The weather had calmed and there were light airs and
a smooth sea.
The members of the Relief Party were as follows:
C. T. Madigan (leader), R. Bage, F. H. Bickerton, A. J. Hodgeman,
Dr. A. L. McLean and S. N. Jeffryes (wireless operator). The remaining
ten members of the Main Base Party returned to Australia: J. H.
Close, P. E. Correll, W. H. Hannam, J. G. Hunter, J. F. Hurley,
C. F. Laseron, H. D. Murphy, F. L. Stillwell, E. N. Webb and Dr.
L. A. Whetter.
Throughout the afternoon we steered north-west
and at 8.30 P.M. were approaching heavy pack. Just then Hannam received
a wireless message from the Main Base informing us that Dr. Mawson
had reached the Hut alone, his two comrades having perished,
and instructing me to return at once and pick up all hands. We turned
round and steered back immediately.
At 8 A.M. on February
9 the ship entered Commonwealth Bay steaming against a strong southerly
breeze with some snow. We were right up near the anchorage about
noon and the Pilot Jack could be seen flying from the wireless mast.
Instructions were signalled for, but our efforts were unobserved.
We then steamed to and fro across the bay. At 6 P.M. it was blowing
a hard gale and showed signs of becoming worse.
At 6 P.M.
the wind was growing in strength and the barometer was falling.
Not having received any reply to my signal for instructions, I felt
it was necessary to decide whether I was justified in remaining
After considering the position
in all its bearings I decided to sail westward without further delay
and for the following reasons:
1. Dr. Mawson and his companions
were in safety, comfortably housed and fully equipped for another
2. Any further delay was seriously endangering our
chance of being able to relieve Wild's party that year. The
navigation of the fifteen hundred miles to the Shackleton Ice-Shelf
was becoming, daily, more dangerous on account of the shortness
of daylight and the conditions of the ice.
3. The only vessel
which had wintered in the vicinity of the Western Base (the `Gauss')
had been frozen in as early in the season as February 22, spending
more than twelve months in the ice. The `Aurora' was not provisioned
for a winter in the ice.
4. It had been ascertained from
the records at the Main Base that gales were often protracted at
the close of the short summer season. We had just experienced one
such gale, lasting seven days.
5. As a seaman, I had realized
the difficulties encountered in approaching and getting away from
the Western Base in 1912. It was then three weeks later in the year.
I felt convinced that in leaving the Main Base, without further
delay, I was acting as Dr. Mawson would have wished, if I had been
able to acquaint him with the position of the Western Party.
At 6.30 P.M. we steamed out of the bay, the wind moderating
as the ship got well out to sea. At midnight there was a moderate
breeze from the south, with some snow.
On February 10 heavy
pack was met, about fifty miles north of Commonwealth Bay. After
coasting along its margin for a while, we pushed among the floes
and, after three hours, reached a patch of fairly open water about
One hour later a large ice-formation was sighted,
which tallied with that met on January 3 of the previous year (1912)
and which, on this occasion, was no longer in its original position.
We came to the conclusion that the whole must have drifted about
fifty miles to the north-west during the intervening year. The face
of this huge berg, along which the `Aurora' coasted, was about
forty miles in length.
Hannam heard fragments of a message
from Dr. Mawson during the evening. The words, ``crevasse,''
``Ninnis,'' ``Mertz,'' ``broken'' and ``cable''
were picked up.
Good progress was made on the 11th against
a high westerly sea. The sun set in a clear sky and the barometer
was slowly rising. Our position was evidently north of the pack
and, if unimpeded by ice, there was a chance of the ship arriving
at her destination in time.
Poor headway was made for nearly
three days against an adverse wind and sea. Then, late on the 14th,
a breeze sprang up from the east-south-east and, under all sail,
the `Aurora' made seven knots.
Next morning we were driving
along before an easterly gale in thick snow, and at noon the day's
run was one hundred and eighty miles.
The journal describes
the following week:
``February 16. The weather cleared up
this morning and the sun came out, enabling us to fix our position.
``We are doing about eight knots under topsails and foresail.
The sky looked threatening this evening but improved considerably
``February 17. There were frequent snow
squalls today, making it difficult to see. Only a few scattered
pieces of ice were about.
``February 18. Bright, clear
weather to-day enabled us to get good observations. There are a
great many `blue whales' round the ship, and the many bergs
in sight are suggestive of heavy pack to the south. A great many
petrels and Cape pigeons have been seen.
``February 19. The
ship was brought up this morning at 8.45 by a line of heavy pack
extending across the course. The weather was misty, but cleared
up before noon. We have been obliged to steer a northerly course
along the edge of the pack.
``The margin of this pack is
some sixty miles farther north than that which we followed in 1912.
``At midnight we were steering north-north-west; many bergs
in sight and a line of pack to port.
``February 20. At daylight
we were able to steer southwest, being at noon about twenty miles
north of Termination Ice-Tongue. Pushing through the looser edge
of pack for a couple of hours we saw the loom of the ice-tongue
to the southward. The pack becoming closer, we turned back to the
north in order to try and push through farther west, where the sky
looked more promising.
``At dark we were in a patch of clear
water, with ice all around. It began to snow and, as the wind remained
a light easterly, the ship was allowed to drift until daylight.
``February 21. The morning was very foggy up till 11 A.M. We
steered west until noon and then entered the pack; there was a promising
sky towards the south. Fair progress was made through the ice, which
became looser as we advanced to the south. At 8 P.M. we passed through
leads by moonlight, having a favourable run throughout the night.
``February 22. At 4 A.M. the wind freshened from the south-east
with some snow; the floes were getting heavier and the advent of
a blizzard was not hailed with joy. About noon the ship approached
open water and
the snow ceased.
``We were now on the confines
of the sea of bergs where navigation had proved so dangerous in
``At 8 P.M. the driving snow and growing darkness made
it impossible to see any distance ahead. The next seven hours were
the most anxious I have ever spent at sea. Although the wind blew
hard from the south-east, we passed through the sea of bergs without
mishap, guided and protected by a Higher Power.
23. At 4 A.M. the loom of an ice-tongue was sighted and we were
soon standing in to follow this feature until we reached the Shackleton
``At 8 A.M. we found that we were some miles south
of our reckoning.
``At 11 A.M. we sighted a depot-flag on
the slope. Soon after the ship was up to the fast floe at the head
of the bay, the ice being nearly a mile farther north than on the
previous year. In fact, the ice-conditions as a whole had changed
``At noon we reached the Base and found the
party all well.''
Wild and his comrades were as glad
to see the `Aurora' as we were to see them. They had commenced
to lay in a stock of seal-meat fearing that they might have to pass
another winter on the glacier.
All the afternoon every one
was busy getting baggage on board and watering ship. The weather
was good and I had intended to sail on the same evening by moonlight,
following the glacier-tongue northward in clear water for sixty
As we turned northward, ``all well'' on board,
I felt truly thankful that Wild's party had been relieved and
anxiety on their account was now at an end. The party included F.
Wild (leader), G. Dovers, C. T. Harrisson, C. A. Hoadley, Dr. S.
E. Jones, A. L. Kennedy, M. H. Moyes and A. D. Watson.
on the 24th there was a fresh easterly breeze, while the ship
steamed among fields of bergs, for the most part of glacier-ice.
It is marvellous how a vessel can pass through such an accumulation
in the dark and come off with only a few bumps!
of heavy broken floe-ice was entered at four o'clock on the
same day, and at 8 A.M. on the 25th we were clear of it, steering
once more among bergs, many of which were earth-stained. The day
was remarkably fine with light winds and a smooth sea.
we had passed through three hundred miles of berg-strewn ocean,
large masses of ice, water-worn in most instances, were still numerous,
and on February 27, though our position was north of the 80th parallel,
they were just beginning to diminish in numbers. At noon on that
day a sounding was made in two thousand two hundred and thirty fathoms.
Any hope we may have had of steaming to the east with the object
of attempting to relieve the seven men at Adelie Land had to be
definitely abandoned on account of the small supply of coal which
There was now a clear run of two thousand miles
through the zone of westerly gales and high seas, and on March 14
we reached Port Esperance. Mr. Eitel, Secretary of the Expedition,
landed here and caught the steamer Dover to Hobart. We heard of
the disaster to Captain Scott and it was learned that wireless messages
had been received from Dr. Mawson, which had been forwarded on to
Australia through the Macquarie Island party.
XIX - THE WESTERN BASE--ESTABLISHMENT AND EARLY ADVENTURES