A LAND OF STORM AND MIST
by G. F. Ainsworth
A Heavy north-west gale was experienced on April
12, the wind attaining a force of over fifty miles an hour.
As usual, a tremendous sea worked up very quickly, and sheets
of spray shredded across the isthmus. About 2 P.M. the wind shifted
to west and later to south-west; these changes being accompanied
by fierce hail and squalls of snow. During the night the wind moderated,
heavy snow fell and, when morning dawned, all the pools were frozen
over and the island was draped in white. It was the heaviest fall
we had so far experienced.
On the 15th Hamilton and I shot
several gulls for specimens.
The Dominican or black-backed
gulls are very numerous and remain on the island all the year round.
They are rather pretty, being snow-white, except on the upper part
of the wings and back. Ordinarily their food is obtained from the
water, but at Macquarie Island they live almost entirely upon the
carcases left by the sealers, and are usually seen defending their
rights against skuas and giant petrels. They build nests of tussock
on rocks close to the water or maybe on the ground. Three eggs,
much like those of the skua in colour, but with a greener tint and
smaller, are laid, but generally only two are hatched. The young
leave the nest early and hide amongst the rocks, whither the old
ones come to feed them.
We now considered it advisable to
prepare for the winter, and with that end in view papered the inside
of the Shack in various places. As the cold winds were particularly
searching, all faulty joints in the lining were pasted over with
any kind of paper we could find. A leak down the outside of
the stove-pipe was remedied, after a good deal of trouble, by soldering
a collar round the pipe where it passed through the roof. Firing
was an important consideration, so each man now brought home several
loads of driftwood every day, until we had enough to keep us going
for some months. There was a complete boot-mending outfit which
was put to a good deal of use, for the weathered rocks cut the soles
of our boots and knocked out the hobnails. Our supply of the last-named
did not last long, and several of the party used strips of hoop-iron
in their stead.
Blake found it necessary to make a kind of
work-desk in his section, and accordingly had a thorough rearrangement.
He shifted his bunk up to a height of about five and a half feet,
very close to the ceiling; a fact which necessitated some wriggling
and squirming on his part to get into the sleeping-bag. There was
a fine open space left underneath, and he managed to fix up his
table very neatly.
Although they had intended to leave the
work on the southern half of the island until the spring, Hamilton
and Blake set out for Lusitania Bay on April 28 to make a short
reconnoitring trip. It was thought advisable to spend a few days
down there, to improve the hut and generally speaking to have a
look-round. Both men had already visited the place and depoted some
provisions there. At 8 A.M. they started off, carrying their blankets,
sleeping-bags and a few other articles. Their proposal was to go
along the coast as far as Sandy Bay and from thence along the hill-tops
for the remaining ten miles.
Hail and snow-squalls succeeded
each other at frequent intervals, and by the time they reached Sandy
Bay, all hope of proceeding along the hill-tops was dissipated.
They therefore kept near the coast. The going was frightfully rough
and the weather was very bad, so on making Green Valley they camped
in a small cave for the night. The floor was covered with tussock,
and, by searching amongst the rocks, enough pieces of wreckage were
found to keep the fire going. On the whole they passed a fairly
comfortable night. Mac proved a bit troublesome by persisting in
her attempts to curl up on or between the sleeping-bags, and by
finally eating the jam which had been saved for breakfast. The weather
was quite as bad next morning, but, after a meal of dry biscuit
and cocoa, they pushed on, taking four and a half hours to do the
six miles. The next day was spent making the hut weather-proof and
fixing up a couple of bunks. The provisions which had been cached
were in good order and abundance of firewood lay around, in the
shape of old barrel-staves. Just close to the living- hut was a
works-hut containing boilers and digestors which years ago had been
used for procuring penguin oil, while there was a rookery a few
yards away from which the victims had come.
was the resort of King penguins, the largest of the four species
which are to be found on the island. They are magnificently coloured
birds, being bluish-grey on the back while the head is greenish-
black and on each side of the neck there is a brilliant yellow band,
shading to a greenish-yellow on the upper part of the breast, and
gradually merging into the glossy white of the lower part of the
body. They attain to a height of about three feet and weigh thirty
pounds approximately. The site of their rookery is a stony flat
about a hundred yards from the water, and here are collected between
five and six thousand--all that remain on the island.
make no nest, the single egg laid being supported on the feet, and
kept in position and incubated in a kind of skin pouch which conceals
it from view. One would never guess the egg was there, for, on being
disturbed, the bird shuffles along, carrying it in the manner described.
The egg is large, tapering very much at one end and resembling a
pear in shape. They lay during December and January, and the young
are hatched in about six weeks. A peculiar feature about the young
birds is that the parents feed them for two seasons. They are covered
with a coarse, greyish-brown furry growth, and a year-old chick
looks bigger than the old bird. This furry growth is lost during
the second year and the adult plumage replaces it. The young utter
a peculiar sound, something between a squeak and a whistle. It is
probable that the King penguins were never so numerous as the Royal
or Victoria penguins, but the fact remains that they have not yet
recovered from the wholesale slaughter to which they must have been
subjected over sixteen years ago.
Down on a strip of shingly
beach the birds parade, when not in the rookery or at sea getting
food. Their proceedings strike one as being extraordinarily human,
while the dignity and gravity of the participants are beyond description.
On one occasion, a large number marching along the beach were seen
to halt suddenly and talk excitedly. Three birds then left the main
body, consulted together for a short time, and then separated. The
other birds immediately separated into three companies, and each
company stood behind one of the three already mentioned, who were
now some distance apart. The individuals of each party then talked
among themselves for several minutes, after which two parties joined
forces and marched off, leaving the third party staring after them.
I have lost myself for the time being amongst the penguins and
shall now return to Blake and Hamilton, who climbed on to the hill-tops
the following morning to spy out the land. The island is generally
speaking higher, and all the more elevated peaks are on the southern
They saw numerous rabbits, of which many were black,
and Mac had the day of her life amongst them. These animals were
introduced to the island about twenty-five years ago, and have gradually
withdrawn to the lonelier southern part, though occasionally odd
ones are seen about the northern end. They are very tame and live
in holes amongst the rocks or make burrows in the gully banks and
broken hill sides.
Many lakes, frozen over, were seen, several of which
were fairly large. Altogether, the topography is similar to that
of the northern end.
In an endeavour to improve the evening
fare, a sweet broth consisting of biscuit, milk, jam and sugar was
tried but it was not a success; Hamilton remarking that ``even Blake
had only one helping.'' On the following morning they started
for the Shack and chose the route on the hilltops, as the ground
was frozen hard; and, though there were frequent snow-drifts into
which they floundered occasionally, the surface for travelling was
much better than along the coast.
Hamilton slipped and hurt
his ankle on the trip, and the boots of both were just about worn
out. They apprehended no difficulty in completing their prospective
work. Blake pointed out that the chart of the island shows Lusitania
Bay as being rather a large indentation, whereas in reality it is
almost a straight stretch of coast.
An earthquake shock was
felt at 9.15 P.M. on the 27th. I was sitting in the Shack writing
up records at the time, and it seemed as if somebody had struck
the south-west end of the place a severe blow with a bag of sand.
Immediately afterwards a crashing sound, apparently some distance
away on the eastern side, indicated that some rocks on the cliff-front
had been dislodged.
Much rough weather was experienced during
the month, and it rained, hailed and snowed on twenty-five days.
The wind attained moderate to fresh gale-force on six days, and
fog and mist were almost invariable. The lowest temperature recorded
was 32.7 degrees F.
The average relative humidity for the
four months ending April 30 was 93 per cent., leading to copious
condensation on the instruments exposed to the air. It was necessary,
therefore, constantly to attend and frequently clean the thermographs,
hygrometers and the wireless plant. In the case of the latter, loss
of power occurred in the form of ``brush discharge,'' and
Sawyer had to take great care in order to guard against this accident.
He shellacked the condensers and other exposed parts and found the
proceeding rather effective. I noticed that the drifting snow and
misty rain managed to get down the opening leading to the liquid
surface of the anemobiagraph, thus altering the zero of the recording
apparatus. When this happened the instrument had to be dismantled
and set right.
We found it necessary to use sea elephant
blubber in the stove in order to warm the Shack, and a very small
piece put on the fire at intervals always ensured a good heat. Sea
elephants had become scarce, so, in order to lay in a supply of
fuel for the next few weeks, we went round to Aerial Cove on the
3rd and killed the largest animal we could find, afterwards carrying
the blubber round to the Shack. We came through Catch Me and had
the same old experience. Hamilton examined the contents of the stomach
of the sea elephant and found gravel, stones, cuttlefish, beaks
and ``worms'' in abundance.
A violent north-west
gale during the early morning hours of the 4th reached a maximum
velocity of fifty-two miles an hour at 5.20 A.M., but at 8 A.M.
it began to weaken rapidly and an hour later had shifted to west-south-west,
coming from that point as a moderate gale for the rest of the day.
As was usual with winds having any southerly component, snow and
squalls of soft hail were experienced. With the exception of the
wind-vane, which was blown a few yards into the tussock, nothing
In the afternoon Blake and I had a trip down
to the moraine which he had found a few days previously. After a
heavy one and a half hours' walk, the last half-mile of which
was along a creek bed, with water ankle-deep all the way, we reached
the spot: the site of one of the large penguin rookeries up on the
hills at the back of ``The Nuggets.'' The sun showed between
squalls, and Blake took some interesting photographs of rocks showing
striae and other glacial characteristics. We battled with one enormous
boulder for some time before getting it into a suitable position
for the camera, and afterwards walked right through the glacial
area. The U-shaped character of the valleys was very pronounced,
while boulder-clay obtruded itself everywhere on our notice.
Hobart wireless station was by this time in working order, a
fact which greatly facilitated wireless business. Sandell took the
engine to pieces early in the month and gave it, as well as the
fittings, a thorough overhaul and cleaning. We received a message
on the 7th, saying that the `Aurora' was leaving Hobart on the
13th for a sub- antarctic cruise and would call at the island. At
the same time I was requested to send a list of articles required.
I found, after going through the stock and consulting each member,
that we needed nothing but strong boots, cartridges, dungaree trousers,
coarse salt, cigarettes and fresh vegetables.
area of high pressure affected the weather conditions of the island
to the extent of shrouding us in fog from the 6th to the 10th inclusive,
and we did not catch a glimpse of the sun during that period. The
average daily temperature-range during this time was only 2.3 degrees.
Such conditions have a rather depressing effect on the spirits,
but the cheering news we received on the 7th made some amends for
the lack of sunshine.
The sun appeared at last on the 11th
and shone strongly, so Blake and I went up to Wireless Hill to take
some ``shots'' with the theodolite. I noticed four of our
sheep on the front of the hill, and, as there should have been nine,
Sandell and I, after finishing with Blake, walked out to North Head
to see if the others were all right. We found them on the north-east
side of the hill and drove them up to the rest of the flock.
From the hill-top we could see Hamilton engaged in skinning
a large sea leopard on the coast, so we climbed down to render any
necessary assistance. It was a beautifully marked animal, about
eleven feet long, and made a fine specimen.
frequent Macquarie Island in great numbers from the late winter
to the early summer, and may be seen lying about, sleeping close
to the water and apparently always very tired. They do not give
birth to the young there, and from observations I concluded that
they were born at sea. We had taken female specimens on several
occasions, apparently within a few hours of parturition, and as
none had been seen with newly born young, and no islands lay within
several hundred miles, it was presumed that the birth took place
in the water. Until the young one is weaned, its habitat is evidently
in the water as we never saw an adult suckling its offspring.
Sea leopards--long, lithe creatures with a reptilian cast of
head--are remarkably quick in the water. If one is disturbed on
shore it opens its mouth very wide, revealing a wicked-looking row
of teeth in each jaw; the canine teeth or tusks being very long
and slightly curved.
Unlike sea elephants and seals they
are solitary animals, and should several of them be found on a small
gravelly patch of beach they are seen to be as far as possible from
one another. We have never seen them attempt to fight on the shore,
but the gaping wounds and scars with which they are frequently covered
indicate that they treat each other very severely in the water.
They live on penguins, gulls, shags and fish.
I saw several
shags on one occasion very busy fishing, and between diving intervals
they would sit on the water. Suddenly one disappeared under the
water and the rest flew off; but in a few seconds the one which
had disappeared was thrown into the air and caught by a sea leopard,
who played in this fashion with the maimed bird for several minutes
before devouring it.
A few days previously we had received
a request from Mr. D. C. Bates, the New Zealand Meteorologist, for
a daily weather report, and from the 12th onwards a message was
sent nightly to Wellington, a distance of about eleven hundred miles.
In acknowledging these reports, subsequently, the office referred
to their immediate value in the issue of daily forecasts, and expressed
indebtedness to the Expedition.
The two species of penguins
which leave the island during the winter months had disappeared,
and silence now reigned where formerly were busy, noisy colonies.
The departure of the migrants made the place seem lonelier and,
during the depths of winter when snow covers the ground and the
birds and animals are few in number, a more dreary spot would be
difficult to find.
The weather conditions were now rather
severe, and as Sawyer and Sandell worked from 8 P.M. till 2 or 3
A.M. every night and slept at the wireless station, they were exempted
from the necessity of coming down to get breakfast during their
cooking weeks. They now rested till about noon, and arrived at the
Shack every day in time for lunch. Hamilton, Blake and I, each outside
his own cooking week, took it in turns to prepare breakfast.
Blake's fieldwork at the north end, more particularly in
the vicinity of West Point and North Head, was just about finished.
West Point proved to be an area of gabbro, a coarse-grained eruptive
rock representative of basic rocks, while North Head was composed
of basic agglomerate, and volcanic bombs were numerous.
had got together a good collection of bird specimens, and was now
in quest of skeletons.
On the night of the 13th we witnessed a rather pretty
auroral manifestation. It assumed the appearance of a Noah's
ark cloud, that is, stretching from opposite points on the horizon
and appearing to converge at each one of these points. The light
was a pale yellow, no other tint being visible. In addition, a nebulous
glow appeared at intervals in the south.
We heard on the
16th that the `Aurora' had sailed on that day from Hobart and
would arrive at Macquarie Island in about three weeks; oceanographical
work being carried out on the trip down. This was indeed cheerful
news, and we began to look forward to her arrival.
west-south-west gale during the early morning hours of the 17th
was accompanied by soft hail and snow-squalls, and the temperature
at 9 A.M. was 31.2 degrees F. The ground was covered with snow and
all the pools were frozen over, but at 9 P.M. there was a rapid
shift of the wind to the north-west and the snow almost disappeared.
Soft hail, generally a little larger than tapioca and of the same
shape, frequently fell. These little pellets are formed of compressed
snow and are commonly supposed to be frozen cloud-particles mixed
with raindrops compacted by a high wind.
On the following
night, Blake and I went up to wireless Hill to take star observations.
It was very dark and the hill-front was slippery, frequent falls
being the rule. Just after setting up the instrument, the wind freshened
to such an extent that it was impossible to do anything, so we descended
very wet and muddy to the Shack, having had a rough passage. The
reason for this was that I fell on the lantern and extinguished
We were supplied with two hurricane lamps which
do not by any means deserve their title as they blow out in even
a moderately strong wind. Sandell made a lantern for his own use,
declaring that it was impossible for any wind to blow it out. I
firmly believed him, as it was a little binnacle lamp placed inside
a small oatmeal tin into which a cleaned photographic plate had
been fixed and with holes punched in the bottom and top of the tin
for ventilation. It was thus a lamp with two covers, and frequent
demonstrations of its ability to survive heavy blows were made by
During the next three days a forty-mile wind
accompanied by snow, hail and sleet was experienced and the maximum
temperature on the 25th did not reach freezing-point, the ground
being firmly frozen and snow- covered. During the evening of the
last-named date the wind shifted to north-west, and by noon on the
26th no snow remained, except on the hills.
of the `Aurora's arrival, Blake and Hamilton collected
some stores together in the hope that Captain Davis would transport
them down to Lusitania Bay, thus obviating the necessity of carrying
them down on foot. As Blake reckoned that he would remain there
fully three months and Hamilton about two months, it was thought
that such another opportunity might not present itself.
the courtesy of the naval officials, H.M.S. Drake sent us time-signals
twice a week, and though we had so far heard no sound from Adelie
Land, there was a possibility that they could receive messages from
us. Sawyer therefore sent out time-signals as a matter of routine.
Hamilton made a trip to the west coast on the 28th and returned
with thirteen wekas. Sawyer did not care for these birds, but each
of the others could account for one at a meal. They seem to be better
eating if plucked like a fowl and roasted, but the plucking takes
too long and we generally skinned and boiled them. It is advisable
to hang them for several days before cooking as it certainly makes
Rough, stormy weather prevailed during the greater
part of the month and the wind reached the force of a gale on nine
days. Much snow, soft hail and sleet fell and some very cold days
were experienced. The average temperature was 40 degrees, the maximum
being 44.7 degrees and the minimum 27.8 degrees F.
snowfall occurred during the early morning hours of June 3, and
the temperature was below freezing-point all day. In the afternoon
we had rather an enjoyable time tobogganing down a steep talus-slope
on the east coast. A considerable struggle was necessary in order
to get the sledge to the top, but the lightning slide to the bottom
more than compensated for the labour.
We made wireless inquiries
concerning the `Aurora' at night, and were informed by Hobart
that a search for the Royal Company Islands was included in her
programme. It was therefore presumed that she was engaged in prosecuting
this search and would probably not reach us for some days.
Hamilton killed a very fine sea leopard on the 5th and the skin,
apart from being unscarred, was handsomely marked. It should make
a splendid specimen. The stomach contained more than the usual number
of worms and one specimen of tape-worm, seven inches long and three-
eighths of an inch wide, was preserved.
Everything was going
along in the usual placid manner on the 7th, when, as we were just
taking our seats for lunch, some one rushed in with the information
that the `Aurora' was in sight. There was a scramble to various
points of vantage and she was soon observed coming up the east coast
very slowly. At 2.30 P.M. she dropped anchor in North-East Bay,
but, as it was blowing strongly and a nasty sea was running, no
boat was launched, though one may imagine how anxiously we watched
for some movement in that direction. As soon as it became dark a
message was ``Morsed'' to us to the effect that a boat would
bring mails and goods ashore in the morning if the weather moderated,
and with that we had to be content. Needless to say, business ashore
was for the time being paralysed, but a message was sent to the
Secretary in Hobart advising him of the Ship's arrival.
True to his intimation of the previous night, Captain Davis
brought a boat ashore at 9.30 A.M. and with him came several visitors
who were to be our guests for some days. They were Mr. E. R. Waite,
Curator of the Canterbury Museum and his taxidermist, and Mr. Primmer,
a cinematographer. Conspicuous in the boat was a well-laden mail
bag and no time was lost in distributing the contents. Letters,
papers, and magazines were received by every member of the party,
and all the news was ``good.'' Some stores were brought
along and, after getting these ashore, we took the visitors across
to the Shack and invited them to make themselves at home.
Captain Davis also came along to the Shack and afterwards looked
over the wireless station. He returned to the ship just after lunch,
and Sandell, Sawyer and Blake took the opportunity of going on board.
Hamilton, in the meantime, piloted the visitors on a short trip
round to Aerial Cove, introducing them to Catch Me, where they were
duly baptized. They afterwards climbed up Wireless Hill and had
a look at the station, returning to the Shack much impressed with
the rough nature of the country.
Blake went off to the ship
again, taking the stores which had been got ready for transport
to Lusitania Bay, as the captain had agreed to land them when he
visited there in a few days' time.
Amongst the cases
which were landed was one containing the recording apparatus for
the tide-gauge. The other parts of this instrument had been left
on the island in December, but for some reason the clock and charts
had gone astray and were not found till the vessel was being unloaded
in Adelie Land. Some thermometers and a Robinson anemometer had
also been overcarried and, when they came to light, the latter was
immediately placed in commission.
Captain Davis sent a boat
ashore on the morning of the 12th with an invitation to come on
board and lunch. I accordingly went out to the vessel and, after
lunching, had a thorough look over her, mentally contrasting her
spick-and-span appearance at the time with what it had been when
I left her in December. I went ashore again in the afternoon and
assisted the visitors to get their loads down to the boat, as they
were returning to the ship, which was leaving next morning on a
sounding trip down the island.
On the 14th we started to
carry the stores across to the Shack on our backs. We soon realized
that seventy or eighty pounds was not a light load over a half-mile
stretch of rough, shingly beach, but succeeded in transporting the
onions, apples and potatoes before finishing for the night. The
other articles were brought over during the next two afternoons.
The tide-gauge pipe, weighing about six hundredweights, and
the box for the housing of the recording gear had been landed in
December round in Aerial Cove, where a site had been chosen for
the erection of the gauge. Experience showed me that the place was
unsuitable, so I took Hamilton, Sandell and Sawyer round to the
cove on the 15th and we decided, as we had no boat, that it was
impossible to carry the pipe round to the east coast.
been making some tidal observations on an upright, fixed in a comparatively
quiet spot on the east coast, and it was here that I contemplated
erecting the gauge. Two snow-gauges, eight inches each in diameter,
were amongst the meteorological equipment and it appeared that if
these two were soldered together a suitable pipe could be made.
Further, the pipe was to be protected from the violence of the seas
by planks fixed round it. Sandell agreed with the idea and forthwith
set about soldering the two together and making a suitable float,
the one supplied being too wide. All that now remained was to erect
The two following afternoons were devoted to stowing
the new stores. We carried everything across and stacked them at
the south-west end of the Shack. Unfortunately, the boots which
we had ordered did not come, but Captain Davis let us have five
pairs of light bluchers out of the ship's stores, and we reckoned
that these with extra soles and a few hobnails would hold out till
August or September, when a sealing vessel was expected.
The `Aurora' returned from the south of the island on the 19th
and reported having had a rough experience in the north-east to
south gale which blew on the two previous days. The wind came out
of the north- east very suddenly on the 17th, and some very strong
squalls were experienced. A calm prevailed for several hours in
the evening, but a south-east gale then sprang up and blew all day
on the 18th, gradually working into the south and dying away during
Early on the 20th the `Aurora' steamed out
of the bay, bound north as we thought, but she returned again in
the evening, and we signalled to know if anything were wrong. They
replied, ``All well, but weather very bad outside.'' She
lay at anchor in the bay all next day as it was snowing and blowing
very hard from the south-west, but at 8.45 A.M. on the 22nd she
disappeared in the north and we did not see her again for some months.
A few hours after her departure the wind increased in force, and
a continuous gale raged for the next five days.
I now made a start at erecting the tide-gauge, and after the lapse
of five days got the instrument into position. We could work on
it only at low tide, for much rock had to be chipped away and numerous
wire stays fixed. The work was therefore of a disagreeable character.
Its appearance when finished did not by any means suggest the amount
of trouble we experienced in setting it up, but the fact that it
stood the heavy seas for the following eighteen months without suffering
material damage was a sufficient guarantee that the work had been
A tremendous sea was running on the 25th as a
result of the previous two days' ``blow'' and a heavy
gale still persisting. Spray was scudding across the isthmus, and
the sea for a mile from the shore was just a seething cauldron.
The wind moderated somewhat on the 26th, but strong squalls were
experienced at intervals throughout the day, and on the 27th a strong
wind from the south-west brought rather heavy snow.
following day a westerly gale sprang up which shifted suddenly to
south-south-west and south-west in the evening and was accompanied
by fierce hail and snow-squalls throughout the night. Without moderating
to any extent the gale continued to blow on the 29th and passed
through west to west-north-west, finally lasting till the end of
Something in the nature of a ``tidal''
wave occurred during the night of the 28th, for, on rising the following
morning, I was considerably astonished to see that the sea-water
had been almost across the isthmus. To effect this, a rise of twenty
or twenty-five feet above mean sea-level must have taken place and
such a rise appeared abnormally high. Our coal heap, which we had
hitherto regarded as perfectly safe from the sea, was submerged,
as shown by the kelp and sand lying on top of it, and the fact that
seven or eight briquettes were found fifteen feet away from the
Nothing at the wireless station was damaged and work
went on as usual. The wind used to make a terrific noise in the
aerial wires, but this did not affect the transmission of messages.
The howling of the wind round the operating-hut interfered with
the receiving, at times making it extremely difficult to hear signals;
particularly on nights not favourable for wireless work.
Hamilton was at this time concentrating his attention on shags or
cormorants. This species of cormorant is peculiar to the island,
being found nowhere else. They are blue-black, with a white breast,
and on the head they have a small black crest. At the top of the
beak are golden lobes, while the skin immediately round the
eye is pale blue. They remain on the shores of the island all the
year and nest on the rocks in or very close to the water. They form
rookeries and build nests of grass, laying three eggs about the
end of November. The period of incubation is six weeks. They live
entirely on fish, and, on that account, neither the birds nor the
eggs are palatable. They are very stupid, staring curiously till
one gets almost within reach of them, when they flap heavily into
the water. They are easily caught when sitting on the nest, but
a shag rookery, like most other rookeries, is by no means a pleasant
place in which to linger.
I had the satisfaction of getting
the first record from the tide-gauge on the first day of July, but
the clock worked erratically, requiring some attention.
had a lobster-pot set some distance from the shore and anchored
to a float, but unfortunately the pot was lost in the rough seas
at the end of June. He had a couple of fish-traps also, but, in
view of this disaster, he decided to set these in Aerial Cove, where
the water was quieter. Having a couple of sea leopard heads which
required macerating, he baited the trap with them and lowered it
into the water, securing it to the rock with a steel wire.
Taking advantage of a bright sun on the following day, Blake
and Hamilton went to ``The Nuggets'' and took some geological
and biological photographs, which on being developed turned out
well. They had occasion to enter one of the unoccupied huts down
there and found a wild cat a little more than half grown, which
they caught and carried home with them. He was of the usual tabby
colour and by no means fierce, quickly yielding to the coaxing treatment
of his captors. He made himself quite at home in the Shack, and
we looked forward to a display of his prowess as a rat-catcher.
A bright display of the aurora occurred on the night of July
4, the ribbons and streamers of light being well defined and occasionally
slightly coloured. We could establish no connexion between this
extraordinary outburst and the fact that it occurred on American
Independence night, but it was certainly the most energetic manifestation
of the phenomenon we had so far witnessed. Many ``glows''
had been seen, and also a few displays of the arch-shaped form,
but none had shown much activity or rapid movement.
was requested by the Pennant Hills high-power wireless station at
Sydney to listen for signals tapped out during the daytime, and
Sawyer spent a couple of hours on certain mornings assisting in
these tests, which were attended with some success. We occasionally
received press news from land stations or from ships passing across
the Tasman Sea, but it was only a brief summary of the cable news:
enough to whet one's curiosity, rarely ever satisfying it.
Very cold, rough weather was experienced on the 6th and 7th
and a temperature of 26 degrees F. occurred on the latter date,
while the maximum did not reach freezing-point. Much snow and soft
hail fell, and the ground set hard. The weather interfered to some
extent with the tide-gauge clock, and it became so unsatisfactory
that I took it to pieces on the 9th and gave it a thorough cleaning,
after which it had a new lease of life.
We received a message
on the 11th saying that the `Aurora' had arrived in Dunedin,
``all well,'' but had experienced a very rough voyage which
greatly interfered with the dredging and sounding programme.
Our tank water gave out for the first time on the 12th. The
precipitation for a fortnight had been in the form of dry powdery
snow and soft hail, the wind blowing it off the roof before it had
a chance to thaw, thus robbing us of our usual water-supply. For
a while we had to use swamp water, which contained a good many insects
of various kinds and had a distinctly peaty flavour. Finding good
water running from the hill-tops down a deep gully on the east coast,
three-quarters of a mile away, we carried drinking water from there,
using the other for washing up.
The 13th was a most delightful
day--bright sun, very little wind and fresh exhilarating air. Blake
and Hamilton went out early on a photographing excursion, and, later
on, the latter shot and skinned a white giant petrel.
the third week of July a very low tide exposed rocks, ordinarily
submerged, and Hamilton was occupied all the week in collecting
marine organisms, worms and plants and then preserving, bottling
and labelling them.
A most peculiar sight was witnessed on
the 17th. Aerial Cove is a favourite nesting-place for shags, and
they may be seen in twos and threes flying round in that direction
almost any time during the day; but on this particular day a kind
of wholesale exodus from the cove took place, and large flocks of
them followed each other for a couple of hours. They congregated
on the rocks along the east coast, or settled in the water in scores;
the latter fact suggesting that the probable reason for this extraordinary
behaviour was the presence of unusual shoals of fish.
used to relax and have a game of cards occasionally, while our small
organ became a medium of much enjoyment. All the members except
one played well enough to enjoy themselves and to give pleasure
to the others. There was a distinct predilection in favour of ``ragtime''
and I must say I liked to hear that music at frequent intervals.
Any one who plays a musical instrument knows that the mood of the
player is generally reflected in the character of the music, particularly
when he sits down and plays in a casual way.
and killing of a sheep had now become something in the nature of
an experience, and when Sandell and I went hunting for one on the
20th, we realized it before we reached home. The flock was very
timid, and when disturbed on North Head invariably came past the
wireless station close to the engine-hut. Sandell concealed himself
there with a gun, while I went out to startle the animals. They
did not fail to do their part, but Sandell missed and the shot frightened
them. He then rushed out and fired another shot as they were running,
managing to hit one, which immediately dropped behind and ran to
the edge of the cliff. We did not want to shoot the sheep at this
moment, as it would have fallen about two hundred feet, so we cautiously
approached to drive it away. The poor creature simply took a leap
out into space and landed on the talus below, down which it rolled
to the water's edge. We scrambled down and skinned it, having
to carry the carcase along the rocks at the base of the cliffs,
and getting many duckings on the way.
On July 26 I went round
to Aerial Cove with Hamilton to have a look at the fish-trap, but
it had disappeared, the wire having broken, apparently through the
continual friction against rock. He had previously caught some fish
in it, and it was rather a misfortune to lose it so soon.
During the last week of the month we all had our hair cut. On
arrival at the island, several of us had it shorn very closely with
the clippers and had not trimmed it since then, growth being very
slow. We had a proper hair-cutting outfit and either Blake, Hamilton
or Sandell acted as barber.
Blake was an expert with the
needle and did some really neat mending, while with the aid of some
woollen thread and a mug he darned holes in his socks most artistically.
He was the authority on how, when and where to place a patch or
on the only method of washing clothes. The appearance of his articles
when washed, compared with mine, made me wonder.
was busy, about this time, dredging in swamp pools and securing
specimens of the rockhopper or gentoo penguin.
gentoo penguins, like the King penguins, do not migrate and are
few in numbers. They form diminutive colonies, which are always
established on mounds amongst the tussock, or on the hill sides
not far from the water. Their eggs, which are globular in shape,
are about the best of the penguin eggs for eating, and if their
nests are robbed the birds will generally lay again, although I
think they could not lay more than four eggs. They build their nests
of grass and plant leaves, and occasionally have been known to establish
a fresh rookery after their first one has been robbed. They are
more timid than any other species of penguin, and leave the nests
in a body when one ventures into the rookery. The skuas take advantage
of this peculiarity to the length of waiting about till a chance
presents itself, when they swoop down, pick up an egg with their
beak and fly off. The penguin makes a great fuss on returning to
find that the eggs are gone, but generally finishes up by sitting
on the empty nest. We have frequently put ten or a dozen eggs into
one nest and watched the proprietress on her return look about very
doubtfully and then squat down and try to tuck the whole lot under
herself with her beak.
Weather conditions were rough enough
during July, but occasionally a fairly quiet day would occur. High
winds were experienced on ten days, the greatest hourly average
for any twenty-four hours being thirty-two miles, but no day averaged
less than ten miles. Precipitation occurred on twenty-one days,
mostly in the form of snow and soft hail. The mean temperature was
37.7 degrees, with extremes of 43.3 degrees and 26 degrees F. The
average percentage of cloud was 78; somewhat less than usual and
due to the greater frequency of south-west winds, which almost always
bring a broken sky.
Now that our life was one of smooth routine
I devoted a good deal of time to reducing the meteorological observations.
Hourly pressure and temperature readings as well as descriptive
remarks, averages and
other details required to be summarized,
and this occupied a considerable amount of time, so I made a practice
of spending a couple of hours each day on the work, whenever possible,
hoping thereby to pick up the ``leeway.'' I did not take
too kindly to inactive writing in the Shack, but the weather conditions
were such that I was glad to stay indoors, though that meant enduring
the inevitable cold feet. The floor of the Shack was never warm,
and of course there were no carpets.
Mac developed a great
animosity against the rats and thoroughly enjoyed rooting them out
on all occasions. The only explanation of their presence on the
island is that they had arrived in the ships which were wrecked
along the coasts. They got into the Shack several times, and we
simply brought in Mac and shifted things about till she caught them.
Rough weather occurred during the first week of August, and
with occasional temporary weakenings a gale blew throughout, reaching
fifty miles an hour at different times. Snow, hail and sleet fell
every day, and on the 3rd the temperature was below freezing-point
all day. The Shack, which always shook a little in exceptionally
heavy gales, now vibrated a good deal in a forty-mile wind, no doubt
feeling the effects of the beating it had undergone.
found a cave running through North Head and went round, on the 5th,
to examine it. He proved it to be about sixty yards from opening
to opening, and to widen out very much inside; the roof being about
fifteen feet above the floor.
Hamilton and Sandell went along
the coast on the 6th and brought home a dozen Maori hens for the
pot. Hamilton secured some spiders, parasites on birds and many
beetles under the moss and stones on the site of a penguin rookery,
besides shooting a few terns.
The tern is a very pretty bird with light grey plumage,
a black head and red beak and feet. We found no nests on the island,
though the fact that the birds remain throughout the year implies
that they breed there. They fly very fast while not appearing to
do so, but their movements are by no means graceful. They flit about
over the water close to the shore, every now and then dipping down
picking up morsels and keeping up a constant, shrill squeaking.
The sea was so high on the 7th that it reached the
weight of the tide-gauge and, lifting it up, unshipped the recording
gear, as the steel wire flew off the wheel before the latter could
take up the slack. I deemed it advisable to use stout cord instead
of wire in the future and made a protective slot for the weight.
I had blocked up the seaward side of the pipe with rocks, but found
that these caused a deposit of silt so I had to get into the water
at low tide and shift them all out again to clean away the accumulation
Very heavy snow fell during the afternoon, the flakes
being the size of half a crown. A fresh north-north-west wind dropped
to a calm at 4 P.M. and almost immediately it began to snow, the
island being quite white by 5.30 P.M.
Bright sunny intervals
alternated with light snow-squalls on the 10th, and the temperature
was below freezing-point all day. It was pleasant to be out of doors,
and I walked along to the west coast to see if there were any signs
of activity amongst the sea elephants.
An unmistakable sign
of the near approach of the breeding season was the presence of
an enormous old bull, almost too fat to move, lying on the beach.
Very few small ones were seen, as, on the arrival of the adult males
and females for the breeding season, the young ones leave for a
while, presumably in order to get fat for the moulting period, or
because they are afraid of the bulls, who are particularly savage
at this time. The full-grown bulls attain to a length of twenty
feet, and have a fleshy proboscis about eight or ten inches in length
hanging over the mouth, suggesting the trunk of an elephant. It
is from this fact that they derive the name of sea elephant.
There is a considerable disparity in size between the adult
male and female, the latter very rarely exceeding eleven feet, though
we have seen a few twelve and thirteen feet long. The females have
no snout development and some of them facially very much resemble
a bull terrier. The adults are called bulls and cows, while, curiously
enough, in the sealers' phrase, the offspring are referred to
as pups. The places where large numbers of them gather together
during the breeding season are known as rookeries! ``Rookery ''
appears to me to be inapplicable to a herd of sea elephants, though
``pup' supplies a more apt description of the young.
The pups, born during September or early October, are covered with
a long, black, wavy fur, which they lose when about two months old,
and in its place comes a growth of silver-grey hair, which changes
later into the ordinary brown colour of the full-grown animal.
The old males and females leave the island about the end of
January, and are not seen again (except a few stray ones) till August
in the case of the males, and until September in the case of the
The fact that the bulls arrive first leads one to
the conclusion that their feeding-grounds must lie at a considerable
distance and, in the journey therefrom, the males, being the stronger,
should arrive before the females, who are heavy with young and probably
make a somewhat leisurely progress, feeding by the way.
rookeries vary in size, containing from half a dozen to four or
five hundred cows; in the last case, of course, being an aggregation
of smaller rookeries, each with its proprietor, in the shape of
an old bull, lying in or somewhere near the centre. The normal rookery,
as far as I could judge, seemed to be one that contained about forty
cows, but once the nucleus was formed, it was hard to say how many
cows would be there before the season ended, as females keep arriving
for a period of about three weeks.
The young vary in length
from three and a half to four and a half feet, are born within a
few days of arrival and suckled for about a month, becoming enormously
fat. The cow, who has not eaten during the whole of this time and
has become very thin, then leaves the pup, but remains in the rookery
for about two days, after which she escapes to sea, remaining there
till the beginning of January, when she returns to the island to
moult. The pups when weaned get such rough usage in the rookery
that they soon make off into the tussock and sleep for about a month,
living on their fat and acquiring a new coat. The noise in one of
the large rookeries is something to remember--the barking of the
pups, the whimpering and yelping of the mothers and t he roaring
of the bulls.
Another feature in connexion with the rookery
is the presence of what may be called unattached bulls, which lie
around at a little distance from the cows, and well apart, forming
a regular ring through which any cow wishing to desert her pup or
leave the rookery before the proper time has very little chance
of passing, as one of these grips her firmly with his powerful flipper
and stays her progress. The lord of the harem, in the meantime,
hastens to the scene of the disturbance, whereupon the other bull
The sea immediately in the vicinity of a large rookery
is generally swarming with unattached bulls, who may be seen with
their heads out of the water eyeing each other and keeping a bright
look out for escaping cows. Now and again one may see a bull in
the water gripping a cow with his flipper, despite her struggles,
and roaring at a couple of others who show up menacingly quite close
It may be remarked that towards the end of the season
changes in the proprietorship of a rookery are rather rapid, as
continuous raids are made by individuals from the outside. The need
of continuous vigilance and the results of many encounters eventually
lead to the defeat and discomfiture of the once proud proprietor.
I have never seen two bulls fight without first indulging in
the usual preliminaries, that is, roaring and advancing a few yards
and repeating the performance till within striking distance. Then
both animals rear high up, supporting themselves on the lower part
of the body, and lunge savagely with their whole weight each at
his opponent's head or neck, tearing the thick skin with their
teeth and causing the blood to flow copiously. Several lunges of
this kind generally finish the battle, whereupon the beaten one
drops to his flippers and makes all haste towards the water, glancing
fearfully behind him on the way. We have seen bulls with their snouts
partly torn off and otherwise injured, but worse injuries must occur
in the rare, desperate battles which sometimes take place between
two very much enraged animals.
When a bull in the centre
of a rookery has occasion to rush at an interloper, he does so without
regard to anything in his way, going over cows and pups alike and
very often crushing some of the latter to death. Again, it seems
as if all the outlying bulls recognize the noise of the rookery
bull, because each time he roars they all lift up their heads and
take notice, whereas others who have just been roaring have not
the slightest regard paid to them, except perhaps by one immediately
The bull, during the breeding season, will on
provocation attack a man, and it is surprising how quickly the former
covers the ground. But on the whole he is an inoffensive animal.
It is, of course, impossible to venture into a rookery, as the cows
are very savage when they have the pups with them, but one can approach
within a few yards of its outskirts without danger. Their food consists
of cuttlefish, crabs and fish, and it is probable that they frequent
the ocean where this food is plentiful, when they are absent from
It has been stated that these animals are nearly
extinct, but a visit to Macquarie Island during the breeding season
would be enough to convince anybody to the contrary. There are thousands
of them, and though about seven hundred are killed during a season,
the increase in numbers each year, on Macquarie Island alone, must
be very great.
The skuas were now returning to the island
and their numbers and corresponding clamour were daily increasing.
They were the noisiest and most quarrelsome birds we had, but their
advent, we hoped, marked the return of less rigorous weather.
Blake left for Lusitania Bay on the 17th, intending to spend
several months there in order to survey and geologically examine
the southern end, so we gave him a send-off dinner. He had a very
rough trip to the place, having to spend two nights in a cave about
six miles from his destination, as a result of getting lost in a
Hamilton made a wire fish-trap to replace the
one which he had lost, and succeeded in getting a few fish on lowering
it for the first time. He discovered parasitical mites all over
them on the outside, and the flesh contained many worms.
A heavy north-north-west gale was experienced on the 26th, but the
weather during the last three days of August was very quiet, either
calms or light winds prevailing, and we took the opportunity to
do some work on Wireless Hill. All the wire stays were tightened,
and various ropes which appeared to require attention were renewed,
while, as a final improvement, the aerial was hauled as tight as
we could make it.
We heard on July 31 that the `Rachel Cohen',
a sealing-vessel, had sailed for Macquarie Island and was bringing
a few articles for us, so there was something to which we could
look forward in the immediate future.
The most remarkable
feature of the month's weather was the wind, as gales blew on
eleven days, and on seven other days the velocity reached twenty-five
miles per hour. Precipitation occurred on twenty-seven days, and
the average percentage of cloud was eighty-four. The mean temperature
was 38.1 degrees with extremes of 45.3 degrees and 26 degrees F.
A prolonged display of auroral light occurred on the night of the
17th, though no colours other than the light lemon-yellow of the
arch and streamers could be seen.
Bull elephants were now
arriving in great numbers, and these monsters could be seen lying
everywhere on the isthmus, both up in the tussock, on the beaches,
and among the heaps of kelp. Now and again one would lazily lift
a flipper to scratch itself or heave its great bulk into a more
The island is the habitat of two kinds
of night-birds, one kind--a species of petrel (Lesson's)--being
much larger than the other, both living in holes in the ground.
They fly about in the darkness, their cries resembling those made
by a beaten puppy. The smaller bird (apparently indigenous and a
new species) was occasionally seen flying over the water during
the day, but the larger ones come out almost exclusively at night.
A light attracts them and Hamilton, with the aid of a lantern and
a butterfly-net, tried to catch some. Others swooped about, well
out of range, shrieking the while in an uncanny way. Numbers of
them were secured afterwards by being dug out of their holes, Mac
being just as keen to locate them as Hamilton was to secure them.
They cannot see well during the day, and seem to have almost lost
the use of their feet. They lay two small, white, thin-shelled eggs
at the end of their burrow; and in certain parts of the island,
where the burrows are numerous, the sound made by hundreds of them
at once, during the nesting season, somewhat resembles that made
by a high-power Marconi wireless set at close range.
Blake left Lusitania Bay, I promised to see that the hut on Sandy
Bay was re-stocked with provisions by the middle of the month, so,
on the 8th, Hamilton, Sandell and I carried a supply of stores down
there, leaving a note which informed him that we expected the `Rachel
Cohen' to arrive any day, and asking him to return to the Shack.
On the way down we came upon a vast quantity of wreckage piled up
on the beach, midway between ``The Nuggets'' and Sandy Bay.
This was all that remained of the sealing schooner, `Jessie Nichol',
which had been wrecked on December 21, 1910. Three men were drowned,
their bodies being interred among the tussock, each marked by a
life belt and a small board on which the name was roughly carved.
On our homeward trip we caught some wekas for the pot and duly
arrived at the Shack, tired, wet and hungry.
Next day, while
sitting in the Shack reducing records, I heard a yell from Hamilton
to the effect that the `Rachel Cohen' was in sight, and about
an hour later she dropped anchor in North-East Bay.
was fairly smooth and no time was lost in bringing a boat ashore
with the mails, of which each man received a share. A gang of sealers
was landed with a view to obtaining sea elephant and penguin oil.
I had wirelessed asking for a dinghy to be sent down, which would
enable Hamilton to do more marine work; and it now came to hand.
Further, we received an additional supply of photographic material
and some rubber tubing for the anemometer, but the much needed boots
did not arrive.
On the 18th a strong southerly gale sprang
up and compelled the `Rachel Cohen' to seek safety in flight;
so she slipped her cable and put to sea. She had not yet landed
all the sealers' stores and was forced to hang about the island
till the weather moderated sufficiently for her to return to an
The gentoo penguins, which had been observed at
the beginning of the month building their nests, commenced to lay,
and the first ten eggs were collected by us on September 18. Many
sea elephant rookeries were now well-formed as the cows began
to arrive about the 11th and were soon landing in large numbers.
The first pups were heard on the 20th, and Bauer and I walked along
to the rookery from which the barking came and had a look at the
newcomers. There were only four, none of which was more than a few
hours old, but they yapped their displeasure, and the mothers made
frantic lunges at us when we approached to get a close view of them.
The sealers always gave the animals time to form their rookeries
and then killed the bulls for oil. A well-conditioned full-grown
animal yields about half a tun of oil, and as the commodity when
refined has a market value of from L20 to L25 per tun, it will be
seen that the industry is a profitable one. The cows being small
never have a very thick coating of blubber, but I have seen bulls
with blubber to a depth of eight inches, and some of them yield
nearly two thousand pounds, though I should estimate the average
yield at about one thousand one hundred pounds. The sealers in the
early days used to obtain the oil by cutting the blubber up into
very small pieces and melting it down in ``try '' pots.
These pots, many of which may be still seen about the island, were
made of very thick iron and the fuel used was the refuse taken from
the pot itself. In the present method steam digestors are used,
and the oil from the melted blubber is drawn off, after steam has
been passing for twelve hours. Coal is brought down by the sealing-vessel
to be used as fuel. The ``elephant season'' lasts only about
three months, and within about four weeks of its conclusion, the
``penguin season'' begins; the same gang of men being employed
as a rule. The most difficult operation in connexion with both of
these industries is undoubtedly the loading and unloading of the
vessel. If auxiliary power were used, the ship could then steam
to within half a mile of the shore, but as it is, a sailing-vessel
has to anchor about two miles off and the oil is towed in rafts
over that distance.
We heard sounds from Adelie Land wireless
station for the first time on September 25, 1912, but the signals
were very faint and all that we could receive was: ``Please inform
Pennant Hills.'' Sawyer called them repeatedly for several
hours, but heard no acknowledgment. Every effort was made to get
in touch with them from this time forward, Sawyer remaining at the
instrument until daylight every morning.
The Royal penguins
returned to the island on the 27th and immediately commenced to
make their way to the rookeries. They had been absent since April
and were very fat after their long migration.
On the 28th
Blake and Hamilton started out in the dinghy for Lusitania Bay.
They had already made a step and sprit, and, with a calico sail
hoisted, the frail craft ran before a light breeze. Having a fair
wind they made good headway along the coast, dropping in at a gentoo
penguin rookery en route, and collecting about two hundred and twenty
eggs. Mac was a passenger and was a very sick dog all the trip.
Shortly after their departure, the `Rachel Cohen', which
had been blown away on the 18th, reappeared and again anchored.
The captain reported having seen numerous icebergs, some of which
were very large, about thirty miles to the eastward of the island.
The sealers immediately commenced to get away the rest of their
stores and coal and also to put some oil aboard the vessel, but
on the following day the wind increased to such an extent that,
in attempting to reach the ship with a raft of oil, they were blown
down the coast and had to beach the boat several miles away.
On the night of the 29th Adelie Land wireless station was again
heard tapping out a message apparently with the hope that some station
would receive it. All we got was: ``Having a hell of a time waiting
for calm weather to put up more masts.'' Sawyer again repeatedly
called, but they evidently could not hear him as no reply was received,
and the above message was repeated time after time.
during September was not quite so rough as that of the previous
two or three months, but misty days were very frequent. Gales were
experienced on six days and strong winds on nine days, but several
quiet periods occurred. The average temperature was 38.6 degrees,
with extremes of 44.7 degrees and 26 degrees F.
ushered in by a strong gale and rather heavy rain-squalls. The `Rachel
Cohen' had a severe buffeting, though she was lying on the lee
side of the island.
Just about three-quarters of a mile to
the west of the Shack were two large sea elephant rookeries, very
close to each other, and on the 3rd Sandell and I went along to
see what was happening there. We found about two hundred and fifty
cows in the nearer one, and, as closely as we could count, about
five hundred in the adjacent colony. The babel of sounds made one
feel thankful that these noisy creatures were some distance from
the Shack. Nearly all the cows had pups, some of which had reached
a fair size, while others were only a few hours old. We saw several
dead ones, crushed out almost flat, and some skuas were busily engaged
gorging themselves on the carcases. These birds are indeed professional
plunderers, and will venture almost anywhere in pursuit of food.
During the evening we again heard Adelie Land station working,
and the burden of their message to an apparently chance audience
was: ``We do not seem able to get Macquarie Island, all is well,
though bad weather has so far prevented any attempt at sledging.''
Sawyer again called them at regular intervals for the rest of
the night, but, as before, got no response.
Blake were busy at Lusitania Bay during the first two weeks of October
securing sea elephant specimens and collecting eggs. They visited
Caroline Cove where is established a giant petrel rookery containing
about four hundred birds, and gathered a large number of eggs--purely
specimens, as they are no use otherwise.
The `Rachel Cohen'
finally left us on the 8th, expecting to pay another visit in December
for the purpose of taking off the sea elephant oil procured by the
sealers. Sandell and I visited the gentoo penguin colony in Aerial
Cove during the afternoon, for the purpose of getting a few eggs.
We found plenty there and collected as many as we required. On returning
to the empty nests, the birds would first of all peer round to assure
themselves that the eggs were really missing, and then throw their
heads back, swaying them from side to side to the accompaniment
of loud, discordant cries.
Several of us started out on the
10th to visit the west coast for the purpose of getting some wekas
and, incidentally, to make any observations possible. We saw thousands
of sea elephants along the coast and passed many rookeries of various
sizes. There were a large number of wekas about, but after shooting
fourteen we were satisfied with our bag.
A westerly gale
during the night proved too much for the aerial, and down it came.
Blake and Hamilton were away, so Sawyer, Sandell and I went up,
and after much battling and frequent use of the ``handy billy''
succeeded in fixing things. We also re-tightened the wire stays
and thoroughly overhauled the ropes. Snow and sleet fell all the
time, making the task most disagreeable.
About the middle
of the month the Royal penguins commenced to lay, and on the 17th
Sandell and I went to their rookeries at ``The Nuggets''
and collected about fifteen dozen eggs, which we buried in a hole
in the bank of the creek for preservation. This species of penguin
is the one which is killed for oil, not because it is any fatter
than the others, but because it lives in such large colonies. There
is one rookery of these birds on the south end of the island which
covers an area of sixteen and a half acres, whilst at ``The Nuggets''
there are numbers of them scattered along the banks of a creek which
reaches the sea, aggregating ten acres. At the latter place are
situated the oil works belonging to the sealers.
observation I should say that the number of birds killed during
the season would not total one hundred and fifty thousand. The method
of killing--by blows from a heavy club--is about as humane as any
that could be adopted, and the yearly increase in numbers in the
only rookeries that are being worked is certainly greater than the
decrease due to the depredations of the sealers. Apart from this,
there are acres of rookeries on the island from which not a single
bird is taken, and they go on year after year adding thousands upon
thousands to their already vast numbers.
This species resembles
the others in habits, and I shall not describe them at any length.
They are of the same colour as the Victoria penguins, but have a
more orderly crest. Their rookeries are always on or very close
to a running stream which forms the highway along which they travel
to and fro. There is no policeman on duty, but a well-ordered procession
is somehow arranged whereby those going up keep to one side and
those coming down keep to the other. Once they are in the rookery,
however, different conditions obtain. Here are fights, squabbles
and riots, arising from various causes, the chief of which appears
to be a disposition on the part of some birds to loiter about. During
the nesting time much disorder prevails, and fights, in which beaks
and flippers are energetically used, may be seen in progress at
various places throughout the rookery. The nests are made of small
stones, and occasionally, a bone or two from the skeleton of some
long-dead relative forms part of the bulwarks. The attempt on the
part of some birds to steal stones from surrounding nests is about
the most fruitful cause of a riot, and the thief generally gets
soundly thrashed, besides which all have a peck at him as he makes
his way with as much haste as possible from the danger-zone. As
the season advances, these rookeries become covered with filthy
slush, but it seems to make no difference to the eggs, as the chicks
appear in due course. When the moulting process is in full swing
the rookeries are very crowded, and feathers and slush then become
mixed together, making the place anything but fragrant.
fifty-four mile gale from the west-north-west blew down on us on
the 20th, but shortly after noon it weakened, and, towards evening,
with the shifting of the wind to southwest, came squalls of sleet
and snow and a drop in temperature. Hamilton returned from Lusitania
Bay in the dinghy on the 21st, but Blake stopped there as he had
not yet finished his work in that locality. The dinghy was well
laden with specimens of various kinds and, on the way up, some wood
and pickets were left at Green Valley for future requirements.
On the 25th Sandell and I visited the west coast, but, instead
of going the usual way, we walked down the east coast and went up
the creek at ``The Nuggets'' with a view to having a look
at the penguin colonies along its course, finally crossing over
the hills and getting into another creek, which we followed all
the way down to the west coast. Along this creek were numerous waterfalls,
one of which was quite sixty feet in height with wind-blown spray
frozen white on the rocks on either side. We came across several
giant petrel rookeries, and were treated to a display of the ``stinker's''
ability to make himself objectionable. A pair of sooty albatrosses
were seen nesting on the front of a rocky steep, but on climbing
up we found that they had not yet laid. After catching some wekas
and taking a few photographs we returned to the Shack.
the last day of the month several of us crossed the hills to the
west coast in search of plants and birds' eggs. We secured a
number of plant specimens--a further sign of the arrival of spring--including
two which bore a very small flower, and were most successful in
obtaining skuas', giant petrels' and sooty albatrosses'
During the evening I received a message from Captain
Davis stating that the `Aurora' would visit us in about three
weeks' time and inquiring if we needed any supplies. This was
entirely unexpected, as we thought that no more would be seen of
the Ship until she came to take us home at the end of March 1913.
Earthquake shocks were felt at 1.55 A.M. and 9.35 A.M. on October
28, but did no damage other than to bring down some loose rock.
Auroral displays were rather frequent but not very pronounced, and
in most cases could only be classed as ``glows.''
A bright sunny morning on the 3rd induced Hamilton and me to
make a photographic excursion along the coast. Hitherto only still-life
photos had been taken, but with the sunlight we were then having,
any work was possible, so we determined to have some ``shots''
at the sea elephants. They were rather difficult subjects, strange
to say, but we spent some time amongst them and did famously, till
a snow-squall made us suspend operations.
We heard the discordant
but mournful cry of a sooty albatross coming from the cliff-front,
so Hamilton climbed up and, after scrambling about for a while,
succeeded in finding a nest, which contained one egg. This led him
to look along the cliffs fronting the east coast, and on the following
morning he found several nests and caught two birds, both of which
were taken by hand while on the nest. They had beautiful plumage
and made very fine specimens.
Blake returned from Lusitania
Bay during the afternoon of the 4th and reported that he required
only four or five days to complete the survey. The configuration
of the island at the southern end is vastly different to that shown
in the published charts, and this became more apparent as Blake's
figures were plotted.
The news that Piastre had won the Melbourne
Cup was flashed about all over the southern ocean during the evening,
and we picked it up; but as this was the first we had heard of the
animal, nobody seemed much interested. It certainly gave a turn
to the conversation, and quite a sporting tone permeated the discussions
of the ensuing two or three days.
The subjects of discussion
were usually those of environment, and most of our talk centred
round sea elephants, sea-leopards, penguins, temperatures,wind,
wireless telegraphy, fish, aurorae, exploration, ships, Queensland
and New Zealand. Sea elephants and penguins do offer scope for a
considerable amount of conversation, as one observes them under
such different circumstances, and they are so odd that something
remarkable is always associated with the sight of them. The weather,
being practically the bete noire of our existence, came in for a
good deal of abuse. Wireless telegraphy is a mighty interesting
subject at all times, and we passed many hours of our stay in discussing
its future. All the members were, allegedly, fishermen of some calibre,
and when I have said that, anybody with a knowledge of the man who
claims ability as an angler will know what all the others, in turn,
had to receive with restrained and respectful admiration. The advantages
of settlement in Queensland were so apparent to at least one member
of the party that he simply could not understand why thousands were
not annually killed in the rush to get to this, ``the greatest of
all the Australian States.'' Good old silky oak !
The scenery of New Zealand was almost as well known to us as
to anybody who has lived in the country all his life, and three
of us had never been there. We have sat round the Shack sometimes
and only the roar of a sea elephant outside reminded us that we
were not, as we imagined, at a Maori ``tangi.'' The wages
to be earned there, the delights of travelling, the legislators,
Rotorua, kauri pine, and the moon they've got in Auckland--we've
heard of all these and marvelled at them. ``Kapai te Maori!''
Blake and Hamilton went to Sandy Bay in the dinghy on the 6th
in order to complete some work. They improved the hut there, to
the extent of making a fire-place and laying barrel-staves on the
floor, afterwards bringing a boat-load of timber from the `Jessie
Nichol' wreck and rigging up a board bunk sufficiently large
to accommodate both of them.
While walking down to the `Clyde'
wreck for some wood on the 7th I saw a strange bird on the beach,
and, returning to the Shack for the gun, I got him at the second
shot. He was a land bird and had evidently been blown out of his
course, as none of his kind had been seen before on the island.
On getting up on the following morning I found poor old Ma lying
dead, and the feathers which lay about indicated that she had been
the victim of a savage assault, but whether at the teeth of a dog
or the beak of a skua I was unable to determine. This was most unfortunate,
as the hens had all started to lay again two days previously; but
apart from this she was a funny old creature and one could almost
hold a conversation with her, so we regretted her loss. However,
to make amends for this disaster the Victoria penguins started to
lay on the same day, and as several of their rookeries were only
a few minutes' walk from the Shack, the position was much the
same as if we owned a poultry farm.
Hamilton returned from
Sandy Bay on the 17th and immediately set about collecting shags'
eggs. He visited Aerial Cove for the purpose but did not get enough,
and was compelled to go to West Point, where he gathered twenty-four
dozen for specimens. He now had a collection of eggs of all birds
which nest on the island, with the exception of the weka and the
At 6.B0 P.M. on November 22 the `Aurora' steamed
into North-East Bay and dropped anchor. Hamilton, Blake and Sawyer
launched the dinghy and pulled out to receive the mails, which they
brought ashore for distribution. All on board were well and Captain
Davis sent word to say he would land in the morning, bringing our
goods and some visitors --Professor Flynn of Hobart and Mr. Denny.
The `Aurora' next day steamed round North Head and took
a series of soundings between the main island and the Judge and
Clerk. These latter islets lie about eight miles to the north of
North Head, and are merely rocks about eighty feet high upon which
thousands of shags and other birds have established rookeries. On
the following morning we said good-bye to the Ship, which weighed
anchor and steamed away, leaving us once more to our own devices.
All the flowering plants were now showing their extremely modest
blooms, and the tussock looked like a field of wheat, each stem
having a decided ear. The gentoo penguins, as well as the giant
petrels, had hatched their eggs, and the parent birds were shouldering
Blake and Hamilton were now prepared
for another visit to the southern end. Blake had almost completed
the chart of the island, and the difference between it and the published
chart was very striking. In the latter case the south end was shown
as being six miles wide, whereas it is in reality only a little
more than two miles across, and the width of the island is nowhere
more than three and a half miles. About twenty miles from the southern
end lie two islets known as the Bishop and Clerk. The former, which
is the larger, is covered with a growth of tussock, while the latter
is mainly bare rock.
A distinct rise in temperature was noticeable
during November and the mean worked out at 41.6 degrees, while the
extremes were 49 degrees and 82 degrees F. Strong winds were recorded
on thirteen days and six short-lived gales occurred. We had less
precipitation than during any previous month, as thirteen dry days
were experienced. The average cloudiness was 93 per cent.; largely
due to the frequent foggy or misty weather.
On December 2,
at 10 A.M., Blake and I packed our sleeping-bags and blankets and
started for Sandy Bay. The swags weighed only thirty-five pounds
each and we made a rather quick trip.
After repairing the
dilapidated shack, we sallied out for the purpose of catching our
evening meal, and with the aid of Mac soon succeeded in getting
eight wekas. A sea elephant was then killed, and the blubber, heart
and tongue taken; the first-named for use as fuel and the others
for food. We cleaned the wekas and put them in the pot, cooking
the whole lot together, a proceeding which enabled us to forgo cooking
a breakfast in the morning. The beach was swarming with young sea
elephants and many could be seen playing about in a small, shallow
Just south of the hut there is a sandy spit and one
of the only stretches of beach on the island, where thousands of
penguins from the adjacent rookeries were congregated, amongst them
being three King penguins, which were easily distinguishable on
account of their great size.
Feeling a little weary, I sought
the hut about 9 P.M. and turned into the sleeping-bag, which was
placed on a board bottom covered with tussock, which was by no means
uncomfortable. The old place smoked so much that we decided to let
the fire die down, and as soon as the smoke had cleared away, the
imperfections of the hut became apparent; rays of moonlight streaming
through countless openings in the walls and roof.
at 6.30 A.M. While Blake lit the fire, I went out to fill the billy
at a small stream running out of the hills about sixty yards away.
After breakfast we set out for Green Valley, but had not gone very
far when it began to blow very hard from the south, straight in
our faces, and we scrambled on towards our destination amidst squalls
of snow, hail and sleet. Eventually we reached the valley and had
a somewhat meagre lunch in a small cave. The title ``cave''
rather dignifies this hole in the rock, but it was the only friendly
spot in a most inhospitable locality, and we were inclined to be
On the whole, the length of coast we had traversed
was found to be as rough as any on the island. There is not a stretch
of one hundred yards anywhere that can be termed ``good going.''
In many places we found that the steep cliffs approached very close
to the water, and the mournful cry of the sooty albatross could
be heard coming from points high on the face of the cliffs, while
the wekas were so tame that one could almost walk up and catch them.
A large creek whose banks are overhung with a coarse growth
of fern makes its way out of the hills and runs into Sandy Bay.
Just a little to the south of this creek Blake discovered a terminal
moraine about two hundred yards in length and fifty feet wide. It
rests on sandstone about fifteen feet above the present sea-level
and the boulders consist of polished and sub-angular blocks of sandstone
and porphyry of various sizes. It evidently belongs to the valley
or to a later stage of glaciation. The rocks along the coast are
all a volcanic series, and basic dykes are visible in many places.
We arose at 7 A.M. next day and breakfasted on porridge, weka,
fried heart, ``hard-tack'' and cocoa. Leaving the hut shortly
afterwards we climbed on to the hills and travelled south for several
miles in order to fix the position of some lakes and creeks. There
was one lake in the vicinity about half a mile long and to all appearances
very deep. It lay between two steep hills, and the grassy bank at
one end and the small sloping approach at the other gave it an artificial
appearance, while the water was beautifully clear and perfectly
fresh. At the sloping end, dozens of skuas were busily engaged washing
themselves and the flapping of their wings in the water made a remarkable
noise, audible at a considerable distance on the hill-tops. On returning
to the hut at Sandy Bay several rabbits secured by Mac were cleaned
and put on to boil.
Next morning a dense mist shrouded the
island till about 11 A.M., but the weather becoming fine and bright,
we started for the west coast about noon. During our progress along
the bed of a creek, Blake discovered what was believed to be a glacial
deposit containing fossil bones, and considerable time was spent
in examining this and attempting to extract whole specimens, thereby
making it too late to proceed to the west. On returning to the hut
we decided to pack the swags. We reached home just in time for tea,
finding that nothing unusual had occurred during our four days'
Hamilton and Blake went out fishing in the dinghy
on the 9th and made a remarkable haul of fish, sixty in number,
ranging in size from a few ounces to twelve and a half pounds. They
were all of the same species, somewhat resembling rock cod, but
as usual they were covered with external parasites, and their flesh
was full of worm-cysts. Hamilton preserved a number of them and
the rest were cooked, but we did not relish them very much and the
one meal was enough.
On December 11 we had a hard gale all
day, the anemometer recording ``bursts'' of over fifty miles
an hour frequently, while the average exceeded forty miles an hour
throughout. Twelve months ago on that day we had made our first
landing on the island from the `Aurora', but vastly different
weather conditions prevailed at the time.
Christmas Day was
now very close at hand, and as Blake and Hamilton were going to
celebrate at the other end of the island, whence they had gone on
the 10th, Sawyer, Sandell and I arranged a little ``spread''
for ourselves. Sawyer produced a cake which he had received in the
recent mail, and some friend had forwarded a plum pudding to Sandell,
so on Christmas Day these, with a boiled ham, some walnuts, mince
rolls and a bottle of stout were spread on the table, which had
been decorated with tussock stuck in sea elephants' tusks. The
highest temperature registered on the island during our stay--51.8
degrees F.-- was recorded on Christmas Day, and the sun seemed so
warm that Sandell and I ventured into the sea for a dip, but the
temperature of the water was not high enough to make it an agreeable
During the evening of the 26th we received a
message saying that the `Aurora' had left Hobart on her trip
south to bring back the two parties from Antarctica, but no mention
of picking us up on the return journey was made.
penguins and ``night birds'' had laid by this time, and
Hamilton added more eggs to his collection. He found for the first
time a colony of mutton birds near the south end. He also came upon
a mollymawk rookery on the south-western point of the island, and
managed to take one of the birds by hand.
Blake and he had
an accident in the dinghy on the 29th, fortunately attended by no
serious results. They had gone from Lusitania Bay to the south end,
and, while attempting to land through the surf, the boat struck
a rock and capsized, throwing them into the water. They had many
things in the boat but lost only two billies, two pannikins, a sounding
line and Hamilton's hat, knife and pipe. Their blankets floated
ashore in a few minutes, and the oars came floating in later in
the day. After the capsize Hamilton managed to reach the boat and
turn her over, and Blake made for a kelp-hung rock, but, after pulling
himself up on to it, was immediately washed off and had to swim
ashore. The boat was afterwards found to be stove-in in two places,
though the breaks were easily patched up subsequently.
Year's Eve came and with keen anticipations we welcomed the
advent of 1913.
XXVII - THROUGH ANOTHER YEAR