THE HOMEWARD CRUISE
We bring no store of ingots,
Of spice or precious
But what we have we gathered
With sweat and aching
As we sat in the wardroom of the `Aurora' exchanging
the news of months long gone by, we heard from Captain Davis the
story of his fair-weather trip from Hobart. The ship had left Australian
waters on November 19, and, from the outset, the weather was quite
ideal. Nothing of note occurred on the run to Macquarie Island,
where a party of three men were landed and Ainsworth and his loyal
comrades picked up. The former party, sent by the Australian Government,
were to maintain wireless communication with Hobart and to send
meteorological reports to the Commonwealth Weather Bureau. A week
was spent at the island and all the collections were embarked, while
Correll was enabled to secure some good colour photographs and Hurley
to make valuable additions to his cinematograph film.
`Aurora' had passed through the ``fifties'' without
meeting the usual gales, sighting the first ice in latitude 63 degrees
33' S., longitude 150 degrees 29' E. She stopped to take
a sounding every twenty-four hours, adding to the large number already
accumulated during her cruises over the vast basin of the Southern
All spoke of the clear and beautiful days amid the
floating ice and of the wonderful coloured sunsets; especially the
photographers. The pack was so loosely disposed, that the ship made
a straight course for Commonwealth Bay, steaming up to Cape Denison
on the morning of December 14 to find us all eager to renew our
claim on the big world up North.
There was a twenty-five-knot
wind and a small sea when we pulled off in the whale-boat to the
ship, but, as if conspiring to give us for once a gala-day, the
wind fell off, the bay became blue and placid and the sun beat down
in full thawing strength on the boundless ice and snow. The Adelians,
if that may be used as a distinctive title, sat on the warm deck
and read letters and papers in voracious haste, with snatches of
the latest intelligence from the Macquarie Islanders and the ship's
officers. No one could erase that day from the
tablets of his
Late in the afternoon the motor-launch went ashore,
and the first of the cargo was sent off. The weather remained serene
and calm, and for the next six days, with the exception of a ``sixty-miler''
for a few hours and a land breeze overnight, there was nothing to
disturb the embarkation of our bulky impedimenta which almost filled
the outer Hut. Other work went on apace. The skua gulls, snow and
Wilson petrels were laying their eggs, and Hamilton went ashore
to secure specimens and to add to our already considerable collection
of bird skins. Hunter had a fish-trap lowered from the forecastle,
used a hand dredge from the ship, and did tow-netting occasionally
from the launch in its journeys to and from the land. Hurley and
bright sunshine to ensure good photographic results.
Bage and Hodgeman looked after the transport of stores from the
Hut, and Gillies, Bickerton and Madigan ran the motor-launch. McLean,
who was now in possession of an incubator and culture tubes, grew
bacteria from various sources--seals and birds, soils, ice and snow.
Ainsworth, Blake and Sandell, making their first acquaintance with
Adelie Land, were most often to be seen quarrying ice on the glacier
or pulling loaded sledges down to the harbour.
On the 18th a party of us went off to the Mackellar
Islets in the motor-launch, taking a tent and provisions, intending
to spend two days there surveying and making scientific observations.
These islets, over thirty in number, are clustered mainly in
a group about two miles off shore. The group is encircled by rocky
``outposts,'' and there are several ``links'' to
the southern mainland. Under a brilliant sun, across the pale blue
water, heaving in a slow northerly swell, the motor-launch threaded
her way between the granite knobs, capped with solid spray. The
waves had undermined the white canopies so that they stood immobile,
perched on the dark, kelp-fringed rocks, casting their pallid reflections
in the turquoise sea. Steaming into a natural harbour, bordered
by a low ice-foot on which scores of Weddell seals lay in listless
slumber, we landed on the largest islet-- a succession of salt-encrusted
ridges covered by straggling penguin rookeries. The place just teemed
with the sporadic life of an Antarctic summer.
It was calculated
that the Adelie penguins exceeded one hundred and fifty thousand
in number over an area of approximately one hundred acres. Near
the landing-place there were at least sixty seals and snow petrels;
skua gulls and Wilson petrels soon betrayed their nests to the biologists.
The islets are flat, and afford evidence that at one time the
continental ice-cap has ridden over them. The rock is a hard grey
gneiss. A rough plane-table map of the group was made by Hodgeman
Our scheme of local exploration was now continued
to the west. For two years we had looked curiously at a patch of
rocks protruding beneath the ice-cap eight miles away, within Commonwealth
Bay. It had been inaccessible to sledging parties, and so we reserved
Cape Hunter, as it was ultimately called, for the coming of the
The anchor was raised on the forenoon of the 22nd,
and by midday the `Aurora' steamed at half-speed along the ramparts
of the glacier, stopping about four miles from the Cape, after sounding
in four hundred and twenty-four fathoms. Through field-glasses much
had already been seen; enough to arouse an intense interest.
One could not but respond to the idea that here was a new world,
flawless and unblemished, into which no human being had ever pried.
Here were open secrets to be read for the first time. It was not
with the cold eye of science alone that we gazed at these rocks--a
tiny spur of the great unseen continent; but it was with an indefinable
In perfect weather a small party set off in the launch
towards a large grounded berg which appeared to lie under the ice-cliffs.
Approaching it closely, after covering two miles, we could see that
it was still more than a mile to the rocks.
began to splash around; Wilson petrels came glancing overhead and
we could descry great flocks of Antarctic petrels wheeling over
cliff and sea. Reefs buried in frothing surge showed their glistening
mantles, and the boat swerved to avoid floating streamers of brash-ice.
The rocky cliffs, about eighty feet in height at the highest
point, were formed of vertically lying slate rocks--a very uniform
series of phyllite and sericite-schist. At their base lay great
clinging blocks of ice deeply excavated by the restless swell. One
island was separated from the parent mass by a channel cut sheer
to the deep blue water. Behind the main rocks and indenting the
ice-cliff was a curving bay into which we steered, finding at its
head a beautiful cove fringed with a heavy undermined ice-foot and
swarming with Adelie penguins. Overhanging the water was a cavern
hollowed out of a bridge of ice thrown from the glacier to the western
limit of the rock outcrop.
Hurley had before him a picture
in perfect proportion. The steel-blue water, paled by an icy reflection,
a margin of brown rocks on which the penguins leapt through the
splashing surf, a curving canopy of ice- foot and, filling the background,
the cavern with pendent icicles along its cornice.
was so great that an anchor had to be thrown from the stern to keep
the launch off shore, and two men remained on board to see that
no damage was done.
At last we were free to roam and explore.
Over the first ridge of rocks we walked suddenly into the home of
the Antarctic petrels! There had always been much speculation as
to where these birds nested. Jones' party at our western base
had the previous summer at Haswell Island happened upon the first
rookery of Antarctic petrels ever discovered. Here was another spot
in the great wilderness peopled by their thousands. Every available
nook and crevice was occupied along a wide slope which shelved away
until it met the vertical cliffs falling to the ocean. One could
sit down among the soft, mild birds who were fearless at the approach
of man. They rested in pairs close to their eggs laid on the bare
rock or among fragments of slate loosely arranged to resemble a
rest. Many eggs were collected, and the birds, losing confidence
in us, rose into the air in flocks, gaining in feathered volume
as they circled in fear above this domain of rock and snow which
had been theirs for generations.
In adjoining rookeries the
Adelie penguins, with their fat, downy cheeks, were very plentiful
and fiercer than usual. Skuas, snow and Wilson petrels were all
in their accustomed haunts. Down on the low ice-foot at the mouth
of a rocky ravine, a few seals had effected a landing. Algae, mosses
and lichens made quite a display in moist localities.
leaving for the ship, we ``boiled the billy'' on a platform
of slate near the cove where the launch was anchored and had a small
picnic, entertained by the penguins playing about in the surf or
scaling the ice-foot to join the birds which were laboriously climbing
to the rookeries on the ridge. The afternoon was so peaceful and
the calm hot weather such a novelty to us that we pushed off reluctantly
to the `Aurora' after an eventful day.
Those on board
had had a busy time dredging, and their results were just as successful
as ours. A haul was made in two hundred and fifty fathoms of ascidians,
sponges, crinoids, holothurians, fish and other forms of life in
such quantity that Hunter and Hamilton were occupied in sorting
the specimens until five o'clock next morning. Meanwhile the
`Aurora' had returned to her old anchorage close to Cape Denison.
The sky banked up from the south with nimbus, and early on the
23rd a strong breeze ruffled the water. There were a few things
to be brought off from the shore, while Ainsworth, Sandell and Correll
were still at the Hut, so that, as the weather conditions pointed
to a coming blizzard, I decided to ``cut the painter'' with
An hour later the motor-launch, with Madigan and
Bickerton, sped away for the last load through falling snow and
a rising sea. Hodgeman had battened down the windows of the Hut,
the chimney was stuffed with bagging, the veranda-entrance closed
with boards, and, inside, an invitation was left for future visitors
to occupy and make themselves at home. After the remainder of the
dogs and some miscellaneous gear had been shipped, the launch put
off and came alongside in a squally wind through thick showers of
snow. Willing hands soon unloaded the boat and slung it in the davits.
Every one was at last safe on board, and in future all our operations
were to be conducted from the ship.
During the night the
wind rose and the barometer fell, while the air was filled with
drifting snow. On the 24th--Christmas Eve--the velocity of the wind
gradually increased to the seventies until at noon it blew with
the strength of a hurricane. Chief Officer Blair, stationed with
a few men under the fo'c'sle-head, kept an anxious eye on
the anchor chain and windlass.
About lunch time the anchor
was found to be dragging and we commenced to drift before the hurricane.
All view of the land and lurking dangers in the form of reefs and
islets were cut off by driving snow.
The wind twanged the
rigging to a burring drone that rose to a shriek in the shuddering
gusts. The crests of the waves were cut off and sprayed in fine
spindrift. With full steam on we felt our way out, we hoped to the
open sea; meanwhile the chain cable and damaged anchor were slowly
being hauled in. The ship's chances looked very small indeed,
but, owing to the good seamanship of Captain Davis and a certain
amount of luck, disaster was averted. Soon we were in a bounding
sea. Each time we were lifted on a huge roller the motor- launch,
swinging in the davits, would rise and then descend with a crash
on the water, to be violently bumped against the bulwarks. Everything
possible was done to save the launch, but our efforts proved fruitless.
As it was being converted into a battering ram against the ship
itself it had to be cut away, and was soon swept astern and we saw
no more of it.
Most unexpectedly there came a lull in the
wind, so that it was almost calm, though the ship still laboured
in the seas. A clearance in the atmosphere was also noticeable for
Cape Hunter became discernible to the west, towards which we were
rapidly drifting. This sight of the coast was a great satisfaction
to us, for we then knew our approximate position ** and the direction
of the wind, which had veered considerably.
** It should
be borne in mind that compasses are unreliable in the vicinity of
the magnetic pole.
The lull lasted scarcely five minutes
when the wind came back from a somewhat different quarter, north
of east, as violent as ever. The ``eye'' of the storm had
passed over us, and the gale continued steady for several days.
That night the struggle with the elements was kept up by officers
and crew, assisted by members of the shore party who took the lee-wheel
or stood by in case of emergency.
``December 25. Christmas
Day on the high seas off Adelie Land, everything wet and fairly
miserable; incipient mal de mer, wind 55-60; snowing! When Davis
came down to breakfast and wished us a Merry Christmas, with a smile
at the irony of it, the ward-room was swaying about in a most bewildering
Towards evening, after the `Aurora'
had battled for hours slowly to the east, the sea went down somewhat
and some drifting ice was sighted. We continued under full steam,
pushing forward to gain the shelter of the Mertz glacier-tongue.
It was now discovered that the fluke of the anchor had broken off
short, so great had been the strain imposed upon it during the height
of the hurricane.
On Boxing Day the ship was in calmer water
heading in a more southerly direction so as to come up with the
land. Fog, fine snow and an overcast sky made a gloomy combination,
but during the afternoon the fog lightened sufficiently for us to
perceive the mainland--a ghostly cliff shrouded in diaphanous blink.
By 10 P.M. the Mertz glacier was visible on the port bow, and to
starboard there was an enormous tilted berg which appeared to be
magnified in the dim light.
Allowing a day for the weather
to become clearer and more settled, we got out the trawl on the
28th and did a dredging in three hundred fathoms close to the glacier-tongue.
Besides rocks and mud there were abundant crinoids, holothurians,
corals, crustaceans and ``shells.'' In addition, several
pieces of fossilized wood and coaly matter were discovered scattered
through the ``catch.''
Bage, under Davis's direction,
took temperatures and collected water samples at fifty, seventy-five,
one hundred, two hundred and three hundred fathoms, using the Lucas
sounding-machine on the fo'c'sle. The temperature gradient
from the surface downwards appeared to give some indication of the
depth of ice submerged in the glacier-tongue alongside which we
On the 29th a cold south-easter blew off the
ice-cliffs and the sun was trying to pierce a gauzy alto-stratus.
The `Aurora' steamed north-east, it being our intention to round
the northern limit of the Mertz Glacier. Gradually a distant line
of pack, which had been visible for some time, closed in and the
ship ran into a cul-de-sac. Gray, who was up in the crow's-nest,
reported that the ice was very heavy, so we put about.
southward once more, we glided along within a stone's throw
of the great wall of ice whose chiselled headlands stood in profile
for miles. There was leisure to observe various features of this
great formation, and to make some valuable photographic records
when the low south-western sun emerged into a wide rift. Hunter
trailed the tow-net for surface plankton while the ship was going
At ten o'clock the ship had come up with
the land, and her course was turned sharply to the north-west towards
a flotilla of bergs lying to the east of the Way Archipelago, which
we intended to visit.
On December 30, 1913, the `Aurora'
lay within a cordon of floating ice about one mile distant from
the nearest islet of a group scattered along the coast off Cape
Immediately after breakfast a party of eight men set
off in the launch to investigate Stillwell Island. The weather was
gloriously sunny and every one was eager at the prospect of fresh
discoveries. Cape Hunter had been the home of the Antarctic petrels,
and on this occasion we were singularly fortunate in finding a resort
of the Southern Fulmar or silver-grey petrels. During the previous
summer, two of the eastern sledging parties had for the first time
observed the breeding habits of these birds among isolated rocks
outcropping on the edge of the coast. But here there was a stronghold
of hundreds of petrels, sitting with their eggs in niches among
the boulders or ensconced in bowers excavated beneath the snow which
lay deep over some parts of the island.
The rock was
a gneiss which varied in character from that which had been examined
at Cape Denison and in other localities. All the scientific treasures
were exhausted by midday, and the whale-boat was well laden when
we rowed back to the ship.
Throughout a warm summer afternoon
the `Aurora' threaded her way between majestic bergs and steamed
west across the wide span of Commonwealth Bay, some fifteen miles
off the land. At eleven o'clock the sky was perfectly clear
and the sun hung like a luminous ball over the southern plateau.
The rocks near the Hut were just visible. Close to the ``Pianoforte
Berg''and the Mackellar Islets tall jets of fine spray were
seen to shoot upward from schools of finner whales. All around us
and for miles shoreward, the ocean was calm and blue; but close
to the mainland there was a dark curving line of ruffled water,
while through glasses one could see trails of serpentine drift flowing
down the slopes of the glacier. Doubtless, it was blowing at the
Hut; and the thought was enough to make us thankful that we were
on our good ship leaving Adelie Land for ever.
On the morning
of December 31, 1913, Cape Alden was abeam, and a strong wind swept
down from the highlands. Bordering the coast there was a linear
group of islets and outcropping rocks at which we had hoped to touch.
The wind continued to blow so hard that the idea was abandoned and
our course was directed towards the north-west to clear a submerged
reef which had been discovered in January 1912.
and sea arose during the night, causing the ship to roll in a reckless
fashion. Yet the celebration of New Year's Eve was not marred,
and lusty choruses came up from the ward-room till long after midnight.
Next morning at breakfast our ranks had noticeably thinned through
the liveliness of the ship, but it is wonderful how large an assembly
we mustered for the New Year's dinner, and how cheerfully the
toast was drunk to ``The best year we have ever had!''
On January 2, 1914, fast ice and the mainland were sighted.
The course was changed to the south-west so as to bring the ship
within a girdle of loose ice disposed in big solid chunks and small
pinnacled floes. A sounding realized two hundred fathoms some ten
miles off the coast, which stretched like a lofty bank of yellow
sand along the southern horizon. On previous occasions we had not
been able to see so much of the coastline in this longitude owing
to the compactness of the ice, and so we were able to definitely
chart a longer tract at the western limit of Adelie Land.
The ice became so thick and heavy as the `Aurora' pressed
southward that she was forced at last to put about and steer for
more open water. On the way, a sounding was made in two hundred
and fifty fathoms, but a dredging was unsuccessful owing to the
fact that insufficient cable was paid out in going from two hundred
and fifty fathoms to deeper water.
Our north-westerly course
ran among a great number of very long tabular bergs, which suggested
the possibility of a neighbouring glacier-tongue as their origin.
At ten o'clock on the evening of the 2nd, a mountain of
ice with a high encircling bastion passed to starboard. It rose
to a peak, flanked by fragments toppling in snowy ruin. The pyramidal
summit was tinged the palest lilac in the waning light; the mighty
pallid walls were streaked and blotched with deep azure; the green
swell sucked and thundered in the wave-worn caverns. Chaste snow-birds
swam through the pure air, and the whole scene was sacred.
A tropical day in the pack-ice! Sunday January 4 was clear and
perfectly still, and the sun shone powerfully. On the previous day
we had entered a wide field of ice which had become so close and
heavy that the ship took till late in the evening to reach its northern
From January 5 onwards for two weeks we steamed steadily
towards the west, repeatedly changing course to double great sheets
of pack which streamed away to the north, pushing through them in
other places where the welcome ``water-sky showed strong''
ahead, making ``southing'' for days following the trend
of the ice, then grappling with it in the hope of winning through
to the land and at last returning to the western track along the
margin of brash which breaks the first swell of the Southern Ocean.
The weather was mostly overcast with random showers of light
snow and mild variable winds on all but two days, when there was
a ``blow'' of forty miles per hour and a considerable sea
in which the ship seemed more active than usual.
were taken, and their value lay in broadly [...] Of course, too,
we were supplementing the ship's previous work in these latitudes.
Section Illustrating The Moat In The Antarctic
One successful dredging in eighteen hundred fathoms
brought up some large erratics and coaly matter, besides a great
variety of animal life. It was instructive to find that the erratics
were coated with a film of manganese oxide derived from the sea-water.
Several tow- nettings were taken with large nets automatically closing
at any desired depth through the medium of a ``messenger.''
Small crustaceans were plentiful on the surface, but they were if
anything more numerous at depths of fifty to one hundred fathoms.
Amongst the latter were some strongly phosphorescent forms. The
flying birds were ``logged'' daily by the biologists. Emperor
and Adelie penguins were occasionally seen, among the floes as well
as sea-leopards, crab-eater and Weddell seals.
16 deserves mention as being a day full of incident. In the morning
a thin, cold fog hung along the pack whose edge determined our course.
Many petrels flew around, and on the brash- ice there were dark
swarms of terns--small birds with black-capped heads, dove-grey
backs and silvery-white breasts. They were very nervous of the ship,
rising in great numbers when it had approached within a few hundred
yards. One startled bird would fly up, followed by several more;
then a whole covey would disturb the rest of the flock. Hamilton
managed to shoot two of them from the fo'c'sle, and, after
much manoeuvring, we secured one with a long hand-net.
after, there was a cry of ``killer whales!'' from the stern.
Schools of them were travelling from the west to the east along
the edge of the pack. The water was calm and leaden, and every few
seconds a big black triangular fin would project from the surface,
there would be a momentary glimpse of a dark yellow-blotched back
and then all would disappear.
We pushed into the pack to
``ice ship,'' as the water-supply was running low. Just
as the `Aurora' was leaving the open water, a school of finner
whales went by, blowing high jets of spray in sudden blasts, wallowing
for a few seconds on the surface, and diving in swirls of foam.
These finners or rorquals are enormous mammals, and on one occasion
we were followed by one for several hours. It swam along with the
ship, diving regularly underneath from one side to another, and
we wondered what would happen if it had chosen to charge the vessel
or to investigate the propeller.
Close to a big floe to which
the ship was secured, two crab-eater seals were shot and hauled
aboard to be skinned and investigated by the biologists and bacteriologist.
When the scientists had finished their work, the meat and blubber
were cut up for the dogs, while the choicer steaks were taken to
the cook's galley.
After lunch every one started to ``ice
ship'' in earnest. The sky had cleared and the sun was warm
and brilliant by the time a party had landed on the snow-covered
floe with baskets, picks and shovels. When the baskets had been
filled, they were hoisted by hand-power on to a derrick which had
been fixed to the mizen mast, swung inboard and then shovelled into
a melting tank alongside the engine-room. The melter was a small
tank through which ran a coil of steam pipes. The ice came up in
such quantity that it was not melted in time to keep up with the
demand, so a large heap was made on the deck.
Later in the
afternoon it was found that holes chipped in the sea-ice to a depth
of six or eight inches filled quickly with fresh water, and soon
a gang of men had started a service with buckets and dippers between
these pools and the main hatch where the water was poured through
funnels into the ship's tanks. The bulwarks on the port side
of the main hatch had been taken down, and a long plank stretched
across to the floe. At nine o'clock work was stopped and we
once more resumed our western cruise.
It was found that as
the region of Queen Mary Land approached, heavy pack extended to
the north. While skirting this obstacle, we disclosed by soundings
a steep rise in the ocean's floor from a depth of about fifteen
hundred fathoms to within seven hundred fathoms of the surface,
south of which there was deep water. It was named ``Bruce Rise''
in recognition of the oceanographical work of the Scottish Expedition
in Antarctic seas.
On the 17th, in latitude 62 degrees 21'
S., longitude 95 degrees 9' E., the course ran due south for
more than seven hours. For the two ensuing days the ship was able
to steer approximately south-west through slackening ice, until
on the 19th at midday we were in latitude 64 degrees 59' S.,
longitude 90 degrees 8' E. At length it appeared that land was
approaching, after a westward run of more than twelve hundred miles.
Attempts to reach the charted position of Totten's Land, North's
Land, Budd Land and Knox Land had been successively abandoned when
it became evident that the pack occupied a more northerly situation
than that of the two previous years, and was in most instances thick
At 10 P.M. on the 19th, the ice fields
still remaining loose and navigable, a dark line of open water was
observed ahead. From the crow's-nest it was seen to the south
stretching east and west within the belt of pack-ice--the Davis
Sea. We had broken through the pack less than twenty-five miles
north of where the `Gauss' (German Expedition, 1902) had wintered.
All next day the `Aurora' steamed into the eye of an easterly
wind towards a low white island, the higher positions of which had
been seen by the German Expedition of 1902, and charted as Drygalski's
High Land. Dr. Jones' party had, the year before, obtained a
distant view of it and regarded it as an island, which proved to
be correct, so we named it Drygalski Island. To the south there
was the dim outline of the mainland. Soundings varied between two
hundred and three hundred fathoms.
On January 21, Drygalski
Island was close at hand, and a series of soundings which showed
from sixty to seventy fathoms of water deepening towards the mainland
proved beyond doubt that it was an island. In shape it is like a
flattened dome about nine miles in diameter and twelve hundred feet
in height, bounded by perpendicular cliffs of ice, and with no visible
evidence of outcropping rock.
The dredge was lowered in sixty
fathoms, and a rich assortment of life was captured for the biologists--Hunter
and Hamilton. A course was then made to the south amidst a sea of
great bergs; the water deepening to about four hundred fathoms.
During the evening the crevassed slopes of the mainland
rose clear to the south, and many islets were observed near the
coast, frozen in a wide expanse of bay-ice. Haswell Island, visited
by Jones, Dovers and Hoadley of the Western Party, was sighted,
and the ship was able to approach within eight miles of it; at ten
o'clock coming up to flat bay-ice, where she anchored for the
night. Before we retired to bunk, a Ross seal was discovered and
shot, three-quarters of a mile away.
Next day, January 22,
an unexpected find was made of five more of this rare species of
seal. Many Emperor penguins were also secured. It would have been
interesting to visit the great rookery of Emperor penguins on Haswell
Island, but, as the ship could only approach to within eight miles
of it, I did not think it advisable to allow a party to go so far.
On the night of the 22nd, the `Aurora' was headed northeast
for the Shackleton Ice-Shelf. In the early hours of the 28rd a strong
gale sprang up and rapidly increased in violence. A pall of nimbus
overspread the sky, and blinding snow commenced to fall.
We had become used to blizzards, but on this occasion several factors
made us somewhat apprehensive. The ship was at least twenty-five
miles from shelter on an open sea, littered with bergs and fragments
of ice. The wind was very strong; the maximum velocity exceeding
seventy miles per hour, and the dense driving snow during the midnight
hours of semi-darkness reduced our chances of navigating with any
The night of the 23rd had a touch of terror. The
wind was so powerful that, with a full head of steam and steering
a few points off the eye of the wind, the ship could just hold her
own. But when heavy gusts swooped down and the propeller raced on
the crest of a mountainous wave, Davis found it impossible to keep
Drift and spray lash the faces of officer and
helmsman, and through the grey gloom misty bergs glide by on either
hand. A long slow struggle brings us to a passage between two huge
masses of ice. There is a shock as the vessel bumps and grinds along
a great wall. The engine stops, starts again, and stops once more.
The yards on the foremast are swung into the wind, the giant seas
are broken by the stolid barriers of ice, the engine commences to
throb with its old rhythm, and the ship slowly creeps out to meet
the next peril. It comes with the onset of a ``bergy-bit''
which smashes the martingale as it plunges into a deep trough. The
chain stay parts, dragging loose in the water, while a great strain
is put by the foremast on the bowsprit.
Early on the 24th
the ship was put about and ran with the wind, while all hands assembled
on the fo'c'sle. The crew, under the direction of Blair,
had the ticklish job of replacing the chain stay by two heavy blocks,
the lower of which was hooked on to the lug which secured the end
of the stay, and the upper to the bowsprit. The running ropes connecting
the blocks were tightened up by winding the hauling line round the
capstan. When the boatswain and two sailors had finished the wet
and chilly task of getting the tackle into position, the rest put
their weight on to the capstan bars and the strain on the bowsprit
was relieved. The fo'c'sle, plunging and swaying in the
great waves, was encased in frozen spray, and along all the ropes
and stays were continuous cylinders of ice. The `Aurora' then
resumed her easterly course against the blizzard.
January 24 was a day of high wind, rough seas, watery decks, lively
meals and general discomfort. At 11.30 P.M. the waves had perceptibly
decreased, and it was surmised that we were approaching the berg,
about thirty miles in length, which lay to the west of the Shackleton
At 6 A.M. on the 25th the sun managed to glimmer
through the low rack flying from the east, lighting up the carven
face of an ice-cliff along which the `Aurora' was coasting.
Up and down we steamed until the afternoon of the 26th, when the
wind lulled away to nothing, and the grey, even pall of cloud rose
and broke into fleecy alto-cumulus.
At the southern extremity
of the long berg, fast bay-ice extended up to the land and for twenty
miles across to the shelf on which the Winter Quarters of the Western
Party had been situated. Further progress to the south was blocked,
so our course was directed to the north along the western border
of the berg.
When not engaged in sounding, dredging, or tow-netting
members of the land party found endless diversion in trimming coal.
Big inroads had been made in the supply of more than five hundred
tons, and it now became necessary to shift many tons of it from
the holds aft to the bunkers where it was accessible to the firemen.
The work was good exercise, and every one enjoyed the shift below,
``trucking''and ``heaving.'' Another undoubted advantage,
in the opinion of each worker, was that he could at least demand
a wash from Chief Engineer Gillies, who at other times was forced
to be thrifty with hot fresh water.
After supper on
the 28th it was evident that we had reached a point where the shelf-ice
veered away to the eastward and a wide tract of adhering sea-ice
barred the way. The floe was exceedingly heavy and covered with
a deep layer of soft snow. Emperor and Adelie penguins, crab-eater
and Weddell seals were recognized through glasses along its edge.
As there was a light obscuring fog and dusk was approaching, the
`Aurora' ``hung up'' for the night.
29 the ship, after a preliminary trawling had been done in three
hundred and twenty fathoms, pushed into the floe and was made fast
with an ice-anchor. Emperor penguins were so plentiful in the neighbourhood
that many specimens were secured for skins.
was seen chasing a crab-eater seal quite close to the bow
of the ship. The latter, after several narrow escapes, took refuge
on an ice-foot projecting from the edge of the floe.
was taken of a clearing in the weather to walk over the sea-ice
to a berg two and a half miles away, from the summit of which it
was hoped that some sign of land might be apparent. Away in the
distance, perhaps five miles further on, could be seen an immense
congregation of Emperor Penguins--evidently another rookery. No
certain land was visible.
The cruise was now continued to
the north-west in order to skirt a collection of bergs and floe,
with the ultimate object of proceeding in an easterly direction
towards Termination Ice-Tongue at the northern limit of the Shackleton
A glance at the map which illustrates the work
done by the Western Party affords the best idea of the great ice-formation
which stretches away to the north of Queen Mary Land. It is very
similar in character to the well-known Ross Barrier over which lay
part of Scott's and Amundsen's journeys to the South Pole.
Its height is remarkably uniform, ranging from sixty to one hundred
feet above the water-level. When allowance has been made for average
specific gravity, its average total thickness should approximate
to six hundred feet. From east to west the formation was proved
to be as much as two hundred miles, with one hundred and eighty
miles between its northern and southern limits.
block of ice originates fundamentally from the glacial flow over
the southern hinterland. Every year an additional layer of consolidated
snow is added to its surface by the frequent blizzards. These annual
additions are clearly marked in the section exposed on the dazzling
white face near the brink of the ice-cliff. There is a
however, to the increase in thickness, for the whole mass is ever
moving slowly to the north, driven by the irresistible pressure
of the land-ice behind it. Thus the northern face crumbles down
into brash or floats away as part of a berg severed from the main
body of the shelf-ice.
On the morning of January 30 we had
the unique experience of witnessing this crumbling action at work--a
cataclysm of snow, ice and water! The ship was steaming along within
three hundred yards of a cliff, when some loose drifts slid off
from its edge, followed by a slice of the face extending for many
hundreds of feet and weighing perhaps one million tons. It plunged
into the sea with a deep booming roar and then rose majestically,
shedding great masses of snow, to roll onwards exposing its blue,
swaying bulk shivering into lumpy masses which pushed towards the
ship in an ever-widening field of ice. It was a grand scene enacted
in the subdued limelight of an overcast day.
During the afternoon
the `Aurora' changed her north-westerly course round to north-east,
winding through a wonderful sea of bergs grounded in about one hundred
and twenty fathoms of water. At times we would pass through narrow
lanes between towering walls and emerge into a straight wide avenue
along which these mountains of ice were ranged. Several were rather
remarkable; one for its exquisite series of stratification lines,
another for its facade in stucco, and a third for its overhanging
cornice fringed with slender icicles.
On January 31 a trawling
was made in one hundred and twelve fathoms. Half a ton of life emptied
on the deck gave the biologists occupation for several days. Included
in the catch were a large number of monstrous gelatinous ascidians
or ``sea-squirts.'' Fragments of coal were once more found;
an indication that coaly strata must be very widely distributed
in the Antarctic.
The pack was dense and in massive array
at the extremity of Termination Ice-Tongue. Davis drove the ship
through some of it and entered an open lead which ran like a dark
streak away to the east amid ice which grew heavier and more marked
by the stress of pressure. Our time was now limited and it
seemed to me that there was little chance of reaching open water
by forcing a passage either to the east or north. We therefore turned
on our tracks and broke south-west back into the Davis Sea, intending
to steam westward to the spot where we had so easily entered two
On February 4 the pack to the north was
beginning to thin out and to look navigable. Several short-cuts
were taken across projecting ``capes,'' and then on February
5 the `Aurora' entered a zone of bergs and broken floe. No one
slept well during that night as the ship bumped and ground into
the ice which crashed and grated along her stout sides. Davis was
on watch for long hours, directing in the crow's nest or down
on the bridge, and throughout the next day we pushed on northwards
towards the goal which now meant so much to us--Australia--Home!
At four o'clock the sun was glittering on the great ocean
outside the pack-ice. Many of us climbed up in the rigging to see
the fair sight-- a prevision of blue skies and the calm delights
of a land of eternal summer. Our work was finished, and the good
ship was rising at last to the long swell of the southern seas.
On February 12, in latitude 55 degrees S, a strong south-wester
drove behind, and, with all sails set, the `Aurora' made eight
knots an hour. The last iceberg was seen far away on the eastern
horizon. Albatrosses followed in our wake, accompanied by their
smaller satellites--Cape hens, priors, Lesson's and Wilson petrels.
Before leaving the ice, Sandell and Bickerton had fixed an aerial
between the fore and mizen masts, while the former installed a wireless
receiving-apparatus within the narrow limits of his cabin. There
was no space on the ship to set up the motor-engine, dynamos and
other instruments necessary for transmitting messages over a long
As the nights began to darken, Sandell listened
eagerly for distant signals, until on February 16, in latitude 47
degrees S, the ``calls'' of three ships in the vicinity
of the Great Australian Bight were recognized. After this date news
was picked up every night, and all the items were posted on a morning
bulletin pinned up in the ward-room.
The first real touch
of civilization came unexpectedly early on the morning of February
21. A full-rigged ship on the southern horizon! It might have been
an iceberg, the sails flashed so white in the morning sun. But onward
it came with a strong south-wester, overhauled and passed us, signalling
`` `Archibald Russell', fifty-four days out from Buenos Ayres,
bound for Cape Borda.'' It was too magical to believe.
On February 26 we gazed on distant cliffs of rock and earth--Kangaroo
Island--and the tiny cluster of dwellings round the lighthouse at
Cape Borda. Then we entered St. Vincent's Gulf on a clear, hot
day, marvelling at the sandy-blue water, the long, flat mainland
with its clumps of trees and the smoke of many steamers.
The welcome home--the voices of innumerable strangers--the hand-grips
of many friend--it chokes one--it cannot be uttered!