The equinox arrived, and the only indication o£
settled weather was a more marked regularity in the winds. Nothing
like it had been reported from any part of the world. Any trace
of elation we may have felt at this meteorological discovery could
not compensate for the ever-present discomforts of life. Day after
day the wind fluctuated between a gale and a hurricane. Overcast
skies of heavy nimbus cloud were the rule and the air was continually
charged with drifting snow.
Lulls of a singular nature occasionally
relieved the monotony. During these visitations the sequence of
events could almost be predicted; indeed, they would often occur
at the same time on several succeeding days.
On March 19
the first well-marked lull intervened at the height of a gale. On
that day the wind, which had been blowing with great force during
the morning, commenced to subside rapidly just after noon. Towards
evening, the air about the Hut was quite still except for gusts
from the north and rather frequent ``whirlies.''
This was the name adopted for whirlwinds of a few yards to a hundred
yards or more in diameter which came to be regarded as peculiar
to the country. Similar disturbances have been observed in every
part of the world, but seldom possessed of the same violence and
regularity as is the case in Adelie Land.
The whirlies tracked
about in a most irregular manner and woe betide any light object
which came in their path. The velocity of the wind in the rotating
column being very great, a corresponding lifting power was imparted
to it. As an illustration of this force, it may be mentioned that
the lid of the air-tractor case had been left lying on the snow
near the Hut. It weighed more than three hundredweights, yet it
was whisked into the air one morning and dropped fifty yards away
in a north-easterly direction. An hour afterwards it was picked
up again and returned near its original position, this time striking
the rocks with such force that part of it was shivered to pieces.
Webb and Stillwell watched the last proceeding at a respectful distance.
Again, the radius of activity of these whirlies was strictly
limited; objects directly in their path only being disturbed. For
instance, Laseron one day was skinning at one end of a seal and
remained in perfect calm, while McLean, at the other extremity,
was on the edge of a furious vortex.
Travelling over the
sea the whirlies displayed fresh capabilities. Columns of brash-ice,
frozen spray and water-vapour were frequently seen lifted to heights
of from two hundred to four hundred feet, simulating water spouts.
Reverting to the afternoon of March 19. Beyond the strange stillness
of the immediate vicinity, broken occasionally by the tumult of
a passing, wandering whirly, an incessant, seething roar could be
heard. One could not be certain from whence it came, but it seemed
to proceed either from the south or overhead. Away on the icy promontories
to the east and west, where the slopes were visible, mounting to
an altitude of several thousand feet, clouds of drift-snow blotted
out the details of the surface above a level of about six hundred
feet. It certainly appeared as if the gale, for some reason, had
lifted and was still raging overhead. At 7.30 P.M. the sound we
had heard, like the distant lashing of ocean waves, became louder.
Soon gusts swept the tops of the rocky ridges, gradually descending
to throw up the snow at a lower level. Then a volley raked the Hut,
and within a few minutes we were once more enveloped in a sea of
drifting snow, and the wind blew stronger than ever.
duration of the lulls was ordinarily from a few minutes to several
hours; that of March 19 was longer than usual. In the course of
time, after repeated observations, much light was thrown on this
phenomenon. On one occasion, a party ascending the ice slopes to
the south met the wind blowing at an elevation of four hundred feet.
At the same time snow could be seen pouring over the ``Barrier''
to the west of the Winter Quarters, and across a foaming turmoil
of water. This was evidently the main cause of the seething roar,
but it was mingled with an undernote of deeper tone from the upland
plateau--like the wind in a million tree-tops.
In the early
spring, while we were transporting provisions to the south, frequent
journeys were made to higher elevations. It was then established
that even when whole days of calm prevailed at the Hut, the wind
almost without exception blew above a level of one thousand feet.
On such occasions it appeared that the gale was impelled to blow
straight out from the plateau slopes over a lower stratum of dead-air.
An explanation was thereby afforded of the movement of condensation
clouds which appeared in the zenith at these times. A formation
of delicate, gauzy clouds developed at a low altitude, apparently
in still air, but doubtless at the base of a hurricane stratum.
Whirling round rapidly in eddying flocculi, they quickly tailed
away to the north, evaporating and disappearing.
sense was strangely affected by these lulls. The contrast was so
severe when the racking gusts of an abating wind suddenly gave way
to intense, eerie silence, that the habitual droning of many weeks
would still reverberate in the ears. At night one would involuntarily
wake up if the wind died away, and be loth to sleep ``for the hunger
of a sound.'' In the open air the stillness conveyed to
the brain an impression of audibility, interpreted as a vibratory
During one hour on March 22 it blew eighty-six miles.
On the morning of that day there was not much snow in the air and
the raging sea was a fearful sight. Even the nearest of the islands,
only half a mile off the land, was partially hidden in the clouds
of spray. What an impossible coast this would be for the wintering
of a ship!
Everybody knows that the pressure exerted by a
wind against an object in its path mounts up in much greater proportion
than the velocity of the wind. Thus may be realized the stupendous
force of the winds of Adelie Land in comparison with those of half
the velocity which fall within one's ordinary experience. As
this subject was ever before us, the following figures quoted from
a work of reference will be instructive. The classification of winds,
here stated, is that known as the ``Beaufort scale.'' The
corresponding velocities in each case are those measured by the
``Robinson patent ``anemometer; our instrument being of a similar
Velocities in miles per hour
Pressures in lbs. per square foot area
1 Light air
2 Light breeze
3 Gentle breeze
4 Moderate breeze
5 Fresh breeze
6 Strong breeze
7 Moderate gale
8 Fresh gale
9 Strong gale
10 Whole gale
of Beaufort scale - webmaster Cool
Beyond the limits of this scale, the pressures exerted
rise very rapidly. A wind recorded as blowing at the rate of a hundred
miles per hour exerts a pressure of about twenty-three pounds per
square foot of surface exposed to it. Wind above eighty miles per
hour is stated to ``prostrate everything.''
registered by our anemometer were the mean for a whole hour, neglecting
individual gusts, whose velocity much exceeded the average and which
were always the potent factors in destructive work.
the greatest care had to be taken to secure everything. Still, articles
of value were occasionally missed. They were usually recovered,
caught in crevices of rock or amongst the broken ice. Northward
from the Hut there was a trail of miscellaneous objects scattered
among the hummocks and pressure-ridges out towards Penguin Hill
on the eastern side of the boat harbour: tins of all kinds and sizes,
timber in small scraps, cases and boards, paper, ashes, dirt, worn-out
finnesko, ragged mitts and all the other details of a rubbish heap.
One of the losses was a heavy case which formed the packing of part
of the magnetometer. Weighted - down by stones this had stood for
a long time in what was regarded as a safe place. One morning it
was discovered to be missing. It was surmised that a hurricane had
started it on an ocean voyage during the previous day. Boxes in
which Whetter used to carry ice for domestic requirements were as
a rule short-lived. His problem was to fill the boxes without losing
hold of them, and the wind often gained the ascendancy before a
sufficient ballast had been added. We sometimes wondered whether
any of the flotsam thus cast upon the waters ever reached the civilized
Whatever has been said relative to the wind-pressure
exerted on inanimate objects, the same applied, with even more point,
to our persons; so that progression in a hurricane became a fine
art. The first difficulty to be encountered was a smooth, slippery
surface offering no grip for the feet. Stepping out of the shelter
of the Hut, one was apt to be immediately hurled at full length
down wind. No amount of exertion was of any avail unless a firm
foothold had been secured. The strongest man, stepping on to ice
or hard snow in plain leather or fur boots, would start sliding
away with gradually increasing velocity; in the space of a few seconds,
or earlier, exchanging the vertical for the horizontal position.
He would then either stop suddenly against a jutting point of ice,
or glide along for twenty or thirty yards till he reached a patch
of rocks or some rough sastrugi.
Of course we soon learned
never to go about without crampons on the feet. Many experiments
in the manufacture of crampons were tried with the limited materials
at our disposal. Those designed for normal Antarctic conditions
had been found unserviceable. A few detachable pairs made of wrought
iron with spikes about one and a half inches in length, purchased
in Switzerland, gave a secure foothold. Some of the men covered
the soles of their boots with long, bristling spikes and these served
their purpose well. Ice-nails, screwed into the soles without being
riveted on plates, were liable to tear out when put to a severe
test, besides being too short. Spikes of less than an inch in length
were inadequate in hurricanes. Nothing devised by us gave the grip
of the Swiss crampons, but, to affix them, one had to wear leather
boots, which, though padded to increase their warmth, had to be
tightly bound by lashings compressing the feet and increasing
the liability to frost-bite.
Shod with good spikes, in a
steady wind, one had only to push hard to keep a sure footing. It
would not be true to say ``to keep erect,'' for equilibrium
was maintained by leaning against the wind. In course of time, those
whose duties habitually took them out of doors became thorough masters
of the art of walking in hurricanes-- an accomplishment comparable
to skating or skiing. Ensconced in the lee of a substantial break-wind,
one could leisurely observe the unnatural appearance of others walking
about, apparently in imminent
peril of falling on their faces.
Experiments were tried in the steady winds; firmly planting
the feet on the ground, keeping the body rigid and leaning over
on the invisible support. This ``lying on the wind,'' at
equilibrium, was a unique experience. As a rule the velocity remained
uniform; when it fluctuated in a series of gusts, all our experience
was likely to fail,
for no sooner had the correct angle for
the maximum velocity been assumed than a lull intervened--with the
A copy of the wind-velocity (anenometer) and
the wind direction
(anemograph) for a period of twenty-four hours,
This particular record illustrates a day of constant
high velocity wind. In the case of the upper chart each rise of
the pen from the bottom to the top of the paper indicates that another
100 miles of wind has passed the instrument. The regularity of these
curves shows the steadiness of the wind. It will be observed that
the average velocity for twenty-four hours was 90.1 miles, and the
maximum of the average hourly velocities throughout that period
was ninety-seven miles. The lower chart, the record of the direction
from which the wind blew, is marked only by a single broad bar in
the position of South-by-East, the wind not having veered in the
Before the art of ``hurricane-walking''
was learnt, and in the primitive days of ice-nails and finnesko,
progression in high winds degenerated into crawling on hands and
knees. Many of the more conservative persisted in this method, and,
as a compensation, became the first exponents of the popular art
of ``board-sliding.'' A small piece of board, a wide ice
flat and a hurricane were the three essentials for this new sport.
Wind alone would not have been so bad; drift snow accompanied
it in overwhelming amount. In the autumn overcast weather with heavy
falls of snow prevailed, with the result that the air for several
months was seldom free from drift. Indeed, during that time, there
were not many days when objects a hundred yards away could be seen
distinctly. Whatever else happened, the wind never abated, and so,
even when the snow had ceased falling and the sky was clear, the
drift continued until all the loose accumulations on the hinterland,
for hundreds of miles back, had been swept out to sea. Day after
day deluges of drift streamed past the Hut, at times so dense as
to obscure objects three feet away, until it seemed as if the atmosphere
were almost solid snow.
A comparison of wind-velocities and temperatures
prevailing at Cape
Royds, Mcmurdo Sound, and at winter quarters,
Adelie Land, during
the months of May and June
At the time of plotting only the above two months
were available, but they are enough to illustrate the unusually
severe winter conditions of Adelie Land. The data for Cape Royds
is that supplied by the Shackleton Expedition. The solid black line
refers to Adelie Land, the broken line to Cape Royds. It will be
noted that whereas the average temperature conditions are closely
similar at both stations, only on three days during the period did
the average wind velocity at Cape Royds reach that of the lowest
daily value of Adelie Land.
Picture drift so dense that daylight
comes through dully, though, maybe, the sun shines in a cloudless
sky; the drift is hurled, screaming through space at a hundred miles
an hour, and the temperature is below zero, Fahrenheit.** You have
then the bare, rough facts concerning the worst blizzards of Adelie
Iand. The actual experience of them is another thing.
Temperatures as low as -28 degrees F. (60 degrees below freezing-point)
were experienced in hurricane winds, which blew at a velocity occasionally
exceeding one hundred miles per hour. Still air and low temperatures,
or high winds and moderate temperatures, are well enough; but the
combination of high winds and low temperatures is difficult to bear.
Shroud the infuriated elements in the darkness of a polar night,
and the blizzard is presented in a severer aspect. A plunge into
the writhing storm-whirl stamps upon the senses an indelible and
awful impression seldom equalled in the whole gamut of natural experience.
The world a void, grisly, fierce and appalling. We
struggle through the Stygian gloom; the merciless blast--an incubus
of vengeance--stabs, buffets and freezes; the stinging drift blinds
and chokes. In a ruthless grip we realize that we are
On the great, sullen, roaring
pool of Time.
It may well be imagined that none of us went out
on these occasions for the pleasure of it. The scientific work required
all too frequent journeys to the instruments at a distance from
the Hut, and, in addition, supplies of ice and stores had to be
brought in, while the dogs needed constant attention.
morning, Madigan visited all the meteorological instruments and
changed the daily charts; at times having to feel his way from one
place to the other. Attending to the exposed instruments in a high
wind with low temperature was bad enough, but with suffocating drift
difficulties were increased tenfold.
Around the Hut there
was a small fraternity who chose the outside veranda as a rendezvous.
Here the latest gossip was exchanged, and the weather invariably
discussed in forcible terms. There was Whetter, who replenished
the water-supply from the unfailing fountain-head of the glacier.
For cooking, washing clothes and for photographic and other purposes,
eighteen men consumed a good deal of water, and, to keep up with
the demand, Whetter piled up many hardly-won boxes of ice in the
veranda. Close unearthed coal briquettes from the heap outside,
shovelled tons of snow from the veranda and made himself useful
and amiable to every one. Murphy, our stand-by in small talk, travel,
history, literature and what not, was the versatile storeman. The
store in the veranda was continually invaded by similar snow to
that which covered the provision boxes outside. To keep the veranda
cleared, renew the supplies and satisfy the demands of the kitchen
required no other than Murphy. Ninnis and Mertz completed the ``Veranda
Club,'' to which honorary members from
within the Hut
were constantly being added.
The meteorological instruments,
carefully nursed and housed though they were, were bound to suffer
in such a climate. Correll, who was well fitted out with a lathe
and all the requirements for instrument-making, attended to repairs,
doing splendid service. The anemometer gave the greatest trouble,
and, before Correll had finished with it, most of the working parts
had been replaced in stronger metal.
When the recording sheets
of the instruments had been successfully changed, the meteorologist
packed them in a leather bag, strapped on his shoulders, so that
they would not be lost on the way to the Hut. As soon as he arrived
indoors the bag was opened and emptied; the papers being picked
out from a small heap of snow.
It was a fortunate thing that
no one was lost through failing to discover the Hut during the denser
drifts. Hodgeman on one occasion caused every one a good deal of
anxiety. Among other things, he regularly assisted Madigan by relieving
him of outdoor duties on the day after his nightwatch, when the
chief meteorologist was due for a ``watch below.'' It was
in the early autumn--few of us, then, were adepts at finding our
way by instinct--that Hodgeman and Madigan set out, one morning,
for the anemometer. Leaving the door of the Hut, they lost sight
of each other at once, but anticipated meeting at the instrument.
Madigan reached his destination, changed the records, waited for
a while and then returned, expecting to see his companion at the
Hut. He did not appear, so, after a reasonable interval, search
parties set off in different directions.
The wind was blowing
at eighty miles per hour, making it tedious work groping about and
hallooing in the drift. The sea was close at hand and we realized
that, as the wind was directly off shore, a man without crampons
was in a dangerous situation. Two men, therefore, roped together
and carefully searched round the head of the boat harbour; one anchoring
himself with an ice-axe, whilst the other, at the end of the rope,
worked along the edge of the sea. Meanwhile Hodgeman returned to
the Hut, unaided, having spent a very unpleasant two hours struggling
from one landmark to another, his outer garments filled with snow.
The fact that the wind came steadily from the same direction
made it possible to steer, otherwise outdoor operations would not
have been conducted so successfully. For instance, Webb, who visited
the Magnetograph House, a quarter of a mile distant, at least once
a day, made his way between various ``beacons'' by preserving
a definite bearing on the wind. His journeys were rendered all the
more difficult because they were frequently undertaken at night.
In struggling along through very dense drifts one would be inclined
to think that the presence of the sun was a matter of small concern.
As a matter of fact there was, during the day, a good deal of reflected
white light and a dark object looms up within a yard or two. In
darkness there was nothing to recognize. So Webb would often run
by dead reckoning on to the roof of the Hut, and would then feel
his way round it till he caught the glimmer of a hurricane lantern
coming through the veranda entrance.
I had always the greatest
admiration for the unfailing manner in which those responsible for
the tidal, magnetic and meteorological work carried out their duties.
As a measure of the enormous amount of drift, we set about constructing
a gauge, which, it was hoped, would give us a rough estimate of
the quantity passing the Hut in a year. Hannam, following
the approved design, produced a very satisfactory contrivance. It
consisted of a large drift-tight box, fitted on the windward side
with a long metal cone, tapering to an aperture three-quarters of
an inch in diameter. The drift-laden air entered the aperture, its
speed was checked on entering the capacious body of the gauge and
consequently the snow fell to the bottom of the box and the air
passed out behind through a trap-door. The catch was taken out periodically
through a bolted lid, the snow was melted, the resulting water measured
and its weight calculated.
The drift gauge
In thick drifts, one's face inside the funnel
of the burberry helmet became rapidly packed with snow, which, by
the warmth of the skin and breath, was changed into a mask of ice.
This adhered firmly to the rim of the helmet and to the beard and
face. The mask became so complete that one had to clear away obstructions
continually from the eyes. It was not easy to remove the casing
of ice, outside in the wind, because this could only be done slowly,
with bare fingers exposed. An experienced man, once inside the Hut,
would first see that the ice was broken along the rim of the helmet;
otherwise, when it came to be hastily dragged off, the hairs of
the beard would follow as well. As soon as the helmet was off the
head, the icicles hanging on the beard and glazing the eyelashes
were gradually thawed by the fingers and removed. The above treatment
was learned by experience.
The abrasion-effects produced
by the impact of the snow particles were astonishing. Pillars of
ice were cut through in a few days, rope was frayed, wood etched
and metal polished. Some rusty dog- chains were exposed to it, and,
in a few days, they had a definite sheen. A deal box, facing the
wind, lost all its painted bands and in a fortnight was handsomely
marked; the hard, knotty fibres being only slightly attacked, whilst
the softer, pithy laminae were corroded to a depth of one-eighth
of an inch.
The effect of constant abrasion upon the snow's
surface is to harden it, and, finally, to carve ridges known as
sastrugi. Of these much will be said when recounting our sledging
adventures, because they increase so much the difficulties of travelling.
Even hard, blue ice may become channelled and pitted by the action
of drift. Again, both neve and ice may receive a wind-polish which
makes them very slippery.
Of the effect of wind and drift
upon rock, there was ample evidence around Winter Quarters. Regarded
from the north, the aspect of the rocks was quite different from
that on the southern side. The southern, windward faces were on
the whole smooth and rounded, but there was no definite polish,
because the surface was partly attacked by the chipping and splitting
action of frost. The leeward faces were rougher and more disintegrated.
More remarkable still were the etchings of the non-homogeneous banded
rocks. The harder portions of these were raised in relief, producing
quite an artistic pattern.
In regard to the drift, a point
which struck me was the enormous amount of cold communicated to
the sea by billions of tons of low-temperature snow thrown upon
its surface. The effect upon the water, already at freezing-point,
would be to congeal the surface at once. Whilst the wind continued,
however, there was no opportunity for a crust to form, the uppermost
layers being converted into a pea-soup-like film which streamed
away to the north.
A description of the drifts of Adelie
Land would not be complete without mentioning the startling electrical
effects which were sometimes observed. The first record of these
was made by McLean, when on night-watch on March 22. While taking
the observations at midnight, he noticed St. Elmo's fire, a
``brush discharge'' of electricity, on the points of the
nephoscope. As the weather became colder this curious phenomenon
increased in intensity. At any time in the drift, an electroscope
exposed outside became rapidly charged. A spark gap in a vacuum,
connected with a free end of wire, gave a continuous discharge.
At times, when the effects were strong, the night-watchman would
find the edges and wire stays of the screen outlined in a fashion
reminiscent of a pyrotechnic display or an electric street-advertisement.
The corners of boxes and points of rock glowed with a pale blue
light. The same appeared over points on the clothing, on the mitts
and round the funnel of the helmet. No sensation was transmitted
to the body from these points of fire, at least nothing sufficiently
acute to be felt, with the drift and wind lashing on the body outside.
However, the anemograph several times discharged a continuous stream
of sparks into Madigan's fingers while he was changing the records.
Once these sparks reached half an inch in length, and, as
his fingers were bared for the work, there was no mistaking the
For regular observations on the subject, Correll
fixed a pointed collector--a miniature lightning-conductor--above
the flagpole on the summit of the roof. A wire was led through an
insulator, so that the stream of electricity could be subjected
to experiment in the Hut. Here a ``brush'' of blue light
radiated outwards to a distance of one inch. When a conductor was
held close to it, a rattling volley of sparks immediately crossed
the interval and the air was pervaded with a strong smell of ozone.
Of course sparks were not always being
emitted by the collector,
and it was important to determine the periods of activity. To ensure
this, Hurley devised an automatic arrangement, so that an electric
bell was set ringing whenever a current was passing; the night-watchman
would then note the fact in the log-book. However, the bell responded
so often and so vigorously that it was soon dismantled for the benefit
of sleepers. It was singular that the ``brush discharge''
was sometimes most copious when the atmosphere was filled with very
fine drift, and not necessarily
during dense drift. After
what has been said, it will be obvious that the drift-laden hurricanes
of the country were more than ordinarily formidable. They scarcely
seemed to provide a subject for poetic inspiration; still the following
effusion appeared by McLean, Editor of the `Adelie Blizzard':--
A snow-hush brooding
o'er the grey rock-hills!
A wold of silence, ominous,
The wide seascape of ice-roofed islands, rolls
To ether-zones that gird the frigid Poles!
of purest alabaster-white,
Wreathed in a vast infinitude
The royal orb swings to thy summer gaze
A glitt'ring azure world of crystal days.
lorn bird-voices of an unseen land--
No hue of forest,
gleam of ocean sand--
Rise in a ceaseless plaint of raucous
On northern tides the bergs come floating in.
The wind-sprites murmuring in hinter-snow--
heart-throbbings of the wan plateau--
Wing through the
pulsing spell thrown o'er the sea,
In wild and shrieking
Swirl of the drift-cloud's
Race of the spray-smoke's hurtling
Swelling trail of the streaming, sunbright foam,
Wafting sinuous brash to an ice-field home.
o'er the splintered schist--
Torrent spume down the
Throbbing surge of the ebbing seaward
Raping stillness vast in its madd'ning lust.
Lotus-floe 'neath the Barrier brink,
sheer--a marble blink--
Pelting shafts from the show'ring
Strike--ill the blackened flood seethe riven
Glow of the vibrant, yellow west
fades in the dread unrest.
Low'ring shades through
the fury-stricken night
Rack the screaming void in shudd'ring
Requiem peace from the hinter-snows
as river music flows.
Dawn in a flushing glamour tints
Serene her thrill of rhythmic ecstasy.
Sledging was out of the question. Indeed, we recognized
how fortunate we were not to have pushed farther south in March.
Had we advanced, it is more than likely that provisions would have
been exhausted before we could have located the Hut in the sea of
drift. Our hopes were now centred on midwinter calms.
through my diary, I notice that on March 24, ``we experienced a
rise in spirits because of the improved weather.'' I find
the average velocity of the wind for that day to have been forty-five
miles per hour, corresponding to a ``strong gale'' on the
Beaufort scale. This tells its own story.
When the high wind
blew off shore, there was no backswell, on account of the pack-ice
to the north quelling the sea. The arrival of a true ocean swell
meant that the pack had been dispersed. On March 24 such appears
to have been the case, for then, during the day, a big northerly
swell set in, dashing over the ice-foot and scattering seaweed on
After the equinox, the temperatures remained in
the vicinity of zero, Fahrenheit. The penguins took to the sea,
and, save for the glimpse of an occasional petrel on the wing, the
landscape was desolate.
It was high time that our programme
of construction was completed, but, however much we tried, it was
impossible to do a great deal in winds exceeding fifty miles an
hour. By taking advantage of days freest from drift, the exterior
of the Hangar was completed by April 6. After the air-tractor sledge
had been moved inside, the snow was piled so high on the leeward
face, that the shelter became naturally blocked with a rampart of
snow which served admirably in place of the wall of tarpaulin which
we originally intended to use.
Bickerton could now proceed
at leisure to make any necessary alterations. The Hangar was also
used as a store for many articles which had been crowded into odd
corners or rescued from the snow outside. To increase its size,
tunnels were afterwards driven into the bank of snow and timber
was stowed in these so as to be safe from burial and loss.
The building was finished just in the nick of time. Snow came
down so thickly that had the falls occurred a few days earlier,
the cases from which the place was constructed would have been effectually
buried and the construction made an impossibility.
the wind, the Hut would have been lost to sight. Still, it was completely
surrounded by massive drifts, and the snow was driven by the wind
past the canvas flap and through the entrance, until the veranda
Close, who was night-watchman during the early
morning hours of April 7, had the greatest difficulty in getting
outside to attend to his duties. To dig his way through the entrance,
reach the instruments and to return occupied a whole hour.
We were inundated with snow; even a portion of the roof was
buried. The situation required immediate attention; so it was decided
to make a tunnel connecting the entrance veranda with the store
veranda. From the north-western end of the latter, an out-draught
had established itself, preserving a vertical funnel-like opening
in the snow bank, always free for entrance or exit. This proved
a fortunate accident.
Further, a second tunnel, over twenty
feet in length, was driven out from the original entrance with a
view to reaching the surface at a point beyond the lee of the Hut.
It was thought that the scouring effect of the wind, there, would
keep the opening of the tunnel free of drift. But when completed,
it filled rapidly with snow and had to be sealed. It was then used
to receive slop-water. While the fever for excavation was at its
height, Whetter drove, as an off-shoot to the first, another tunnel
which came to be used as a nursery for the pups.
stage, to leave the Hut, it was necessary to crawl through a low
trap-door in the wall of the inside or entrance veranda; the way
then led to the connecting tunnel and onwards to the store veranda;
finally one climbed through a manhole in the snow into the elements
without. From the store veranda there was access to the Hangar by
a hinged door in the common wall, and, as an additional convenience,
a trap-door was made in the roof of the inner veranda to be used
during spells of clear weather or in light drift.
landmarks became smothered in snow, making the Hut's position
a matter of greater uncertainty. A journey by night to the magnetic
huts was an outing with a spice of adventure.
of the veranda, one was immediately swallowed in the chaos of hurtling
drift, the darkness sinister and menacing. The shrill wind fled
...the noise of a drive of the Dead,
Striving before the irresistible will
Through the strange
dusk of this, the Debatable land
Between their place
Unseen wizard hands clutched with insane
fury, hacked and harried.
It was ``the raw-ribbed Wild
that abhors all life, the Wild that
would crush and rend.''
Cowering blindly, pushing fiercely through the turmoil,
one strove to keep a course to reach the rocks in which the huts
were hidden--such and such a bearing on the wind--so far. When the
rocks came in sight, the position of the final destination was only
deduced by recognising a few surrounding objects.
return journey, the vicinity of the Hut would be heralded by such
accidents as tripping over the ``wireless'' ground wires
or kicking against a box or a heap of coal briquettes. These clues,
properly followed up, would lead to the Hut itself, or at least
to its shelving roof. In the very thick drifts it was even possible
to stand on portions of the roof without any notion of the fact.
Fossicking about, one kept on the alert for the feel of woodwork.
When found and proved to be too extensive to be a partially buried
box, it might safely be concluded to be some part of the roof, and
only required to be skirted in order to reach the vertical entrance.
The lost man often discovered this pitfall by dropping suddenly
through into the veranda.
At the entrance to the tunnel,
the roar of the tempest died away into a rumble, the trap-door opened
and perhaps the strains of the gramophone would come in a kind of
flippant defiance from the interior. Passing through the vestibule
and work-room one beheld a scene in utter variance with the outer
hell. Here were warm bunks, rest, food, light and companionship--for
the time being, heaven! Outside, the crude and naked elements of
a primitive and desolate world flowed in writhing torrents.
The night-watchman's duty of taking the meteorological observations
at the screen adjacent to the Hut was a small matter compared with
the foregoing. First of all, it was necessary for him to don a complete
outfit of protective clothing. Dressing and undressing were tedious,
and absorbed a good deal of time. At the screen, he would spend
a lively few minutes wrestling in order to hold his ground, forcing
the door back against the pressure of wind, endeavouring to
make the light shine on the instruments, and, finally, clearing
them of snow and reading them. For illumination a hurricane lantern
wrapped in a calico wind-shield was first used, to be displaced
later by an electrical signalling-lamp and, while the batteries
lasted, by a light permanently fixed by Hannam in the screen itself.
To assist in finding the manhole on his return, the night-watchman
was in the
habit of leaving a light burning in the outer veranda.
I remember waking up early one morning to find the Hut unusually
cold. On rising, I discovered Hurley also awake, busy lighting the
fire which had died out. There was no sign of Correll, the night-watchman,
and we found that the last entry in the log-book had been made several
hours previously. Hurley dressed in full burberrys and went out
to make a search, in which he was soon successful.
that Correll, running short of coal during the early morning hours,
had gone out to procure some from the stack. While he was returning
to the entrance, the wind rolled him over a few times, causing him
to lose his bearings. It was blowing a hurricane, the temperature
was -7O F., and the drift-snow was so thick as to be wall-like in
opacity. He abandoned his load of coal, and, after searching about
fruitlessly for some time in the darkness, he decided to wait for
dawn. Hurley found him about twenty yards from the back of the Hut.
The suppression of outdoor occupations reacted in an outburst
of indoor work. The smaller room had been well fitted up as a workshop,
and all kinds of schemes were in progress for adapting our sledging-gear
and instruments to the severe conditions. Correll worked long hours
to keep up with the demands made upon him. Nobody was idle during
the day, for, when there was nothing else to be done, there always
remained the manufacture and alteration of garments and crampons.
As soon as the wind abated to a reasonable velocity, there was
a rush to the outside jobs. Lulls would come unexpectedly, activity
inside ceased, and the Hut, as seen by a spectator, resembled an
ants' nest upon which a strange foot had trodden: eighteen men
swarming through the manhole in rapid succession, hurrying hither
The neighbouring sea still remained free from
an ice-crust. This, of course, did not mean that freezing was not
going on continuously. On the contrary, the chilling was no doubt
accelerated, but the bulk of the ice was carried off to the north
as fast as it was formed. Quantities, however, remained as ground-ice,
anchored to the kelp and stones on the bottom. Gazing down through
the clear waters one saw a white, mamillated sheath covering the
jungle of giant seaweed, recalling a forest after a heavy snowfall.
The ice, instead of being a dead weight bearing down the branches,
tended to float, and, when accumulated in large masses, sometimes
succeeded in rising to the surface, uprooting and lifting great
lengths of seaweed with it. One branching stem, found floating in
the harbour, measured eighteen feet in length.
temporary calm intervened, a skin of ice quickly appeared over the
whole surface of the water. In the early stages, this formation
consisted of loose, blade-like crystals, previously floating freely
below the surface and rising by their own buoyancy. At the surface,
if undisturbed, they soon became cemented together. For example,
during a calm interval on April 6, within the interval of an hour,
an even crust, one inch thick, covered the sea. But the wind returned
before the ice was sufficiently strong to resist it, and it all
broke up and drifted away to the north, except a piece which remained
wedged firmly between the sides of the boat harbour.
calm weather, abundant ``worms'' freely swimming, jelly-fish,
pteropods and small fish were observed. Traps were lowered along
the edge of the harbour-ice and dredgings were made in every possible
situation. The bulk of the biological collecting was effected under
circumstances in which Hunter and Laseron might well have given
up work in disgust. For instance, I noted in my diary that on May
16, with an off shore wind of forty-three miles per hour, they and
several others were dredging from the edge of the slippery bay-ice.
The temperature at the time was -2 degrees F.
the head of the boat harbour froze over permanently, the ice reaching
a thickness of eighteen inches in ten days. By that time it was
strong enough to be suitable for a tide-gauge. This was one of Bage's
charges, destined to take him out for many months in fair and foul
There were several occasions in April when the velocity
of the wind exceeded ninety miles an hour. On the evening of the
26th, the wind slackened, and for part of the 27th had almost fallen
to a calm. This brought the optimists to the fore, once again, with
the theory that the worst was over. The prediction was far from
being fulfilled, for, as the days passed, the average velocity steadily
rose. On May 11 the average for the twenty-four hours was eighty
miles per hour. By that time the Hut had been further protected
by a crescent of cases, erected behind the first break-wind. In
height this erection stood above the Hangar, and, when the snow
became piled in a solid ramp on the leeward side, it was more compact
than ever. Inside the Hut extra struts were introduced, stiffening
the principal rafters on the southern side. It was reassuring to
know that these precautions had been taken, for, on May 15, the
wind blew at an average velocity of ninety miles per hour throughout
the whole twenty-four hours.
Having failed to demolish us
by dogged persistence, the hurricane tried new tactics on the evening
of May 24, in the form of a terrific series of Herculean gusts.
As we learned afterwards, the momentary velocity of these doubtless
approached two hundred miles per hour. At 11.30 P.M. the situation
was cheerfully discussed, though every one was tuned up to a nervous
pitch as the Hut creaked and shuddered under successive blows. It
seemed very doubtful whether the roof would resist the gusts, and
the feasibility of the meat cellar as a last haven of refuge was
discussed. After the passage of each gust, the barometer dropped,
rising again immediately afterwards. Similar pulsations of the barometer
were observed many times later in the year. The maximum sudden movement
noted was one-fifth inch. Had the interior of the Hut been more
freely in communication with the outside air, instead of resembling
a hermetically sealed box, the ``kicks'' would undoubtedly
have been much greater.
Cyclonic gusts were repeated a few
days after, when the upper tiers of boxes composing the break-wind
were thrown down and pebbles from the moraine were hurled on the
roof. The average velocity of the wind for each of the three autumn
months was as follows: March, 49 miles per hour; April, 51.5 miles
per hour, and May 60.7 miles per hour.
On May 1 the temperatures
became lower, so that it was difficult to move about in the gales
without the face getting frost-bitten. Our usual remedy when this
occurred was to hold a mitt over the part affected; thus sheltered,
its circulation of blood was soon re-established, unless the cold
were very intense. In the extremities--the fingers and toes--warmth
was not so easily restored.
Returning from attending the
instruments at noon on May 22, Madigan, according to the usual habit,
before taking off his wind-proof clothes, commenced clearing away
the ice adhering to his helmet and face. One white patch refused
to leave the side of his face, until some one observed that it was
a frost-bite, and acquainted him of the fact. Frost-bites that day
were excusable enough, for the wind was blowing between ninety-five
and hundred miles per hour, there was dense drifting snow and a
temperature of -28 degrees F.
We had found an accursed country.
On the fringe of an unspanned continent along whose gelid coast
our comrades had made their home-- we knew not where--we dwelt where
the chill breath of a vast, Polar wilderness, quickening to
the rushing might of eternal blizzards, surged to the northern seas.
Already, and for long months we were beneath ``frost-fettered Winter's
VIII - DOMESTIC LIFE