MIDWINTER AND ITS WORK
With the advent of the fateful Ides of March, winter
ii had practically set in, and work outside had a chequered career.
When a few calm hours intervened between two blizzards a general
rush was made to continue some long-standing job. Often all that
could be done was to clear the field for action, that is, dig away
large accumulations of snow. Then the furies would break loose again,
and once more we would play the waiting game, meanwhile concerning
ourselves with more sedentary occupations.
There was a familiar
cry when, for some meteorological reason, the wind would relapse
into fierce gusts and then suddenly stop, to be succeeded by intense
stillness. ``Dead calm, up with the wireless masts!'' Every
one hastily dashed for his burberrys, and soon a crowd of muffled
figures would emerge through the veranda exit, dragging ropes, blocks,
picks, and shovels. There was no time to be lost.
erection of the wireless masts began in earnest on April 4, continued
feverishly till the end of the month, suffered a long period of
partial cessation during May and June, was revived in July and August,
and, by September 1, two masts, each consisting of a lower-mast
and top-mast, had been raised and stayed, while between them stretched
the aerial. For four weeks messages were sent out, and many of them
were caught by Macquarie Island. Nothing was heard in Adelie Land,
although, between certain hours, regular watches were kept at the
receiver. The aerial was about sixty-five feet from the ground,
and it was resolved to increase its height by erecting the top-gallant
masts; but before anything considerable could be done, a terrific
gust of wind on October 13 broke three wire-stays, and down came
the mast, broken and splintered by the fall. That is a brief resume
of the fortunes of the ``wireless'' during the first year.
During February and March there were various other operations
of more immediate importance which prevented concentration of our
workers on the erection of the masts. There were many odd jobs to
finish about the Hut, the Magnetograph House and Absolute Hut were
``under way,'' the air-tractor sledge had to be efficiently
housed, and all these and many other things could be done in weather
during which it was out of question to hoist a mast into position.
At first we were fastidious and waited for a calm, but later, as
we grew more impatient, a top-mast was actually hauled up in a wind
of thirty miles per hour, with gusts of higher velocity. Such work
would sometimes be interrupted by a more furious outbreak, when
all ropes would be secured and everything made as ship-shape as
On March 15 the following note was made: ``The
wind was on the cool side just after breakfast. A few loads of wireless
equipment were sledged up to the rocks at the back of the Hut, and
by the time several masts were carried to the same place we began
to warm to the work. One of Hannam's coils of frozen rope (one
hundred and twenty fathoms) had become kinked and tangled, so we
dragged it up the ice-slope, straightened it out and coiled it up
again. Several `dead men' to hold the stays were sunk into ice-holes,
and, during the afternoon, one mast was dragged into position by
a willing crowd. Rocks were sledged to and packed around the `dead
men' in the holes to make them compact. Towards sundown snow
clouds filled the northern sky and a blizzard sprang up which is
now doing sixty miles per hour. We philosophically expect another
week cooped up in the Hut.''
It took a long time
to establish the twenty good anchorages necessary for the masts.
Within a radius of eighty yards from the centre, ice-holes were
dug, cairns of heavy boulders were built and rocky prominences dynamited
off to secure an efficient holding for the stout ``strops''
of rope. April 24 was a typical day: ``We spent the morning fixing
up `strops' for the wireless masts. The wind was blowing strongly
in fifty- to sixty-mile gusts with drift, but most of the fellows
`stuck at it' all day. It was cold work on the hands and feet.
Handling picks and shovels predisposes to frost-bite. Several charges
of dynamite were fired in one hole wherein a mast will be stepped.''
Each mast, of oregon timber, was in four sections. The lowest
section was ten inches square and tapered upwards to the small royal
mast at a prospective height of one hundred and twenty feet. At
an early stage it was realized that we could not expect to erect
more than three sections. Round the steel caps at each doubling
a good deal of fitting had to be done, and Bickerton, in such occupation,
spent many hours aloft throughout the year. Fumbling with bulky
mitts, handling hammers and spanners, and manipulating nuts and
bolts with bare hands, while suspended in a boatswain's chair
in the wind, the man up the mast had a difficult and miserable task.
Bickerton was the hero of all such endeavours. Hannam directed the
other workers who steadied the stays, cleared or made fast the ropes,
pulled and stood by the hauling tackle and so forth.
day the man on the top-mast dislodged a heavy engineering hammer
which he thought secure. No warning was given, as he did not notice
that it had fallen. It whizzed down and buried itself in the snow,
just grazing the heads of Close and Hodgeman.
The ropes securing
the aerial and running through various blocks were in constant danger
of chafing during the frequent hurricanes, from their proximity
to the mast and stays, or from friction on the sharp edges of the
blocks. Unknown to us, this had happened to a strong, new manilla
rope by which Murphy was being hauled to the top of the lower-mast.
It gave way, and, but for another rope close by, which he seized
to break his fall, an accident might have ensued.
were common. There were so many occasions when one had to stand
for a long time gripping a rope, pulling or maintaining a steady
strain, that fingers would promptly become numb and feet unbearably
cold. The usual restorative was to stamp about and beat the chest
with the hands--an old sailor's trick. Attempting to climb to
a block on the top-gallant mast one day, McLean had all his fingers
frost-bitten at the same time.
In May the weather was atrocious,
and in June building the Astronomical Hut and digging ice-shafts
on the glacier absorbed a good many hands. In July, despite the
enthusiasm and preparation for sledging, much was done. On August
10 the long looked-for top-mast of the southern mast became a reality:
``We were early astir--about 7 A.M.--while the pink coloration
of dawn was stealing over the peaceful Barrier. For once, after
months, it was perfectly still. We hurried about making preparations--hauled
Bickerton up to the cross-trees and awaited the moment when we should
raise the top-mast. We pulled it up half-way and Bickerton affixed
a pin in its centre, above which two stays were to be attached.
Suddenly, down came the wind in terrific gusts and, after securing
the stays, the job had to be given up.... We were just about to
lunch when the wind ceased as suddenly as it had begun.
We all sallied out once more, and, this time, completed the job,
though for a while the top-mast was in imminent peril of being blown
away by a
sharp northerly gust.''
Next day the aerial was hoisted in a wind of sixty
miles per hour, but the strain was so severe on the block, upwind,
that it carried away. Fortunately the insulators of the aerial were
entangled by the stays in their fall to ground, otherwise some one
may have been hurt, as there were a dozen men almost directly below.
Six days after this accident, August 17, the top-mast halliard
of the down-wind mast frayed through, and as a stronger block was
to be affixed for the aerial, some one had to climb up to wire it
in position. Bickerton improvized a pair of climbing irons, and,
after some preliminary practice, ascended in fine style.
Finally, by September 30, the aerial was at such a height as to
give hope that long-distance messages might be despatched. There
was a certain amount of suppressed excitement on the evening of
that day when the engine started and gradually got up speed in the
dynamo. The sharp note of the spark rose in accompanying crescendo
and, when it had reached its highest pitch, Hannam struck off a
message to the world at large. No response came after several nights
of signalling, and, since sledging had usurped every other interest,
the novelty soon wore off.
of atmospheric electricity--and discharges from the drift-snow were
heard in the wireless receiver.
While messages were being
sent, induction effects were noted in metallic objects around the
Hut. A cook at the stove was the first to discover this phenomenon,
and then every one conceived a mania for ``drawing'' sparks.
A rather stimulating experience--the more so as it usually happened
unexpectedly and accidentally--was to brush one's head against
one of the numerous coils of flexible metal gas-piping festooned
about the place. Sparks immediately jumped the interval with startling
October 13, the day when the mast blew down, was
known in wireless circles as Black Sunday. All had worked keenly
to make the ``wireless'' a success, and the final event
was considered to be a public misfortune. However, the honours were
to be retrieved during the following year.
It fell to the
lot of most of the Staff that they developed an interest in terrestrial
magnetism. For one thing every man had carried boulders to the great
stockade surrounding the Magnetograph House. Then, too, recorders
were regularly needed to assist the magnetician in the absolute
Hut. There, if the temperature were not too low and the observations
not too lengthy, the recorder stepped out into the blizzard with
the conviction that he had learned something of value, and, when
he sat down to dinner that night, it was with a genial sense of
his own altruism. In his diary he would write it all up for his
It would be on this wise: The Earth's
magnetic force, which is the active agent in maintaining the compass-needle
in the magnetic meridian** at any particular spot, acts, not as
is popularly supposed, in a horizontal plane, but at a certain angle
of inclination with the Earth's surface. The nearer the magnetic
poles the more nearly vertical does the freely suspended needle
become. At the South Magnetic Pole it assumes a vertical position
with the south end downwards; at the North Magnetic Pole it stands
on its other end. At the intermediate positions near the equator
the whole force is exerted, swinging the needle in the horizontal
plane, and in such regions ordinary ships' compasses pivoted
to move freely only in a horizontal plane give the greatest satisfaction.
On approaching the magnetic poles, compasses become sluggish, for
the horizontal deflecting force falls off rapidly. The force, acting
in a vertical direction, tending to make the needle dip, correspondingly
increases, but is of no value for navigation purposes. However,
in the scientific discussion of terrestrial magnetism, both the
horizontal and vertical components as well as the absolute value
of the total force are important, and the determination of these
``elements'' is the work of the magnetician. Affecting the
average values of the ``magnetic elements'' at any one spot
on the Earth's surface are regular diurnal oscillations, apparent
only by the application of very delicate methods of observation:
also there are sudden large irregular movements referred to as magnetic
storms; the latter are always specially noticeable when unusually
bright auroral phenomena are in progress.
** The magnetic
meridian is the straight line joining the North and South Magnetic
Poles and passing through the spot in question.
made in the ``Absolute Hut'', carried out at frequent intervals
and on each occasion occupying two men for several hours together,
are necessary to obtain standard values as a check upon the graphic
record of the self-recording instruments which run day and night
in the ``Magnetograph House''.
But this is another
story. Three hours, sitting writing figures in a temperature of
-15 degrees F., is no joke. The magnetician is not so badly off,
because he is moving about, though he often has to stop and warm
his fingers, handling the cold metal.
The Magnetograph House
had by far the most formidable name. The Hut, though it symbolized
our all in all, sounded very insignificant unless it were repeated
with just the right intonation. The Absolute Hut had a superadded
dignity. The Hangar, in passing, scarcely seemed to have a right
to a capital H. The Transit House, on the and other hand, was the
only dangerous rival to the first mentioned. But what's in a
If the Magnetograph House had been advertised, it would
have been described as ``two minutes from the Hut.'' This
can easily be understood, for the magnetician after leaving home
is speedily blown over a few hillocks and sastrugi, and, coming
to an ice-flat about one hundred and fifty yards wide, swiftly slides
over it, alighting at the snow-packed door of his house. The outside
porch is just roomy enough for a man to slip off burberrys and crampons.
The latter are full of steel spikes, and being capable of upsetting
magnetic equilibrium, are left outside. Walking in soft finnesko,
the magnetician opens an inner door, to be at once accosted by darkness,
made more intense after the white glare of the snow. His eyes grow
accustomed to the blackness, and he gropes his way to a large box
almost concealing the feeble glimmer of a lamp. The lamp is the
source of the light, projected on to small mirrors attached to the
magnetic needles of three variometers. A ray of light is reflected
from the mirrors for several feet on to a slit, past which revolves
sensitized photographic paper folded on a drum moving by clockwork.
The slightest movements of the suspended needles are greatly magnified,
and, when the paper is removed and developed in a dark-room, a series
of intricate curves denoting declination, horizontal intensity and
vertical force, are exquisitely traced. Every day the magnetician
attends to the lamp and changes papers; also at prearranged times
he tests his ``scale values'' or takes a ``quick run.''
To obtain results as free as possible from the local] attraction
of the rocks in the neighbourhood, Webb resolved to take several
sets of observations on the ice-sheet. In order to make the determinations
it was necessary to excavate a cave in the glacier. This was done
about three-quarters of a mile south of the Hut in working shifts
of two men. A fine cavern was hewn out, and there full sets of magnetic
observations were taken under ideal conditions.
journeys the ``dip'' and declination were both ascertained
at many stations, around and up to within less than half a degree
of the South Magnetic Pole.
While the wind rushed by at a
maddening pace and stars flashed like jewels in a black sky, a glow
of pale yellow light overspread the north-east horizon--the aurora.
A rim of dark, stratus cloud was often visible below the light which
brightened and diffused till it curved as a low arc across the sky.
It was eerie to watch the contour of the arc break, die away into
a delicate pallor and reillumine in a travelling riband. Soon a
long ray, as from a searchlight, flashed above one end, and then
a row of vertical streamers ran out from the arc, probing upwards
into the outer darkness. The streamers waxed and waned, died away
to be replaced and then faded into the starlight. The arc lost its
radiance, divided in patchy fragments, and all was dark once more.
This would be repeated again in a few hours and irregularly
throughout the night, but with scenic changes behind the great sombre
pall of the sky. North-west, northeast, and south-east it would
elusively appear in nebulous blotches, flitting about to end finally
in long bright strands in the zenith, crossing the path of the ``milky
By the observer, who wrote down his exact
observations in the meteorological log, this was called a ``quiet
At times the light was nimble, flinging
itself about in rich waves, warming to dazzling yellow-green and
rose. These were the nights when ``curtains'' hung festooned
in the heavens, alive, rippling, dancing to the lilt of lightning
music. Up from the horizon they would mount, forming a vortex overhead,
soundless within the silence of the ether.
A ``brilliant display,'' we would say, and
the observer would be kept busy following the track of the evanescent
Powerless, one was in the spell of an all-enfolding
wonder. The vast, solitary snow-land, cold-white under the sparkling
star-gems; lustrous in the radiance of the southern lights;furrowed
beneath the icy sweep of the wind. We had come to probe its mystery,
we had hoped to reduce it to terms of science, but there was always
the ``indefinable'' which held aloof, yet riveted our souls.
The aurora was always with us, and almost without exception
could be seen on a dark, driftless night. The nature of the aurora
polaris has not yet been finally demonstrated, though it is generally
agreed to be a discharge of electricity occurring in the upper,
more rarefied atmosphere. The luminous phenomena are very similar
to those seen when a current of electricity is passed through a
One receives a distinct impression of nearness,
watching the shimmering edges of the ``curtains''in the
zenith, but all measurements indicate that they never descend nearer
than a few miles above the land-surface.
were taken to establish a relation between magnetic storms and aurorae,
and a good deal of evidence was amassed to support the fact that
auroral exhibitions correspond with periods of great magnetic disturbance.
The displays in Adelie Land were found to be more active than those
which occur in higher latitudes in the Ross Sea.
which helped to introduce variety in our life was the digging of
ice-shafts. For the purpose of making observations upon its structure
and temperature various excavations were made in the sea-ice, in
the ice of the glacier, and in that of the freshwater lakes. The
work was always popular. Even a whole day's labour with a pick
and shovel at the bottom of an ice-hole never seemed laborious.
It was all so novel.
A calm morning in June, the sky is clear
and the north ablaze with the colours of sunrise--or is it sunset?
The air is delicious, and a cool waft comes down the glacier. A
deep ultramarine, shading up into a soft purple hue, blends in a
colour-scheme with the lilac plateau. Two men crunch along in spiked
boots over snow mounds and polished sastrugi to the harbour-ice.
The sea to the north is glazed with freezing spicules, and over
it sweep the petrels--our only living companions of the winter.
It is all an inspiration; while hewing out chunks of ice and shovelling
them away is the acute pleasure of movement, exercise.
men measure out an area six feet by three feet, and take a preliminary
temperature of the surface-ice by inserting a thermometer in a drilled
hole. Then the ice begins to fly, and it is not long before they
are down one foot. Nevertheless it would surprise those acquainted
only with fresh water ice to find how tough, sticky and intractable
is sea-ice. It is always well to work on a definite plan, channelling
in various directions, and then removing the intervening lumps by
a few rough sweeps of the pick. At a depth of one foot, another
temperature is taken, and some large samples of the ice laid by
for the examination of their crystalline structure. This is repeated
at two feet, and so on, until the whole thickness is pierced to
the sea-water beneath. At three feet brine may begin to trickle
into the hole, and this increases in amount until the worker is
in a puddle. The leakage takes place, if not along cracks, through
capillary channels, which are everywhere present 1n sea-ice.
It is interesting to note the temperature gradually rise during
the descent. At the surface the ice is chilled to the air-temperature,
say -10 degrees F., and it rises in a steep gradient to approximately
28 degrees F.; close to the freezing-point of sea water. The sea-ice
in the boat-harbour varied in thickness during the winter between
five and seven feet.
In contrast with sea-ice, the ice of a glacier is
a marvel of prismatic colour and glassy brilliance. This is more
noticeable near the surface when the sun is shining. Deep down in
a shaft, or in an ice-cavern, the sapphire reflection gives to the
human face quite a ghastly pallor.
During the high winds
it was always easy to dispose of the fragments of ice in the earlier
stages of sinking a shaft. To be rid of them, all that was necessary
was to throw a shovelful vertically upwards towards the lee-side
of the hole, the wind then did the rest. Away the chips would scatter,
tinkling over the surface of the glacier. Of course, when two men
were at work, each took it in turns to go below, and the one above,
to keep warm, would impatiently pace up and down. Nevertheless,
so cold would he become at times that a heated colloquy would arise
between them on the subject of working overtime. When the
shaft had attained depth, both were kept busy. The man at the pit's
mouth lowered a bucket on a rope to receive the ice and, in hauling
it up, handicapped with clumsy mitts, he had to be careful not to
drop it on his companion's head.
The structural composition
of ice is a study in itself. To the cursory glance a piece of glacier-ice
appears homogeneous, but when dissected in detail it is found to
be formed of many crystalline, interlocking grains, ranging in size
from a fraction of an inch to several inches in diameter. A grain-size
of a half to one inch is perhaps commonest in Antarctic glacier-ice.
The history of Antarctic glacier-ice commences with the showers
of snow that fall upon the plateau. The snow particles may be blown
for hundreds of miles before they finally come to rest and consolidate.
The consolidated snow is called neve, the grains of which are one-twenty-fifth
to one hundredth of an inch in diameter, and, en masse, present
a dazzling white appearance on account of the air spaces which occupy
one-third to one-half of the whole. In time, under the influence
of a heavy load of accumulated layers of neve, the grains run together
and the air spaces are eliminated. The final result is clear, transparent
ice, of a more or less sapphire-blue colour when seen in large blocks.
It contains only occasional air-bubbles, and the size of the grains
is much increased.
Lake-ice, freezing from the surface downwards,
is built up of long parallel prisms, like the cells of a honey-comb
on a large scale. In a lakelet near the Hut this was beautifully
demonstrated. In some places cracks and fissures filled with snow-dust
traversed the body of the ice, and in other places long strings
of beaded air-bubbles had become entangled in the process of freezing.
To lie down on the clear surface and gaze ``through the looking-glass''
to the rocky bottom, twenty feet below, was a glimpse into ``Wonderland.''
In the case of sea-ice, the simple prismatic structure is complicated
owing to the presence of saline matter dissolved in the sea water.
The saline tracts between the prisms produce a milky or opalescent
appearance. The prisms are of fresh water ice, for in freezing the
brine is rejected and forced to occupy the interstices of the prisms.
Water of good drinking quality can be obtained by allowing sea water
ice to thaw partially. The brine, of lower freezing-point, flows
away, leaving only fresh water ice behind. In this way blocks of
sea-ice exposed to the sun's rays are relieved of their salty
constituents, and crumble into pellucid gravel when disturbed.
A popular subject commanding general interest, apart from the
devoted attention of specialists, was zoological collecting. Seals
and birds were made the prey of every one, and dredging through
the sea-ice in
winter and spring was always a possible diversion.
It was a splendid sight to watch the birds sailing in the high
winds of Adelie Land. In winds of fifty to seventy miles per hour,
when with good crampons one had to stagger warily along the ice-foot,
the snow petrels and Antarctic petrels were in their element. Wheeling,
swinging, sinking, planing and soaring, they were radiant with life--the
wild spirits of the tempest. Even in moderate drift, when through
swirling snow the vistas of sea whitened under the flail of the
wind, one suddenly caught the silver flash of wings and a snow petrel
But most memorable of all were certain winter
mornings of unexpected calm, when ruddy clouds tessellated the northern
sky and were mirrored in the freezing sea. Then the petrels would
be en fete, flying over from the east following the line of the
Barrier, winding round the icy coves, darting across the jutting
points and ever onward in their long migration. In the summer they
flew for weeks from the west--a never-ending string of snow, silver-grey
and Antarctic petrels, and Cape pigeons. The silver-grey petrels
and Cape pigeons were only abroad during that season and were accompanied
by skua gulls, giant petrels, Wilson petrels, and penguins. The
penguins remained in Adelie Land for the longest period--almost
six months, the skua gulls and giant petrels for five months, and
the rest for a shorter period--the tolerable season of midsummer.
Birds that haunt the wide oceans all make use of the soaring
principle in flight, some much more than others. The beautiful sliding
sweep of the albatross is the most familiar example. With wings
outspread, it is a miniature aeroplane requiring no engines, for
the wind itself supplies the power. A slight movement of the tail-feathers
and wing-tips controls its balance with nice precision. Birds employing
this method of flight find their home in the zone of continuous
steady winds which blow across the broad wastes of the southern
Many petrels on the wing were shot during the winter.
Laseron, who prepared the skins of our Adelie Land collection, determined,
in the case of a number of specimens, the ratio of weight to horizontal
area exposed to the wind. This subject is one which has lately exercised
the curiosity of aviators. The ratios are those evolved by nature,
and, as such, should be wellnigh perfect. Below is appended a table
of the results obtained.
WEIGHT OF CERTAIN ANTARCTIC BIRDS
IN RELATION TO WING AREAS
(Stated in pounds per square foot
of wing surface)
Each is the mean of several determinations
Values from a book of reference quoted for comparison
During the winter, for a long period, no seals ventured
ashore, though a few were seen swimming in the bay. The force of
the wind was so formidable that even a heavy seal, exposed in the
open, broadside-on, would be literally blown into the water. This
fact was actually observed out on the harbour-ice. A Weddell seal
made twelve attempts to land on a low projecting shelf--an easy
feat under ordinary circumstances. The wind was in the region of
eighty-five miles per hour, and every time the clumsy, ponderous
creature secured its first hold, back it would be tumbled. Once
it managed to raise itself on to the flat surface, and, after a
breathing spell, commenced to shuffle towards the shelter of some
pinnacles on one side of the harbour. Immediately its broad flank
was turned to the wind it was rolled over, hung for a few seconds
on the brink, and then splashed into the sea. On the other hand,
during the spring, a few more ambitious seals won their way ashore
in high winds; but they did not remain long in the piercing cold,
moving uneasily from place to place in search of protecting hummocks
and finally taking to the water in despair. Often a few hours of
calm weather was the signal for half a dozen animals to land. The
wind sooner or later sprang up and drove them back to their warmer
Under the generic name, seal, are included the true
or hair seals and the sea-bears or fur seals. Of these the fur seals
are sub-polar in distribution, inhabiting the cold temperate waters
of both hemispheres, but never living amongst the polar ice. The
southern coast of Australia and the sub-antarctic islands were their
favourite haunts, but the ruthless slaughter of the early days practically
exterminated them. From Macquarie Island, for example, several hundred
thousand skins were taken in a few years, and of late not a single
specimen has been seen.
Closely related to the fur seals
are the much larger animals popularly known as sea-lions. These
still exist in great numbers in south temperate waters. Both are
distinguished from the hair seals by one obvious characteristic:
their method of propulsion on land is by a ``lolloping''
motion, in which the front and hind flippers are used alternately.
The hair seals move by a caterpillar-like shuffle, making little
or no use of their flippers; and so, the terminal parts of their
flippers are not bent outwards as they are in the fur seals and
Of the hair seals there are five varieties to
be recognized in the far South. The Weddell seals, with their mottled-grey
coats, are the commonest. They haunt the coasts of Antarctica and
are seldom found at any distance from them. Large specimens of this
species reach nine and a half feet in length.
seal, a smaller animal, lives mostly on the pack-ice. Lying on a
piece of floe in the sunshine it has a glistening, silver-grey skin--another
distinguishing mark being its small, handsome head and short, thin
neck. Small crustaceans form its principal food.
seal, another inhabitant of the pack-ice, is short and bulky, varying
from a pale yellowish-green on the under side to a dark greenish-brown
on the back. Its neck is ample and bloated, and when distended in
excitement reminds one of a pouter-pigeon. This rare seal appears
to subsist mainly on squid and jelly-fish.
the only predacious member of the seal family, has an elongated
agile body and a large head with massive jaws. In general it has
a mottled skin, darker towards the back. It lives on fish, penguins
and seals. Early in April, Hurley and McLean were the first to obtain
proof that the sea-leopard preyed on other seals. Among the broken
floe-ice close beneath the ice-cliffs to the west of Winter Quarters,
the wind was driving the dead body of a Weddell seal which swept
past them, a few yards distant, to the open water. Then it was that
a sea-leopard was observed tearing off and swallowing great pieces
of flesh and blubber from the carcase.
The last variety of hair seal, the sea elephant,
varies considerably from the preceding. Reference has already been
made to the species earlier in the narrative. The habitat of these
monstrous animals ranges over the cold, south-temperate seas; sea
elephants are but occasional visitors to the ice-bound regions.
Although they have been exterminated in many other places, one of
their most populous resorts at the present day is Macquarie Island.
In the case of all the hair seals a layer of blubber several
inches in thickness invests the body beneath the skin and acts as
a conserver of warmth. They are largely of value for the oil produced
by rendering down the blubber. The pelts are used for leather.
The operation of skinning seals for specimens, in low temperatures
and in the inevitable wind, was never unduly protracted. We were
satisfied merely to strip off the skin, leaving much blubber still
adhering to it. In this rough condition it was taken into the work-room
of the Hut to be cleaned. The blubber froze, and then had the consistency
of hard soap and was readily severed from the pelt. It was found
that there exuded amongst the frozen blubber a thin oil which remained
liquid when collected and exposed to low temperatures. This oil
was used to lubricate the anemometer and other instruments exposed
The main part of the biological work lay in the
marine collections. Hunter with the small hand-dredge brought up
abundant samples of life from depths ranging to fifty fathoms. In
water shallower than ten fathoms the variety of specimens was not
great, including seaweeds up to eighteen or more feet in length,
a couple of forms of starfish, various small mollusca, two or three
varieties of fish, several sea-spiders, hydroids and lace corals,
and, in great profusion, worms and small crustaceans. In deeper
waters the life became much richer, so that examples of almost every
known class of marine animals were represented.
June the sea bottom in depths less than ten fathoms had become so
coated with ice that dredging in shallow water was suspended.
Floating or swimming freely were examples of pteropods, worms,
crustaceans, ostracods, and jelly-fish. These were easily taken
in the hand-net.
In those regions where ice and water are
intermingled, the temperature of the water varies very slightly
in summer and winter, remaining approximately at freezing-point.
In summer the tendency to heating is neutralized by a solution of
some of the ice, and in winter the cold is absorbed in the production
of a surface layer of ice. This constancy of the sea's temperature
is favourable to organic life. On land there is a wide range in
temperature, and only the meagre mosses and lichens, and the forms
of insect life which live among them can exist, because they have
developed the capacity of suspending animation during the winter.
The fresh-water lakelets were found to be inhabited by low forms
of life, mainly microscopic. Among these were diatoms, algae£e,
protozoa, rotifera, and bacteria.
The last-named were investigated
by McLean and were found to be manifold in distribution. Besides
those from the intestines of animals and birds, cultures were successfully
made from the following natural sources: lichen soil, moss soil,
morainic mud, guano, ice and snow. The results may open some new
problems in bacteriology.
Of recent years much attention
has been given to the study of parasites--parasitology. Parasites
may be external, on the skin; internal, in the alimentary canal;
or resident, in the corpuscles of the blood. In tropical countries,
where there is great promiscuity of life, one is led to expect their
almost universal presence. But in polar regions, where infection
and intimate co-habitation for long periods are not the rule, while
the climate is not favourable to organic existence, one would be
surprised to find them in any great number. The fact remains that
internal parasites were found in the intestine of every animal and
fish examined, and in all the birds except the Wilson petrel. External
parasites were present on every species of bird and seal, though
individuals were often free of them. This was so in the case of
the Adelie penguins. It is a demonstration
of the protective
warmth of the feathers that Emperor penguins may harbour insect
parasites in great numbers. It is only less wonderful than the fact
that they are able to rear their young during the Antarctic winter.
A large number of blood-slides were prepared and stained for examination
Searching for ``fleas'' amongst
the feathers of birds and the hair of seals, or examining the viscera
for ``worms ''is neither of them a pleasant occupation.
To be really successful, the enthusiasm of the specialist is necessary.
Hunter allowed no opportunities to pass and secured a fine collection
Amongst other work, McLean carried out monthly
observations on six men, determining the colour-index and haemoglobin
value of their blood over a period of ten months. The results showed
a distinct and upward rise above the normal.
privileged to see the daily paper and to whom diversity and change
are as the breath of life, the weather is apt to be tabooed as a
subject of conversation. But even the most versatile may suddenly
find themselves stripped of ideas, ignominiously reduced to the
obvious topic. To us, instead of being a mere prelude to more serious
matters, or the last resort of a feeble intellect, it was the all-engrossing
theme. The man with the latest hare-brained theory of the causation
of the wind was accorded a full hearing. The lightning calculator
who estimated the annual tonnage of drift-snow sweeping off Adelie
Land was received as a futurist and thinker. Discussion was always
free, and the subject was never thrashed out. Evidence on the great
topic accumulated day by day and month by month; yet there was no
one without an innate hope that winter would bring calm weather
or that spring-time, at least, must be propitious.
the meteorologist accepted things as he found them, supplied the
daily facts of wind-mileage and direction, amount of drift, temperature
and so forth, which were immediately seized by more vivacious minds
and made the basis of daring speculations.
The daily facts
were increased by the construction of a new instrument known as
the puffometer. It was entirely a home-made contrivance, designed
to measure the speed of heavy gusts of wind. A small aluminium sphere
was arranged to blow out at the end of a light cord exerting tension
on a calibrated spring. The pull was transferred to a lever carrying
a pencil, which travelled across a disk of carbonized paper. The
disk, moving by clockwork, made a complete revolution every hour.
The recording parts of the instrument were enclosed in a snow-proof
box in which there was a small aperture on the leeward side, through
which ran the cord attachment of the sphere. This may give a rough
idea of the apparatus employed to measure the momentary velocity
of the cyclonic gusts. The idea is not an original one, having been
previously applied for use on kites.
It was not always possible
to use the puffometer in the strongest gusts because these were
often transient, occurring unexpectedly or during the night; while
it took a little time to get the instrument into running order.
Even in daylight, with the landscape clear of drift, it was a time-absorbing
and difficult task to secure a record.
Two men start from
the Hut with iron crampons and a full complement of clothes and
mitts. Outside they find themselves in a rushing torrent of air,
pulsating with mighty gust-waves. Lowered from the estate of upright
manhood, they humbly crawl, or make a series of crouching sprints
between the gusts. Over the scattered boulders to the east of the
Hut, across a patch of polished snow they push to the first low
ridge, and there they stop for breath. Up on the side of ``Annie
Hill,'' in the local phrase, the tide sweeps by with fiendish
strength, and among the jagged rocks the man clutching the puffometer-box
has a few desperate falls. At last both clamber slowly to an eminence
where a long steel pipe has been erected. To the top of this the
puffometer is hauled by means of a pulley and line. At the same
time the aluminium sphere is released, and out it floats in the
wind tugging at the spring.
The puffometer was left out for
an hour at a time, and separate gusts up to one hundred and fifty
and one hundred and eighty miles per hour were commonly indicated.
I remember the final fate of this invention. While helping to mount
it one day, the wind picked me up clear of the ground and dashed
myself and the instrument on some rocks several yards away. The
latter was badly damaged, but thick clothing saved me from serious
The wind velocity and wind direction charts
for Midwinter's Day,
when the steady south-by-east gale was
broken after noon by a
welcome lull--the wind veering the while
all round the compass.
The average velocity for the day 66.9
miles per hour, and the
maximum of the average hourly velocities,
The steadiness of the temperature was a subject
for debate. The stronger the wind blew, the less variation did the
thermometer show. Over a period of several days there might be a
range of only four or five degrees. Ordinarily, this might be expected
of an insular climate, but in our case it depended upon the fact
that the wind
remained steady from the interior of the vast frigid
continent. The air which flowed over the Hut had all passed through
the same temperature-cycle. The atmosphere of the interior, where
the plateau stood at an elevation of, say, eight thousand feet,
might have a temperature -45 degrees F. As the air flowed northwards
over Adelie Land to the sea, it would rise slowly in temperature
owing to the increased barometric pressure consequent on the descending
gradient of the plateau. At sea-level the temperature of the river
of air would be, approximately, - 20 degrees F.
Such a rise
in temperature due to compression is a well-known phenomenon, referred
to as the Foehn effect.
The compression of the atmosphere
during the gusts affected the air temperature so considerably that,
coincident with their passage, the mercury column could often be
seen rising and falling through several degrees. The uniform conditions
experienced during steady high winds were not only expressed by
the slight variation in the temperature, but often in a remarkably
even barometric curve. Thus on July 11 the wind-velocity for twenty-four
hours was, throughout, seventy miles per hour; the temperature remaining
within a few degrees of -21 degrees F., and the barometric curve
did not show as much range as one-twentieth of an inch.
attending to the many instruments and in gathering the voluminous
meteorological data, Madigan had his hands very full. Throughout
two years he carried on the work capably and thoroughly. It was
difficult to keep the instruments free from the penetrating snow
and in good running order. The Robinson anemometer was perhaps the
greatest source of worry. Repairs and readjustments were unavoidable,
as the instrument was constantly working at high pressure. In order
that these might be carried out efficiently, the whole apparatus
had to be carried down to the Hut. Here, Bickerton and Correll were
continually in consultation with the meteorologist on the latest
breakdown. Cups were blown off several times, and one was lost and
replaced with difficulty. Most aggravating of all was a habit the
clocks developed of stopping during the colder spells. The old fashioned
method of boiling them was found of assistance, but it was discovered
that the best treatment was to put them through successive baths
of benzene and alcohol.
The most chronic sufferer throughout
the vicissitudes of temperature was the clock belonging to Bage's
tide-gauge. Every sleeper in the Hut who was sensitive to ticking
knew and reviled that clock. So often was it subjected to warm,
curative treatment in various resting-places that it was hunted
from pillar to post. A radical operation by Correll--the insertion
of an extra spring--became necessary at last. Correll, when
not engaged designing electroscopes, improving sledge-meters and
perfecting theodolites, was something of a specialist in clocks.
His advice on the subject of refractory time-pieces was freely asked
and cheerfully given. By perseverance and unlimited patience, the
tide-gauge down on the harbour-ice was induced to supply a good
series of unbroken records.
The rise and fall of the tide is coincident with
the movements of a perpendicular wire to which the Float is attached.
The Wheel is revolved, and through wire connections (indicated above)
displaces vertically the Pen. This traces a record on paper folded
on the drum which is driven by clockwork. In all weathers, the box
was enveloped in drift-proof canvas.
Antarctica is a world of colour, brilliant and intensely
pure. The chaste whiteness of the snow and the velvet blackness
of the rocks belong to days of snowy nimbus enshrouding the horizon.
When the sky has broken into cloudlets of fleece, their edges are
painted pale orange, fading or richly glowing if the sun is low.
In the high sun they are rainbow-rimmed.
The clouds have
opened into rifts and the sun is setting in the north-west. The
widening spaces in the zenith are azure, and low in the north they
are emerald. Scenic changes are swift. Above the mounting plateau
a lofty arch of clear sky has risen, flanked by roseate clouds.
Far down in the south it is tinged with indigo and ultramarine,
washed with royal purple paling onwards into cold violet and greyish-blue.
Soon the north is unveiled. The liquid globe of sun has departed,
but his glory still remains. Down from the zenith his colours descend
through greenish-blue, yellowish-green, straw-yellow, light terra-cotta
to a diffuse brick-red; each reflected in the dull sheen of freezing
sea. Out on the infinite horizon float icebergs in a mirage of mobile
gold. The Barrier, curving to east and west, is a wall of delicate
pink overlaid with a wondrous mauve--the rising plateau. A cold
picture--yet it awakens the throb of inborn divinity.
contrary predictions, there were some enjoyable days in June. Occupation
had to be strenuous, making the blood run hot, otherwise the wind
was apt to be chill. So the Transit House was founded, and there
were many volunteers to assist Bage in carrying the tons of stones
which formed its permanent base. The nearest large collection of
boulders was twenty yards away, on the edge of a moraine, but these
after a while became exhausted. Plenty of rocks actually showed
above the surface, but the majority were frozen-in, and, when of
suitable size, could only be moved by a heavy crowbar. Some of the
men, therefore, dislodged the rocks, while others carried them.
When Bage was wondering how long the supply would last, Ninnis
and Mertz came to the rescue with sledges and dog-teams. Boxes were
piled on to the sledges and away the teams went, careering across
the ice-flat towards the Magnetograph House close to which there
were many heaps of stones, wind-swept and easily displaced. Soon
a regular service was plying to the foundations, and, at the same
time, the dogs were being trained. This occupation was continued,
weather permitting, for several weeks before Midwinter's Day.
Thus the drivers gained experience, while the animals, with a wholesome
dread of the whip, became more responsive to commands. Eagerly the
huskies strained at their traces with excited yelps. The heavily
laden sledges would break out and start off with increasing speed
over the rough ice. The drivers, running at full speed, jumped on
the racing loads--Mertz in the lead shouting some quaint yodel song;
Ninnis, perhaps, just behind upbraiding a laggard dog.
Day! For once, the weather rose to the occasion and calmed during
the few hours of the twilight-day. It was a jovial occasion, and
we celebrated it with the uproarious delight of a community of eighteen
young men unfettered by small conventions. The sun was returning,
and we were glad of it. Already we were dreaming of spring and sledging,
summer and sledging, the ship and home. It was the turn of the tide,
and the future seemed to be sketched in firm, sure outline. While
the rest explored all the ice-caves and the whole extent of our
small rocky ``selection,'' Hannam and Bickerton shouldered
the domestic responsibilities. Their menu du diner to us was a marvel
of gorgeous delicacies. After the toasts and speeches came a musical
and dramatic programme, punctuated by choice gramophone records
and rowdy student choruses. The washing-up was completed by all
hands at midnight. Outside, the wind was not to be outdone; it surpassed
itself with an unusual burst of ninety-five miles per hour.
Menu du Diner
Escoffier potage a la Reine
Noisettes de Phoque | Claret
Haricot Verts | Tintara
en Sauce Antarctique |
Pingouin a la Terre Adelie | Burgundy
Petits Pois a la Menthe | Chauvenet
Pommes Nouvelle | 1898
Asperges au Beurre Fondu |
Plum Pudding Union Jack |
Pate de Groseilles | Kopke
During dinner the Blizzard
will render the usual
accompaniment--the Tempest. For Ever and
MIDWINTER'S DAY MENU AT THE MAIN BASE,
ADELIE LAND, 1912
X - THE PREPARATION OF SLEDGING EQUIPMENT