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LYTTELTON TO THE ANTARCTIC CIRCLE
Final Preparations at Lyttelton: Enthusiastic send-off: In tow of the Koonya for 1510 miles: Getting through the Pack-ice: Ross Sea reached January 17
THE final preparations at Lyttelton during the month of December involved a great deal of work, but by December 31 all was in readiness for a start on New Year's Day.
The Postmaster-General of the Dominion had printed off for us a small issue of special stamps, and had constituted me a postmaster during my stay in the Antarctic.
The ponies were enjoying their holiday on Quail Island, and it was necessary that they should be broken to handling and sledge-hauling. Mr. C. Tubman undertook this work, with the assistance of Dr. Mackay, and there were some exciting moments on the island. All the ponies had names, and we finally took away from New Zealand ten animals known as "Socks," "Queen," "Grisi," "Chinaman," "Billy," "Zulu," "Doctor," "Sandy," "Nimrod," and "Mac" respectively.
The quarters of the scientific staff on board the Nimrod were certainly small, in fact there was just room for the bunks and nothing else. As the day of departure approached and the scientists brought their personal belongings, Oyster Alley reached a state of congestion that can hardly be imagined.
The ponies were to be carried on deck, and ten stout stalls were built for them. The motor-car was enclosed in a large case and made fast with chains on the after-hatch whence it could be transferred easily on to the ice when the occasion arose. The deck load was heavy and included cases of maize, tins of carbide for the manufacture of acetylene gas, a certain quantity of coal and the sledges. The Nimrod was low in the water as a result, and when we left Lyttelton the little ship had only three feet six inches of freeboard. Some live sheep presented to us by New Zealand farmers were placed on board the Koonya, the steamer which was to tow the Nimrod to the south. Messrs. Nathan and Co., of Wellington, presented the expedition with sixty-eight cases of "Glaxo" dried milk, 192 lb. of New Zealand butter, and two cases of New Zealand cheese. Several other acceptable gifts were received before we sailed.
I had been anxious to have the Nimrod towed south in order to save coal. The ship could not take in a large quantity of coal after our provisions and equipment had been placed on board, for she was considerably overloaded, and it was important that there should be enough coal to take the ship through the ice and back to New Zealand, and also to provide for the warming of the hut during the winter. The Government of the Dominion consented to pay half the cost of the tow, and Sir James Mills, chairman of the Union Steamship Company, offered to pay the other half. The Koonya, a steel-built steamer of about 1100 tons, was chartered and placed under the command of Captain F. P. Evans. The wisdom of this selection was proved by after events. The pressure of work at this time was tremendous, and I owed a very great deal to the assistance and advice I received from Mr. J. J. Kinsey, of Christchurch. Before my departure I placed the conduct of the affairs of the expedition in New Zealand in his hands.
December 31, 1907. The stores and equipment were now on board and were as complete as we could make them, and I had written my final letters, both business and personal. The ponies and the dogs were to be placed on board the Nimrod early the following morning.
January 1, 1908, arrived at last ! Warm, fine, and clear broke the morning of our last day in civilisation. Before sunset we were to sever all ties with the outer world and more than a year must elapse ere we could look again on the scenes familiar to ordinary daily life. For me this day brought a feeling of relief, after all the strenuous work of the previous year, though the new work I was entering upon was fraught with more anxiety and was more exacting than any that had gone before. We all looked forward eagerly to our coming venture, for the glamour of the unknown was with us and the South was calling.
My personal belongings were gathered out of the chaos of papers and odds and ends in my office at the hotel; I knew that the legacy of unanswered letters, requests for special stamps, and the hundred and one things that collect under such circumstances would be faithfully administered by Mr. Reid. Orders had been given to Captain England to have all in readiness for casting off at 4 r.ra., and early in the afternoon most of us were on board. It was Regatta day and Lyttelton was crowded with holiday-makers, many thousands of whom had come to see the Nimrod. All day the deck of our little vessel was thronged by the general public, who evinced the greatest interest in everything connected with the ship and her equipment. Naturally the ten ponies, now safely housed in their stalls on the forward deck, were a special attraction. Our nine dogs also claimed a share of attention, although it was a gymnastic feat to climb through the supports of the pony structure, stretching across the decks, in order to reach the forecastle, where the dogs lay panting in the hot sun. To the uninitiated the number and size of the beams belonging to the pony structure seemed excessive, but we knew we might encounter heavy weather which would tax their strength to the utmost. The Nimrod was deep in the water, for every available corner had been stowed with stores and coal and, if we could have carried it, we would have added at least another fifty tons to our two hundred and fifty; but the risk was too great. Indeed I was somewhat anxious as to the weather she might make, though I knew she was a good sea boat and had great confidence in her. There were many whose criticisms were frankly pessimistic as to our chances of weathering an Antarctic gale; and as I stood on deck I could hear the remarks of these Job's comforters. Such criticisms, however, did not disturb us, for we had confidence in the ship.
Oyster Alley was crammed with the personal belongings of at least fourteen of the shore-party; it was the temporary resting-place for many of the scientific instruments, so that both ingress and egress were matters of extreme difficulty. The entrance to this twentieth-century Black Hole was through a narrow doorway and down a ladder, which ushered one into almost complete darkness, for the doorway was practically filled up with cases, and the single narrow deck light generally covered by the feet of sightseers. The shore party's fourteen bunks were crammed with luggage, which also occupied the whole of the available floor space. It was in this uncomfortable place that the spirit of romance, the desire for the wind-whitened Southern Seas, and the still whiter wastes of the silent Antarctic, grew stronger in the heart of George Buckley, as he sat there talking over the days and doings before us, longing for a share in the work, even though he might only go as far as the Antarctic circle. He knew that time would not permit him to do more than this. Suddenly he jumped up, came to me, and asked if I would take him as far as the ice. I was only too glad to consent, for his interest in the expedition showed that his heart was in our venture, and his personality had already appealed to us all. It was 2 P.M. when the decision was made, and the Nimrod was to sail at 4 P.M. He managed to catch a train to Christchurch, dashed into his club, gave his power of attorney to a friend; slung his tooth-brush and some underclothing into a bag; struggled through one seething crowd at Christchurch Station and another at the wharf, and arrived on board the Nimrod, a few minutes before sailing time equipped for the most rigorous weather in the world with only the summer suit he was wearing: surely a record in the way of joining a Polar expedition
Time was passing quickly, it was nearing four o'clock and all our party were on board save Professor David. I had seen him earlier in the afternoon, struggling along the crowded wharf, bending under the weight of one end of a long iron pipe, a railway porter attached to the other. This precious burden, he had informed me, when it was safely on board, was part of the boring gear to be used in obtaining samples of ice from the Great Ice Barrier; he had found it at the railway station, where it had been overlooked. Doubtless he was having a last skirmish round in case there was anything else that had been left, and just as I was getting anxious, for I did not want to delay the departure of the ship, he appeared. His arms were filled with delicate glass apparatus and other scientific paraphernalia. As he was gingerly crossing the narrow gangway he was confronted by a stout female, of whom the Professor afterwards said: "She was for the shore, let who would be for the Pole." They met in the middle of the gangway. Hampered by the things he was carrying, the Professor could not move aside; he was simply charged down by superior weight, and clutching his precious goods, fell off the gangway on to the heads of some of our party. Wonderful to relate nothing was broken.
At one minute to four orders were given to stand by the engines, at 4 P.M. the lines were cast off from the wharf and the Nimrod moved slowly ahead. Cheer after cheer broke from the watching thousands as we moved towards the harbour entrance, with the Queen's flag flying at the fore and our ensign dipping farewell at the stern. The cheering broke out afresh as we passed the United States magnetic survey ship Galilee. She also was engaged in a scientific mission, but her lines were laid in warmer climes and calmer seas. Hearty as was this send-off, it seemed mild compared to that which we received on passing the pier-head lighthouse. The air trembled with the crash of guns, the piercing steam whistles and sirens of every steamship in the port; and a roar of cheering from the throats of the thirty thousand people who were watching the little black-hulled barque moving slowly towards the open sea. With our powerful ally, the Koonya, steaming in front, and on each side passenger boats of the Union Company carrying some six or seven thousand persons, we passed down the Roads, receiving such a farewell and "Godspeed" from New Zealand as left no man of us unmoved. The farewells were not over, for we were to receive one more expression of goodwill, and one that came nearer to the hearts of those of us who were sailors than any other could. Lying inside the Heads were three of His Majesty's ships of the Australian Squadron, the flagship Powerful, the Pegasus and the Pioneer. As we steamed past the last-named her crew mustered on the forecastle head and gave us three hearty cheers; we received the same from the Pegasus as we came abeam of her, our party of thirty-nine returning the cheers as we passed each ship in turn. Then we drew abreast of the flagship and from the throats of the nine hundred odd bluejackets on board her we got a ringing farewell, and across the water came the sound of her band playing "Hearts of oak are our ships," followed by "Auld Lang Syne." We responded with three cheers and gave another cheer for Lady Fawkes, who had taken a kindly interest in the expedition.
Shortly after passing the Powerful, we stopped to pick up our tow-line from the Koonya, but before doing this we transferred to the tug-boat Canterbury the few personal friends who had accompanied some of the members of the expedition down the harbour. We then came close up to the' stern of the Koonya and hauled in the 4-in. wire cable she was to tow us with. A 4-in. wire is measured not as 4 in. diameter, but 4 in. circumference, and is made of the finest steel. We passed a shackle through the eye at the end of this wire and shackled on to the free ends of both our chain cables. We then let out thirty fathoms of each cable, one on each side of the bow, and made the inner ends fast round the foremast in the 'tween decks. This cable acted as a "spring," to use a nautical term; that is to say, it lessened the danger of the wire snapping if a sudden strain were put upon it, for the cable hung down in the water owing to its weight, even when the ship was being towed at seven or eight knots. This operation being completed we signalled the Koonya to go ahead and we were soon in the open sea. There was a slight breeze and a small choppy sea. Before we had been under way for an hour water began to come in at the scupper holes and through the wash ports. This looked ominous to us, for if the Nimrod was going to be wet in such fine weather, what was she going to be like when we got a southerly gale ! She moved through the water astern of Koonya like a reluctant child being dragged to school; she seemed to have no vitality of her own. This was due to her deeply loaded condition, and more especially to the seven tons of cable and the weight of the wire on her bows dragging her nose down into the sea. No Antarctic exploring ship had been towed to the ice before, but it meant the saving of coal to us for a time when the tons saved in this manner might prove the salvation of the expedition.
Night came down on us, and the last we saw of New Zealand was a bold headland growing fainter and fainter in the gathering gloom. The occupants of Oyster Alley, after a somewhat sketchy meal in the wardroom, were endeavouring to reduce the chaos of their quarters into some sort of order. The efforts of some of the scientific staff were interrupted at times by sudden attacks of sea-sickness, and indeed one would not have been surprised if the seafaring portion of the staff had also succumbed, for the atmosphere of the alley, combined with the peculiar motion of the ship, was far from pleasant. A few of the members of the party preferred to sleep on deck in any odd corner they could find, and one man in particular was so overcome by the sea that for three days and nights he lay prostrate amongst the vegetables and cases of butter and carbide, on the unused fore-bridge of the ship. He seemed to recover at meal-times, and as his lair was just above the galley, he simply appeared from under his sodden blankets, reached down his hand, and in a plaintive voice asked for something to fill the yawning cavern that existed in his interior. Professor David was given Dr. Michell's cabin, the latter taking up his abode in Oyster Alley. The cabin measured about 5 ft. 10 in. by 3 ft., and as the Professor had nearly a quarter of a ton of scientific instruments, books, and cameras, one can imagine that he had not much room for himself.
The wardroom of the Nimrod was about 12 ft. long and 9 ft. broad, and as there were twenty-two mouths to feed there three times a day, difficulties were present from the beginning of the voyage. Dunlop's cabin came into service as the largest overflow dining-room, for it accommodated three people. Davis and Mackintosh each found room for another hungry explorer in his cabin. When the food arrived it was passed along to the outside dining-rooms first. Then people in the main room were served. All went well that first night out, for there was comparatively little movement, but later on the story of an ordinary meal became a record of adventure. I took up my quarters in the captain's cabin, and fluctuated between the bunk and the settee for a resting-place, until the carpenter made me a plank bed about four inches off the deck. We did not know that we were not to take our clothes off for the next two weeks, but were to live in a constant state of wetness, wakefulness, and watchfulness until the Nimrod arrived in the neighbourhood of the winter quarters.
Bad weather was not long delayed. As the night of January 1 wore on, the wind began to freshen from the south-west, and the following mdrning the two vessels were pitching somewhat heavily and steering wildly. The Koonya signalled us to veer, that is, to slack out thirty more fathoms on each of our two cables, and with great difficulty we managed to do this. The ship was pitching and rolling, flinging the cables from one side of the deck to the other, and with our forty-year-old windlass it was no light task to handle the heavy chains. Then I felt one of the first real pinches of the stringent economy that had to be practised from the inception of the expedition. How I wished for the splendid modern gear of the Discovery, the larger specially built vessel that we had on the previous expedition. During the afternoon the wind and sea increased greatly, and the Nimrod pitched about, shifting everything that could be moved on deck. The seas began to break over her, and we were soon wet through, not to be properly dry again for the next fortnight.. The decks were flooded with heavy seas, which poured, white-capped, over the side, and even the topsail yards were drenched with the spray of breaking waves. Life-lines were stretched along the deck, and it was a risky thing to go forward without holding on.
Our chief anxiety was the care of the ponies, and looking back now to those days, it remains a matter of wonder to me how they survived the hardships that fell to their lot. That night.
I arranged for a two-hour watch, consisting of two members of the shore staff, to be always in attendance on the ponies. The pony shelter had five stalls on the port side and five on the starboard side of the deck, with the fore hatch between them. The watch-keepers named this place "The Cavalry Club," and here in the bleak and bitter stormy nights, swept off their feet every now and then by the seas washing over the fore-hatch, the members of the shore party passed many a bad quarter of an hour. They bore all the buffeting and discomfort cheerfully, even as those men of old, who "ever with a frolic welcome took the thunder and the sunshine." Night in the pony-stables was a weird experience with inky blackness all round, save only where the salt-encrusted hurricane lamp, jerking to and fro, made a glimmer of light. The roar of the tempest rose into a shriek as the wind struck the rigid rigging, the creaking and swaying of the roof of the stable and the boat-skids, which partly rested their weight on it, seemed to threaten a sudden collapse with each succeeding and heavier roll, and the seas crashed dully as they fell on board. The swirling waters, foam-white in the dim rays of the lamp, rushed through the stable and over the hatch, and even from the bridge far aft, we could hear the frightened whinnies of the animals, as they desperately struggled to keep their feet in the water that flooded the rolling stables. Every now and then some wave, larger and fiercer than the one before, would sweep the decks, tear the mats from under the feet of the ponies, and wash the watch-keepers almost under the struggling beasts. When the bulk of the water had passed, the mats were nailed down again with difficulty, and the two watchers resumed their seats on a bag of fodder that had been fastened to the hatch. One can imagine that after a two-hours' watch a rest was welcome. Oyster Alley was wet enough, and the beds were soaking, while the atmosphere was thick and heavy; but these conditions did not prevent the wearied men from falling asleep after wedging themselves into their bunks, lest some extra heavy lurch should send them to keep company with the miscellaneous collection of articles careering up and down the deck of the "Alley."
All during our second night out the weather was so bad, that we kept going slow, having requested the Koonya to slacken speed late in the afternoon. Next morning found us plunging, swerving, and rolling in a high sea, with a dull grey stormy sky overhead, and apparently no prospect of the weather becoming settled. We were moving little more than a mile an hour towards the south, and the ship seemed to be straining herself on account of the heavy pull on her bows, and the resulting lack of buoyancy. The weather moderated somewhat in the afternoon, and we signalled the Koonya to "increase speed." By midnight the improvement in the weather was much more marked. The following morning, January 4, we set loose the carrier pigeon which one of the New Zealand sailors had brought with him. We attached a message to the bird, briefly describing our passage so far, and hoped it would safely accomplish the three hundred odd miles to the land. On releasing our messenger it made one or two wide circles round the ship, and then set off in a beeline towards its home. We wondered at the time whether any of the albatrosses, which were now fairly numerous about our stern, especially at meal times, would attack the stranger, and we heard afterwards that the pigeon had not reached its home.
The hope that we were going to keep finer weather was dispelled in the afternoon, for the wind began to increase and the rising sea to break on board again, and within a couple of hours we were bearing the full brunt of another furious gale. The seagoing qualities of the Nimrod were severely taxed, but the little vessel rose to the occasion. As the gale increased in vehemence, she seemed to throw off the lethargy, one might almost say the sulkiness, which possessed her when she found herself outward bound at the end of a tow-line, for the first time in her strenuous life of forty years. Now that the tow-line, in the fury of the gale, was but of little use save to steady us, the Nimrod began to play her own hand. It was wonderful to see how she rose to the largest oncoming waves. She was flung to and fro, a tiny speck in this waste of waters, now poised on the summit of a huge sea, whence we got almost a bird's-eye view of the gallant Koonya smashing into the turmoil ahead; now dipping into the wave valleys, from which all we could discern of our consort was in very truth "just a funnel and a mast lurching through the spray."
As the afternoon wore on, those of us who were not still in the clutches of sea-sickness watched the grandeur of the gale. I shall always remember Buckley, who stood for hour after hour on the Nimrod's poop, revelling in the clash and strife of the elements. Keen yachtsman that he was, his admiration was aroused by the way the two ships battled with the storm. Professor David, also, hanging to the dripping rails, was fascinated by the wild scene, and between the gusts we spoke of many things. Somehow or another the conversation turned to one's favourite poets, and it is but natural that, under these circumstances of stress and strain, Browning's verse was often the subject of conversation. Night drew on, sullen and black, our only light the lamp we steered by on the Koonya's mast. We could imagine the stalwart figure of that splendid seaman, Captain Evans, as he stood on his spray-drenched bridge, alert, calm, and keen, doing his best to ease the little ship astern. We had nothing but admiration for the consummate seamanship that anticipated our every need and wish. All that night it blew harder than ever; on the morning of the 5th, I told Captain England to signal the Koonya and ask her to pour oil on the water in the hope that it might help us. To a certain extent I think it did, but not enough to prevent the heaviest seas from breaking on board. I thought that the gale had reached its height on the previous day, but certainly this evening it was much stronger. The Nimrod rolled over fifty degrees from the perpendicular to each side; how much more than that I cannot say, for the indicator recording the roll of the ship was only marked up to fifty degrees, and the pointer had passed that mark. Let the reader hold a pencil on end on a table, and then incline it fifty degree's one way, and back again till it reaches fifty degrees on the other side, and he will realise the length of arc through which the masts and deck of the Nimrod swung. It was only natural, under these circumstances, that the sturdy little ponies had their strength taxed to the utmost to keep their footing at all. It was impracticable to sling them, for they were only half broken, and the attempt to put a sling under one drove it nearly crazy with fright. All we could do was to try and soothe them, and the animals evidently appreciated the human voice and touch. Buckley had a wonderful way with them, and they seemed to understand that he was trying to help them.
THE TOWING STEAMER "KOONYA " AS SEEN FROM THE "NIMROD" IN A HEAVY SEA.
THIS PARTICULAR WAVE CAME ABOARD THE "NIMROD" AND DID CONSIDERABLE DAMAGE
During the afternoon of January 6, the wind increased again, the squalls being of hurricane force, and the wind shifting to between west and north-west. The Koonya ahead was making bad weather of it, but was steaming as fast as practicable, for with the wind and sea coming more abeam she was able to make better headway than when she was plunging into a head sea with the weight and bulk of the towing cable and the Nimrod astern of her, factors in the situation that made the handling of the steamer very difficult. The temperature of the air that day was up to 49° Fahr., but the sea temperature had dropped to 44°. This continuous bad weather was attributed by some on board to the fact that we had captured an albatross on the second day out. It is generally supposed by seamen to be unlucky to kill this bird, but as we did it for the purposes of scientific collections and not with the wantonness of the "Ancient Mariner," the superstitious must seek for some other reason for the weather. By this time most of the scientific staff had recovered from seasickness, so to employ their time when they were not on pony-guard, meteorological observations were taken every hour. There sometines was an inclination to obtain the temperature of the sea-water from the never-failing stream which poured over the deck, but to the observers' credit this feeling was sternly suppressed, and the more legitimate and accurate, if less simple means, that of drawing it from over the side, was adopted. It is not at all an easy operation to draw water in this way from the sea when a ship is under way, and in our particular circumstances the observer often got premature knowledge of the temperature by the contents of the bucket, or the top of a sea, drenching him. On this day we began to feel the serious effects of the towing strain on the ship. For days the sailors' quarters below the fore-deck had been in a state of constant wetness from the leaking of the fore-deck, and the inhabitants of Oyster Alley had come to the conclusion that it might more suitably be named "Moisture Alley." But when Dunlop, the chief engineer, came on the poop bridge that afternoon and reported that the ship was making about three feet of water in an hour, matters assumed a more serious complexion. I had not expected that we would get off scot free, as the ship had to endure a very severe strain, and was old, but three feet of water in an hour showed that she was feeling the effects of the towing very much. It was necessary to rig the hand-pump to help the steam-pumps to keep the water under, and this became, as the Professor remarked, the occasion for an additional scientific instrument to be used by the shore-party. A watch was set to use this pump, and two members of the staff worked it for two hours, or as long as occasion demanded, and at the end of that time were relieved by two more. The weather grew steadily worse, and by midnight the squalls were of hurricane force. Even the mastheads of the Ifoonya disappeared from view at times, and the light we were steering by would only be seen for a few seconds, and would then disappear behind the mounting wall of waters that separated the two ships. A moderate estimate of the height of the waves is forty-two feet. During the squalls, which were accompanied by hail and sleet, the tops of the seas were cut off by the force of the wind and flung in showers of stinging spray against our faces, drenching even the topsail yards of the Nimrod. Each green wave rushed at us as though it meant to swamp the ship, but each time the Nimrod rose bravely, and, riding over the seemingly overwhelming mass, steadied for a moment on the other side as it passed on, seething and white, baffled of its prey. All night there were squalls of terrifio force, and the morning of January 7 brought no abatement of the storm. The seas now came on board with increasing frequency, finding out any odd article that had escaped our vigilance and survived the rolling of the ship. A sack of potatoes was washed on to the deck, and the contents were floating in two or three feet of water. But standing on the poop bridge I heard one of the crew, in no way disheartened, singing, as he gathered them up, "Here we go gathering nuts in May."
At noon we were in latitude 53° 26' South and longitude 127° 42' East. In the afternoon the weather moderated slightly, though there was a heavy, lumpy sea. Albatrosses were becoming much more numerous, especially the sooty species, the death of which, on Shelvoke's voyage, inspired Coleridge's memorable poem. I noticed one, flying low between the two ships, strike its wings against the wire tow-line, which had suddenly emerged from the waves owing to the lift of the Koonya's stern upon a sea. The weather became fairly moderate during the night and remained so next morning, with the wind in the north-west. After the second day out we had shifted the dogs from the forecastle head to the fore bridge, and one of these, in its struggles to get down on to the main deck, strangled itself before we knew that it was in trouble.
There was constant rain during the morning of January 8, but it did not beat the sea down much, anti during the evening, with the wind shifting to the south-south-west, the gale increased again. It was so bad, owing to the confused sea, that we had to signal the Koonya to heave to. We did this with the sea on our starboard quarter. Suddenly one enormous wave rushed at us, and it appeared as though nothing could prevent our decks being swept, but the ship rose to it, and missed the greater part, though to us it seemed as if the full weight of water had come on board. We clung tightly to the poop rails, and as soon as the water had passed over us we wiped the salt from our eyes and surveyed the scene. The sea had smashed in part of the starboard bulwarks and destroyed a small house on the upper deck, pieces of this house and the bulwarks floating out to the leeward; the port washport was torn from its hinges, so that water now surged on board and swept away at its own sweet will, and the stout wooden rails of the poop deck, to which we had been clinging, were cracked and displaced, but no vital damage was done. The look of disgust on the faces of the dripping pony watch-keepers, as they emerged from the water-logged "Cavalry Club," was eloquent of their feelings. The galley was washed out and the fire extinguished. This happened more than once, but so pluckily did the members of the cooking department work that never during the whole of this very uncomfortable time had we been without a warm meal. This means far more than one is apt to think, for the galley was only five feet square, and thirty-nine persons blessed with extremely hearty appetites had to be provided for.
In a large measure, this unbroken routine of hot meals, the three oases of what I might call pleasure in the daily desert of discomfort, was due to Roberts, who, besides being assistant zoologist to the expedition, was going to act as cook. Seeing that the ship's staff would have more work to do than they could well carry out in providing for the thirty-nine people on board, he volunteered the first day out to assist the ship's cook, and the result was that we were always provided with fresh bread and hot cocoa and tea. Montague, the ship's cook, was ever at work, though the galley was in a constant state of flood. The stewards, Handcock and Ansell, worked wonders in getting the food across the danger zone between the galley and the wardroom. Ansell, with ten plates in one hand, overlapping one another up his arm, would arrive safely at his destination, though his boots were often filled with water on the way aft. Of course there were times when he was not so successful, and he would emerge from a sea with his clothes, hair, and face plentifully sprinkled with food. As a rule the accidents occurred in the wardroom, after the arrival of the food. The tablecloth, after two or three days, assumed an ecru colour, owing to the constant upsetting of tea and coffee. Some of the staff had perforce to take their meals standing, from lack of seating accommodation, and the balancing of a plate of soup when the ship was rolling heavily required skill and experience. The meal was generally accompanied by the spurting of seawater through the wardroom door, or through cracks in the skylight, and the water washed to and fro unheeded until the meal was ended, and the indefatigable Ansell turned his attention to it. It was in the wardroom that I salved a small wooden case from the water, and found that it contained a patent mixture for extinguishing fires. The rooms of the ship's officers, opening out of the wardroom, were in a similar state of dampness, and when an officer finished his watch and turned in for a well-earned sleep, he merely substituted for clothes that were soaked through, others which were a little less wet.
The water, however, did not damp the spirits of those on board, for nearly every night extemporary concerts were held, and laughter and mirth filled the little wardroom. It is usual on Saturday nights at sea to drink the toasts, "Absent Friends," and "Sweethearts and Wives." I was generally at this time in the after cabin or on the bridge, and if, as sometines happened, I had forgotten that particular day, a gentle hint was conveyed to me by Wild or Dunlop starting a popular song, entitled "Sweethearts and Wives," the chorus of which was heartily rendered by all hands. This hint used to bring my neglect to my mind, and I would produce the necessary bottle.
On January 10 we had a clear sky during the morning until about ten o'clock, and then, with a westerly wind, the breeze became heavier, and rain commenced. Most of us that day, taking advantage of the comparative steadiness of the ship, managed to wash our salt-encrusted faces and hair; we had become practically pickled during the past week. About midnight we had a light wind from the north-north-east, and the almost continuous rain of the previous twelve hours had flattened the sea considerably.
At noon, on January 11, we were in latitude 57° 38' South, and longitude 178° 39' West, and during the day the wind and sea increased again from the north-west. The nature of this particular sea made it necessary for us to keep the ship away, altering our course from south to south-east, and before midnight the gale had reached its now customary force and violence. As I was standing on the bridge at 2 A.M., peering out to windward through a heavy snow-squall that enveloped us, I saw, in the faint light of breaking day, a huge sea, apparently independent of its companions, rear itself up alongside the ship. Fortunately only the crest of the wave struck us, but away went the starboard bulwarks forward and abreast of the pony stalls, leaving a free run for the water through the stables. When we left port it was our augean problem how best to clean out the stables, but after the first experience of the herculean waves, the difficulty was to try and stop the flushing of them by every sea that came. on board forward, and now not only every wave that fell on board, but the swell of the ocean itself swept the stables clean. This particular sea shifted the heavy starboard whaleboat from its chocks, landing it almost amidships on top of the "Cavalry Club." It swept some of our bales of fodder down on to the main deck, where they mingled with the drums of oil and cases of carbide torn from their lashings. Our latitude at noon was 59° 8' South, and 179° 30' East. The squalls of sleet and snow gave place later to clearer weather with a mackerel sky, which was of special interest to the meteorologists, as indicating the trend of the upper currents of the air.
During the afternoon the strength of the expedition was increased by Possum, one of our dogs, giving birth to six fine puppies. The mother and family were found a warm bed on the engine-room skylight, where a number of our cases were stowed. We signalled the happy event to the Koonya by flags, and received Captain Evans' congratulations. Signalling by flags was necessarily a somewhat slow operation, especially as the commercial code of signals is not exactly adapted for this particular sort of information, and we could see by the length of time they took to verify each signal that they were at a loss as to the subject-matter of our communication, the incident of a birth naturally being farthest removed from their thoughts at such a time. Whenever the weather moderated at all the two ships always held short conversations by flags, and the Commander of the Koonya used to make inquiries in particular after the health of the scientific staff.
January 13 brought with it a gentle breeze from the eastward, the heavy leaden sky broke into blue, flecked with light cirrus clouds, and the day seemed warmer and more pleasant than any we had experienced since we left Lyttelton, though the temperature of the air and sea water were down to 34° and 37° Fahr. respectively. The warm sun tempted those who had not before been much in evidence on to the poop deck, and the whole vessel began to look like a veritable Petticoat Lane. Blankets, coats, boots, bags that might once have been leather but which now looked like lumps of dilapidated brown paper; pyjamas that had been intended to be worn when the owners first came aboard the Nimrod; books that had parted with their covers after sundry adventures in dripping Oyster Alley, but whose leaves evinced the strongest disinclination to separate; pillows of pulp that had once been pillows of feathers: carpet slippers, now merely bits of carpet; in short, all the personal belongings of each member of the expedition, including their most sacred Penates and Lares, were lying in a heterogeneous mass on the poop deck, in order that they might dry. A few of us ventured on baths, but it was chilly work in the open air, with the temperature only two degrees above freezing-point.
Some of our party, who were old sailors, had not much impedimenta to look after and to dry; the hard-won experience of early days having taught them the lesson that the fewer things you have to get wet, the fewer you have to get dry. Adams in particular observed this rule, for he wore the flannel trousers in which he came on board the ship at Lyttelton through all this weather, allowing them to dry on him after each successive wetting. He fondly clung to them throughout the period we were navigating in the ice, and whilst working the ship at winter quarters, and would doubtless have worn them on the ascent of Erebus if they had not practically come to pieces.
We were now keeping a sharp look-out for icebergs and pack; we had been steering a little more to the east, as I felt that our delay owing to bad weather would give us little time for navigation if we had to pass through much pack-ice, and a few degrees more Basting might perhaps give us a more open sea. The meeting with the pack-ice was to terminate the Koonya's tow, and that also meant our parting with Buckley, who had endeared himself to every man on board, from able seaman upwards, and had been of the greatest assistance to us in the matter of the ponies. It was due to his prompt action on one occasion that the life of "Zulu" was saved. We decided to give a farewell dinner to our friend that night, and Marston designed special menu cards for the occasion. At noon that day we were in latitude 61° 29' South, 'longitude 179° 53' East. During the afternoon the weather kept fine and we set some square sail. Occasionally during the bad weather of the previous week we had put " fore arid afters " on to try and steady the ship, but the wind had carried them away. The Koonya had done the same, with a similar result. Our dinner that night was a great success, and it was early next morning before we turned in.
Next morning, January 14, we sighted our first iceberg, and passed it at a distance of about two and a half miles. It had all the usual characteristics of the Antarctic bergs, being practically tabular in form, and its sides being of a dead white colour. The sight of this, the first sentinel of the frozen south, increased Buckley's desire to stay with us, and it was evident that the thought of leaving our little company was not a pleasant one to him. There was a remarkable belt of clouds across the sky during the morning, and their direction indicated the movement of the upper air, so the Professor and Cotton made several estimates of the height of this belt of cloud to try to determine the lower limit of the higher current. The mean measurements were taken, partly with a sextant and partly with an Abney level, to the edge of the belt of mackerel sky. The result of the observations was that the height of this belt was flexed at about thirteen thousand feet. The belt of cloud was travelling in an east-north-east direction at the rate of about fourteen miles an hour. The surface wind, at this time was blowing lightly from the west. Our latitude at noon was 63° 59' South and the longitude 179° 47' West, so we had crossed the 180th meridian.
During the afternoon we passed two more icebergs with their usual tails of brash ice floating out to leeward. The sea had changed colour from a leaden blue to a greenish grey. Albatrosses were not nearly so numerous, and of those following the ship the majority were the sooty species. The Cape pigeon and Wilson's petrel were occasionally to be seen, also a small grey-coloured bird, which is generally found near the pack, but the name of which I do not know. We called them "ice-birds." Another sign of the nearness of the ice was that the temperature of the air and water had dropped to 32° Fahr. Everything pointed to our proximity to the pack, so we signalled the Koonya that we were likely to sight the ice at any moment. I also asked Captain Evans to kill and skin the sheep he was carrying for our supplies, as they would be much more easily transported when the time came to cast off. The weather remained fine with light winds during the night.
Next morning it was fairly thick with occasional light squalls of snow, and about 9 A.M. we saw the ice looming up through the mist to the southward. It seemed to stretch from south-west to south-east, and was apparently the forerunner of the pack. Now had come the time for the Koonya to drop us, after a tow of 1510 miles — a record in towage for a vessel not built for the purpose. Before the Koonya finally cast off from us, she had achieved another record, by being the first steel vessel to cross the Antarctic Circle.
About 10 A.M. I decided to send Captain England across to the Koonya with Buckley and the mail. Our letters were all stamped with the special stamp given by the New Zealand Government. The sea was rising again, and the wind increasing, so we lost no time in making the necessary communication by boat between the two ships. During a favourable roll the whale-boat was dropped into the water, and Buckley, with his week-end handbag, jumped into her. We gave him three cheers as the boat pushed off on its boisterous journey to the Koonya. With his usual forethought, to make matters lighter for the boat's crew, Captain Evans had floated a line astern, attached to a life-buoy, and after about twenty-five minutes' hard pulling against wind and sea, the buoy was picked up, and the boat hauled alongside the steamer. I was glad to see the boat coming back again shortly afterwards, for the wind kept increasing and the sea was rising every moment, but in a lull, after pouring oil on the water, we hauled the boat up safely.
A thin line had been brought back from the Koonya, and at a signal from us Captain Evans paid out a heavier one, which we hauled on board. He then manceuvred his ship, so as to get her as near as possible to us, in order that we might haul the carcases of the sheep on board. Ten of these were lashed on the line, and by dint of pulling hard, we got them on board. Meanwhile the greater part of our crew were working the old-fashioned windlass, getting in slowly, link by link, the port-towing cable, whilst the Koonya took in as much of her wire hawser as she conveniently could. Our heavy line was carried away, owing to a sudden strain, before we received the second instalment of water-logged mutton. Captain Evans brought the Koonya round our stern, and a heaving-line, to which the sheep were attached, was thrown on board, but as soon as we began to haul on it, it broke, and we had the chagrin of seeing our fresh mutton floating away on the billows. It was lost to sight shortly afterwards, but we could locate its position by the albatrosses hovering above, doubtless surprised and delighted with this feast.
About a quarter to one Captain Evans signalled that he was going to cut his hawser, for in the rising sea the two vessels were in dangerous proximity to each other. We saw the axe rise and fall, rise and fall again, and the tie was severed. The Kocmya's work was done, and the Nimrod was dependent on her own resources at last. Our consort steamed round us, all hands on both ships cheering, then her bows were set north and she vanished into a grey, snowy mist, homeward bound. We spent a long afternoon struggling to get on board the one hundred and forty fathoms of cable and thirty fathoms of wire that were hanging from our bows. The windlass was worked by means of levers, and all hands were divided into two parties, one section manning the port levers, the other the starboard. All that afternoon, and up to seven o'clock in the evening, they unremittingly toiled at getting the cable in link by link. At last we were able to proceed, and the ship's head was put due south. We prepared to work our way through the floating belt of pack that guards the approach to the Ross Sea. The weather had cleared, and we passed the ice which we had seen in the morning. It was a fairly loose patch of what appeared to be thick land ice. We gradually made our way through similar streams of ice and small hummocky bergs, most of them between forty and fifty feet in height, but a few reaching a hundred feet.
By 2 A.M. on the morning of January 16, the bergs were much more numerous; perhaps they could hardly be classed as bergs, for their average height was only about twenty feet, and I am of opinion, from what I saw later, that this ice originally formed part of an ice-foot from some coast-line. None of the ice that we passed through at this time had the slightest resemblance to ordinary pack-ice. About 3 A.M., we entered an area of tabular bergs, varying from eighty to one hundred and fifty feet in height, and all the morning we steamed in beautiful weather with a light northerly wind, through the lanes and streets of a wonderful snowy Venice. Tongue and pen fail in attempting to describe the magic of such a scene. As far as the eye could see from the crow's-nest of the Nimrod, the great, white, wall-sided bergs stretched east, west, and south, making a striking contrast with the lanes of blue-black water between them. A stillness, weird and uncanny, seemed to have fallen upon everything when we entered the silent water streets of this vast unpeopled white city. Here there was no sign of life, except when one of the little snow petrels, invisible when flying across the glistening bergs, flashed for a moment into sight, as it came against the dark water, its pure white wings just skimming the surface. The threshing of our screw raised a small wave astern of the ship, and at times huge masses of ice and snow from the bergs, disturbed by the unaccustomed motion, fell thundering in our wake. Some of these bergs had been weathered into the fantastic shapes more characteristic of the Arctic regions, and from peak and spire flashed out the new-caught rays of the morning sun. Beautiful as this scene was, it gave rise to some anxiety in my mind, for I knew that if we were caught in a breeze amidst this maze of floating ice, it would go hard with us. Already an ominous dark cloud was sweeping down from the north, and a few flakes of falling snow heralded the approach of the misty northerly wind. I was unfeignedly thankful, when, about three in the afternoon, I saw from the crow's-nest open water ahead. A few more turnings and twistings through the devious water lanes, and we entered the ice-free Ross Sea. This was the first time that a passage had been made into the Ross Sea without the vessel having been held up by pack-ice. I think our success was due to the fact that we were away to the eastward of the pack, which had separated from the land and the Barrier, and had drifted in a north-west direction. All my experience goes to prove that the easterly route is the best. Behind us lay the long line of bergs through which we had threaded our way for more than eighty miles from north to south, and which stretched east and west for an unknown distance, but far enough for me to say without exaggeration that there must have been thousands of these floating masses of ice. Whence they had come was open to conjecture; it was possible for them to have drifted from a barrier edge to the eastward of King Edward VII Land. If that were so, the barrier must be much lower than the Great Ice Barrier, and also much more even in height, for the vast majority of the bergs we passed were not more than one hundred and thirty feet high, and seemed to be of a fairly uniform thickness. The lights and shadows on the bergs to the eastward at times almost gave them the appearance of land, but as they were congregated most thickly in this direction, we did not venture to make closer acquaintance with them. Of one thing I am certain, this ice had not long left the parent barrier or coast-line, for there was no sign of weathering or wind action on the sides; and if they had been afloat for even a short period they must infallibly have shown some traces of weathering, as the soft snow was at least fifteen to twenty feet thick. This was apparent when pieces broke off from the bergs, and in one or two cases, where sections had been sheared off the top of particular bergs, evidently by collision with their fellows. There were no indications or signs of embedded rocks or earthy material on the bergs, so I am led to believe that this great mass of ice must have been set free only a short time previously from some barrier edge at no great distance. Our latitude at noon on the 16th was 68° 6' South, and the longitude 179° 21' West.
Before we entered the actual line of bergs a couple of seals appeared on the floe-ice. I did not see them myself, but from descriptions I gathered that one was a crabeater, and the other a Weddell seal. A few of the Adelie penguins were observed also, and their quaint walk and insatiable curiosity afforded great amusement to our people, the surprise of the birds on seeing the ship was so thoroughly genuine. Marston, our artist, whose sense of the ludicrous is very fully developed, was in ecstasies at their solemn astonishment and profound concern, and at the way they communicated their feelings to one another by flapping their makeshift wings, craning their necks forward with ruffled feathers, and uttering short squawks. Marston's imitation of the penguin was perfect, and he and the rest of us always responded eagerly to the call on deck whenever we were passing a group of these polar inhabitants.
When we were clear of the icebergs a distinct swell was felt coming from the south, and for once the movement of the ocean was welcome to us, for it showed that we might expect open water ahead. I was fairly confident that we had managed to elude the pack, and without doubt for a ship, well found and capable of fair speed, the passage between the bergs on the meridian down which we steered is preferable to the slower progress through the ordinary pack farther west. I doubt if I would, except under similar circumstances, when time and coal were very precious, risk an old vessel like the Nimrod, which steams but slowly in this labyrinth of heavy ice, but a faster vessel could make the passage with safety. It may be that in future seasons the Antarctic Ocean in this particular part will be found to be quite ice-free, and a later expedition may be able to work more to the eastward, and solve the riddle as to the existence of land in that neighbourhood.
It was fortunate that we cleared the ice that afternoon, for shortly afterwards the wind increased from the north, and the weather became thick with falling snow. The temperature was just at freezing-point, and the snow melted on the decks when it fell. Altogether about an inch of snow fell between 2 P.M. and midnight. We saw no ice until eight o'clock next morning (January 17), and then only one small berg. The wind shifted to the south-east, the sky cleared somewhat, and with an open horizon all round we observed no sign of ice at all.