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| CHAPTER VI
THE LANDING OF STORES AND EQUIPMENT
FEBRUARY 3-22, 1908
Blizzard in McMurdo Sound, February 18-21: Nimrod sails for New Zealand, February 22
We had hardly started work again when a strong breeze sprung up with drifting snow. The ship began to bump heavily against the ice-foot and twice dragged her anchors out, so, as there seemed no possibility of getting ahead with the landing of the stores under these conditions, we steamed out and tied up at the main ice-face, about six miles to the south, close to where we had lain for the past few days. It blew fairly hard all day and right through the evening, but the wind went down on the afternoon of the 5th, and we returned to the bay that evening.
We lost no time in getting the ponies ashore. This was by no means an easy task, for some of the animals were very restive, and it required care to avoid accident to themselves or to us. Some time before we had thought of walking them down over a gang-plank on to the ice, but afterwards decided to build a rough horse-box, get them into this, and then sling it over the side by means of the main gaff. We covered the decks with ashes and protected all sharp projections with bags and bales of fodder. The first pony went in fairly quietly, and in another moment or two had the honour of being the pioneer horse on the Antarctic ice. One after another the ponies were led out of the stalls into the horse-box and were slung over on to the ice. They all seemed to feel themselves at home, for they immediately commenced pawing at the snow as they are wont to do in their own far-away Manchurian home, where, in the winter, they scrape away the snow to get out the rough tussocky grass that lies underneath. It was 3.30 A.M. on the morning of the 6th before we got all the ponies off the ship, and they were at once led up on to the land. The poor beasts were naturally stiff after the constant buffeting they had experienced in their narrow stalls on the rolling ship for over a month, and they walked very stiffly ashore.
They negotiated the tide-crack all right, the fissure being narrow, and were soon picketed out on some bare earth at the entrance to a valley which lay about fifty yards from the site of our hut. We thought that this would be a good place, but the selection was to cost us dearly in the future. The tide-crack played an important part in connection with the landing of the stores. In the polar regions, both north and south, when the sea is frozen over, there always appears between the fast ice, which is the ice attached to the land, and the sea ice, a crack which is due to the sea ice moving up and down with the rise and fall of the tide. When the bottom of the sea slopes gradually from the land, sometimes two or three tide-cracks appear running parallel to each other. When no more tide-cracks are to be seen landwards, the snow or ice-foot has always been considered as being a permanent adjunct to the land, and in our case this opinion was further strengthened by the fact that our soundings in the tide-crack showed that the ice-foot on the landward side of it must be aground. I have explained this fully, for it was after taking into consideration these points that I, for convenience sake, landed the bulk of the stores below the bare rocks on what I considered to be the permanent snow-slope.
About 9 A.M. on the morning of February 6 we started work with sledges, hauling provisions and pieces of the hut to the shore. The previous night the foundation posts of the hut had been sunk and frozen into the ground with a cement composed of volcanic earth and water. The digging of the foundation holes, on which job Dunlop, Adams, Joyce, Brocklehurst, and Marshall were engaged, proved hard work, for in some cases where the hole had to be dug the bed-rock was found a few inches below the coating of the earth, and this had to be broken through or drilled with chisel and hammer. Now that the ponies were ashore it was necessary to have a party living ashore also, for the animals would require looking after if the ship were forced to leave the ice-foot at any time, and, of course, the building of the hut could go on during the absence of the ship. The first shore party consisted of Adams, Marston, Brocklehurst04ackay, and Murray, and two tents were set up close to the hut, with the usual sledging requisites, sleeping-bags, cookers, &c. A canvas cover was rigged on some oars to serve as a cooking-tent, and this, later on, was enlarged into a more commodious house, built out of bales of fodder.
The first things landed this day were bales of fodder for the ponies, and sufficient petroleum and provisions for the shore party in the event of the ship having to put to sea suddenly owing to bad weather. For facility in landing the stores, the whole party was divided into two gangs. Some of the crew of the ship hoisted the stores out of the hold and slid them down a wide plank on to the ice, others of the ship's crew loaded the stores on to the sledges, and these were hauled to land by the shore party, each sledge having three men harnessed to it. The road to the shore consisted of hard, rough ice, alternating with very soft snow, and as the distance from where the ship was lying at first to the tide-crack was nearly a quarter of a mile, it was strenuous toil, especially when the tide-crack was reached and the sledges had to be pulled up the slope. After the first few sledge-loads had been hauled right up on to the land, I decided to let the stores remain on the snow slope beyond the tide-crack, where they could be taken away at leisure. The work was so heavy that we tried to substitute mechanical haulage in place of man haulage, but had to revert to our original plan, and all that morning we did the work by man haulage. During the lunch hour we shifted the ship about a hundred yards nearer the shore alongside the ice-face, from which a piece had broken out during the morning, leaving a level edge where the ship could be moored easily.
Just as we were going to commence work at 2 P.M. a fresh breeze sprang up from the south-east, and the ship began to bump against the ice-foot, her movement throwing the water over the ice. We were then lying in a rather awkward position in the apex of an angle in the bay ice, and as the breeze threatened to become stronger, I sent the shore-party on to the ice, and, with some difficulty, we got clear of the ice-foot. The breeze freshening we stood out to the fast ice in the strait about six miles to the south and anchored there. It blew a fresh breeze with drift from the south-east all that afternoon and night, and did not ease up till the following afternoon. Thus, unfortunately two valuable working days were lost.
When I went ashore I found that the little party left behind had not only managed to get up to the site of the hut all the heavy timber that had been landed, but had also stacked on the bare land the various cases of provisions which had been lying on the snow slope by the tide-crack. We worked till 2 A.M. on the morning of the 9th, and then knocked off till 9 A.M. Then we commenced again, and put in one of the hardest day's work one can imagine, pulling the sledges to the tide-crack and then hauling them bodily over. Hour after hour all hands toiled on the work, the crossing of the tide-crack becoming more difficult with each succeeding sledge-load, for the ice in the bay was loosening, and it was over floating, rocking pieces of floe with gaps several feet wide between them that we hauled the sledges. In the afternoon the ponies were brought into action, as they had had some rest, and their arrival facilitated the discharge, though it did not lighten the labours of the perspiring staff. None of our party were in very good condition, having been cooped up in the ship, and the heavy cases became doubly heavy to our arms and shoulders by midnight.
Next day the work continued, the ice still holding in, but threatening every minute to go out. If there had been sufficient water for the ship to lie right alongside the shore we would have been pleased to see the ice go out, but at the place where we were landing the stores there was only twelve feet of water, and the Nimrod, at this time, drew fourteen. We tried to anchor one of the smaller loose pieces of bay ice to the ice-foot, and this answered whilst the tide was setting in. As a result of the tidal movement, the influx of heavy pack in the bay where we were lying caused some anxiety, and more than once we had to shift the ship away from the landing-place because of the heavy floes and hummocky ice which pressed up against the bay ice. One large berg sailed in from the north and grounded about a mile to the south of Cape Royds, and later another about the same height, not less than one hundred and fifty feet, did the same, and these two bergs were frozen in where they grounded and remained in that position through the winter. The hummocky pack that came in and out with the tide was over fifteen feet in height, and, being of much greater depth below water, had ample power and force to damage the ship if a breeze should spring up.
When we turned to after lunch, and before the first sledge-load reached the main landing-place, we found that it would be impossible to continue working there any longer, for the small floe which we had anchored to the ice had dragged out the anchor and was being carried to sea by the ebbing tide. Some three hundred and fifty yards further along the shore of the bay was a much steeper ice-foot at the foot of the cliffs, and a snow slope narrower than the one on which we had been landing the provisions. This was the nearest available spot at which to continue discharging. We hoped that when the ship had left we could hoist the stores up over the cliff; they would then be within a hundred yards of the hilt, and, after being carried for a short distance, they could be rolled down the steep snow slope at the head of the valley where it was being built. All this time the hut-party were working day and night, and the building was rapidly assuming an appearance of solidity. The uprights were in, and the brace ties were fastened together, so that if it alone on to blow there was no fear of the structure being destroyed
The stores had now to be dragged a distance of nearly three hundred yards from the ship to the landing-place, but this work, was greatly facilitated by our being able to use four of the ponies, working two of them for an hour, and then giving these a spell whilst two others took their place. The snow was very deep, and the ponies sank in well above the knees; it was heavy going for the men who were leading them. A large amount of stores was landed in this way, but a new and serious situation arose through the breaking away of the main ice-foot.
On the previous day an ominous-looking crack had been observed to be developing at the end of the ice-foot nearest to Flagstaff Point, and it became apparent that if this crack continued to widen, it would cut right across the centre of our stores, with the result that, unless removed, they would be irretrievably lost in the sea. Next day (the 10th) there was no further opening of the crack, but at seven o'clock that night another crack formed on the ice-foot inside of Derrick Point where we were now landing stores. There was no immediate danger to be apprehended at this place, for the bay ice would have to go out before the ice-foot could fall into the sea. Prudence suggested that it would be better to shift the stores already landed to a safer place before discharging any more from the ship, so at 8 P.M. on the 10th we commenced getting the remainder of the wood for the hut and the bales of cork for the lining up on to the bare land. This took till about midnight, when we knocked off for cocoa and a sleep.
We turned to at six o'clock next morning, and I decided to get the stores up the cliff face at Derrick Point before dealing with those at Front Door Bay, the first landing-place, for the former ice-foot seemed in the greater peril of collapse than did the latter. Adams, Joyce, and Wild soon rigged up a boom and tackle from the top of the cliff, making the heel of the boom fast by placing great blocks of volcanic rocks on it. A party remained below on the ice-foot to shift and hook on the cases, whilst another party on top, fifty feet above, hauled away when the word was given from below, and on reaching the top of the cliff, the cases were hauled in by means of a guy-rope. The men were hauling on the thin rope of the tackle from eight o'clock in the morning till one o'clock the following morning with barely a spell for a bit to eat.
We now had to find another and safer place on which to land the rest of the coal and stores. Further round the bay from where the ship was lying was a smaller bight where a gentle slope led on to bare rocks, and Back Door Bay, as we named this place, became our new depot. The ponies were led down the hill, and from Back Door Bay to the ship. This was a still longer journey than from Derrick Point, but there was no help for it, and we started landing the coal, after laying a tarpauling on the rocks to keep the coal from becoming mixed with the earth. By this time there were several ugly looking cracks in the bay ice, and these kept opening and closing, having a play of seven or eight inches between the floes. We improvised bridges out of the bottom and sides of the motor-ear case so that the ponies could cross the cracks, and by eleven o'clock were well under way with the work. Mackay had just taken ashore a load with a pony, Armytage was about to hook on another pony to a loaded sledge at the ship, and a third pony was standing tied to our stern anchor rope waiting its turn for sledging, when suddenly, without the slightest warning, the greater part of the bay ice opened out into floes, and the whole mass that had opened started to drift slowly out to sea. The ponies on the ice were now in a perilous position. The sailors rushed to loosen the one tied to the stern rope, and got it over the first crack, and Armytage also got the pony he was looking after off the floe nearest the ship on to the next floe. Just at that moment Mackay appeared round the corner from Back Door Bay with a third pony attached to an empty sledge, on his way back to the ship to load up. Orders were shouted to him not to come any further, but he did not at first grasp the situation, for he continued advancing over the ice, which was now breaking away more rapidly. The party working on the top of Derrick Point, by shouting and waving, made him realise what had occurred. He accordingly left his sledge and pony and rushed over towards where the other two ponies were adrift on the ice, and, by jumping the widening cracks, he reached the moving floe on which they were standing. This piece of ice gradually drew closer to a larger piece, from which the animals would be able to gain a place of safety. Mackay started to try and get the pony Chinaman across the crack when it was only about six inches wide, but the animal suddenly took fright, reared up on his hind legs, and backing towards the edge of the floe, which had at that moment opened to a width of a few feet, fell bodily into the ice-cold water. It looked as if it was all over with poor Chinaman, but Mackay hung on to the head rope, and Davis, Mawson, Michell and one of the sailors who were on the ice close by rushed to his assistance. The pony managed to get his fore feet on to the edge of the ice-floe. After great difficulty a rope fling was passed underneath him, and then by tremendous exertion he was lifted up far enough to enable him to scramble on to the ice. There he stood, wet and trembling in every limb. A few seconds later the floe closed up against the other one. It was providential that it had not done so during the time that the pony was in the water, for in that case the animal would inevitably have been squeezed to death between the two huge masses of ice. A bottle of brandy was thrown on to the ice from the ship, and half its contents were poured down Chinaman's throat. The ship was now turning round with the object of going bow on to the floe, in order to push it ashore, so that the ponies might cross on to the fast ice, and presently, with the engine at full speed, the floe was slowly but surely moved back against the fast ice. Directly the floe was hard up against the unbroken ice, the ponies were rushed across and taken straight ashore, and the men who were on the different floes took advantage of the temporary closing of the crack to get themselves and the stores into safety. I decided, after this narrow escape, not to risk the ponies on the sea ice again. The ship was now backed out, and the loose floes began to drift away to the west.
THE PONIES TRANSPORTING COAL ON SLEDGES AT
BACK DOOR BAY
By 1 P.M. most of the ice had cleared out, and the ship came in to the edge of the fast ice, which was now abreast of Back Door Bay. Hardly were the ice-anchors made fast before new cracks appeared, and within a quarter of an hour the ship was adrift again. As it was impossible to discharge under these conditions, the Nimrod stood off. We had now practically the whole of the wintering party ashore, so when lunch was over, the main party went on with the work at Derrick Point, refreshed by the hot tea and meat, which they had hastily swallowed.
I organised that afternoon a small party to shift the main stores into safety. We had not been long at work before I saw that it would need the utmost despatch and our most strenuous endeavours to save the valuable cases; for the crack previously observed opened more each hour. Perspiration poured down our faces and bodies as we toiled in the hot sun. After two hours' work we had shifted into a place of safety all our cases of scientific instruments, and a large quantity of fodder, and hardly were they secured than, with a sharp crack, the very place where they had been lying fell with a crash into the sea. Had we lost these cases the result would have been very serious, for a great part of our scientific work could not have been carried out, and if the fodder had been lost, it would have meant the loss of the ponies also. The breaking of this part of the ice made us redouble our efforts to save the rest of the stores, for we could not tell when the next piece of ice might break off, though no crack was yet visible. The breaking up of the bay ice that morning turned out to be after all for the best, for I would not otherwise have gone on so early with this work. I ran up the hill to the top of Flagstaff Point to call the ship in, in order to obtain additional help from the crew; she had been dodging about outside of the point since one o'clock, but she was beyond hailing distance, and it was not till about seven o'clock that I saw her coming close in again. I at once hailed England and told him to send every available man ashore immediately. In a few minutes a boat came off with half a dozen men, and I sent a message back by the officer in charge for mere members of the ship's crew to be landed at once, and only enough men left on board to steer the ship and work the engines. I had previously knocked off the party working on the hut, and with the extra assistance we "smacked things about" in a lively fashion. The ice kept breaking off in chunks, but we had the satisfaction of seeing every single package safe on the rocks by midnight.
Our party then proceeded to sledge the heavier cases and the tins of oil at the foot of Derrick Point round the narrow causeway of ice between the perpendicular rocks and the sea to the depot at Back Door Bay. I was astonished and delighted on arriving at the derrick to find the immense amount of stores that had been placed in safety by the efforts of the Derrick Point party, and by 1 A.M. on February 13 all the stores landed were in safety. About a ton of flour in cases remained to be hauled up, but as we already had enough ashore to last us for a year, and knowing that at Hut Point there were large quantities of biscuit left by the last expedition, which would be available if needed, we just rolled the cases on the ice-foot into a hollow at the foot of the cliff, where they were in comparative safety, as the ice there would not be likely to break away immediately. We retrieved these after the ship left.
When making arrangements for the necessary equipment of the expedition, I tried to get the bulk of the stores into cases of uniform size and weight, averaging fifty to sixty pounds gross, and thus allow of more easy handling than would have been the case if the stores were packed in the usual way. The goods packed in Venesta cifses could withstand the roughest treatment without breakage or damage to the contents. These Venesta cases are made of three thin layers of wood, fastened together by a patent process; the material is much tougher than ordinary wood, weighs much less than a case of the same size made of the usual deal, and being thinner, takes up much less room, a consideration of great moment to a Polar expedition. The wood could not be broken by the direct blow of a heavy hammer, and the empty cases could be used for the making of the hundred and one odds and ends that have to be contrived to meet requirements in such an expedition as this.
At 1 P.M. on the morning of February 13 I signalled the ship to come in and take off the crew, and a boat was sent ashore. There was a slight breeze blowing, and it took them some time to pull off to the Nimrod, which lay a long way out. We on shore turned in, and we were so tired that it was noon before we woke up. A glance out to sea showed that we had lost nothing by our sleep, for there was a heavy swell running into the bay and it would have been quite impossible to have landed any stores at all. In the afternoon the ship came in fairly close, but I signalled England that it was useless to send the boat. This northerly swell, which we could hear thundering on the ice-foot, would have been welcome a fortnight before, for it would have broken up a large amount of fast ice to the south, and I could not help imagining that probably at this date there was open water up to Hut Point. Now, however, it was the worst thing possible for us, as the precious time was slipping by, and the still more valuable coal was being used up by the continual working of the ship's engines. Next day the swell still continued, so at 4 P.M. I signalled England to proceed to Glacier Tongue and land a depot there. Glacier Tongue is a remarkable formation of ice which stretches out into the sea from the south-west slopes of Mount Erebus. About five miles in length, running east and west, tapering almost to a point at its seaward end, and having a width of about a mile where it descends from the land, cracked and crevassed all over and floating in deep water, it is a phenomenon which still remains a mystery. It lies about eight miles to the northward of Hut Point, and about thirteen to the southward of Cape Royds, and I thought this would be a good place at which to land a quantity of sledging stores, as by doing so we would be saved haulage at least thirteen miles, the distance between the spot on the southern route and Cape Royds. The ship arrived there in the early evening, and landed the depot on the north side of the Tongue. The Professor took bearings so that there might be no difficulty in finding the depot when the sledging season commenced. The sounding at this spot gave a depth of 157 fathoms. From the seaward end of the glacier it was observed that the ice had broken away only a couple of miles further south, so the northerly swell had not been as far-reaching in its effect as I had imagined. The ship moored at the Tongue for the night.
During this day we, ashore at Cape Royds, were variously employed; one party continued the building of the hut, whilst the rest of us made a more elaborate temporary dwelling and cook-house than we had had up to that time. The walls were constructed of bales of fodder, which lent themselves admirably for this purpose, the cook-tent tarpauling was stretched over these for a roof and was supported on planks, and the outer walls were stayed with uprights from the pony-stalls. As the roof was rather low and people could not stand upright, a trench was dug at one end, where the cook could move about without bending his back the whole time. In this corner were concocted the most delicious dishes that ever a hungry man could wish for. Wild acted as cook till Roberts came ashore permanently, and it was a sight to see us in the dim light that penetrated through the door of the fodder hut as we sat in a row on cases, each armed with a spoon manufactured out of tin and wood by the ever-inventive Day, awaiting with eagerness our bowl of steaming hoosh or rich dark-coloured penguin breast, followed by biscuit, butter and jam; tea and smokes ended up the meal, and, as we lazily stretched ourselves out for the smoke, regardless of a temperature of 16 or 18 degrees of frost, we felt that things were not so bad.
The same day that we built the fodder hut we placed inside it some cases of bottled fruit, hoping to save them from being cracked by the severe frost outside. The bulk of the cases containing liquid we kept on board the ship till the last moment so that they could be put into the main hut when tho fire was lighted. We turned in about midnight, and got up at seven next morning. The ship had just come straight in, and I went off on board. Marshall also came off to attend to Mackintosh, whose wound was rapidly healing. He was now up and about.
He was very anxious to stay with us, but Marshall did not think it advisable for him to risk it. During the whole of this day and the next, the 15th, the swell was too great to admit of any stores being landed, but early on the morning of the 16th we found it possible to get ashore at a small ice-foot to the north of Flagstaff Point, and here, in spite of the swell, we managed to land six boatloads of fruit, some oil, and twenty-four bags of coal. The crew of the boat, whilst the stores were being taken out, had to keep to their oars, and whenever the swell rolled on the shelving beach, they had to back with all their might to keep the bow of the boat from running under the overhanging ice-foot and being crushed under the ice by the lifting wave. Davis, the chief officer of the Nimrod, worked like a Titan. A tall, red-headed Irishman, typical of his country, he was always working and always cheerful, having no time-limit for his work. He and Harbord, the second officer, a quiet, self-reliant man, were great acquisitions to the expedition. These two officers were ably supported by the efforts of the crew. They had nothing but hard work and discomfort from the beginning of the voyage, and yet they were always cheerful, and worked splendidly. Dunlop, the chief engineer, not only kept his department going smoothly on board but was the principal constructor of the hut. A great deal of the credit for the work being so cheerfully performed was due to the example of Cheetham, who was an old hand in the Antarctic, having been boatswain of the Morning on both the voyages she made for the relief of the Discovery. He was third mate and boatswain on this expedition.
When I had gone on board the previous day I found that England was still poorly and that he was feeling the strain of the situation. He was naturally very anxious to get the ship away and concerned about the shrinkage of the coal-supply. I also would have been glad to have seen the Nimrod on her way north, but it was impossible to let her leave until the wintering party had received their coal from her. In view of the voyage home, the ship's main topmast was struck to lessen her rolling in bad weather. It was impossible to ballast the ship with rock, as the time needed for this operation would involve the consumption of much valuable coal, and I was sure that the heavy iron-bark and oak hull, and the weight of the engine and boiler filled with water, would be sufficient to ensure the ship's safety.
We found it impossible to continue working at Cliff Point later on in the day, so the ship stood off whilst those on shore went on with the building of the hut. Some of the shore-party had come off in the last boat to finish writing their final letters home, and during the night we lay to waiting for the swell to decrease. The weather was quite fine, and if it had not been for the swell we could have got through a great deal of work. February is by no means a fine month in the latitude we were in, and up till now we had been extremely fortunate, as we had not experienced a real blizzard.
The following morning, Monday, February 17, the sea was breaking heavily on the ice-foot at the bottom of Cliff Point. The stores that had been landed the previous day had been hoisted up the overhanging cliff and now formed the fourth of our scattered depots of coal and stores. The swell did not seem so heavy in Front Door Bay, so we commenced landing the stores in the whale-boat at the place where the ice-foot had broken away, a party on shore hauling the bags of coal and the cases up the ice-face, which was about fourteen feet high. The penguins were still round us in large numbers. We had not had any time to make observations on them, being so busily employed discharging the ship, but just at this particular time our attention was called to a couple of these birds which suddenly made a spring from the water and landed on their feet on the ice-edge, having cleared a vertical height of twelve feet. It seemed a marvellous jump for these small creatures to have n.ade, and shows the rapidity with which they must move through water to gain the impetus that enables them to clear a distance in vertical height four times greater than their own, and also how unerring must be their judgment in estimation of the distance and height when performing this feat. The work of landing stores at this spot was greatly hampered by the fact that the bay was more or less filled with broken floes, through which the boat had to be forced. It was impossible to use the oars in the usual way, so, on arriving at the broken ice, they were employed as poles. The bow of the boat was entered into a likely looking channel, and then the crew, standing up, pushed the boat forward by means of the oars, the ice generally giving way on each side, but sometimes closing up and nipping the boat, which, if it had been less strongly built, would assuredly have been crushed. The Professor, Mawson, Cotton, Michell and a couple of seamen formed the boat's crew, and with Davis or Harbord in the stern, they dodged the ice very well, considering the fact that the swell was rather heavy at the outside edge of the floes. When along-side the ice-foot one of the crew hung on to a rope in the bow, -and another did the same in the stern, hauling in the slack as the boat rose on top of the swell, and easing out as the water swirled downwards from the ice-foot. There was a sharp-pointed rock, which, when the swell receded, was almost above water, and the greatest difficulty was experienced in preventing the boat from crashing down on the top of this. The rest of the staff in the boat and on shore hauled up the cases and bags of coal at every available opportunity. The coal was weighed at the top of the ice-foot, and the bags emptied on to a heap which formed the main supply for the winter months. We had now three depots of coal in different places round the winter quarters. In the afternoon the floating ice at this place became impassable, but fortunately it had worked its way out of Back Door Bay, where, in spite of the heavy swell running against the ice-foot, we were able to continue adding to the heap of coal until nearly eight tons had been landed. It was a dull and weary job except when unpleasantly enlivened by the imminent danger of the boat being caught between heavy pieces of floating ice and the solid ice-foot. These masses of ice rose and fell on the swell, the water swirling round them as they became submerged, and pouring off their tops and sides as they rose to the surface. It required all Harbord's watchfulness and speediness of action to prevent damage to the boat. It is almost needless to observe that all hands were as grimy as coal-heavers, especially the boat's crew, who were working in the half-frozen slushy coal-dust and sea spray. The Professor, Mawson, Cotton, and Michell still formed part of the crew. They had, by midnight, been over twelve hours in the boat, excepting for about ten minutes' spell for lunch, and after discharging each time had a long pull back to the ship. When each boat-load was landed, the coal and stores had to be hauled up on a sledge over a very steep gradient to a place of safety, and after this was accomplished, there was a long wait for the next consignment.
Work was continued all night, though every one was nearly dropping with fatigue; but I decided that the boat returning to the ship at 5 A.M. (the 18th) should take a message to England that the men were to knock off for breakfast and turn to at 7 A.M. Meanwhile Roberts had brewed some hot coffee in the hut, where we now had the stove going, and, after a drink of this, our weary people threw themselves down on the sleeping-bags in order to snatch a short rest before again taking up the work. At 7 A.M.
I went to the top of Flagstaff Point, but instead of seeing the ship close in, I spied her hull down on the horizon, and could see no sign of her approaching the winter quarters to resume discharging. After watching her for about half an hour, I returned to the hut, woke up those of the staff who from utter weariness had dropped asleep, and told them to turn into their bags and have a proper rest. I could not imagine why the ship was not at hand, but at a quarter to eleven Harbord came ashore and said that England wanted to see me on board; so, leaving the others to sleep, I went off to the Nimrod. On asking England why the ship was not in at seven to continue discharging, he told me that all hands were so dead-tired that he thought it best to let them have a sleep. The men were certainly worn out. Davis' head had dropped on the wardroom table, and he had gone sound asleep with his spoon in his mouth, to which he had just conveyed some of his breakfast. Cotton had fallen asleep on the platform of the engine-room steps, whilst Mawson, whose lair was a little store-room in the engine-room, was asleep on the floor. His long legs, protruding through the doorway, had found a resting-place on the cross-head of the engine, and his dreams were mingled with a curious rhythmical motion which was fully accounted for when he woke up, for the ship having got under way, the up-and-down motion of the piston had moved his limbs with every stroke. The sailors also were fast asleep; so, in the face of this evidence of absolute exhaustion, I decided not to start work again till after one o'clock, and told England definitely that when the ship had been reduced in coal to ninety-two tons as a minimum I would send her north. According to cur experiences on the last expedition, the latest date to which it would be safe to keep the Nimrod would be the end of February, for the young ice forming about that time on the sound would seriously hamper her getting clear of the Ross Sea. Later observations of the ice conditions of McMurdo Sound at our winter quarters showed us that a powerfully engined ship could have gone north later in the year, perhaps even in the winter, for we had open water close to us all the time.
About 2 P.M. the Nimrod came close in to Flagstaff Point to start discharging again. I decided that it was time to land the more delicate instruments, such as watches, chronometers, and all personal gear. The members of the staff who were on board hauled their things out of Oyster Alley, and, laden with its valuable freight, we took the whale-boat into Front Door Bay.
Those who had been ashore now went on board to collect their goods and finish their correspondence. During the afternoon we continued boating coal to Front Door Bay, which was again free of ice, and devoted our attention almost entirely to this work.
About five o'clock on the afternoon of February 18, snow began to fall, with a light wind from the north, and as at times the boat could hardly be seen from the ship, instructions were given to the boat's crew that whenever the Nimrod was not clearly visible they were to wait alongside the shore until the snow squall had passed and she appeared in sight again. At six o'clock, just as the boat had come alongside for another load, the wind suddenly shifted to the south-east and freshened immediately. The whaler was hoisted at once, and the Nimrod stood off from the shore, passing between some heavy ice-floes, against one of which her propeller struck, but fortunately without sustaining any damage. Within half an hour it was blowing a furious blizzard, and every sign of land, both east and west, was obscured in the scudding drift. I was aboard the vessel at the time. We were then making for the fast-ice to the south, but the Nimrod was gaining but little headway against the terrific wind and short-rising sea; so to save coal I decided to keep the engines just going slow and maintain our position in the sound as far as we could judge, though it was inevitable that we should drift northward to a certain extent. All night the gale raged with great fury. The speed of the gusts at times must have approached a force of a hundred miles an hour. The tops of the seas were cut off by the wind, and flung over the decks, mast, and rigging of the ship, congealing at once into hard ice, and the sides of the vessel were thick with the frozen sea water. "The masts were grey with the frozen spray, and the bows were a coat of mail." Very soon the cases and sledges lying on deck were hard and fast in a sheet of solid ice, and the temperature had dropped below zero. Harbord, who was the officer on watch, on whistling to call the crew aft, found that the metal whistle stuck to his lips, a painful intimation of the low temperature. I spent most of the night on the bridge, and hoped that the violence of the gale would be of but short duration. This hope was not realised, for next morning, February 19, at 8 A.M., it was blowing harder than ever. During the early hours of the day the temperature was minus 16° Fahr., and consistently kept below minus 12° Fahr. The motion of the ship was sharp and jerky, yet, considering the nature of the sea and the trim of the vessel, she was remarkably steady. To a certain extent this was due to the fact that the main topmast had been lowered. We had constantly to have two men at the wheel, for the rudder, being so far out of the water, received the blows of the sea as they struck the quarter and stern; and the steersman having once been flung right over the steering-chains against the side of the ship, it was necessary to have two always holding on to the kicking wheel. At times there would be a slight lull, the seas striking less frequently against the rudder, and the result would be that the rudder-well soon got filled with ice, and it was found impossible to move the wheel at all. To overcome this dangerous state of things the steersmen had to keep moving the wheel alternately to port and starboard, after the ice had been broken away from the well. In spite of this precaution, the rudder-well occasionally became choked, and one of the crew, armed with a long iron bar, had to stand by continually to break the frozen sea water off the rudder. In the blinding drift it was impossible to see more than a few yards from the ship, and once a large iceberg suddenly loomed out of the drift close to the weather bow of the Nimrod; fortunately the rudder had just been cleared, and the ship answered her helm, thus avoiding a collision.
All day on the 20th, through the night, and throughout the day and night of the 21st, the gale raged. Occasionally the drift ceased, and we saw dimly bare rocks, sometimes to the east and sometimes to the west, but the upper parts of them being enveloped in snow clouds, it was impossible to ascertain exactly what our position was. At these times we were forced to wear ship; that is, to turn the ship round, bringing the wind first astern and then on to the other side, so that we could head in the opposite direction. It was impossible in face of the storm to tack, i.e. to turn the ship's head into the wind, and round, so as to bring the wind on the other side. About midnight on the 21st, whilst carrying out this evolution of wearing ship, during which the Nimrod always rolled heavily in the trough of the waves, she shipped a heavy sea, and, all the release-water ports and scupper holes being blocked with ice, the water had no means of exit, and began to freeze on deck, where, already, there was a layer of ice over a foot in thickness. Any more weight like this would have made the ship unmanageable. The ropes, already covered with ice, would have been frozen into a solid mass, so we were forced to take the drastic step of breaking holes in the bulwarks to allow the water to escape. This had been done already in the forward end of the ship by the gales we experienced on our passage down to the ice, but as the greater part of the weight in the holds was aft, the water collected towards the middle and stern, and the job of breaking through the bulwarks was a tougher one than we had imagined; it was only by dint of great exertions that Davis and Harbord accomplished it. It was a sight to see Harbord, held by his legs, hanging over the starboard side of the Nimrod, and wielding a heavy axe, whilst Davis, whose length of limb enabled him to lean over without being held, did the same on the other side. The temperature at this time was several degrees below zero. Occasionally on this night, as we approached the eastern shore, the coast of Ross Island, we noticed the sea covered with a thick yellowish-brown scum. This was due to the immense masses of snow blown off the mountain sides out to sea, and this scum, to a certain extent, prevented the tops of the waves from breaking. Had it not been for this unexpected protection we would certainly have lost our starboard boat, which had been unshipped in a sea and was hanging in a precarious position for the time being. It was hard to realise that so high and so dangerous a sea could possibly have risen in the comparatively narrow waters of McMurdo Sound. The wind was as strong as that we experienced in the gales that assailed us after we first left New Zealand, but the waves were not so huge as those which had the whole run of the Southern Ocean in which to gather strength before they met us. At 2 A.M. the weather suddenly cleared, and though the wind still blew strongly and gustily, it was apparent that the force of the gale had been expended. We could now see our position clearly. The wind and current, in spite of our efforts to keep our position, had driven us over thirty miles to the north, and at this time we were abeam of Cape Bird. The sea was rapidly decreasing in height, and we were able to steam for Cape Royds.
We arrived there in the early morning, and I went ashore at Back Door Bay, after pushing the whale boat through pancake ice and slush, the result of the gale. Hurrying over to the hut I was glad to see that it was intact, and then I received full details of the occurrences of the last three days on shore. The report was not very reassuring as regards the warmth of the hut, for the inmates stated that, in spite of the stove being alight the whole time, no warmth was given off. Of course the building was really not at all complete. It had not been lined, and there were only makeshift protections for the windows, but what seemed a grave matter was the behaviour of the stove, for on the efficiency of this depended not only our comfort but our very existence. The shore-party had experienced a very heavy gale indeed. The hut had trembled and shaken the whole time, and if the situation had not been so admirable I doubt whether there would have been a hut at all after the gale. A minor accident had occurred, for our fodder hut had failed to withstand the gale, and one of the walls had collapsed, killing one of Possum's pups. The roof had been demolished at the same time.
On going down to our main landing-place, the full effect of the blizzard became apparent. There was hardly a sign to be seen of the greater part of our stores. At first it appeared that the drifting snow had covered the cases and bales and the coal, but a closer inspection showed that the real disappearance of our stores from view was due to the sea. Such was the force of the wind blowing straight on to the shore from the south that the spray had been flung in sheets over everything and had been carried by the wind for nearly a quarter of a mile inland, and consequently in places our precious stores lay buried to a depth of five or six feet in a mass of frozen sea water. The angles taken up by the huddled masses of cases and bales had made the surface of this mass of ice assume a most peculiar shape. We feared that it would take weeks of work to get the stores clear of the ice. It was probable also that the salt water would have damaged the fodder, and worked its way into cases that were not tin-lined or made of Venesta wood, and that some of the things would never be seen again. No one would have recognised the landing-place as the spot on which we had been working during the past fortnight, so great was the change wrought by the furious storm. Our heap of coal had a sheet of frozen salt water over it, but this was a blessing in disguise, for it saved the smaller pieces of coal from being blown away.
A BLIZZARD ON THE BARRIER
There was no time then to do anything about releasing the stores from the ice; the main thing was to get the remainder of the coal ashore and send the ship north. We immediately started landing coal at the extreme edge of Front Door Bay. The rate of work was necessarily very slow, for the whole place was both rough and slippery from the newly formed ice that covered everything. Before 10 P.M. on February 22, the final boatload of coal arrived. We calculated that we had in all only about eighteen tons, so that the strictest economy would be required to make this amount spin out until the sledging commenced in the following spring. I should certainly have liked more coal, but the delays that had occurred in finding winter quarters, and the difficulties encountered in landing the stores, had caused the Nimrod to be kept longer than I had intended already. We gave our final letters and messages to the crew of the last boat, and said good-bye. Cotton, who had come south just for the trip, was among them, and never had we a more willing worker. At 10 P.M. the Nimrod's bows were pointed to the north, and she was moving rapidly away from the winter quarters with a fair wind. Within a month I hoped she would be safe in New Zealand, and her crew enjoying a well-earned rest. We were all devoutly thankful that the landing of the stores had been finished at last, and that the state of the sea would no longer be a factor in our work, but it was with something of a pang that we severed our last connection with the world of men. We could hope for no word of news from civilisation until the Nimrod came south again in the following summer, and before that we had a good deal of difficult work to do, and some risks to face.
There was scant time for reflection, even if we had been moved that way. We turned in for a good night's rest as soon as possible after the departure of the ship, and the following morning we started digging the stores out of the ice, and transporting everything to the vicinity of the hut. It was necessary that the stores should be close by the building, partly in order that there might be no difficulty in getting what goods we wanted during the winter, and partly because we would require all the protection that we could get from the cold, and the cases, when piled round our little dwelling, would serve to keep off the wind. We hoped, as soon as the stores had all been placed in position, to make a start with the scientific observations that were to be an important part of the work of the expedition.