Scott's Last Expedition: To Midwinter Day

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CHAPTER XI
To Midwinter Day

 

Thursday, June 1. -- The wind blew hard all night, gusts arising to 72 m.p.h.; the anemometer choked five times -- temperature +9°. It is still blowing this morning. Incidentally we have found that these heavy winds react very conveniently on our ventilating system. A fire is always a good ventilator, ensuring the circulation of inside air and the indraught of fresh air; its defect as a ventilator lies in the low level at which it extracts inside air. Our ventilating system utilises the normal fire draught, but also by suitable holes in the funnelling causes the same draught to extract foul air at higher levels. I think this is the first time such a system has been used. It is a bold step to make holes in the funnelling as obviously any uncertainty of draught might fill the hut with smoke. Since this does not happen with us it follows that there is always strong suction through our stovepipes, and this is achieved by their exceptionally large dimensions and by the length of the outer chimney pipe.

With wind this draught is greatly increased and with high winds the draught would be too great for the stoves if it were not for the relief of the ventilating holes.

In these circumstances, therefore, the rate of extraction of air automatically rises, and since high wind is usually accompanied with marked rise of temperature, the rise occurs at the most convenient season, when the interior of the hut would otherwise tend to become oppressively warm. The practical result of the system is that in spite of the numbers of people living in the hut, the cooking, and the smoking, the inside air is nearly always warm, sweet, and fresh.

There is usually a drawback to the best of arrangements, and I have said 'nearly' always. The exceptions in this connection occur when the outside air is calm and warm and the galley fire, as in the early morning, needs to be worked up; it is necessary under these conditions to temporarily close the ventilating holes, and if at this time the cook is intent on preparing our breakfast with a frying-pan we are quickly made aware of his intentions. A combination of this sort is rare and lasts only for a very short time, for directly the fire is aglow the ventilator can be opened again and the relief is almost instantaneous.

This very satisfactory condition of inside air must be a highly important factor in the preservation of health.

I have to-day regularised the pony 'nicknames'; I must leave it to Drake to pull out the relation to the 'proper' names according to our school contracts![1] Note 18

The nicknames are as follows:

James Pigg
Bones
Michael
Snatcher
Jehu
China
Christopher
Victor
Snippets (windsucker)
Nobby

Keohane
Crean
Clissold
Evans (P.O.)


Hooper
Bowers

Lashly

 

Friday, June 2. -- The wind still high. The drift ceased at an early hour yesterday; it is difficult to account for the fact. At night the sky cleared; then and this morning we had a fair display of aurora streamers to the N. and a faint arch east. Curiously enough the temperature still remains high, about +7°.

The meteorological conditions are very puzzling.

 

Saturday, June 3. -- The wind dropped last night, but at 4 A.M. suddenly sprang up from a dead calm to 30 miles an hour. Almost instantaneously, certainly within the space of one minute, there was a temperature rise of nine degrees. It is the most extraordinary and interesting example of a rise of temperature with a southerly wind that I can remember. It is certainly difficult to account for unless we imagine that during the calm the surface layer of cold air is extremely thin and that there is a steep inverted gradient. When the wind arose the sky overhead was clearer than I ever remember to have seen it, the constellations brilliant, and the Milky Way like a bright auroral streamer.

The wind has continued all day, making it unpleasant out of doors. I went for a walk over the land; it was dark, the rock very black, very little snow lying; old footprints in the soft, sandy soil were filled with snow, showing quite white on a black ground. Have been digging away at food statistics.

Simpson has just given us a discourse, in the ordinary lecture series, on his instruments. Having already described these instruments, there is little to comment upon; he is excellently lucid in his explanations.

As an analogy to the attempt to make a scientific observation when the condition under consideration is affected by the means employed, he rather quaintly cited the impossibility of discovering the length of trousers by bending over to see!

The following are the instruments described:

 

Features 

The outside (bimetallic) thermograph. 

 

The inside thermograph (alcohol)

 Alcohol in spiral, small lead pipe -- float vessel.

The electrically recording anemometer

 Cam device with contact on wheel; slowing arrangement, inertia of wheel.

The Dynes anemometer

 Parabola on immersed float.

The recording wind vane

 Metallic pen.

The magnetometer

 Horizontal force measured in two directions -- vertical force in one -- timing arrangement.

 The high and low potential apparatus of the balloon thermograph

Spotting arrangement and difference, see ante.

Simpson is admirable as a worker, admirable as a scientist, and admirable as a lecturer.

 

Sunday, June 4. -- A calm and beautiful day. The account of this, a typical Sunday, would run as follows: Breakfast. A half-hour or so selecting hymns and preparing for Service whilst the hut is being cleared up. The Service: a hymn; Morning prayer to the Psalms; another hymn; prayers from Communion Service and Litany; a final hymn and our special prayer. Wilson strikes the note on which the hymn is to start and I try to hit it after with doubtful success! After church the men go out with their ponies.

To-day Wilson, Bowers, Cherry-Garrard, Lashly, and I went to start the building of our first 'igloo.' There is a good deal of difference of opinion as to the best implement with which to cut snow blocks. Cherry-Garrard had a knife which I designed and Lashly made, Wilson a saw, and Bowers a large trowel. I'm inclined to think the knife will prove most effective, but the others don't acknowledge it yet. As far as one can see at present this knife should have a longer handle and much coarser teeth in the saw edge -- perhaps also the blade should be thinner.

We must go on with this hut building till we get good at it. I'm sure it's going to be a useful art.

We only did three courses of blocks when tea-time arrived, and light was not good enough to proceed after tea.

Sunday afternoon for the men means a 'stretch of the land.'

I went over the floe on ski. The best possible surface after the late winds as far as Inaccessible Island. Here, and doubtless in most places along the shore, this, the first week of June, may be noted as the date by which the wet, sticky salt crystals become covered and the surface possible for wood runners. Beyond the island the snow is still very thin, barely covering the ice flowers, and the surface is still bad.

There has been quite a small landslide on the S. side of the Island; seven or eight blocks of rock, one or two tons in weight, have dropped on to the floe, an interesting instance of the possibility of transport by sea ice.

Ponting has been out to the bergs photographing by flashlight. As I passed south of the Island with its whole mass between myself and the photographer I saw the flashes of magnesium light, having all the appearance of lightning. The light illuminated the sky and apparently objects at a great distance from the camera. It is evident that there may be very great possibilities in the use of this light for signalling purposes and I propose to have some experiments.

N.B. -- Magnesium flashlight as signalling apparatus in the summer.

Another crab-eater seal was secured to-day; he had come up by the bergs.

 

Monday, June 5. -- The wind has been S. all day, sky overcast and air misty with snow crystals. The temperature has gone steadily up and to-night rose to + 16°. Everything seems to threaten a blizzard which cometh not. But what is to be made of this extraordinary high temperature heaven only knows. Went for a walk over the rocks and found it very warm and muggy.

Taylor gave us a paper on the Beardmore Glacier. He has taken pains to work up available information; on the ice side he showed the very gradual gradient as compared with the Ferrar. If crevasses are as plentiful as reported, the motion of glacier must be very considerable. There seem to be three badly crevassed parts where the glacier is constricted and the fall is heavier.

Geologically he explained the rocks found and the problems unsolved. The basement rocks, as to the north, appear to be reddish and grey granites and altered slate (possibly bearing fossils). The Cloudmaker appears to be diorite; Mt. Buckley sedimentary. The suggested formation is of several layers of coal with sandstone above and below; interesting to find if it is so and investigate coal. Wood fossil conifer appears to have come from this -- better to get leaves -- wrap fossils up for protection.

Mt. Dawson described as pinkish limestone, with a wedge of dark rock; this very doubtful! Limestone is of great interest owing to chance of finding Cambrian fossils (Archeocyathus).

He mentioned the interest of finding here, as in Dry Valley, volcanic cones of recent date (later than the recession of the ice). As points to be looked to in Geology and Physiography:

  1. Hope Island shape.
  2. Character of wall facets.
  3. Type of tributary glacierscliff or curtain, broken.
  4. Do tributaries enter 'at grade'?
  5. Lateral gullies pinnacled, &c., shape and size of slope.
  6. Do tributaries cut out gullies -- empty unoccupied cirques, hangers, &c.
  7. Do upland moraines show tesselation?
  8. Arrangement of strata, inclusion of.
  9. Types of moraines, distance of blocks.
  10. Weathering of glaciers. Types of surface. (Thrust mark? Rippled, snow stool, glass house, coral reef, honeycomb, ploughshare, bastions, piecrust.)
  11. Amount of water silt bands, stratified, or irregular folded or broken.
  12. Cross section, of valleys 35° slopes?
  13. Weather slopes debris covered, height to which.
  14. Nunataks, height of rounded, height of any angle in profile, erratics.
  15. Evidence of order in glacier delta.

Debenham in discussion mentioned usefulness of small chips of rock -- many chips from several places are more valuable than few larger specimens.

We had an interesting little discussion.

I must enter a protest against the use made of the word 'glaciated' by Geologists and Physiographers.

To them a 'glaciated land' is one which appears to have been shaped by former ice action.

The meaning I attach to the phrase, and one which I believe is more commonly current, is that it describes a land at present wholly or partly covered with ice and snow.

I hold the latter is the obvious meaning and the former results from a piracy committed in very recent times.

The alternative terms descriptive of the different meanings are ice covered and ice eroded.

To-day I have been helping the Soldier to design pony rugs; the great thing, I think, is to get something which will completely cover the hindquarters.

 

Tuesday, June 6. -- The temperature has been as high as +19° to-day; the south wind persisted until the evening with clear sky except for fine effects of torn cloud round about the mountain. To-night the moon has emerged from behind the mountain and sails across the cloudless northern sky; the wind has fallen and the scene is glorious.

It is my birthday, a fact I might easily have forgotten, but my kind people did not. At lunch an immense birthday cake made its appearance and we were photographed assembled about it. Clissold had decorated its sugared top with various devices in chocolate and crystallised fruit, flags and photographs of myself.

After my walk I discovered that great preparations were in progress for a special dinner, and when the hour for that meal arrived we sat down to a sumptuous spread with our sledge banners hung about us. Clissold's especially excellent seal soup, roast mutton and red currant jelly, fruit salad, asparagus and chocolate -- such was our menu. For drink we had cider cup, a mystery not yet fathomed, some sherry and a liqueur.

After this luxurious meal everyone was very festive and amiably argumentative. As I write there is a group in the dark room discussing political progress with discussions -- another at one corner of the dinner table airing its views on the origin of matter and the probability of its ultimate discovery, and yet another debating military problems. The scraps that reach me from the various groups sometimes piece together in ludicrous fashion. Perhaps these arguments are practically unprofitable, but they give a great deal of pleasure to the participants. It's delightful to hear the ring of triumph in some voice when the owner imagines he has delivered himself of a well-rounded period or a clinching statement concerning the point under discussion. They are boys, all of them, but such excellent good-natured ones; there has been no sign of sharpness or anger, no jarring note, in all these wordy contests! all end with a laugh.

Nelson has offered Taylor a pair of socks to teach him some geology! This lulls me to sleep!

 

Wednesday, June 7. -- A very beautiful day. In the afternoon went well out over the floe to the south, looking up Nelson at his icehole and picking up Bowers at his thermometer. The surface was polished and beautifully smooth for ski, the scene brightly illuminated with moonlight, the air still and crisp, and the thermometer at -10°. Perfect conditions for a winter walk.

In the evening I read a paper on 'The Ice Barrier and Inland Ice.' I have strung together a good many new points and the interest taken in the discussion was very genuine -- so keen, in fact, that we did not break up till close on midnight. I am keeping this paper, which makes a very good basis for all future work on these subjects. (See Vol. II.)

 

Shelters to Iceholes

Time out of number one is coming across rediscoveries. Of such a nature is the building of shelters for iceholes. We knew a good deal about it in the Discovery, but unfortunately did not make notes of our experiences. I sketched the above figures for Nelson, and found on going to the hole that the drift accorded with my sketch. The sketches explain themselves. I think wall 'b' should be higher than wall 'a.'

My night on duty. The silent hours passed rapidly and comfortably. To bed 7 A.M.

 

Thursday, June 8. -- Did not turn out till 1 P.M., then with a bad head, an inevitable sequel to a night of vigil. Walked out to and around the bergs, bright moonlight, but clouds rapidly spreading up from south.

Tried the snow knife, which is developing. Debenham and Gran went off to Hut Point this morning; they should return to-morrow.

 

Friday, June 9. -- No wind came with the clouds of yesterday, but the sky has not been clear since they spread over it except for about two hours in the middle of the night when the moonlight was so bright that one might have imagined the day returned.

Otherwise the web of stratus which hangs over us thickens and thins, rises and falls with very bewildering uncertainty. We want theories for these mysterious weather conditions; meanwhile it is annoying to lose the advantages of the moonlight.

This morning had some discussion with Nelson and Wright regarding the action of sea water in melting barrier and sea ice. The discussion was useful to me in drawing attention to the equilibrium of layers of sea water.

In the afternoon I went round the Razor Back Islands on ski, a run of 5 or 6 miles; the surface was good but in places still irregular with the pressures formed when the ice was 'young.'

The snow is astonishingly soft on the south side of both islands. It is clear that in the heaviest blizzard one could escape the wind altogether by camping to windward of the larger island. One sees more and more clearly what shelter is afForded on the weather side of steep-sided objects.

Passed three seals asleep on the ice. Two others were killed near the bergs.

 

Saturday, June 10. -- The impending blizzard has come; the wind came with a burst at 9.30 this morning. 

Simpson spent the night turning over a theory to account for the phenomenon, and delivered himself of it this morning. It seems a good basis for the reference of future observations. He imagines the atmosphere A C in potential equilibrium with large margin of stability, i.e. the difference of temperature between A and C being much less than the adiabatic gradient.

In this condition there is a tendency to cool by radiation until some critical layer, B, reaches its due point. A stratus cloud is thus formed at B; from this moment A B continues to cool, but B C is protected from radiating, whilst heated by radiation from snow and possibly by release of latent heat due to cloud formation.

The condition now rapidly approaches unstable equilibrium, B C tending to rise, A B to descend.

Owing to lack of sun heat the effect will be more rapid in south than north and therefore the upset will commence first in the south. After the first start the upset will rapidly spread north, bringing the blizzard. The facts supporting the theory are the actual formation of a stratus cloud before a blizzard, the snow and warm temperature of the blizzard and its gusty nature.

It is a pretty starting-point, but, of course, there are weak spots.

Atkinson has found a trypanosome in the fish -- it has been stained, photographed and drawn -- an interesting discovery having regard to the few species that have been found. A trypanosome is the cause of 'sleeping sickness.'

The blizzard has continued all day with a good deal of drift. I went for a walk, but the conditions were not inviting.

We have begun to consider details of next season's travelling equipment. The crampons, repair of finnesko with sealskin, and an idea for a double tent have been discussed to-day. P.O. Evans and Lashly are delightfully intelligent in carrying out instructions.

 

Sunday, June 11. -- A fine clear morning, the moon now revolving well aloft and with full face.

For exercise a run on ski to the South Bay in the morning and a dash up the Ramp before dinner. Wind and drift arose in the middle of the day, but it is now nearly calm again.

At our morning service Cherry-Garrard, good fellow, vamped the accompaniment of two hymns; he received encouraging thanks and will cope with all three hymns next Sunday.

Day by day news grows scant in this midwinter season; all events seem to compress into a small record, yet a little reflection shows that this is not the case. For instance I have had at least three important discussions on weather and ice conditions to-day, concerning which many notes might be made, and quite a number of small arrangements have been made.

If a diary can be so inadequate here how difficult must be the task of making a faithful record of a day's events in ordinary civilised life! I think this is why I have found it so difficult to keep a diary at home.

 

Monday, June 12. -- The weather is not kind to us. There has not been much wind to-day, but the moon has been hid behind stratus cloud. One feels horribly cheated in losing the pleasure of its light. I scarcely know what the Crozier party can do if they don't get better luck next month.

Debenham and Gran have not yet returned; this is their fifth day of absence.

Bowers and Cherry-Garrard went to Cape Royds this afternoon to stay the night. Taylor and Wright walked there and back after breakfast this morning. They returned shortly after lunch.

Went for a short spin on ski this morning and again this afternoon. This evening Evans has given us a lecture on surveying. He was shy and slow, but very painstaking, taking a deal of trouble in preparing pictures, &c.

I took the opportunity to note hurriedly the few points to which I want attention especially directed. No doubt others will occur to me presently. I think I now understand very well how and why the old surveyors (like Belcher) failed in the early Arctic work.

1. Every officer who takes part in the Southern Journey ought to have in his memory the approximate variation of the compass at various stages of the journey and to know how to apply it to obtain a true course from the compass. The variation changes very slowly so that no great effort of memory is required.

2. He ought to know what the true course is to reach one depôt from another.

3. He should be able to take an observation with the theodolite.

4. He should be able to work out a meridian altitude observation.

5. He could advantageously add to his knowledge the ability to work out a longitude observation or an ex-meridian altitude.

6. He should know how to read the sledgemeter.

7. He should note and remember the error of the watch he carries and the rate which is ascertained for it from time to time.

8. He should assist the surveyor by noting the coincidences of objects, the opening out of valleys, the observation of new peaks, &c.Note 19

 

Tuesday, June 13. -- A very beautiful day. We revelled in the calm clear moonlight; the temperature has fallen to -26°. The surface of the floe perfect for ski -- had a run to South Bay in forenoon and was away on a long circuit around Inaccessible Island in the afternoon. In such weather the cold splendour of the scene is beyond description; everything is satisfying, from the deep purple of the starry sky to the gleaming bergs and the sparkle of the crystals under foot.

Some very brilliant patches of aurora over the southern shoulder of the mountain. Observed an exceedingly bright meteor shoot across the sky to the northward.

On my return found Debenham and Gran back from Cape Armitage. They had intended to start back on Sunday, but were prevented by bad weather; they seemed to have had stronger winds than we.

On arrival at the hut they found poor little 'Mukaka' coiled up outside the door, looking pitifully thin and weak, but with enough energy to bark at them.

This dog was run over and dragged for a long way under the sledge runners whilst we were landing stores in January (the 7th). He has never been worth much since, but remained lively in spite of all the hardships of sledging work. At Hut Point he looked a miserable object, as the hair refused to grow on his hindquarters. It seemed as though he could scarcely continue in such a condition, and when the party came back to Cape Evans he was allowed to run free alongside the sledge.

On the arrival of the party I especially asked after the little animal and was told by Demetri that he had returned, but later it transpired that this was a mistake -- that he had been missed on the journey and had not turned up again later as was supposed.

I learned this fact only a few days ago and had quite given up the hope of ever seeing the poor little beast again. It is extraordinary to realise that this poor, lame, half-clad animal has lived for a whole month by himself. He had blood on his mouth when found, implying the capture of a seal, but how he managed to kill it and then get through its skin is beyond comprehension. Hunger drives hard.

 

Wednesday, June 14. -- Storms are giving us little rest. We found a thin stratus over the sky this morning, foreboding ill. The wind came, as usual with a rush, just after lunch. At first there was much drift -- now the drift has gone but the gusts run up to 65 m.p.h.

Had a comfortless stroll around the hut; how rapidly things change when one thinks of the delights of yesterday! Paid a visit to Wright's ice cave; the pendulum is installed and will soon be ready for observation. Wright anticipates the possibility of difficulty with ice crystals on the agate planes.

He tells me that he has seen some remarkably interesting examples of the growth of ice crystals on the walls of the cave and has observed the same unaccountable confusion of the size of grains in the ice, showing how little history can be gathered from the structure of ice.

This evening Nelson gave us his second biological lecture, starting with a brief reference to the scientific classification of the organism into Kingdom, Phylum, Group, Class, Order, Genus, Species; he stated the justification of a biologist in such an expedition, as being 'To determine the condition under which organic substances exist in the sea.'

He proceeded to draw divisions between the bottom organisms without power of motion, benthon, the nekton motile life in mid-water, and the plankton or floating life. Then he led very prettily on to the importance of the tiny vegetable organisms as the basis of all life.

In the killer whale may be found a seal, in the seal a fish, in the fish a smaller fish, in the smaller fish a copepod, and in the copepod a diatom. If this be regular feeding throughout, the diatom or vegetable is essentially the base of all.

Light is the essential of vegetable growth or metabolism, and light quickly vanishes in depth of water, so that all ocean life must ultimately depend on the phyto-plankton. To discover the conditions of this life is therefore to go to the root of matters.

At this point came an interlude -- descriptive of the various biological implements in use in the ship and on shore. The otter trawl, the Agassiz trawl, the 'D' net, and the ordinary dredger.

A word or two on the using of 'D' nets and then explanation of sieves for classifying the bottom, its nature causing variation in the organisms living on it.

From this he took us amongst the tow-nets with their beautiful silk fabrics, meshes running 180 to the inch and materials costing 2 guineas the yard -- to the German tow-nets for quantitative measurements, the object of the latter and its doubtful accuracy, young fish trawls.

From this to the chemical composition of sea water, the total salt about 3.5 per cent, but variable: the proportions of the various salts do not appear to differ, thus the chlorine test detects the salinity quantitatively. Physically plankton life must depend on this salinity and also on temperature, pressure, light, and movement.

(If plankton only inhabits surface waters, then density, temperatures, &c., of surface waters must be the important factors. Why should biologists strive for deeper layers? Why should not deep sea life be maintained by dead vegetable matter?)

Here again the lecturer branched off into descriptions of water bottles, deep sea thermometers, and current-meters, the which I think have already received some notice in this diary. To what depth light may extend is the difficult problem and we had some speculation, especially in the debate on this question. Simpson suggested that laboratory experiment should easily determine. Atkinson suggested growth of bacteria on a scratched plate. The idea seems to be that vegetable life cannot exist without red rays, which probably do not extend beyond 7 feet or so. Against this is an extraordinary recovery of Holosphera Firidis by German expedition from 2000 fathoms; this seems to have been confirmed. Bowers caused much amusement by demanding to know 'If the pycnogs (pycnogonids) were more nearly related to the arachnids (spiders) or crustaceans.' As a matter of fact a very sensible question, but it caused amusement because of its sudden display of long names. Nelson is an exceedingly capable lecturer; he makes his subject very clear and is never too technical.

 

Thursday, June 15. -- Keen cold wind overcast sky till 5.30 P.M. Spent an idle day.

Jimmy Pigg had an attack of colic in the stable this afternoon. He was taken out and doctored on the floe, which seemed to improve matters, but on return to the stable he was off his feed.

This evening the Soldier tells me he has eaten his food, so I hope all be well again.

 

Friday, June 16. -- Overcast again -- little wind but also little moonlight. Jimmy Pigg quite recovered.

Went round the bergs in the afternoon. A great deal of ice has fallen from the irregular ones, showing that a great deal of weathering of bergs goes on during the winter and hence that the life of a berg is very limited, even if it remains in the high latitudes.

To-night Debenham lectured on volcanoes. His matter is very good, but his voice a little monotonous, so that there were signs of slumber in the audience, but all woke up for a warm and amusing discussion succeeding the lecture.

The lecturer first showed a world chart showing distribution of volcanoes, showing general tendency of eruptive explosions to occur in lines. After following these lines in other parts of the world he showed difficulty of finding symmetrical linear distribution near McMurdo Sound. He pointed out incidentally the important inference which could be drawn from the discovery of altered sandstones in the Erebus region. He went to the shapes of volcanoes:

The massive type formed by very fluid lavas -- Mauna Loa (Hawaii), Vesuvius, examples.

The more perfect cones formed by ash talus -- Fujiama, Discovery.

The explosive type with parasitic cones -- Erebus, Morning, Etna.

Fissure eruption -- historic only in Iceland, but best prehistoric examples Deccan (India) and Oregon (U.S.).

There is small ground for supposing relation between adjacent volcanoes -- activity in one is rarely accompanied by activity in the other. It seems most likely that vent tubes are entirely separate.

Products of volcanoes. -- The lecturer mentioned the escape of quantities of free hydrogen -- there was some discussion on this point afterwards; that water is broken up is easily understood, but what becomes of the oxygen? Simpson suggests the presence of much oxidizable material.

CO2 as a noxious gas also mentioned and discussed -- causes mythical 'upas' tree -- sulphurous fumes attend final stages.

Practically little or no heat escapes through sides of a volcano.

There was argument over physical conditions influencing explosions -- especially as to barometric influence. There was a good deal of disjointed information on lavas, ropy or rapid flowing and viscous -- also on spatter cones and caverns.

In all cases lavas cool slowly -- heat has been found close to the surface after 87 years. On Etna there is lava over ice. The lecturer finally reviewed the volcanicity of our own neighbourhood. He described various vents of Erebus, thinks Castle Rock a 'plug' -- here some discussion -- Observation Hill part of old volcano, nothing in common with Crater Hill. Inaccessible Island seems to have no connection with Erebus.

Finally we had a few words on the origin of volcanicity and afterwards some discussion on an old point -- the relation to the sea. Why are volcanoes close to sea? Debenham thinks not cause and effect, but two effects resulting from same cause.

Great argument as to whether effect of barometric changes on Erebus vapour can be observed. Not much was said about the theory of volcanoes, but Debenham touched on American theories -- the melting out from internal magma.

There was nothing much to catch hold of throughout, but discussion of such a subject sorts one's ideas.

 

Saturday, June 17. -- Northerly wind, temperature changeable, dropping to -16°.

Wind doubtful in the afternoon. Moon still obscured -- it is very trying. Feeling dull in spirit to-day.

 

Sunday, June 18. -- Another blizzard -- the weather is distressing. It ought to settle down soon, but unfortunately the moon is passing.

Held the usual Morning Service. Hymns not quite successful to-day.

To-night Atkinson has taken the usual monthly measurement. I don't think there has been much change.

 

Monday, June 19. -- A pleasant change to find the air calm and the sky clear -- temperature down to -28°. At 1.30 the moon vanished behind the western mountains, after which, in spite of the clear sky, it was very dark on the floe. Went out on ski across the bay, then round about the cape, and so home, facing a keen northerly wind on return.

Atkinson is making a new fish trap hole; from one cause and another, the breaking of the trap, and the freezing of the hole, no catch has been made for some time. I don't think we shall get good catches during the dark season, but Atkinson's own requirements are small, and the fish, though nice enough, are not such a luxury as to be greatly missed from our 'menu.'

Our daily routine has possessed a settled regularity for a long time. Clissold is up about 7 A.M. to start the breakfast. At 7.30 Hooper starts sweeping the floor and setting the table. Between 8 and 8.30 the men are out and about, fetching ice for melting, &c. Anton is off to feed the ponies, Demetri to see the dogs; Hooper bursts on the slumberers with repeated announcements of the time, usually a quarter of an hour ahead of the clock. There is a stretching of limbs and an interchange of morning greetings, garnished with sleepy humour. Wilson and Bowers meet in a state of nature beside a washing basin filled with snow and proceed to rub glistening limbs with this chilling substance. A little later with less hardihood some others may be seen making the most of a meagre allowance of water. Soon after 8.30 I manage to drag myself from a very comfortable bed and make my toilet with a bare pint of water. By about ten minutes to 9 my clothes are on, my bed is made, and I sit down to my bowl of porridge; most of the others are gathered about the table by this time, but there are a few laggards who run the nine o'clock rule very close. The rule is instituted to prevent delay in the day's work, and it has needed a little pressure to keep one or two up to its observance. By 9.20 breakfast is finished, and before the half-hour has struck the table has been cleared. From 9.30 to 1.30 the men are steadily employed on a programme of preparation for sledging, which seems likely to occupy the greater part of the winter. The repair of sleeping-bags and the alteration of tents have already been done, but there are many other tasks uncompleted or not yet begun, such as the manufacture of provision bags, crampons, sealskin soles, pony clothes, &c.

Hooper has another good sweep up the hut after breakfast, washes the mess traps, and generally tidies things. I think it a good thing that in these matters the officers need not wait on themselves; it gives long unbroken days of scientific work and must, therefore, be an economy of brain in the long run.

We meet for our mid-day meal at 1.30 or 1.45, and spend a very cheerful half-hour over it. Afterwards the ponies are exercised, weather permitting; this employs all the men and a few of the officers for an hour or more -- the rest of us generally take exercise in some form at the same time. After this the officers go on steadily with their work, whilst the men do odd jobs to while away the time. The evening meal, our dinner, comes at 6.30, and is finished within the hour. Afterwards people read, write, or play games, or occasionally finish some piece of work. The gramophone is usually started by some kindly disposed person, and on three nights of the week the lectures to which I have referred are given. These lectures still command full audiences and lively discussions.

At 11 P.M. the acetylene lights are put out, and those who wish to remain up or to read in bed must depend on candle-light. The majority of candles are extinguished by midnight, and the night watchman alone remains awake to keep his vigil by the light of an oil lamp.

Day after day passes in this fashion. It is not a very active life perhaps, but certainly not an idle one. Few of us sleep more than eight hours out of the twenty-four.

On Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning some extra bathing takes place; chins are shaven, and perhaps clean garments donned. Such signs, with the regular Service on Sunday, mark the passage of the weeks.

To-night Day has given us a lecture on his motor sledge. He seems very hopeful of success, but I fear is rather more sanguine in temperament than his sledge is reliable in action. I wish I could have more confidence in his preparations, as he is certainly a delightful companion.

 

Tuesday, June 20. -- Last night the temperature fell to -36°, the lowest we have had this year. On the Ramp the minimum was -31°, not the first indication of a reversed temperature gradient. We have had a calm day, as is usual with a low thermometer.

It was very beautiful out of doors this morning; as the crescent moon was sinking in the west, Erebus showed a heavy vapour cloud, showing that the quantity is affected by temperature rather than pressure.

I'm glad to have had a good run on ski.

The Cape Crozier party are preparing for departure, and heads have been put together to provide as much comfort as the strenuous circumstances will permit. I came across a hint as to the value of a double tent in Sverdrup's book, 'New Land,' and (P.O.) Evans has made a lining for one of the tents; it is secured on the inner side of the poles and provides an air space inside the tent. I think it is going to be a great success, and that it will go far to obviate the necessity of considering the question of snow huts -- though we shall continue our efforts in this direction also.

Another new departure is the decision to carry eiderdown sleeping-bags inside the reindeer ones. 

With such an arrangement the early part of the journey is bound to be comfortable, but when the bags get iced difficulties are pretty certain to arise.

Day has been devoting his energies to the creation of a blubber stove, much assisted of course by the experience gained at Hut Point.

The blubber is placed in an annular vessel, A. The oil from it passes through a pipe, B, and spreads out on the surface of a plate, C, with a containing flange; d d are raised points which serve as heat conductors; e e is a tin chimney for flame with air holes at its base.

To start the stove the plate C must be warmed with spirit lamp or primus, but when the blubber oil is well alight its heat is quite sufficient to melt the blubber in And keep up the oil supply -- the heat gradually rises until the oil issues from B in a vaporised condition, when, of course, the heat given off by the stove is intense.

This stove was got going this morning in five minutes in the outer temperature with the blubber hard frozen. It will make a great difference to the Crozier Party if they can manage to build a hut, and the experience gained will be everything for the Western Party in the summer. With a satisfactory blubber stove it would never be necessary to carry fuel on a coast journey, and we shall deserve well of posterity if we can perfect one.

The Crozier journey is to be made to serve a good many trial ends. As I have already mentioned, each man is to go on a different food scale, with a view to determining the desirable proportion of fats and carbohydrates. Wilson is also to try the effect of a double wind-proof suit instead of extra woollen clothing.

If two suits of wind-proof will keep one as warm in the spring as a single suit does in the summer, it is evident that we can face the summit of Victoria Land with a very slight increase of weight.

I think the new crampons, which will also be tried on this journey, are going to be a great success. We have returned to the last Discovery type with improvements; the magnalium sole plates of our own crampons are retained but shod with 1/2-inch steel spikes; these plates are rivetted through canvas to an inner leather sole, and the canvas is brought up on all sides to form a covering to the 'finnesko' over which it is laced -- they are less than half the weight of an ordinary ski boot, go on very easily, and secure very neatly.

Midwinter Day, the turn of the season, is very close; it will be good to have light for the more active preparations for the coming year.

 

Wednesday, June 21. -- The temperature low again, falling to -36°. A curious hazy look in the sky, very little wind. The cold is bringing some minor troubles with the clockwork instruments in the open and with the acetylene gas plant -- no insuperable difficulties. Went for a ski run round the bergs; found it very dark and uninteresting.

The temperature remained low during night and Taylor reported a very fine display of Aurora.

 

Thursday, June 22. -- MIDWINTER. The sun reached its maximum depression at about 2.30 P.M. on the 22nd, Greenwich Mean Time: this is 2.30 A.M. on the 23rd according to the local time of the 180th meridian which we are keeping. Dinner to-night is therefore the meal which is nearest the sun's critical change of course, and has been observed with all the festivity customary at Xmas at home.

At tea we broached an enormous Buzzard cake, with much gratitude to its provider, Cherry-Garrard. In preparation for the evening our 'Union Jacks' and sledge flags were hung about the large table, which itself was laid with glass and a plentiful supply of champagne bottles instead of the customary mugs and enamel lime juice jugs. At seven o'clock we sat down to an extravagant bill of fare as compared with our usual simple diet.

Beginning on seal soup, by common consent the best decoction that our cook produces, we went on to roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fried potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Then followed a flaming plum-pudding and excellent mince pies, and thereafter a dainty savoury of anchovy and cod's roe. A wondrous attractive meal even in so far as judged by our simple lights, but with its garnishments a positive feast, for withal the table was strewn with dishes of burnt almonds, crystallised fruits, chocolates and such toothsome kickshaws, whilst the unstinted supply of champagne which accompanied the courses was succeeded by a noble array of liqueur bottles from which choice could be made in the drinking of toasts.

I screwed myself up to a little speech which drew attention to the nature of the celebration as a half-way mark not only in our winter but in the plans of the Expedition as originally published. (I fear there are some who don't realise how rapidly time passes and who have barely begun work which by this time ought to be in full swing.)

We had come through a summer season and half a winter,and had before us half a winter and a second summer. We ought to know how we stood in every respect; we did know how we stood in regard to stores and transport, and I especially thanked the officer in charge of stores and the custodians of the animals. I said that as regards the future, chance must play a part, but that experience showed me that it would have been impossible to have chosen people more fitted to support me in the enterprise to the South than those who were to start in that direction in the spring. I thanked them all for having put their shoulders to the wheel and given me this confidence.

We drank to the Success of the Expedition.

Then everyone was called on to speak, starting on my left and working round the table; the result was very characteristic of the various individuals -- one seemed to know so well the style of utterance to which each would commit himself.

Needless to say, all were entirely modest and brief; unexpectedly, all had exceedingly kind things to say of me -- in fact I was obliged to request the omission of compliments at an early stage. Nevertheless it was gratifying to have a really genuine recognition of my attitude towards the scientific workers of the Expedition, and I felt very warmly towards all these kind, good fellows for expressing it.

If good will and happy fellowship count towards success, very surely shall we deserve to succeed. It was matter for comment, much applauded, that there had not been a single disagreement between any two members of our party from the beginning. By the end of dinner a very cheerful spirit prevailed, and the room was cleared for Ponting and his lantern, whilst the gramophone gave forth its most lively airs.

When the table was upended, its legs removed, and chairs arranged in rows, we had quite a roomy lecture hall. Ponting had cleverly chosen this opportunity to display a series of slides made from his own local negatives. I have never so fully realised his work as on seeing these beautiful pictures; they so easily outclass anything of their kind previously taken in these regions. Our audience cheered vociferously.

After this show the table was restored for snapdragon, and a brew of milk punch was prepared in which we drank the health of Campbell's party and of our good friends in the Terra Nova. Then the table was again removed and a set of lancers formed.

By this time the effect of stimulating liquid refreshment on men so long accustomed to a simple life became apparent. Our biologist had retired to bed, the silent Soldier bubbled with humour and insisted on dancing with Anton. Evans, P.O., was imparting confidences in heavy whispers. Pat' Keohane had grown intensely Irish and desirous of political argument, whilst Clissold sat with a constant expansive smile and punctuated the babble of conversation with an occasional 'Whoop' of delight or disjointed witticism. Other bright-eyed individuals merely reached the capacity to enjoy that which under ordinary circumstances might have passed without evoking a smile.

In the midst of the revelry Bowers suddenly appeared, followed by some satellites bearing an enormous Christmas Tree whose branches bore flaming candles, gaudy crackers, and little presents for all. The presents, I learnt, had been prepared with kindly thought by Miss Souper (Mrs. Wilson's sister) and the tree had been made by Bowers of pieces of stick and string with coloured paper to clothe its branches; the whole erection was remarkably creditable and the distribution of the presents caused much amusement.

Whilst revelry was the order of the day within our hut, the elements without seemed desirous of celebrating the occasion with equal emphasis and greater decorum. The eastern sky was massed with swaying auroral light, the most vivid and beautiful display that I had ever seen -- fold on fold the arches and curtains of vibrating luminosity rose and spread across the sky, to slowly fade and yet again spring to glowing life.

The brighter light seemed to flow, now to mass itself in wreathing folds in one quarter, from which lustrous streamers shot upward, and anon to run in waves through the system of some dimmer figure as if to infuse new life within it.

It is impossible to witness such a beautiful phenomenon without a sense of awe, and yet this sentiment is not inspired by its brilliancy but rather by its delicacy in light and colour, its transparency, and above all by its tremulous evanescence of form. There is no glittering splendour to dazzle the eye, as has been too often described; rather the appeal is to the imagination by the suggestion of something wholly spiritual, something instinct with a fluttering ethereal life, serenely confident yet restlessly mobile.

One wonders why history does not tell us of 'aurora' worshippers, so easily could the phenomenon be considered the manifestation of 'god' or 'demon.' To the little silent group which stood at gaze before such enchantment it seemed profane to return to the mental and physical atmosphere of our house. Finally when I stepped within, I was glad to find that there had been a general movement bedwards, and in the next half-hour the last of the roysterers had succumbed to slumber.

Thus, except for a few bad heads in the morning, ended the High Festival of Midwinter.

There is little to be said for the artificial uplifting of animal spirits, yet few could take great exception to so rare an outburst in a long run of quiet days.

After all we celebrated the birth of a season which for weal or woe must be numbered amongst the greatest in our lives.

 

  1. ^Officially the ponies were named after the several schools which had subscribed for their purchase: but sailors are inveterate nicknamers, and the unofficial humour prevailed. See Appendix, Note 18.

 

Glossary

Citation

(2009). Scott's Last Expedition: To Midwinter Day. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/51cbeed97896bb431f69aad5

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