December 31, 2010

Saturday, 31 December 1910


"First Light Striking the Transantarctic Mountains (Admiralty Mountain Range of Victoria Land)", watercolour by Alfred Memelink. [1]

The first glimpse of Antarctica came on New Year's Eve, when the peaks of the Admiralty Range appeared in the distance to the west.


[1] Alfred Memelink. Used with permission.

December 30, 2010

Friday, 30 December 1910


"View of the deck of the 'Terra Nova' with dogs from the engine room hatch. Taken by Herbert George Ponting, 3 January 1911, during the British Antarctic ('Terra Nova') Expedition (1910-1913)." [1]

After three weeks, the Terra Nova at last came out of the ice pack and into the Ross Sea. "[No] other ship," Scott wrote, "would have come through so well. Certainly the Nimrod would never have reached the south water had she been caught in such pack." [2]

"We may be said to have entered the pack at 4 P.M. on the 9th in latitude 65 1/2 S. We left it at 1 A.M. on 30th in latitude 71 1/2 S. We have taken twenty days and some odd hours to get through, and covered in a direct line over 370 miles -- an average of 18 miles a day. We entered the pack with 342 tons of coal and left with 281 tons; we have, therefore, expended 61 tons in forcing our way through -- an average of 6 miles to the ton. These are not pleasant figures to contemplate, but considering the exceptional conditions experienced I suppose one must conclude that things might have been worse."

Wilson had been lobbying for a base camp at Cape Crozier, intrigued by the Emperor penguin colony so close at hand. The idea interested Scott more because it gave them access to the Barrier and a southward route free of crevasses, unlike the Discovery base at Hut Point. Strong winds and heavy swells, however, were against them. "We are creeping along a bare 2 knots. I begin to wonder if fortune will ever turn her wheel. On every possible occasion she seems to have decided against us. Of course, the ponies are feeling the motion as we pitch in a short, sharp sea -- it's damnable for them and disgusting for us."

"Every detail of the shore promised well for a wintering party," Scott wrote. "Comfortable quarters for the hut, ice for water, snow for the animals, good slopes for ski-ing, vast tracks of rock for walks. Proximity to the Barrier and to the rookeries of two types of penguins -- easy ascent of Mount Terror -- good ground for biological work -- good peaks for observation of all sorts -- fairly easy approach to the Southern Road, with no chance of being cut off -- and so forth. It is a thousand pities to have to abandon such a spot."


At longitude 170° E. and latitude 60° S, Fram turned south.


[1] National Library of New Zealand.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 30 December, 1910, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.

December 27, 2010

Tuesday, 27 December 1910


Adelie penguins surfacing for air as they swim, ca.2008. Photo by Chris Linder, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. [1]

"Thick fog most of the day," wrote Amundsen. "In the afternoon, saw a large flock of penguins (small) in the sea. They were heading due South -- Both fog and penguins are distinct signs that we are not far from the ice." [2]


[1] Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Used with permission.
[2] Roald Amundsen, diary, 27 December, 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.71.

December 25, 2010

Sunday, 25 December 1910


Penguins on the ice floe, photographed by Ponting, 24 December, 1910. [1]

Still caught in the pack, Scott wrote in his diary on Christmas Day, "We are captured. We do practically nothing under sail to push through, and could do little under steam, and at each step forward the possibility of advance seems to lessen." [2]

"Three weeks in the pack worried him a lot," Bruce later wrote to his sister. "He talked very little to anybody (and sometimes several days passed without my saying more than a few words to him), but I think that Wilson and Evans probably saw a little more of him.... I can imagine what an awful strain the whole responsibility of a show like this must be, & I thank heaven that I'm here as a volunteer with none of it. I always hated responsibility. My position [i.e. being Scott's brother-in-law], as we expected, was a trifle difficult but I effaced myself utterly, just kept my watch and did as I was told." [3]

"Captain Scott who has to face all the anxiety of things is splendid,” wrote Bowers the same day, “he never shows it & is geniality itself always. You could not imagine a more congenial leader or one who inspires more confidence." [4]

Spirits, however, were generally good, and the officers kept up their wardroom highjinks in celebration of the day. "We actually got Oates to sing for the first time," noted an astonished Day after Oates, having previously scorned "the infernal pianola", had given them "The Fly on the Turnip". [5]


[1] Scott Polar Research Institute.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 25 December, 1910, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[3] Wilfred Bruce, letter to Kathleen Scott, 27 February, 1911, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.399-400.
[4] H.R. Bowers, [diary?], 25 December, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.400.
[5] Bernard Day, diary, [25 December, 1910?], quoted by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley in Captain Oates : Soldier and Explorer (London : Batsford, c1982), p.105.

December 24, 2010

Saturday, 24 December 1910


The Fram's saloon, decorated probably for Christmas, December 1910. [1]

Amundsen arranged a Christmas Eve surprise for the men. As they took their places in the saloon for dinner, he wrote in his diary, "'Holy Night, Silent Night' burst out, sung by Herold. Heavens, what a ceremony -- what an effect. One had to be made of more than steel not to feel the tears coming. The gramophone was completely hidden. No one expected it. The wonderful voice brought Christmas greetings to us like a fresh breath from home." [2]

"After dinner we went to the after saloon, where coffee was served.... Thereafter we returned to the forward saloon, where the Christmas tree ... decorated by Lindstrøm, awaited us. Here we were enriched by many splendid presents. This wonderful party finished at 11 p.m. -- The wind was fairly light, and did not disturb the festivities. This Christmas Eve will always live in the memory of the Fram men. And many warm thanks were sent home to those who had thought of us with many gifts." [3]


[1] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[2] Roald Amundsen, diary, [24 December 1910], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.312-313.
[3] Roald Amundsen, diary, 24 December, 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.74.

December 20, 2010

Tuesday, 20 December 1910


"In the pack -- a lead opening up": an illustration from Scott's Last Expedition. [1]

Wright was now pressed into service as ice expert, despite never having seen polar ice, let alone a berg; his experience surveying in Canada's Far North and a talent for improvisation would have to do.

"We have just made it through a piece of open water," he wrote in his diary, "and will soon strike more heavy pack -- in fact, have just struck a floe. It is wonderful how the old tub stands the butting into the floes. if anything, she leaks less than on leaving New Zealand. The heavy floes we break by climbing on top and crushing pieces off. The smaller by cracking across; most floes however we shove out of the way and that is why even in think pack to make any headway the pack must be reasonably open." [2]


[1] Scott's Last Expedition: Illustrations in the First Volume.
[2] Charles S. Wright, diary, 20 December, 1910, quoted by Adrian Raeside in Return to Antarctica: the Amazing Adventure of Sir Charles Wright on Robert Scott's Journey to the South Pole (Mississauga, Ont.: John Wiley, c2009), p.80-81.

December 18, 2010

Sunday, 18 December 1910


"In the ice-pack, from the Main-top of the Terra Nova. (Gran, Taylor and Wright). Dec. 22nd 1910", photographed by Ponting. [1]

The Terra Nova had been in the pack nearly three weeks, with little progress. "It is a very, very trying time," Scott wrote. "It's all very disheartening."

"One realises the awful monotony of a long stay in the pack such as Nansen and others experienced. One can imagine such days as these lengthening into interminable months and years." [2]


Dogs on the bridge of the Fram, 1910. [3]

The dogs, wrote Johansen, were "wonderful to study .... I have come to the conclusion that in dealing with sledge dogs, one will benefit most [if] one assumes that they are at least as intelligent as one's self. For it will pay off when driving and the life on the ice begins. If you have treated them without understanding and hit them at the wrong time, so that they do not understand the intention of the hiding, one can be certain that such a dog will make life difficult in the team when he sees the chance.... [Dogs] have a remarkable sense of justice and if they are well treated, will stick by their masters in life and death." [4]


[1] Scott Polar Research Institute.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, [dates not given], quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.399.
[3] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[4] Hjalmar Johansen, diary, 18 December 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.310.

December 14, 2010

Wednesday, 14 December 1910


A berg in the pack, with Debenham and Taylor on skis, photographed by Ponting, 20 December, 1910. [1]

The Terra Nova's progress through the ice was frustratingly slow but at the least it gave them a chance to leave the ship for a little while, and they took the opportunity to try out their skis -- or, as Griffith Taylor noted, "in current parlance (à la Gran) to go 'mit dee shee op'". [2] It was for many of them the very first time they had used skis.

"Gran is wonderfully good and gives instruction well," wrote Scott [3], although the men were not always particularly enthusiastic -- P.O. Evans, for one, referred to them as "planks". [4]

"It was hot and garments came off one by one -- the Soldier [Oates] and Atkinson were stripped to the waist eventually, and have been sliding round the floe for some time in that condition. Nearly everyone has been wearing goggles; the glare is very bad. Ponting tried to get a colour picture, but unfortunately the ice colours are too delicate for this."


Fram in high seas, in an undated photograph. [5]

During a storm, the Fram tossed and rolled and bobbed, due to her round bottom and broad beam, built for the ice. The bridge, though, stayed dry, and sheltered the poor dogs, sometimes as many as fifty at a time. She might buck and toss, but the Fram never shipped a sea. It was, Amundsen wrote in his diary, "almost unbelievable. The one sea towers up more menacingly than the other, and one might expect it over one every moment. But no -- she gives a little twist, and the sea passes under .... Archer can be proud of Fram." [6]


[1] Scott Polar Research Institute.
[2] T. Griffith Taylor, quoted by Diana Preston in A First Rate Tragedy (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998, c1997), p.135. "Ski" in Norwegian is pronounced "shee".
[3] R.F. Scott, diary, 14 December, 1910, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[4] Quoted by Diana Preston in A First Rate Tragedy (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998, c1997), p.135.
[5] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[6] Roald Amundsen, diary, 14 December 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.311.

December 10, 2010

Saturday, 10 December 1910


The Terra Nova entering the ice pack. [1]

"To-night we are in very close pack," Scott wrote, "it is doubtful if it is worth pushing on.... We had been very carefully into all the evidence of former voyages to pick the best meridian to go south on, and I thought and still think that the evidence points to the 178 W. as the best. We entered the pack more or less on this meridian, and have been rewarded by encountering worse conditions than any ship has had before. Worse, in fact, than I imagined would have been possible on any other meridian...." [2]


[1] Source unknown.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 10 December, 1910, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.

December 9, 2010

Friday, 9 December 1910


Icebergs photographed by Herbert Ponting, date not given. [1]

The Terra Nova entered the polar ice pack, at 65° 8'. Two bergs had been sighted on the port beam the day before, then in the morning a number of small, worn floes. The pack was further north than Scott had expected, he noted in his diary. "It's impossible to interpret the fact." [2]


[1] Wikimedia Commons.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 9 December, 1910, quoted quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.

December 8, 2010

Thursday, 8 December 1910


The crew (and dogs) on the deck of the Fram, in an undated photograph. Collectors are under the sails to catch fresh water; also visible are bundles of planks for the ice hut. [1]

The Fram passed the 100th meridian, approaching Australia.

December 7, 2010

Wednesday, 7 December 1910


The first iceberg was sighted off to the west in the evening, a little past 61° 22' S.

December 5, 2010

Monday, 5 December 1910


"I pray there may be no more gales," wrote Scott. "We should be nearing the limits of the westerlies, but one cannot be sure for at least two days.... So much depends on fine weather. December ought to be a fine month in the Ross Sea; it always has been, and just now conditions point to fine weather. Well, we must be prepared for anything, but I'm anxious, anxious about these animals of ours." [1]


"The plan for our work on arrival at the Barrier was posted in the chart-house today," Amundsen wrote in his diary. "N[ilsen] has a splendid grasp of the distribution of work, and he is the author of the plan. I have accepted every word; it is perfection itself." [2]


[1] R.F. Scott, diary, 5 December, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.398.
[2] Roald Amundsen, diary, 5 December, 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.71.

December 2, 2010

Friday, 2 December 1910


The Terra Nova in heavy seas, date unknown. Photograph by Herbert Ponting.

Forty-eight hours out of Port Chalmers, the seas had begun to rise, and as the ship was tossed and waves crashed over the rails, the stores so carefully stowed and lashed worked themselves loose to swing against the packing cases with deadly force. As the seas rose even further, the water that swept across the decks washed the dogs back and forth, leaving them hanging from their chains. Oates struggled with the ponies to keep them on their feet. "I can't remember a worse time," Oates wrote home afterwards. "The motion up in the bows was very violent and unless one had been through it one could not believe any pony could keep its feet for five minutes. I was drenched all night, the water continually forcing the skylight up and pouring over the fo'castle in a regular torrent. During the night one pony was down as many as eight times and I was unfortunate to have two killed. One fell and broke its leg and the other got cast so badly that without proper tackle it could not be got up and I had no-one who could do anything to help me as everybody was busy with the ship." [1]

The pumps in the engine room choked up, and Lashly, up to his neck in water, could do nothing to stem the flow of rushing water. After consultation with Scott, Lt. Evans ordered a hole cut in the engine-room bulkhead, and a chain of men began to bail. "It was a sight that one could never forget," Evans wrote later, "everybody saturated, some waist-deep on the floor of the engine room, oil and coal dust mixing with the water and making everyone filthy, some men clinging to the iron ladder-way and passing full buckets long after their muscles had ceased to work naturally, their grit and spirit keeping them going." [2] Evans stayed there for fourteen hours, passing up buckets of sludge, until at last the hand-pumps began to gain on the water level.

"Captain Scott was simply splendid," Bowers wrote home afterwards, "he might have been at Cowes & to do him & Teddy Evans credit at our worst strait none of our landsmen who were working so hard knew how serious things were. Capt. S. said to me quietly -- I am afraid it's a bad business for us -- what do you think? I said we were by no means dead yet though at that moment Oates at peril of his life got aft to report another horse dead & more down & then an awful sea swept away our lee bulwarks clear between the fore & main rigging -- only our chain lashings saved the lee motor sledge. Then, as I was soon diving after petrol cases, Capt Scott calmly told me that 'they did not matter' -- This was our great project for getting to the Pole -- the much advertised Motors that 'did not matter." [3]

Scott was justifiably proud of the officers and men, who had worked so hard under such terible conditions. "We are not out of the wood yet," he wrote in his diary, "but hope dawns & indeed it should for me when I find myself so wonderfully served." [4]

The deck under the ponies' stalls was now leaking badly onto the hammocks of the men below, but with admirable British fortitude, no-one complained. "Indeed the discomfort throughout the mess deck has been extreme. Everything has been thrown about, water has found its way down .... There is no daylight, and the air can only come through the small forehatch.... The men have been wetted to the skin repeatedly on deck, and have no chance of drying their clothing. All things considered their cheerful fortitude is little short of wonder."

Two ponies and one dog had been lost, along with ten tons of coal, sixty-five gallons of petrol, and a case of biologists' spirit.


[1] L.E.G. Oates, letter to Caroline Oates [date not given], quoted by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley in Captain Oates : Soldier and Explorer (London : Batsford, c1982), p.103.
[2] E.R.G.R. Evans, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.397.
[3] H.R. Bowers, letter to his family 10 December, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.397.
[4] R.F. Scott, diary, 2 December, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.398.

December 1, 2010

Thursday, 1 December 1910


Oates with some of the ponies on the Terra Nova, photographed by Herbert Ponting. (Note the damage that the ponies have done to the edge of their stalls by windsucking.) [1]

Even in calm weather, life aboard ship for the ponies must have been a trial. Scott described their situation in his diary: "Under the forecastle fifteen ponies close side by side, seven one side, eight the other, heads together and groom between -- swaying, swaying continually to the plunging, irregular motion. One takes a look through a hole in the bulkhead and sees a row of heads with sad, patient eyes come swinging up together from the starboard side, whilst those on the port swing back; then up come the port heads, whilst the starboard recede. It seems a terrible ordeal for these poor beasts to stand this day after day for weeks together...." [2]

The rest of the scientific staff had joined the ship in New Zealand -- Taylor, Raymond Priestley, and Frank Debenham.

Australian Frank Debenham received a BA in English and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and after a few years teaching in New South Wales returned to university to study geology under Sir Edgeworth David, who, on Shackleton's expedition had led the first ascent of Mt Erebus as well as the first party to reach the South Magnetic Pole (although there is now some doubt about its then-location).

Raymond Priestley, recruited by Scott in Sydney, had just completed his second year reading geology at University College, Bristol, when he joined Shackleton's Nimrod expedition as geologist, working with Edgeworth David and Douglas (later Sir Douglas) Mawson.


Amundsen announced the landing party: Prestrud, Johansen, Hassel, Lindstrøm, Helmer Hanssen, Wisting, Bjaaland, Stubberud, and himself.

Gjertsen wanted so badly to go ashore that he asked Amundsen if he could change places with Prestrud. Amundsen agreed if Prestrud did, but Prestrud did not want to change.

Amundsen increased the wages of those sailing back by half again, partly in consolation for the disappointment. He had, however, chosen his men, with a few exceptions, from those who had originally signed on for the whole Arctic drift.


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 1 December, 1910, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.