Appendix IV: Hydrographic Work

The following is a brief account of the hydrographic work carried out by Commander Worsley, R.N.R., assisted by Lieut-Commander Jeffery, R.N.R., J. Dell, P.O., R.N., and Captain G. V. Douglas.

The hydrographic equipment consisted, besides sextants, theodolites, chronometers and compasses, of three sounding machines—a Kelvin and two Lucas machines—a gyroscope compass, two rangefinders, and a wireless set.

The Kelvin sounding machine has a 7-stranded steel wire ·35 of an inch in circumference and 300 fathoms long. It is intended for soundings to a depth of 100 fathoms, for which purpose thin glass tubes of chemicals are provided which record the pressure to that depth, but we frequently took soundings to 280 fathoms by stopping the ship and getting a perpendicular cast.

The Lucas machine, which, in addition to having been lent to Sir Ernest Shackleton on his different expeditions and supplied to the French, German and Australian Antarctic Expeditions of 1908-10 and 1911 and also the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913, has done the major part of the work of exploring the profound depths of the world’s oceans, and is, I believe, easily the best machine to-day for the work.

Ours had 6,000 fathoms Brunton wire, having a diameter of ·028 inches and weighing 12·3 lbs. per 1,000 fathoms, with a breaking strain of 200 lbs. We also had a 500-fathom Lucas, suitable for boat work, and with which I have always hoped at some time to sound, through a crevasse, for the thickness of the Great Antarctic ice sheet. The 6,000-fathom machine could also be used for kites, small balloons and other aerial work.

The Sperry gyroscope compass worked well as far South as we went—69° 18´—but the liveliness of the vessel made the initial adjustments difficult, and the constant ramming and blows from the ice threw it out again. The new type of mercury ballistic with which it was fitted minimized much of the bad effects of the bumping. Add to this the small size of the vessel not enabling us to carry more fuel for the actuating dynamo, and the lateness of the season prevented us stopping often for the necessary time to steady it up.

We can, however, say from our experience of it that in a slightly steadier vessel, with more time and dynamo fuel, that even in latitudes beyond 70° it would be most useful for quickly ascertaining the variation of the magnetic needles and, in conjunction with the rangefinder, for quickly making a chart of a coast or islands which the vessel might be passing. Much of our survey of Gough Island was so made. Our average time taken to get the gyro running correctly from the start was about six hours.

The 65 c.m. Barr and Stroud rangefinder was useful in giving the distances to lay off the bearings of the various points in survey work and, with vertical angles, obtaining the heights of peaks, islands and icebergs.

The larger 4 feet 6 inches rangefinder was virtually useless, as we could only use it in a completely land-locked harbour.

The naval wireless set, rotary spark transmission and continuous wave, lent us by the Admiralty, was particularly useful in giving us G.M.T., and so correct longitude. Our reception was very good; we received, when 68° 49´ S., time signals from Rio Janeiro at a distance of 3,206 miles. We heard messages from ’Frisco at a distance of about 8,000 miles while in 65° S. lat., and later in lat. 50° S. received time signals from Nauen, Germany, 9,000 miles distant. The latitude appeared to be a governing factor, as S. of 50° S. lat. we experienced very bad atmospherics, while S. of 55° there appeared to be an almost constant roar in the receivers, making it impossible to read signals, although they could be often heard. There may have been more silent intervals than appeared, as we only had one operator, and being busy on ship’s work he only listened for half an hour at the appointed time for the signals.

The greatest distance that we transmitted signals was about 400 miles in Cape Colony; normally we could get 200 miles. The earth was rather a problem; being a wooden ship, we fastened large copper sheets to the ship under water, but they were repeatedly torn loose when forcing our way through the ice.

The wireless telephone lent by Marconi’s worked very well. We spoke for a distance of 100 miles with it approaching Rio, and it was made evident that on any expedition it would be very useful, its only drawback being the loud roar made by the engine, which could be silenced considerably.

A new large-scale chart was made of St. Paul Rocks and surrounding submarine plateau contained within the hundred-fathom line on a scale of 200 feet to the inch, the Admiralty Chart 388 being on a scale of 2,029 feet to the inch.

From their small size (the largest being 380 feet by 180 feet) and the probability that erosion is taking place, it is doubtful if they can ever be used for an aerial station or any other purpose except a lighthouse or wireless meteorological and directional station.

At South Georgia we carried out series of over two hundred soundings W., S.W., N. and E. of South Georgia, discovering several banks, one with apparently a fairly clear bottom for trawling in from 50 to 100 fathoms from 10 to 30 miles offshore to the N.W., but this area requires more examination than we had time to give it. All the other banks had very irregular bottoms.

We found no indication of a bank at a greater distance to the N.E., as has been reported, but the 200-fathom line is much farther off to the S.W. than was expected.

From whalers’ reports and our soundings it would appear that there is a more or less continuous bank to the N. and N.E. of and parallel to the island, with deeper water forming a submarine valley between. With a limited examination, we found the bottom to consist mainly of a dark grey sand, gravel and 346 stones. The whalers report that these banks swarm with an incredible number of very good eating fish, so easily caught that they can be “jigged” up with no bait, but a bit of bright metal on the hook.

There is a large Roman Catholic population eight days’ steam away in South America, and it is possible that a profitable trawling and fish-curing industry could be started here.

By Comr. F. A. Worsley, R.N.R. and Lt Comr. D. G. Jeffrey, R.N.R.“QUEST” R.Y.S. 1921 | Lat. 0° 56´ 0´´ N. Long. 29° 22´ 0´´ W

A sketch chart of Prinz Olaf Harbour in Possession Bay, where Lever Brothers have a whaling station, was made. This is the best harbour at the west end of South Georgia.

Some additions to the plan of Stromness Bay, Admiralty Chart No. 3,579, were made.

Soundings from Cumberland Bay to Cooper Island were taken. The bottom here is rocky and irregular, with several reefs and dangers, all, however, fortunately marked by kelp—the great safeguard and aid to the navigation around South Georgia, except on the south, south-west and west coasts, where icebergs tear much of the kelp off. The kelp is useless, however, if steering towards bright sunlight, as the glare on the water makes it impossible to see it soon enough. The SS. Fridtjof Nansen was so wrecked on a reef 7 miles offshore near Cape George in 1907; but the whalers steam full speed straight for the coast in thick fogs, and being very handy turn in almost their length immediately they see the kelp, which frequently reaches to the surface in 60 fathoms and even deeper water.

A sketch chart of the passage inside Cooper Island and of Cooper Bay anchorage for small vessels was made.

A rough chart of Larsen Harbour, the best harbour at the S.E. end of South Georgia, was made. There is enough flat ground here to make a small whaling station, and sufficient water could be got from the glacier streams.

We took new soundings in Royal Bay and across the front of the Great Glacier, steaming along a quarter of a mile inside the line of the glacier front of 1902 (Nordenskjold), but along the line laid down by the German survey of 1882, showing an advance and then a retreat of the glacier front.

Lastly, we sounded from Cooper Island out to and east of Clerke Rocks, and obtained a bearing and sketch of Clerke Rocks from the hills at the back of Cooper Island.

A running survey with soundings was made round Zavodovski, the northernmost island of the Sandwich group, an inhospitable island, difficult or dangerous to land on, and still more so to gain a way up the cliffs of rocks and ice to the upland.

The peak, unfortunately, was hidden by clouds, and no signs of activity of the volcano were seen. No outlying dangers were visible—in several places we got 20 fathoms 100 yards from the shore. On the north side were numerous grounded bergs, indicating shoal water. These bergs were about 40 to 50 feet high. On the basis of 1 fathom below water to 1 foot above they would give a depth of 40 to 50 fathoms. On the eastern side we saw faint blue hazy smoke issuing in several places from clefts and caves in the cliffs, and when we got to leeward could distinctly perceive an unpleasant sulphurous smell. In this connexion Captain C. A. Larsen, in November, 1908, reported: “… An active volcano; air poisonous with fumes of burning sulphur; landing impossible owing to steep-to coasts….” (Larsen, as a matter of fact, was ill for some days as a result of breathing such fumes in one of the group.)

Two gently sloping uplands on the S. and E. afford a breeding ground for myriads of penguins, who appear to keep scrupulously clear of the fumes on the eastern side.

At Elephant Island we made a rough survey of Cape Lookout anchorage where we anchored, and took several soundings S. and W. of Elephant Island. We anchored at Cape Lindsay (N.W. of island) and Seal Rocks, taking bearings and soundings. None of these anchorages can be described as harbours, and with an onshore breeze they must be left at once. We steamed through the intricate nest of rocks and reefs that stretch for over 20 miles to the west and north-west of Cape Lindsay. This was very ticklish navigation, requiring a very close, unremitting watch from the crow’s-nest, there being no warning kelp, the only guides being a brown discoloration under the water and an occasional swirl of the sea.

The existence of Pagoda Rock was practically disproved by a sounding of 2,902 fathoms 2 miles east of its reported position. It can with safety be expunged from the chart.

Forty miles north-east of the position assigned to Ross’s appearance of land we obtained a sounding of 2,446 fathoms blue mud, and could see no land from the masthead with clear weather. It seems improbable, therefore, that it exists, unless it is south or west of the position given, as Ross appears to have been working on dead reckoning, nor could it have been far in those directions or we should have found indications of it during our drift in Shackleton’s Expedition 1914-16.

At Gough Island we determined the position of Penguin Island (on the east coast) to be 40° 18´ 10´´ S. and 9° 54´ 0´´ W., which is 2´ 22´´ S. and 4´ 6´´ E. of the latest Admiralty Chart, but only 50´´ N. and 2´ 0´´ E. of the Admiralty’s previous position. These positions were taken by a mean of a number of solar and stellar observations on different days by sextant from the ship and bearings and rangefinder distance to Penguin Island, being only able to use the northern and eastern horizons.

Our chronometers were kept correct by W.T. time signals. (It would be interesting to know if this is the first time that the position of an outlying island like this has been verified by W.T. time signals.)

The position of Glen Anchorage was also accurately observed, agreeing with the position by Captain Robertson SS. Scotia of Bruce’s Scottish Expedition.

We determined the position of the anchorage in Lot’s Wife’s Cove, north end of island, by three observations for latitude and one for longitude, surveyed and sounded two new anchorages, and sounded the southern, eastern and part of the northern coast.

A new chart of Gough Island, with large and important corrections, on a scale of 1/36431 was made.

Setting Up Kites For The Taking Of Meteorological Observations | Photo: Wilkens
An Apparatus For Bringing Up Specimens Of The Sea Bottom | Snapper Open | Snapper Closed | Photo: Central Press

The highest point of the island was ascertained with an aneroid by Captain Douglas to be 2,915 feet in the centre of the island, not 4,380 feet at the northern part, as previously charted. Very good fish were caught in great abundance in the whole group, and crayfish abound, at Gough Island in particular, to such an extent that it is possible a profitable cannery could be started there.

The February-March, 1922, limits and conditions of the pack ice for 2,500 miles from 18° E. to 52° W. between the latitudes of 63°-70° S. were determined. These, compared with Ross’s, Biscoe’s, Bellingshausen’s and Shackleton’s, are very interesting, showing the great difference between one year and another, and even one month and another.

Gough Island | By Comr. F. A. Worsley, R.N.R.“QUEST” R.Y.S. 1922

In the Tristan da Cunha—Gough Island group, additional information for the sailing directions was obtained. Materials and directions were given to Robert Glass, at Tristan da Cunha, to erect beacons at Falmouth Bay for convenience of the inhabitants when landing in their boats during darkness, and to act as leading marks for a safe anchorage for visiting ships.

We practically disproved the existence of a reef reported by two whaling captains as having been seen by them on voyages from Cape Town to South Georgia in 35° 40´ S. and 5° 20´ W.  (350 miles E. by N. of Tristan da Cunha). We steamed over the position and searched for two and a half days in the vicinity, half the time with a heavy southerly gale, in which a breaking reef would show 6 or 7 miles away. We sounded in 1,940 fathoms 3 miles south-east from the position given, 1,942 fathoms 15 miles east, 1,994 fathoms 15 miles south-east, and 1,989 fathoms 8 miles to the east, besides four soundings of 240 fathoms no bottom and one of 560 fathoms no bottom at varying distances from 15 miles south-west to 5 miles north-west. Although I do not think the reef exists, this instance gives some idea of the time and trouble a survey ship may expend in searching for danger, and then not finding it, through having been given a wrong or doubtful position; but vessels passing this position would be well advised to keep a good look-out for breakers.


Thirty-two soundings were taken in the southern ocean, practically all in previously sounded areas, and so of great value in adding to our bathymetrical knowledge of the ocean between the Atlantic Ocean and the Antarctic Continent.

They were made with a Lucas machine, driven by a small Brotherhood engine, all kindly lent to Sir Ernest Shackleton by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, who also provided the Endurance’s Lucas, with which we sounded the Weddell Sea. Our first line of soundings was run from a position 500 miles east of the Sandwich group to our farthest south point in 69° 18´ S. 17° 11´ E., where we unfortunately were barred from further progress by heavy impenetrable pack to the south, south-west and south-east. The soundings here were of great interest, having shoaled from 2,356 fathoms to 1,089 fathoms in a distance of 100 miles. This, with other indications, made it practically certain that land lay a short distance south, possibly not more than 60 to 70 miles.

An irregular line of soundings for over 2,000 miles was then carried out from 17° E. to 46° W., mainly within and along the Antarctic Circle. The bottom, as usual, was mostly blue mud, droppings from icebergs, but north of “Ross’s Appearance of Land” we dredged up a large haul of angular rocky fragments, to the joy of the geologist.

Very heavy weather unfortunately prevented us sounding the blank area between Elephant Island and South Georgia.

Three soundings were taken between South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha, but heavy weather again prevented our doing more.

Our last series were taken from 50 miles north of Gough Island to 35° 40´ S. and 5° W., the bottom over this area consisting mainly of white clay (globigerina ooze).

Difficulty was experienced at all times in sounding owing to the extraordinary liveliness of the Quest, and many more soundings would have been taken but for the slowness of the vessel, lateness of the season, limited time and bad weather.

A number of heights in the Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island group, were ascertained by Captain G. V. Douglas with an aneroid to be marked in excess on the Admiralty charts.

The new heights as determined by him and compared with those in Admiralty charts are:

A number of heights in the Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island group, were ascertained by Captain G. V. Douglas with an aneroid to be marked in excess on the Admiralty charts.

The new heights as determined by him and compared with those in Admiralty charts are:

By Admiralty
Chart 2228
Tristan da Cunha 6,400 7,640
Middle Island 200 150
Inaccessible Island 1,508 1,840
Gough Island 2,915 4,380

It will be noted that an increase is to be applied to the Admiralty height of Middle Island only.

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