Chapter 7: The Ice

At about 4.0 P.M. on February 12th, having come to my decision, I blew the steam whistle for the recall of all hands, who had thoroughly enjoyed their day on the ice. Query had had a splendid time in spite of having once or twice fallen through mushy holes into freezing water, and he came back to the ship thoroughly tired from the unwonted exercise.

Commander Wild’s Watch—Mcilroy, Carr, Wild, Macklin | Photo: Wilkins
The “Black” Watch—Ross, Argles, Young, Kerr, Smith | Photo: Wilkins
Worsley’s Watch—Douglas, Wilkins, Watts, Worsley | Photo: Wilkins
Jeffrey’s Watch—Mcleod, Marr, Jeffrey, Dell | Photo: Wilkins

We had some difficulty in getting under way, but once the ship had gathered momentum she was able to push on through the new ice. Navigation required the utmost watchfulness and care; we could not afford to delay, for minutes totalled up, and the ice was increasing hourly in thickness. Every stop added to the difficulties of getting under way again. I must pay a high tribute to the unremitting energy and unfailing resource of Worsley and Jeffrey at this critical period as we forced our way from the closing grip of the pack. Macklin writes in his diary:

The way in which the Quest is made to push ahead and to dodge and wriggle past the most awkward places is wonderful. Kerr is excelling himself below—I hope he does not bust her up, for these engines have given at one time and another a lot of trouble. It is interesting to compare the different watches at work. Commander Wild goes about the job quietly and steadily, without fuss or shouting, and undoubtedly makes the best headway. Old Wuzzles (Worsley) also goes ahead energetically, but to an accompaniment of noise that might waken the dead, for which, perhaps, he is less responsible than some members of his watch. Jeffrey also makes surprisingly good headway, with a running commentary usually the reverse of complimentary on all things frozen.

I was wakened at 4.0 on the following morning by McLeod, who shouted in at my door, “One bell and the ship’s afire!” In a moment I was out of bed and on deck, to find dense smoke and flame ascending from what appeared to be the engine-room skylight. Rushing to the engine-room door, I was met by Smith, who said that everything was all right below. The flames were leaping up alongside the funnel. I went up on to the bridge and shouted to the other members of my watch who had turned out to get Pyrene extinguishers, of which we kept a number always on hand. We squirted their contents vigorously into the midst of the flames, and soon had them subdued, when I discovered that the cause of the trouble lay in some cork fenders and coils of tarry rope which had been placed against the funnel on the previous day. The flames had spread to two large wooden sidelight boards and to some canvas gear. Our portable hand-sounding machine was also involved, and was, unfortunately, rendered almost useless. The fire, while it lasted, was a brisk one, and had we been compelled to rely on the old hose system for its extinction there is no doubt that it would have proved serious. The rapidity with which we were able to control it speaks much for the efficacy of the extinguishers in use, which were of the carbon-dioxide producing type.

Having leapt straight from our bunks, we were exceedingly lightly clothed, and, now that the excitement was over, we noticed the cold atmosphere and scampered off to garb ourselves more warmly.

We continued vigorously pushing north all day. Numerous crab-eater seals were seen, many of them on our direct route; but although I was anxious to lay in a store of their blubber I did not stop. We saw also a number of emperor penguins. Bird life, as I have said, had been very scarce, and represented only by snow petrels, a number of which, outlined in silvery whiteness against the blue of the sky as they passed overhead on their way south, presented a very beautiful picture.

In the evening we passed by a floe on which five large seals lay asleep, and I determined to stop for a short time and take them up. There is no difficulty in killing and obtaining any number of Antarctic seals, no matter how small the floe they are on, provided one approaches them quietly and gets within a range at which they can be picked off rapidly and with certainty one after the other. On this occasion I gave the word to withhold fire till we were close alongside, but Douglas, apparently unable to restrain his impetuosity, fired too soon and succeeded in wounding one, which heaved itself about frantically and startled the others to sudden wakefulness. To make matters worse, Douglas continued firing, and some of them dived into the sea. It is a characteristic of these seals that if wounded they prefer to be on a floe, and all but one came back again, when they were properly dispatched and hoisted aboard for removal of their blubber. The moment they were aboard I set off again, scarcely waiting for the men on the floe, who scrambled up as the ship was moving away.

There is a great difference between Arctic and Antarctic seals. In the North the seal has always to be on the look out for the polar bear, and when it comes ashore to sleep does so fitfully, frequently raising its head to look about, and slipping back to the water on the least alarm. Its enemies are above and not below water. The contrary holds in the Antarctic, where the seals are vigorously preyed upon by the killers and sea-leopards. On the surface, however, they have no enemies, and although they take fright if approached quickly or noisily, one can, by moving quietly, get so close to them that they can, if so desired, be clubbed instead of shot. This clubbing should be done with a heavy instrument, such as the loom of an oar, and the point to be aimed at is the nose. If the blow is delivered accurately and with sufficient weight, the seal is immediately rendered unconscious, after which the jugular veins and the main arteries of the neck are severed with a knife, without one of which at his belt no good sailor or explorer goes anywhere. In any case the carcass of the seal should always be thoroughly bled. Another useful instrument by which the animal can be instantaneously killed is an Alpine ice-pick, the point being driven by a smart downward tap through the vault of the skull. This has the disadvantage of destroying the brain, which we always used for cooking, and is, indeed, the greatest dainty provided by these animals. The method of killing seals which we always adopted when we had plenty of ammunition was to shoot them. I always aim at the neck, just behind the skull, where many vital structures are brought into close relationship. Death is instantaneous, bleeding takes place freely, and the brain is not destroyed.

Macklin sustained a nasty cut during the flensing, running his hand off the haft of the knife on to the blade. He rather prided himself on his knives, on which he kept a razor edge, and on his flensing, and I think he felt annoyed at his clumsiness, for it was with an almost shamefaced air that he went to McIlroy to get his hand bound up.

The art of keeping a hunting-knife in really good order is one which few people understand. A keen edge is essential for neat and rapid work, yet I have seen many people hacking laboriously away with a blade which would scarcely penetrate butter. I always carry a pocket carborundum stone, and I carefully clean and sharpen my knife every time I use it. Before using the stone it is important to see that there is no blood or blubber remaining on the blade. After a heavy day’s flensing it may take from half an hour to an hour to bring the edge to perfection again, and I am always amused at the man who brings something resembling a butcher’s steel and says: “You might just sharpen that for me, will you?”

Another art is the making of a good leather sheath, for that is a thing one cannot buy. It is careful and continued attention to small things that makes for efficiency at this kind of work.

Chipping Frozen Spray From The Gunwales | Photo: Wilkins
The Quest Beset Near Ross’s Appearance Of Land | Photo: Wilkins

It did not get completely dark at midnight. The increasing light in the early morning produced a wonderful sunrise. Owing to the gradual upward curve of the sun in these latitudes, the effects last for hours and change slowly, contrasting strongly with the evanescent tropical skies, where the sun rises abruptly above the horizon and in the evening falls back so suddenly that there is no twilight. The sky to the eastward was lit up with the most delicate and beautiful colours, which were reflected on the surface of the floe. The old floes passed slowly from pale pink to crimson and, as the sun came over the rim, to the palest and most delicate heliotrope. The darker newly frozen ice changed from bronze to light apple-green. To the westward a large golden moon was poised in a cloudless sky, turning the floes to the palest of gold. No words of mine can adequately convey the beauty of such a morning.

These days impressed themselves vividly in one’s memory, which has the knack of picking out the brighter spots in the greyness of these regions. I think it is impressions like these which, working perhaps subconsciously, produce that haunting restlessness which makes one feel suddenly, and without apparent cause, dissatisfied with civilization, its veneer and artificiality, its restrictions and its ugliness. Certain it is that few people who have travelled away from the beaten track and spent long, unbroken periods face to face with Nature can hope to escape the sudden feelings of restlessness and disquietude which come upon one without warning and drive one to pacing up and down, to face the rain on a gusty night, or do anything so long as one can be alone for a while. I think that every living being has at one time or another experienced that curious feeling—it is hard to say of what exactly—a sort of wondering lostness that comes over one in certain circumstances. In our own country one feels it on fine nights in the gloaming, when everything is stilled and the silence unbroken save by the full-throated song of some bird, which seems only to accentuate it. One feels something of it even in the cities in the quiet of a summer evening, with the smoke of countless chimneys winding lazily upwards, but it is in the great untouched areas of the earth that it makes its deepest impression and grips one with the greatest intensity.

It has been my fortune to visit many parts of the world, and I can recall wonderful evenings in many places which have created a deep impression on me, but there particularly stand out in my mind’s eye some of the long Antarctic autumn twilights too beautiful to describe. I have seen the most materialistic and unimpressionable of men strung to an absolute silence, scarcely daring to breathe, filled with something intangible and inexplicable. The very sledge dogs stand stock still, gazing intently into the farness, ears cocked, listening—for what? Suddenly the spell is broken and with a deep breath one turns again to work.

We pushed on and on throughout the 14th and made on the whole pretty good headway. I stopped just long enough to let Worsley take a sounding, depth 1,925 fathoms (lat. 68° 21´ S. and 16° 0´ E. long.). With every hour the ice increased in thickness and the Quest had all she could do to push forward. Work at the wheel was strenuous, for in the new ice the ship did not make a straight track, but swerved all the time from side to side, and the helm had to be swung repeatedly in either direction to check the deviation.

About midday we encountered heavy floe against which we made poor headway, and I began to realize that it would be touch and go as to whether we would get out or not. I sent for Kerr and told him to give his engines all they would stand. He increased the pressure of steam, and the ship began to make headway slowly but surely.

In the early afternoon the weather changed. McIlroy reported a rise of temperature to 22° Fahr., and there was a swell, very faint but quite noticeable. A skua gull and a giant petrel appeared. All these signs were good, indicating a more open pack ahead of us and open water within reasonable distance.

By 8.0 P.M. we were once more making good headway, and I went below, to fall soundly asleep after my days of anxiety and broken rest.

Owing to the darkness we were compelled to heave to for two hours at midnight, for with the northing we had made there was less daylight, and one cannot distinguish in the dim light between rotten floes and solid ones, which if rammed would fetch up the ship all standing and possibly start the timbers and carry away a certain amount of gear.

The temperature had risen to 24° Fahr., but when I came on deck in the early morning of the 15th the outlook was not good. The air was not warm enough to prevent freezing of the ice, and from the mast-head I saw heavy pack to the northward. There was one good sign, however, and that was an increased northerly swell coming along in slow leisurely rolls. It is a fine sight to see a huge field of ice rising and falling in this manner.

We pushed energetically on and later in the day we entered loose open pack. I had no doubt now that we were out of danger of being beset. It was a relief to be able to relax a little after the constant effort of the last fortnight.

Although we were now free from danger of being beset we had entered a new set of conditions which were by no means a sinecure. The ice had the effect of deadening swell, but the pieces of floe about the pack edge were often thrown into violent motion and made to bump and grind together by the action of the sea. By coming north also we were losing daylight, and we had now from two to three hours of darkness to contend with each day. Navigation under these circumstances required constant care and watchfulness, so that I had still to maintain a pretty active vigilance. For much of our journey about the northern limits of the pack I was compelled for the sake of economy to shut off steam and proceed under sail only, which gave me some idea of the difficulties which Bellingshausen and Biscoe had to contend with, and enabled me to appreciate their reticence to push deeply into the ice. To both of these predecessors I must pay a tribute of the highest praise for their determined and persevering work about this segment. In the whole of my experience as a seaman I have never encountered a part of the world where weather and sea conditions generally are so uncomfortable. Periods of gale, with heavy swell and grinding floe, when the outlook is obscured by driving wind and blinding snow squalls, alternate with periods of calm, when fog settles in a dense pall of fine mist which forms heavy rime on all spars and running gear, and freezing solid interferes greatly with their working. It takes days for the huge rollers to subside, and the floes grind and groan incessantly. I had always the feeling that I could raise steam at short notice, but these early explorers were dependent entirely on winds, which blow either too hard or not hard enough, and never seem to strike the happy medium. To John Biscoe, British seaman, the trip must have been one of long continued struggle, for he was ill equipped, scurvy set in and he lost the greater part of the crews of both his vessels. On his own ship, the Tula, there were only three men able to stand when the ship reached Hobart, and on the Lively only three were alive when she reached Port Philip. His story, told baldly, makes enthralling reading for those who can appreciate it.

We made good progress to the northward, the day’s run at noon on the 16th being estimated by Worsley at seventy-seven miles. We passed through much open water with a strong easterly swell, but encountered also several belts of heavy, closely packed ice consisting of old floe which had undergone heavy pressure. Owing to the swell it was impossible to avoid some severe bumps. Birds were about in large numbers, including Antarctic petrels, giant petrels and terns. We saw numerous killers, and witnessed a most interesting display by two of them which were playing and disporting themselves on the surface, flinging their huge bulks high into the air, and creating a tremendous turmoil in the water. Crab-eaters were seen in numbers on the floes, sometimes singly, often in bunches of five or six. We saw no penguins or snow petrels. Worsley reported a single Mother Carey’s Chicken as having been about. They all pointed to the proximity of open ocean, and I expected that we should be clear of ice by next day.

A sounding taken in lat. 67° 07´ S. and 14° 29´ E. long. gave a depth of 2,341 fathoms.

In the evening we again entered an area of heavy old floes, which moved about and pressed together in the swell. Snow squalls and dim light made the navigation of them a difficult matter, but by noon of the following day we had got clear of pack and were in open water with a clear sky to the northward. Numerous solitary pieces of floe and heavy growlers were still dotted about. Growlers are heavy, solid pieces of ice, grey or greenish-grey in colour, which float with their tops just awash. They are consequently difficult to see, especially in poor light, and a close watch has always to be kept for them.

Some of the floes carried passengers in the shape of crab-eater seals. We saw a number of huge blue whales, which are recognized by their large size, high vertical spout which opens out into a dense cloud of spray, and the presence of a fin. Killers also were about in large numbers.

In the early morning of the 18th we turned south again in another attempt to push through to land or ice barrier. From the lateness of the season we knew this must necessarily be the last attempt for this year.

We had not proceeded many miles when we again encountered pack, which compelled us to take a southwesterly direction, passing through a good deal of brash, but keeping clear of heavy ice. The weather was thick and snowy. Later we encountered some very old floes full of small caves, and with well-defined necks where the sea had worn them away by the continual wash, so that they resembled gigantic mushrooms growing from the surface of the water.

Marr was taken ill at this time with sore throat and high temperature. He said nothing of the condition himself and would have struggled on had not Dell informed Macklin that he looked a bit sick. He is a hardy youngster and showed his contempt for the cold by walking about inadequately clothed. He had a vivid maroon-coloured muffler, beautifully soft and warm. I once asked him if it was a present from his best girl. “Yes,” he replied, “from my mother.” I threatened him that if he appeared without this round his neck in future I would pack him off to bed and keep him there. The doctors reported that his condition was not serious, and a day or two in bed would put him right again.

We continued in a southerly direction till the night of the 20th, when we met heavy pack which compelled us to turn west. At noon on the 21st we were forced to come back in a north-westerly direction. In the evening we skirted a line of ice running west-south-west, and on the morning of the 22nd again entered open sea.

The 22nd was Worsley’s birthday. He had reached his fiftieth milestone, but could easily have passed for ten years less. We celebrated the occasion by an extra special spread at which, to the surprise and (needless to say) delight, of nearly everyone, some bottles of beer materialized. The pièce de résistance was a large pink cake bearing in sugar the inscription, “Wuzzles’ 21st.” He was called upon to cut it himself, and was given a large steel chopper with which to do it. Having performed a Maori war dance, he proceeded to cut it into slices. It proved to be a bit hard, so he attempted to lift it to a better position, to find, to his amazement, that he could scarcely budge it. The cake turned out to be a 56-lb. sinker, which Green had covered with sugar. However, a proper cake was forthcoming, and the evening was spent merrily.

The Quest was not a comfortable ship, and there was little to take the mind from general routine and the business in hand. The continuous struggle with the pack became after a time very exhausting, and there was a chance also of its becoming something of an obsession. Consequently, occasions such as birthdays, which provided a diversion and helped to lift the men out of themselves, were of the greatest value.

February 23rd was a dull grey day. We hoisted the squaresail at daybreak and continued to run off before a strong easterly wind. With sails set there was great difficulty in getting the wardroom stove to burn, for both topsail and squaresail created a powerful and baffling down draught for which we designed and made all sorts and shapes of cowls, but without much success. The wardroom became filled with dense acrid smoke, and the fire was generally allowed to go out when the temperature fell so much that no one could use it to sit about, and those taking their watch below were driven to their bunks. Wilkins and Douglas in the forecastle had the same difficulty. Wilkins, ever resourceful, built a cowl, but it fouled the sheet of the forestay sail and was swept away. Nothing daunted, he built another, which met the same fate. With exemplary patience he built a new one each time the other was lost! We did our best to protect the cowls when setting or taking in sail, but in heavy winds, when the squaresail was let go at the run, it was almost impossible to do so.

Since the evening of the 21st we had made in a west to west-south-westerly direction, but, seeing what appeared to be open seas with sky to the horizon a deep black, I now turned south again. Within an hour, however, we met with small pieces of ice, which became more numerous as we proceeded. We then entered an area of sea full of small round pieces, like snowballs, covered with a fine powdery ice. Snow settling on this area gave it the appearance of a “sea of milk.” The swell continued, but the surface was like oil, unbroken by a single ripple. We passed from this into a belt where the surface was just beginning to freeze, forming the thinnest possible film of ice. The snow on this gave the impression of a grey sea. Visibility, owing to the snow which fell quietly and continuously, was poor. The whole outlook gave a curious impression of greyness, grey sea, grey sky, and everything grey wherever one looked.

As we progressed still farther the filmy surface was replaced by definite pancake formation. Amongst the pancakes were numerous heavy old lumps, much water-worn at sea level, but heavy underneath with long projecting tongues.

The night was cold and snowy and the decks became covered with a very slippery slush on which, with the rolling of the ship, it was not easy to keep a footing. We took in sail, a cold and unpleasant job because all spars, sails and running gear had become coated with a thick covering of ice.

Dinner that night was a cold business, and the dullness of the day and general outlook had rather damped our spirits. Macklin writes on this date:

Owing to the stove refusing to burn, the wardroom was cold, and we gathered round the dinner-table feeling pretty miserable. Green had prepared a big dish of hot potatoes in their jackets. I placed the biggest I could find under my jersey and it warmed me up finely. I kept moving it round so as to warm as much of my body as possible, and finally ate it, warming also my inside. One has to be economical these hard times.

As the light failed the ice began to thicken, and as the swell was causing the floes to grind heavily together I lay to till daybreak. All night long we heard the moaning and complaining of the grinding floes, a number of which, with long underwater tongues, drifted down upon us, causing the ship to take some very bad bumps. To economize our now much-depleted coal I had given Kerr instructions to let the steam fall off, and we had to be constantly sheeting home the topsail and pointing the yards to get her to fall away from our unpleasant neighbours, contact with which might prove dangerous.

The floes looked very weird in the darkness as they surged up on the swell and fell back again into the trough of the sea, the water sucking and gurgling amongst the cracks and chasms and making the most uncanny noises.

At daybreak on the 24th steam was raised and we continued south, pushing through pancake ice which contained many heavy floes. Seen from aloft the pancake formation makes a most beautiful mosaic. Much of our finest art is surpassed by Nature, and in these southern regions there is much to attract those who have an artistic temperament.

The ice rapidly increased in thickness, and by noon we were again held up by dense impenetrable pack in position lat. 68° 32´ S. and 0° 5´ E. long. To the south the outlook was hopeless. I climbed to the crow’s nest to scan the horizon to the southward, but saw only closely packed and heavy ice stretching away to the horizon, whilst in the sky was a strongly marked ice-blink. It was bitterly disappointing. There was no alternative but to retrace our steps and work to the westward. I went below, where once more I pulled out all the charts and examined again the records of old explorers in these regions. I had a long talk with Worsley and Kerr. The season was well advanced; the Quest had neither the driving power nor the amount of coal to enable me to batter hard at heavy floe. As a matter of fact, I do not think that any ship, however powerful, could have made any impression on the stuff to the south of us. As far as finding land in this segment was concerned I felt that we had shot our bolt. I was, however, determined to have another try, and to make Cape Town my base, where I could overhaul and refit my ship, where there was a big supply of good winter stores and equipment, and where I could readjust the personnel. I intended to make the start early in the season, and I felt confident that with the time to spare to enable us to wait for the ice to move we should reach new land.

My intention was now to make as directly as possible for the charted position of “Ross’s Appearance of Land,” the accuracy of which I hoped either to verify or to disprove, and to take a series of soundings on the spot. We should by that time be very short of coal and consequently also in need of ballast. I determined, therefore, to call at Elephant Island, where I felt sure we would find sea-elephants in sufficient numbers to supply us with blubber as fuel. Blubber is by no means an ideal form of fuel for the furnace, for it burns with a fierce, hot flame and is very messy. Mixed judiciously with coal, however, I knew it would materially help to spin out the supply. I hoped, also, to be able to take aboard a quantity of sand or shingle as ballast. From there I proposed proceeding to Deception Island to coal, and thence return to South Georgia.

At this point I must mention that which is not a pleasant subject, but one which should not be glossed over, because it indicates what is a most important feature in the preparation for a polar expedition: the choice of personnel. It is a matter which requires the greatest possible care, for one discordant or unadaptable spirit can do a vast amount of harm in infecting others.

There can be no doubt that since leaving South Georgia we had had a very wearing time and one which tried the temper and patience of all hands. It must be admitted that before leaving England the arrangements for the comfort of the personnel had in some directions been overlooked, and long-continued discomfort is bound sooner or later to have an effect upon the temper. Life on board ship entails a certain amount of dull routine, providing at times an amount of exhausting work but very little active exercise. We had experienced long spells of bad weather, with a large proportion of dull, grey days and little sunshine. I therefore expected and was prepared to find that individuals would experience periods of irritability, and that things would not always run as smoothly as might be desired. The personnel had been selected from men of marked individual character, and in order that a body of men of this type shall be able to live in absolute harmony over a long period of time it is necessary that an outstanding quality of each shall be a good “give and take” sporting spirit. The effect of one or two selfish and discordant natures can easily be understood. There was surprisingly little friction amongst the various members of the expedition, which is due largely to the sound qualities of the nucleus of old, tried men.

I began to be aware, however, about this time of an amount of dissatisfaction and grumbling occurring in both the forward and after-messes that I did not like. Men who sat at table with me and to a certain extent enjoyed my confidence discussed and freely criticized expedition affairs with members of the after-mess. Of this I had ample confirmation. Some of those thus employed were officers who from their position on the ship should have been my most loyal supporters. In the after-mess also I was surprised to find that the men affected were those in whom I had placed the most implicit trust. It was a condition of things that required prompt measures. I assembled each mess in turn, and going straight to the point told them that further continuance would be met with the most drastic treatment. I pointed out that although I would at all times welcome suggestions from the officers and scientific staff, and would consider any reasonable complaints, I could consider no selfish or individual interests, and my own decision must be final and end discussion of the matter.

I was glad to notice an immediate improvement.

On February 25th we passed through a lot of loose ice, and in the evening entered a patch of heavy, old, deeply stained diatomaceous floes. Scores of crab-eater seals lay asleep on them in batches of five or six. Passing close to one piece on which six were lying in a clump, I laid the ship alongside and with my heavy rifle shot them all. I sent Macklin, with Douglas and Argles, on to the floe to secure them, which is best done by passing a strop round the body and tightening it close up under the flippers. Having fixed up a block and tackle we hauled them aboard—an awkward job on account of the swell in which the Quest rolled heavily. In the subsequent flensing Douglas jabbed his knee, the knife penetrating the joint. The wound itself was small, but Macklin insisted on absolute rest until he could be sure that there was no infection. Carr also cut his finger. These accidents were largely due to the movement of the ship, which rendered the operation a difficult one. Two inexperienced men wielding their knives on the same seal are a source of danger to each other, for with the sweeping strokes employed there is the chance of a mutilating cut. I always insisted in cases like this that only one man at a time should have a knife in his hand.

Watts succeeded in getting Greenwich time by wireless from Rio de Janeiro, which enabled us to check our chronometers. Long-distance messages were not easily obtained owing to bad atmospheric conditions, which produce loud noises in the ear-pieces.

By February 28th, as a result of our depleted bunkers, the ship was very light and ill-ballasted. I told Worsley to remove from the decks all heavy gear and place it below, for which purpose I arranged to clear the coal from the forward part of the bunkers and put it aft into the side pockets. I divided the men into two working parties, one to go down in the morning, consisting of McIlroy, Marr, Macklin and Dell, and one to work in the afternoon, of Wilkins, Carr, McLeod and Watts. So much vigour did the morning party put into this work, however, that at lunch-time there was little for the others to do beyond stow the gear from above.

March 1st was another fine day, and we took full advantage of it to hang up the spare sails to dry prior to placing them below. All hands seized the opportunity to put out blankets and bedding for an airing.

The deck clearance made a wonderful improvement to the ship. Unfortunately, it made it necessary that we should have the gear up again when we coaled at Deception Island.

Worsley obtained a sounding of 2,762 fathoms in position lat. 65° 22´ S. and 10° 17´ W. long.

In the late afternoon we passed a very curious berg composed of a solid mass with a long, upright tooth-like portion separated from it on the surface by ten or twenty yards of water. Perched on it were several Antarctic petrels and one solitary ringed penguin. How the latter ever attained its position is a mystery, for the sides of the berg were steep and precipitous.

On Saturday, March 4th, there was a strong north-east to easterly wind, with heavy swell, and the motion of the Quest was simply awful, so bad, indeed, that in spite of our long time at sea several of the party were sea-sick. Macklin writes under this date:

It has been impossible to stand without holding firmly to some support, and movement about the ship can only be accomplished by sudden jerks and starts, with hurried gropings for something to catch hold of. A wet, snowy slush on the deck does not help matters. Argles was thrown off his feet and, crashing across the deck, fetched up on the other side against a bucket, severely bruising face, chest and hands. Meals are a screaming comedy or a tragedy, as you like to take them; everything placed on the table promptly charges for the scuppers, and fiddles are almost useless. McIlroy, “Kraskie,” Kerr and myself were sitting on a wooden bench, secured to the floor, holding on to plates and spoons, and endeavouring to guide some food into our mouths. Suddenly, during a particularly violent roll, the bench was torn from its fastenings, and we were thrown backwards into the lee of the wardroom, intimately mixed with knives, forks, plates and treacle dough. During the evening watch Commander Wild was talking to Mick and myself on the bridge when suddenly he shot away into the darkness, and a few moments later sounds the reverse of complimentary were heard issuing from the end of the bridge-house. Ross brought some tea a few minutes later, apologizing for having spilled much of it en route. He, too, suddenly disappeared in darkness, and when he next materialized there was less tea than ever, but it was a good effort his getting it there at all. When I went below I saw Wuzzles trying to work out his calculations on the wardroom table, with first a book, then a pencil or a ruler shooting suddenly to the floor. The Quest is a little “she-devil,” lively as they are made. She has many uncomplimentary things said of her, and deserves all of them.

On March 5th we passed within sight of several large and beautiful bergs emerging from the Weddell Sea, the mouth of which we were now crossing, and met with heavier floes than we had hitherto encountered. On the 9th we ran into broad belts of heavy ice. I took this chance of “watering” ship, placing her alongside a floe with some solid pieces of blue ice. Owing to the swell the ship would not lie comfortably, and so, taking with me Macklin, Carr and Douglas, I went off to secure her fore and aft. We broke up and passed aboard a considerable quantity of fresh ice. The men thoroughly enjoy a job of this nature and make a great joke of it. On this occasion they broke the ice into fragments of convenient weight and threw them at Jeffrey, who had undertaken to catch them all, subjecting him to a regular fusillade from which it was all he could do to defend himself. On the floe there was a seal which had come up to sleep, and we took this also. While this work was going on, Worsley took a sounding, finding in position lat. 66° 5´ S. and 38° 16´ W. long., 2,521 fathoms.

Query came on to the floe, where he took a tremendous interest in a killer which was swimming about. The killer rose close to the floe and “blew” with such a blast that Query tucked in his tail and ran for dear life—much to our amusement.

On Friday, March 10th, we encountered still heavier belts, and were compelled to take a north-easterly direction. In the evening it turned much colder, the temperature dropping to 17° Fahr.

A number of Adelie penguins were seen on the floe. Seals were scarce, only one being seen. Snow and Antarctic petrels flew about the ship in considerable numbers.

During the night we continued to push in a north-easterly direction, meeting very heavy broken-up old Weddell Sea floe. The temperature rose again to 24° Fahr. A strong easterly wind was blowing, with snow, which made it difficult to see far in any direction.

Water was again reported in the hold to the level of the kelson, and required three hours’ additional pumping to reduce.

At 6.0 P.M. the snow thickened so much that we could see nothing, and so lay to for the night. All about we heard the cries of Adelie penguins. The wind and snow continued all night, but at 4.30 A.M. on the 12th we started off again, pushing through thick pack composed of heavy old Weddell Sea floe with the water in between freezing solidly, making headway difficult. Often during this period I bemoaned to myself the low driving power of the Quest. With the onset of darkness we again lay to. During the night Marr, who was now a trustworthy seaman, was on the look out. He makes the following entry in his diary: “There was no one to talk to and all round lay that vast cold wilderness of ice. Never in my life have I felt so lonely….” This is indeed a feeling which one gets frequently in these regions, especially at night—a great sense of loneliness such as I have never felt elsewhere. On Monday, March 13th, the temperature dropped during the night to 8° Fahr., and the sea froze solidly about the ship. In the strong wind, with jib and mizen set, there was just enough way to keep the ship from being beset. About 4.0 A.M., however, she did become fast, but as soon as daylight came in we got up steam and proceeded as rapidly as possible. The skies cleared beautifully, but the sea continued to freeze so swiftly and solidly that we had the greatest difficulty in getting ahead, and many times we had to back off into our own water to get up sufficient impetus to break through. How we got the Quest along at all I cannot understand.

The outlook was very bad. Worsley and I spent long hours aloft searching for signs of land in the direction of “Ross’s Appearance,” but though it was a beautifully clear day, we could see no indication of it. Ahead of us the ice stretched thick and solid as far as we could see. Headway became more and more difficult, and soon I saw that it would be useless to attempt to push on. A sounding showed 2,331 fathoms of water in lat. 64° 11´ S. and 46° 4´ W. long., which did not indicate the proximity of land. Owing to the low driving power of the ship I could make no impression through the ice ahead, nor could I afford the coal for prolonged ramming. It seemed to me that we were in imminent danger of being beset, and I decided that we must push north in the hope of meeting more open pack. I had to give up all thought of attempting to return to “Ross’s Appearance,” because I was now desperately short of fuel, and unless we could get blubber at Elephant Island we should be in a bad way.

About us during the day were numerous Adelie penguins, occurring in twos and threes, and in a few larger clusters of forty or more. None of the floes bearing the large clusters were accessible to the ship, or I would have taken them up, for their skins burn well. Crab-eaters were scarce. Seeing two on a floe, with about a dozen penguins, we lay alongside. Argles jumped off to try and catch one, but in the soft snow the penguin had the advantage, and Argles’ efforts were very amusing to the rest of us. He is an active fellow, however, and was at last successful, bringing a squawking young Adelie in his arms to the ship, where Query paid it marked attention. We killed the rest of them, also the seals, and put them aboard the ship. Owing to the darkness, we lay to at night in rapidly freezing ice with the outlook as regards escape not at all promising, and at 4.30 the next morning we raised full pressure of steam and attempted to get away. After two hours of hard ramming we had made so little headway that I gave up the attempt and lay to alongside a floe. By breakfast it had become apparent that we were fast, hard frozen in. The temperature had dropped to 6.5° Fahr.

It blew hard all day. Birds with the exception of a few snow petrels disappeared early. Macklin says of these birds:

I always regard the snow petrel as symbolic of the Spirit of the Pack, for they are never entirely absent, in fair weather or foul. Even in winter when all is dark one can hear the gentle “whisp-whisp” of their wings as they fly close. Their pure white bodies with jet black beak and legs give them a beautiful appearance when seen at a distance, but when gathered about a piece of offal at closer range, there is something unpleasant and almost evil in their appearance, with their sinister curved beaks, hard bright eyes and pock-toed waddling gait. They are seen at their best on a bright clear day with a background of blue sky. Like the pack they can give an attractive impression or a most unpleasant one.

Killers were about during the day.

We were still solidly frozen in on the 15th. A fairly strong westerly wind blew with a temperature of 8.5° Fahr. The day was bright and clear, and Jeffrey and Douglas took theodolite and dip circle on to the floe for observations, which were impossible on a moving deck. In the morning I put all hands to cleaning up the ship and pumping her dry, a process which took two hours daily. Whilst engaged in this a killer appeared in a small lead which had formed on the port bow, and continued to swim slowly backwards and forwards, affording us an excellent close view. His motion through the water was a marvel of graceful movement, but in other respects he was an ugly looking monster, with slightly underhung jaw and a small wicked eye which gave him a very evil appearance. His back and flanks were covered with large brown-coloured patches, probably parasitic. I called Marr’s attention to him; he remarked that it did not make him feel inclined to fall overboard.

At noon Worsley got an observation of the sun and worked out a position which showed a drift of eighteen miles in direction N. 43° E. This was very encouraging, for I knew that if it continued we should not be long in reaching a point at which the floe would begin to open up and give us a chance to get away. A sounding gave 2,321 fathoms in lat. 63° 51´ S. and 45° 13´ W. long. The steam pipe of the sounding machine froze, so that Dell was unable to get in the wire, which was left all night in the hope of getting it in next morning. By daylight, however, the ship had altered her position relative to the hole in the ice by about fifty yards and the wire was as taut as a harp string. I made an effort to clear it with an ice-axe, but did not succeed in doing so. This single sounding wire held the weight of the ship, maintaining it and the floe in the same relative positions for forty-eight hours before finally parting. It was not subjected to any jerking strain, but this test says much for its strength.

We remained frozen in till March 21st. At times I felt very anxious, for with the lateness of the season, failing light and shortage of coal, I realized that our position might turn out to be a very awkward one. Indeed things looked so bad on the sixth day that I made up my mind that we might remain a long time before breaking free, and told Macklin, in dealing with the issue of stores and equipment, to have in mind the possibility of wintering. I had taken care to provision the ship with a view to this eventuality, but it would have necessitated the most rigid economy and a much more monotonous dietary than we had hitherto enjoyed, for it must be remembered that the bulk of our equipment was awaiting us in Cape Town. I did not, however, mention the possibility to the men, for they seemed quite to enjoy the break from routine, and I did not wish their minds to be occupied with any sort of gloomy forebodings. I encouraged them to amuse themselves in any way they could by taking walks out over the floes and by playing football. They were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunity. On one occasion I watched Douglas, Argles, Carr and Macklin earnestly engaged in a strange pastime, which more resembled a free fight than anything, and consisted of flinging themselves at one another and grappling and wrestling fiercely in the snow. At the finish they all bore marks of the contest, Douglas with an eye that threatened closure within a few days. They informed me that they had been playing American football, and said they enjoyed it!

“Soccer” was the favourite game. I frequently joined in, as did Worsley, whose fiftieth birthday we had celebrated a short while before, but who was by no means the least active. The games were marked by many amusing incidents. On one occasion Naisbitt while chasing the ball sank suddenly from view through a hole in the ice, from which he was promptly rescued, soon to be covered with a coating of icicles. On another day we were visited by a small Adelie penguin which spotted us from a floe some distance away, and came running as fast as his short legs would carry him to join in the game. What he thought of it all I do not know, but he insisted on taking an active part, neglecting the ball and fiercely attacking with beak and flippers any man who came near. Query took a great interest in the visitor, but was fiercely repulsed when he showed too marked an inquisitiveness. In the ordinary way too inquisitive penguins pay for their temerity with their lives and go to swell the larder, but this little fellow showed such pluck and sportiveness that we let him go free. He waddled off to join his companions, to whom, no doubt, he would spin the most marvellous yarn.

In honour of our two Irishmen, Jeffrey and McIlroy, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a specially good dinner, for which Green had produced some shamrock-shaped scones tied up with green ribbon. I was also able to produce some cigars and a bottle which we cracked for the occasion.

On the 18th Worsley and Wilkins put down a dredge with reversing thermometer attached. At first steam was used for heaving up, but this proving very slow we fell back on man power. It was hard work, but the men, as they always do on these occasions, threw themselves into it with a will, and we soon brought it to the surface. We obtained fifty-seven specimens of quartzite, tuffs, etc. There was no living matter, but the rocks were filled with worm cells.

The next day we were closely invested by dense pack, composed of heavy old pressure floes. On one was a huge sea-leopard which I shot with my heavy rifle. With the assistance of Worsley, Douglas and Watts I brought it in to the ship, where Wilkins claimed head and skin as specimens.

Later in the day I went with a party composed of Worsley, McIlroy, Kerr, Carr and Macklin to look at a berg, distant four or five miles from the ship. It was a bright morning and we much enjoyed the walk. The ice was very treacherous, and we had to proceed carefully from floe to floe, making many wide detours.

On the morning of the 20th the outlook was bad, for we were closely beset on all sides, and the clouds to the north showed no signs of “water sky.” The temperature was 10° Fahr., and the new ice was freezing more thickly than ever. Macklin, Carr and Marr set off to visit a large berg which appeared on the horizon. They thought they were making wonderfully good progress till it became evident that the berg was moving rapidly towards them, charging heavily through the floe, throwing aside fragments which lay in its path and leaving a wide lane of open water behind it. I watched it anxiously as, travelling at from two to three miles an hour, it approached the ship, and I feared that we might be involved in pressure as a result of the displacement of floes about it. To my relief, however, it passed about three-quarters of a mile astern of us and finally disappeared over the horizon to the northward. There was something awe-inspiring about this huge structure as it moved inexorable and undeviating on its path, relentlessly crushing and pushing aside the smaller structures which sought to impede its progress.

In the evening there was a marked change in the weather. The temperature rose to 14.5° Fahr., and the day became more dull and grey. From the crow’s nest I could see a distinct water sky to the northward.

Rowett Island, Off Cape Lookout, Elephant Island | Photo: Wilkins
The Kent “Clear-View” Screen | Photo: Sport & General
Approaching Cape Lookout | Photo: Wilkins

I was up at daybreak on March 21st and climbed to the mast-head to scan carefully the horizon to the northward for signs of opening up of the ice. There was a heavy black water sky, and as daylight increased I could distinguish fairly open and easily navigable pack. Unfortunately, between us and it were three miles of dense heavy floe solidly cemented by a foot of new ice. An irregular line of weakness ran through the heavy floe towards the now open pack, about half a mile distant from the ship. I thought that if I could cut my way into this a hard and determined effort might succeed in getting us free or at any rate into a more favourable position for escape should the ice about us begin to open up. I had to consider very carefully whether to make the effort or not, for the coal supply was such that we could not afford a day’s hard steaming with no tangible result.

Accompanied by Macklin I walked across the ice to examine this line of weakness more closely. It did not look promising and I cogitated for some time as to what to do. While we were walking back a crack opened in the new ice ahead of the ship. It presented a chance and I determined to take it. I gave orders for all hands to stand to, and told Kerr to get up full pressure of steam so that at any minute he could give the engines every ounce they would stand. He accomplished this very quickly, but before I had time to get under way a large, solid, heavy floe had turned across our bows and was completely blocking the lead. The full pressure of the engines could make no impression. I sent Macklin over the side with an ice anchor, and put all hands to warping her ahead. After a long effort we effected a turning movement of the floe, and the Quest, being able to insert her bow as a wedge, slowly but surely forced her way into the lead.

After some hard ramming and pushing at the floes we reached the line of weakness, to find that the most difficult part of our work lay before us. For a long time, in spite of tremendous efforts, we made little headway. We persisted, however, and after several hours of hard ramming and squeezing our way between heavy floes we won at last into loose pack, and soon after into comparatively open water. It was a great relief to me to get away. Had we remained frozen in till mid-winter and the ship been involved in heavy pressure our position would have been a precarious one, for there would have been little daylight to enable us to see what was happening, and there would have been long hours of darkness in which to contend with the heaving pack.

Throughout the whole period that we were navigating about the pack edge, I was constantly made to feel how extremely fortunate we were to have escaped unscathed from the ice after the loss of the Endurance. That we got away at all is truly marvellous, for not once in a dozen times could a frail ship’s boat win free under similar circumstances where the floes, coming together, must have cracked her like an eggshell.

For a while I continued north, entering all the time a more and more open sea dotted all about with bergs and large solitary pieces of floe.

The day after leaving the pack we encountered heavy swell, which caused the Quest, with her empty bunkers, to pitch and roll in the most uncomfortable manner. Decks, rails and running gear became iced up with sprays which broke over her gunwale and froze solidly, necessitating the greatest care in moving about.

At night I could not distinguish white horses from growlers, and so took in sail and lay to. I sent McLeod and Macklin aloft to take in the topsail, which they found an unpleasant job on account of the treacherous condition of the rigging, which was ice-covered and slippery, and the jerky movement of the ship.

We continued on at daybreak encountering a few bergs but no floe ice. There was a heavy swell from the east-south-east, and though the wind seemed to have dropped a little squalls of great violence continued to pass over us. On this day we reached the maximum of discomfort, and though the men maintained their cheerfulness I see now from some of the diaries that it must have cost an effort:

It has been another unpleasant day with all the discomforts of yesterday accentuated, the ship rolling just as heavily and all gear more thickly coated with ice, which is hanging in festoons and stalactites from every possible place. Sprays have been flying over all day and everything in the ship is damp. There is no comfort anywhere except in one’s bunk, and even there it is all one can do to prevent being thrown out. On the bridge to-day Commander Wild remarked: “The man who comes down here for the sake of experience is mad; the man who comes twice is beyond all hope; while as for the man who comes five times (himself)——” Words failed him.

Poor Query is utterly miserable; he cannot get a minute’s rest anywhere. Nor can any of us. Yesterday I caught my thumb in the jackstay, and it is so swollen and tender that to touch anything gives me agony. This beastly motion makes me sea-sick—I am full of sorrows to-day. We are getting near to Elephant Island, the home of all foul winds that blow—what crazy impulse sent me again to these abandoned regions? (writes Macklin).

Indeed at this stage of the voyage it took all our fortitude to keep up our spirits. We again hove to for the night, and the gale increasing in violence we lay to all next day.

It moderated about midnight of the 24th, and we set off under topsail only in the direction of Elephant and Clarence Islands.

Loading Sea-Elephants’ Blubber At Cape Lookout, Elephant Island | Photo: Wilkins
Somnolent Content A Sea-Elephant On Elephant Island | Photo: Wilkins
Ringed Penguins And A Paddy Bird (Chionis Alba) | Photo: Wilkins

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