Antarctic Days: Sketches of the Homely Side of Polar Life by two of Shackleton’s Men.

By two men of Shackleton’s Nimrod colleagues, and a preface by Shackleton himself. Murray was a biologist who served as chief of the base camp of the 1907-09 Nimrod expedition. George Marston was the official artist for both the Nimrod and the Endurance expeditions and drew illustrations of both. In his introduction Murray says that he did most of the writing and Marston “does the best of the illustrations.” Both were involved in the production of Aurora Australis.

p. 11-13: As a slight relaxation from the more strenuous occupations of the voyage, painting ship and so forth, we started a Magazine. I believe it is a tradition of such expeditions to do so. [The Antarctic Petrel.]

The Captain was Editor-in-Chief, Doc Acting Editor. All on board entered into the spirit of the thing, quantities of what you agree under the circumstances to call “ poetry ” were produced, and some of the sailors contributed very decent sketches, and very weird yarns, and reminiscences of the sea-and we had pages of axioms, and “Roast

Chestnuts,” and jokes, the points of which could not possibly be perceived unless you had sailed on the Nimrod.

The Editor concerned himself mainly with exercising his veto on unsuitable matter, and, to do both editors justice, they were not hard on us-——they did not reject much.

The acting editor proved a voluminous and versatile writer, giving us, among other things, a “History of Canada,” “Day-Dreams,” “The Nimrod Alphabet,” and he also wrote upon Epitaphs, lengthily upon Germs, and very entertainingly upon his “Early Experiences.”

From this last I will quote the verse of poetry in the French Habitant style with which he concludes. It is a quotation from Dr. Drummond’s poems and contains a sound recipe for not getting drowned at sea. It is apropos of the wreck of the wood scow, Julie Plante, on Lake St. Peter.

“So all you wood scow sailormen,
Take warning by that storm;
And go and marry some nice French girl,
And live on one big farm;
Then the wind may blow one hurricane,
And if it blow some more;
You can’t get drowned on Lac St. Pierre
So long’s you stay on shore."
The verse with which he concludes his article on “Germs” will also stand quotation, as a sound bit of (American) philosophy. Doc does not say where he picked it up.
“It’s easy enough to look pleasant,
When your automobile’s in trim;
But the man that’s worth while
Is the man who can smile,
When he’s got to ride back on the rim.”

How the feat is to be accomplished is not explained.

The Biologist produced an illustrated series on “Birds of the Southern Ocean,” too deadly serious ever to be read on such a voyage. We had other serious articles on the Compass, and Meteorology, but most of the contributors realized the necessity there was for amusement, and gave us lighter stuff.

No doubt some members of the party could have given us, out of the experiences of chequered careers, much stronger stuff than anything we printed, but for the respect due to the editorial veto.

A few of the articles are here reproduced, as specimens of our work, by arrangement with the Editor, Captain England.

Some of the sketches (alleged jokes) are printed in this chapter; others are scattered through the book, to illustrate episodes. Most of them are not the actual sketches used in the Antarctic Petrel, but versions of the same made from the original drawings.

These drawings, whatever their shortcomings from the point of view of the Art Critic, have their value as records of episodes of the life on board which would otherwise have been entirely forgotten.

p. 32-33, a picture of Marston “Studying under Difficulties: In the Tropics. Attempting to study a ponderous “Challenger” volume in the only available shade, under the Chart-box on deck.” He is actually reading a large volume of the Challenger reports: There were only two places that could be thought of for work—down below and up above. But down below was dark as a dungeon, and (the vessel had been sealing for some forty years) it stank. Up above… it was an athletic feat to get from our cabins (?) to the wardroom (saloon), and everything awash! But we must work.

p. 34, August 16, 1907: Down below there are other troubles for the would-be worker. The library, of ponderous volumes of the Challenger Reports and such-like, is there, piled on a spare bunk in my cabin; and there are also stores of jars of various sizes for preserving the catch.

Going down to bed to-night, I find that all the library, and other rubbish, have been piled on my bunk, and the cabin filled with stores nearly to the deck above. It was a feat climbing over the mountain to get to the side on which my bunk was. Then I had to quarry out enough library to give me room to curl up in.

p. 37, October 6: It was most difficult of all [during the ship’s rolling] to control the furniture, especially the library. If the books were to be got at for use they could not be packed away beyond all possibility of motion. It often happened that a heavy roll brought the big Challenger Reports about my ears, a genuine danger.


Through the kindness of various friends, the Scientific Staff of the Nimrod was not entirely unprovided with entertaining literature, of course over and above the official library.

The voyage was long enough to exhaust our store of reading matter, and favourites were read again and again.

There was one particular book which was greatly appreciated, a collection of old chap-books giving most graphic glimpses into the simpler, ruder life of our forefathers of several generations back. This book I valued for its intrinsic merit as an unsophisticated record of not too sophisticated life, and also on account of its giver.

Early in the voyage it was lost, and I failed to find any trace of it, and gave it up as hopelessly gone.

Many months afterwards, when the voyage was drawing towards a close, and we had got to know everybody on the ship, one of the sailors, learning that I was out of reading matter, told me of a very fine book they had in the fo’c’sle, and offered to lend it to me.

He brought it—it was my long lost chap-books.

p. 105-07 has a lengthy account of the printing of Aurora Australis: The Aurora Australis was printed and produced in the Antarctic, during the long dark night. It is a work which has a very limited circulation, as the issue was of necessity very restricted, and did not, I believe, exceed a hundred copies.

Those who have been privileged to see this rare work would little suspect that it was produced by amateur printers. Everything—typography, imposition (or whatever it is called), lithography, etching, is of the highest degree of technical excellence.

You would not imagine that such work could be put out by three men who only had a few hours of instruction, wedged in among the myriad engagements of the exciting days of preparation for an expedition!

Joyce and Wild are responsible for the typography; Marston devised, drew, etched, lithographed, and printed all the illustrations in the book, including the coloured title-page.

Sir Joseph Causton very generously provided all the materials—type, paper, printing presses—and had our printers instructed at his Works.

Day, without any instruction at all, set his deft fingers to work and made the covers out of our empty vanesta packing cases. Many of the covers still bear conspicuously the stenciled brand telling the nature of the contents, such as S U E T, B A C O N, etc.

The reader, contemplating the finished work, would have no glimmering of suspicion of the immense difficulties under which the work had to be produced.

It was winter, and dark, and cold. The work had to be done, in the intervals of more serious occupations, in a small room occupied by fifteen men, all of them following their own avocations, with whatever of noise, vibration and dirt might be incidental to them….

Dust from the stove fills the air and settles on the paper as it is being printed. If anything falls on the floor it is done for; if somebody jogs the compositor’s elbow as he is setting up matter and upsets the type into the mire, I can only leave the reader to imagine the result.

The temperature varies ; it is too cold to keep the printer’s ink fluid; it gets sticky, and freezes. To cope with this a candle was set burning underneath the plate on which the ink was. This was all right, but it made the ink too fluid, and the temperature had to be regulated by moving the candle about.

Once the printers were called away while the candle was burning, and nobody happened to notice it. When they returned they found that the plate had overheated and had melted the inking roller of gelatinous substance. I believe it was the only one on the Continent and had to be re-cast somehow.

So much for the ordinary printing. The lithography was still worse. All the evils enumerated above persecuted the lithographer, and he had others all to himself. The more delicate part of his work could not be done when the hut was in full activity, with vibration, noise and smelling smuts, so Marston used to do most of his printing in the early hours of the morning, when the Handy Andy hut was as nearly quiet and free from vibration as it ever became, and there was a minimum of dust (at least in suspension in the air).

p. 176-99, Chapter XIV is a collection of sea chanties sung aboard Nimrod, by G. E. Marston.