Antarctic Adventure: Scott’s Northern Party.

The northern party under V. L. A. Campbell, was forced to winter in the Antarctic when the Terra Nova failed to pick them up. They survived despite being without winter clothing and they eventually crossed 230 miles of sea ice to Cape Evans. Spence 939. Conrad 186: This is gripping reading. The first edition is unfortunately rare, as many copies were destroyed during a fire. [ABEBOOKS]

p. 37: …besides the rock specimens and the penguin carcasses we carried off with us the two bound volumes of the Sketch which the Nimrod had brought down in 1909. These proved, as we expected them to be, a great addition to our library, which was rather deficient in illustrated books.

p. 62: By the end of March the interior of the hut looked quite like a home, for each man had decorated his own cubicle with photographs and sledge flags; each had also shelves for his own books, and Browning had fixed up a set of library shelves.

p. 63-64: On the wall above the head of the bed were three shelves, which occupied in my mind the same position that the sword must have done in that of Damocles. They were laden with the whole of my geographical library and other books, and most of the apparatus that I possessed that was breakable. Fortunately, here again our carpentry was

considerably better than it looked, and if the hut is still standing, it is probable that the shelves are too. Below the shelves came the small picture-gallery I possessed, and (purely for the sake of appearances) an

impressive map of the Antarctic was also pinned to the wall by the side of my bed, while a series of nails held, such articles of clothing as I was obliged to don every two hours before leaving the hut to take the

meteorological observations.

p. 68, during a wind storm: It was on this night that I first realized the possibilities of my shelves, when I received a German dictionary on the side of my head, and this was followed by a deluge of ink-bottles, pencils, pens, and books.

p. 76, importance of gramophone: Jesting apart, however, I think we would all agree that we got more pleasure out of the gramophone during

this winter than out of any other of our amusements; and the amusing part was that there seemed to be amongst our repertoire songs to suit pretty nearly every incident out of the daily run which happened to us.

[See op p. 77, for photo of room with book shelves.]

p. 80, scientific work ashore at Cape Adare: It was impossible to cope with any single science single-handed, and as we had to give a good account of three sciences or to be written down as failures all hands were pressed into service. Officers and sailors alike took their turn at the observations, and perhaps the only clue to this fact presented by the logbooks was a certain laborious neatness and fullness about those entries made by the mess-deck observers.

p. 94, Caruso on gramophone singing the “Flower Song” from Carmen: …. not, I am afraid, because of our classical taste in music, but because it was the loudest we possessed. In consequence the gramophone alarm was christened the “Carusophone,” and its efficacy was such that on one occasion only, when the draught during a blizzard blew out the candle, did it fail to go off, and on no single occasion did it fail to wake the night watchman. Indeed, for the first week or two, judging by the comments it evoked, it woke every one, but even then we were so proud of it that no one said nearly as much as might have been expected, while after a week or two its only effect was to give a somewhat noisy trend to our dreams.

p. 99: We seemed to have an appropriate song for every thing that could happen here. As I was bending over my last that evening, Browning, without malice afore thought, I believe, started the gramophone concert with his favourite record, “The Promise of Life.” The opening sentence, “There are no eyes whose light hath ne’er been blinded by silent tears of sorrow or of pain,” was obviously very appropriate, and amused us all, though I was obliged to call Levick to witness before the others would believe my assertion that the tears I had shed that morning were “silent.” [Priestley had recently been seriously burned near his eyes.]

p. 101-02: We had a good library with us, as usual, and it is at such times as this that one finds time to read classical books. For my part I find it quite difficult to make time to read and enjoy such authors as Scott, Dickens and Thackeray, at home, but in the course of two winters in the Antarctic I read through the complete works of all three and many more standard books which are far heavier reading than these. One book which proved a great favourite with the men was Marcus Clark’s “For the Term of his Natural Life,” and their comments on this were very pithily summed up by Abbott when he said, referring to the hero, “The only bit of luck the poor fellow had was when he got drowned”—a trenchant summary that would be hard to beat.

p. 107-08: Perhaps the first sign of the near approach of the sledging season is the diligence with which officers and men may be seen reading up what Antarctic and Arctic literature is available. Unfortunately, as we were a subsidiary party, our library was very ill-supplied in this respect, but even so we managed to extract a good deal of useful information from those books we had. The “Antarctic Manual,” for instance, contained copious extracts from the voyages of Wilkes and D’Urville, who had cruised to the west of us, as well as those of many whose scene of action did not lie so close. I do not think I ever realized what a great deal Arctic exploration owes to such firms as Mssrs Enderby and to the men sent out by them in command of their whalers until, before the commencement of the sledging season in 1908, I read the journals of John Biscoe and Bellany, whose accounts are as clear and concise as their voyages were well carried out. It is only to be regretted that the commercial outcome of thse voyages was not such as to encourage a persistence in them.

Op. p. 109, photo of typewriter for writing notes.

p. 143: On Sundays, as in pleasanter times at Cape Adair, Campbell read from the New Testament, and hymns & psalms were sung, recollected in the absence of a hymnal with a fair degree of accuracy thanks to the spell spent by the seamen in their home choirs, and to Priestley’s Wesleyan chapel childhood.

p. 145: After the evening hooch…Levick read a chapter or two of a book aloud to the others, recumbent in their bags. Their library was meager and strangely assorted, reflecting the tastes of six disparate readers. He started with Boccaccio’s Decameron, which he rated a most boring production;… Simon the Jester, a rather inferior novel, they enjoyed greatly. Their literary mainstay was, however, David Copperfield: a merciful total of sixty-four chapters. Levick started to read one of these a day on 28 March, and finally closed the book two months later. Balfour’s Life of Robert Louis Stevenson then came to their rescue, lasting them for another few weeks. He was not the only performer: Priestley’s readings from his diary were much enjoyed from the beginning of June, but were rationed to Sundays, to spin them out as long as possible. [Goes on to talk about Levick’s literary attempts.]

p. 146: We knew from Borchgrevink’s book that we might expect the first of these birds in the spring, and Levick, in whose charge were all zoological observations, now produced a notebook, and issued an ukase that every one should assist in filling this with notes as speedily as possible. The rules laid down in the beginning of the book were characteristic, and I will quote them here in case they should be useful to future sailor scientists under similar conditions :—

“Members are invited to write in this book notes on anything of interest seen by them relating to birds, seals, whales, etc., appending their initials and bearing in mind the following observations:—

“I. Never write down anything as a fact unless you are absolutely certain. If you are not quite sure, say ‘I think I saw’ instead of ‘I saw,’ or ‘I think it was’ instead of ‘It was,’ but make it clear whether you are a little doubtful or very doubtful. [Two other principles follow, try not to disturb the penguins and trivial incidents can be of great value. Also notes that birds feel pain so don’t cause pain when you’re killing them.]

p. 163: Levick entry for 29 Oct 1912: “…and then we retired to our bags and ate more biscuits, and I read Browning, as Taylor had left a copy at the depot.”

p. 188-90, November 1912: Now that we had more spare time on our hands, it seemed a good time to endeavour to produce some sort of a magazine or paper which should be modelled on those of previous expeditions. We therefore called a meeting of authors, at which contributions were promised by all hands, and I was appointed editor, and so the Adélie Annual came into being. We did not pretend to a high literary standard, but the articles were mainly topical and so interesting to ourselves, and the paper was the cause of much amusement. One poem, which was sent to me signed “Bluebell,” was an advertisement of our hut and enumerated its points very well:—

The late inhabitants, with much regret,
Beg to announce this hut is now to let.
They grieve exceedingly they cannot stay,
But urgent business calls them away.
The hut and furniture, thus on the market,
Remains for any one who cares to shark it,
And if you care to walk in, I dare say, gents,
You won’t be worried by no dashed house agents.
There’ll be no rent to pay, no tax or poor rate;
You won’t be fussed, or called on by the curate,
Whilst duns will leave you quiet for a space,
Being positively strangers to this place.
A place, in short, a prince might well inhabit.
Look ! what a chance ! and no one here to grab it.
Each time the wind blows plates rain off the shelves,
For, with the hut, we put them up ourselves,
And consequently we’re prepared to state
Each plank is split, and not a nail’s in straight.
This latter dodge was ours, and quite a great one
(A crooked nail sticks faster than a straight one)—
It’s all yours for the asking, every splinter,
But hurry up, it won’t last out next winter.

[Another poem, The Barrow Dip, by the same author deals with science from the explorer’s point of view.]

p. 256: The month did not start too well for me, for on the 1st I had an accident with my blubber reading-lamp, which had unpleasant consequences. One or two of the oil-can blubber-stoves had been discarded by the cooks as being inefficient, and we had converted these into reading-lamps, which were larger than usual and gave rather more light. I had placed my lamp too near the edge of the snow-block wall alongside my bag, and as the oil in the lamp heated it thawed its way unevenly into one of the blocks, developing a tilt, until without warning it slid forward and precipitated itself and about half a pint of oil over the ruck-sack, which contained my spare clothes, and over the floor cloth under my bag. I rolled up the latter hurriedly and scraped the floorcloth thoroughly with a sheath-knife; but it was impossible to undo all the damage, and for the rest of the winter my bag and floor space were always more greasy than those of any of the others.

p. 257-59, during the second winter in their igloo: First of all we waited until the messmen for the day had finished their work, and then when they had turned in and all diaries were written up Levick would read us a chapter from “David Copperfield.” This one chapter a night became a regular institution with us from now until we had finished all three books we had with us. “David Copperfield” lasted us for some sixty nights, and at the end of that time we were very sorry to part with him. The “Life of Stevenson,” however proved an excellent substitute, and that, again, lasted us for two or three weeks, and was followed by “Simon the Jester.” This last book we found lasted us much less time, for we became one and all fascinated with Simon’s character, and one chapter a night was not enough. We demanded two or three, and Levick allowed us to keep him reading, and in a few days the last of our books was finished. In addition to these we had with us two copies of the Review of Reviews, and these were read from cover to cover, advertisements and all.

We had carried one or two other magazines on the summer journey, but these, unfortunately, I had used for wrapping up specimens, and I often regretted this fact during the winter. The “Decameron” and a couple of Max Pemberton’s novels which the men had brought completed our list of literature, with the exception of a typed copy of my first years’ diary. This latter I used to read on Sundays, and we used to contrast our life on the same date at Cape Adare with our present existence in the snow-cave. On Sundays also Campbell read a chapter from a pocket edition of the New Testament we had with us, and afterwards we sang what hymns we could remember.

Taking all things into consideration, the Sunday concerts were a great success. The only man with a voice in the party was Abbott, and he was not blessed with a good memory. Dickason and Browning had once been in a choir, and still remembered bits of the Te Deum and some fragments of hymns, and I also knew a few of the latter. Between us we managed to patch up about a dozen hymns, which sounded something like they were meant to by their authors. Where we could not think of a sentence we made it up, and I was surprised when I returned to find that, while we had frequently only been singing two or three verses when four or five had been written, in one case at least we had made up one more verse than actually existed. Although a man of no pretensions to voice at all, I was a tower of strength in these Sunday concerts, for when I was a boy I had been taken twice every Sunday to a Wesleyan chapel, and the only book I was allowed to look at during the sermons (which were unreasonably long for children to be expected to listen to) was the hymn-book. Consequently I amused myself by learning all my favourite hymns by heart, and I have never forgotten some of them. My diligence in those far-off days was now amply repaid, for the thing which went farthest towards making our evenings pass pleasantly was the ability to make a “cheerful noise.” We had very little idea of tune, but hymn tunes are simple and very fine, and I believe we all enjoyed these concerts even more than those which marked the Saturday night.

Saturday night also was devoted to song. After dinner we drank to “Sweethearts and Wives” in our apology for cocoa, and then we sang the old favourites which will be recognized by sailors and travellers all the world over. Such songs as “Rolling Home,” “Lowlands,” “Thora,” “The Buffalo Battery,” “Mandalay,” and many another will remind us of these Saturday night concerts to our dying day, and when we hear them again our thoughts will swing back across time and space to the drift where lie the remains of our cave home.

p. 270: Our little reading-lamps gave light sufficient to read by if the book was held fairly close to them, but they were of very little use for illuminating the hut generally.

p. 278-79: One of the greatest surprises of our behaviour during this winter was the unexpected way in which the whole party settled down to the inert vegetating existence without fretting or protest. Four of us, at any rate, are unusually active people, and cannot bear to be unoccupied in normal life, while I myself could never have believed that I could have been happy without something to read. Yet during the greater part of this inactive life we were certainly happy as was witnessed especially by the seraphic state of our tempers, and far from pining for books, I can remember many times when I could have been reading “Hints for Travellers” or the Review of Reviews and I preferred to lie and let my thoughts wander at their own sweet will….

Half the fascination an Antarctic expedition possesses is to be found in the sharpness of the contrasts experienced during its course, for it appears to be true that a hell one day is liable to make a heaven the next. It is probable, indeed, that here we have another of the clearest notes that together make up that elusive something we term, for want of a better name, “the Call of the Antarctic.”

p. 306, Jan. 17, 1912: Last night we had our usual Sunday readings, this time the 11th Chapter of Acts, my diary of the Crescent Bay trip, and the early manhood of Stevenson, all three unusually interesting chapters. This is always a good thing nowadays, as none of us sleep too well. We generally feel slightly sleepy after the evening hoosh, wake up during the evening, and fall asleep again in the early morning, waking again about 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., at which latter hour we get up. We then take out the rest of our sleep between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. The morning sleep helps the time to pass, and for my part I find it equally hard to sleep at night whether I sleep in the daytime or not. During the days in the bag we have little we can do, for we dare not read much. The smitch from the fires inflames our eyes, and the lids press so hard on the eyeballs that they cause acute pain. [This is an extract from Priestley’s diary.]

p. 350, on finally approaching their base: We felt then that we were really within measurable dis tance of home and friends. Right under the shadow of that mighty cone lay the winter quarters of the Polar Party, and there, whether the party were there or not would be a record that we could read, and which would tell us clearly what had happened to our comrades. This sight awoke our impatience as nothing else had done. and we turned our attention to the white plain over which was to be our road. Everywhere was heavy pressure ice, and it was plain that there were obstacles enough and to spare in front of us yet, but we had something photographed on our minds which would help us over these, and on any fine day in future we had only to look to the left of the line of march and we should see a beacon which was worthy of a country where everything is on a large scale.

p. 370-72, an account of Scott’s last days, the discovery of the bodies, and his burial. It is one of the classic accounts of the deaths of the Scott party, included here for its emphasis on the rescued records: The search party had been unexpectedly successful in their sad mission, and had come across the bodies of Captain Scott, Dr. Wilson, and Lieutenant Bowers in their tent 160 miles south of Hut Point. They had secured the records and specimens of the party and much of their equipment, and had buried the bodies over them, and had then left them to the peace they had so hardly won. The story of the glorious record left by the Southern Party has been told at length in the official history of “Scott’s Last Expedition,” so I will only quote, for the benefit of any readers who may not have read that book, the passage from my diary which describes the news brought in by the search party:—“In the evening Atkinson, Cherry-Garrard, and Dmitri arrived with their dog-teams. They brought news that the mule party were on their way. They had the best news that could be hoped for under the circumstances, and we have now ample proofs of the glorious way in which the Southern Party died. About eleven miles south of One Ton Depot they found the tent still standing, with the bodies of our leader, Wilson, and Bowers lying in their bags.

“They had died of general weakness and starvation, having been laid up during a nine days’ blizzard, with nothing to eat and no oil. They had clung to their specimens, and had quite a large collection on the sledge, while they had dropped their photographs only a few miles back. From Captain Scott’s diary, it appears that they found Amundsen’s tracks at 88° S., and had followed them to the Pole, which Amundsen had reached on December 17th, or a month before our men. On the way back they had had quite decent weather and good surface on the plateau, but had not made good progress down the glacier, mainly owing to Evans failing. Near the foot of the glacier the latter fell and sustained concussion of the brain, and he never recovered. He died just as they reached the depot at the bottom of the glacier.

“From the time they reached the Barrier the situation became worse and worse. The surface was vile, the temperature 30° to 40˚ below zero, and the weather overcast. They were making only a few miles a day, and picked up their depots at 81° 30′ S. and 8o° 30’S. latitude with increasing difficulty. They had all been badly frost-bitten, and Oates, whose feet were beginning to mortify, now began to feel that he was a drag on the party. A few miles south of One Ton Depot a blizzard came on, and after discussing the position with the others, Oates evidently made up his mind that he must be sacrificed for the rest of the party. He told the others that he must leave the tent and might be some time away, and then he walked away into the drift and was never seen again. The others struggled on, getting weaker and weaker, until they were held up by this last blizzard, which lasted for nine days and finished them. Atkinson says that even if they reached the depot they could not have got in. There is this one crumb of comfort about the manner of their end I am certain they would themselves have preferred the more lingering death, with the chance of their records and specimens being discovered, to the swifter and more merciful fall down a crevasse and the certain loss of the results of their journey.”