The Voyage of the “Scotia” Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration in Antarctic Seas. By Three of the Staff.

An account by various authors of the Scotia Expedition of 1902-04, led by Robert Speirs Bruce. The Preface, signed by the three authors [Brown, R.C. Mossman, and J.H. Pirie], gives some flavor of one unusual aspect of the Scotia voyage, a Scottish expedition in direct scientific competition with Scott: “There is still a lurking tendency to judge an expedition of exploration largely by the sensational character of its adventures, and to crown with plaudits of approval men who can lay claim to have escaped half a dozen times from a near and overshadowing death. Every expedition—particularly those to such unknown and inhospitabl regions as the Antarctic—must of course meet with its full quota of adventure, but Polar seas are not the place to court it, and to play with death a such close quarter’s is but a fool’s game…, but the fewer adventures the more content must the really earnest explorer be, and it may be very truly said that the less sensation a traveller has to recount the better and more far-seen were his preparations. And this is the only apology that the authors would offer should the reader regret that they were not more frequently at death’s door during the two years of the Scotia’s voyage.” That could appear a self-serving way of explaining the less dramatic but very solid scientific accomplishments of this expedition when compared with those of Scott, Mawson, and Shackleton.

p. viii: Prefatory note: The volume is especially for Scots throughout the world. It has been suggested that the despatch of the Scottish Expedition was superfluous and unnecessary; but I venture to state that there is at least no biologist or oceanographer of note who will agree with that opinion. While "Science" was the talisman of the Expedition, "Scotland" was emblazoned on its flag; and it may be that, in endeavouring to serve humanity by adding another link to the golden chain of science, we have also shown that the nationality of Scotland is a power that must be reckoned with. Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh, September 1906.

p. 95-96: After the evening dinner all hands were free for the rest of the day with the exception of the watchman and the meteorological observer. The hourly observations we had begun when we left the Falklands were of course continued. Mossman was busy most of the day ashore with his magnetic observations, so the meteorological work fell largely to the rest of us, including the Captain. During the day the watches were variable in length, and depended on the daily work on hand. The night-watch began with the 10 p.m. observation and finished with the 3 a.m. one. This watch was taken for a week in turn by Wilton, Pirie, and myself, while at 4 a.m. Mr Bruce came on and went off at 8 a.m. The night-watchman, needless to say, had a lonely life during his week of duty. There was seldom any one awake after 10 p.m., and he only rose the following day in time for lunch, after which he always spent the afternoon in outdoor exercise. In consequence, the week was largely spent in a solitude which often was far from unacceptable. Not that we tired of our fellow-creatures, for we all lived on the most amicable of terms, but the occasional solitude which every one requires was seldom obtainable in life on so small a ship as the Scotia. We were practically always in sight and hearing of one another. That, I may say incidentally, is one of the greatest hardships of polar exploration—the impossibility of escaping for an hour at a time from one’s fellow-creatures. Moreover, the night-watchman had the greater part of his time on his hands, for the observations rarely required his attention more than some ten minutes every hour. For the remainder of the hour he could do what he chose, whether it was reading, mending clothes, printing photographs, or anything else he wished. Some ingenious observers even contracted the habit of dozing peacefully before the cabin fire, and waking regularly in time for the observation. Sometimes it was wild work to go on deck fighting one’s way in the fury of a blizzard; and after a silver thaw, when huge 10-lb. blocks of ice crashed from the rigging to the deck, which itself was a veritable glacier, the observer was not altogether free from risk: but on the whole it was pleasant work, and except in the depths of winter, when night-watch involved so serious a curtailment of one’s hours of daylight, no one felt annoyed when their week came round again.

p. 97-98, in Winter Quarters: The winter evenings, after the day’s work was done and we gathered together, whether in cabin or fo’c’sle, are in many ways among the pleasantest memories of life in the Antarctic. There can be few subjects that did not at some time or another come under discussion, and occasionally we speculated on the course that events in the world would have taken, but never, I must say, very accurately, in the light of later knowledge. The absence of newspapers was not, as some more "civilised" people might think, a great drawback. If an old one turned up among any odds and ends it was read, but no one seemed to miss a daily record of the world’s events. With letters, it was perhaps different; old ones were often re-read, but yet we expected no new ones, and so seldom troubled about the absence of a mail. We lived in a little world of our own, indifferent to wars and rival policies, ignorant of international intrigue and hatred. The temperature, the state of the ice, the health of the dogs—such were the most important events to us, and were eagerly discussed every morning. Thanks to the kind generosity of various publishers, we had books in plenty, from the ponderous scientific tomes of the Challenger to the lightest of light novels. There were sufficient books to keep us all employed in reading for several years, and our scientific library was well stocked with results of former deep-sea expeditions,—‘Valdivia,’ Prince of Monaco’s, ‘Ingolf,’ ‘Belgica,’ as well as the ‘Challenger.’ Polar travels north and south, and geographical and other scientific treatises, were plentifully distributed through the various cabins.

[From Bruce’s diary of the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition (Edinburgh UL), there is this entry about Jackson’s reading:] June 17th, 1897 “All the evening J[ackson] does nothing but read The Sketch, Daily Mail, Illustrated London News &.Weekly Times. Yesterday evening he again spent about 2 hours admiring his own photos with a look of satisfaction on his face, the only time I have seen him beam more is when he is reading his own book.”) [Courtesy of Innes Keighren]

p. 99-100: We had in addition a small harmonium in the cabin, but it lacked efficient players, and moreover a wave that had the year before washed into the cabin still seriously affected it, despite the repairs which Ramsay and I had carried out. But the great acquisition for our "concerts" was a small phonograph, whose forty or fifty records were faithfully ground out on these occasions, and seldom failed to arouse applause. It may seem strange that we so often cared for sounds which are so discordant to our ears to-day, but it was a pleasure to listen to voices we were not familiar with, and hear accents that did not daily fall on our ears: that, I think, is why the phonograph was so popular…. We also had concerts in the fo’c’sle, where there was a first-rate singer, in the person of Low; and many a strong deep-voiced chorus rang from the ship on such nights. The sailors too had their arguments, and very bitter the discussions were at times. Murray was a prime mover in many of these, slipping down from the galley to start a discussion, and then retreating when pandemonium reigned supreme. At other times he would carefully read up facts in ‘Whitaker’s Almanac,’ start an argument, say, as to the tonnage of the largest ship, and when the fo’c’sle was at boiling-point produce his facts and his authority, and so make matters worse.

p.185: The wardroom officers of the Beagle most considerately sent us a heap of newspapers and periodicals, and were not a little surprised to hear we had plenty of food, and were not in the least starving. It was a strange picture that evening in the Scotia’s cabin, and one that neither we nor Lieutenant Marriott will soon forget,—the neat uniformed officer sitting at the table, and, crowding round him, the weather-beaten explorers, clad in their well-worn and grotesquely patched clothes and rough jerseys, and with their shaggy untrimmed beards. It was a contrast between civilised and uncivilised, and only then did I realise what seeming savages we had become. Next morning we went ashore to fetch our letters—a boat-load full,—and spent a bewildering and happy morning in trying to read them all. As to the year’s newspapers, we gradually read some in succeeding weeks, but soon discovered how much of the contents of a newspaper is but of ephemeral interest, and how little is vital: still to this day I am always finding gaps in my knowledge of the history of 1903, and amaze my friends with my ignorance of some of its events.

p. 258, on approaching Gough Island in the southern Atlantic: To those of us who had not known for fifteen long months what all these simple pleasures were, there was certainly an alluring prospect ahout Gough Island, and the long delays and four weeks’ incessant battling against contrary winds had only increased our expectations and strengthened our desire to get there. The adjacent island of Tristan da Cunha is relatively well known, and from various accounts of it, which we had carefully read, we knew in a general way what we might expect in Gough Island. Let it not be supposed that we dreamt of tropical luxuriance and fragrance; far from it, we pictured an island somewhat bare, perhaps even desolate in appearance, but with a certain amount of green vegetation; not perhaps a very tempting prospect to one coming from a happier clime, but to eyes long accustomed to look over snow and ice, and from sea to sky, this was something keenly to look forward to. All night the Scotia lay off the island to leeward, and I, happening to be on watch that night, enjoyed to the full the glorious fresh scent of grass and soil wafted off the land on the breeze.

p. 363, at Harbourtown on the Beagle Channel: In the morning of the 16th I had the pleasure of breakfasting with these gentlemen under surroundings to which I had long been a stranger. Their house was a large one of two storeys, with sheds and storehouses near by, while inside the mansion was replete with numerous luxuries which we could hardly have expected in such a remote situation. Rich articles of furniture, beautiful pictures, a fine library, and costly bric-a-brac, surrounded one on every hand.