Bickerton was a member of Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition, but resigned from Shackleton’s Endurance to join the war effort before Shackleton left for Antarctica. Although this is a full biography of Bickerton, the story of the AAE takes up the first half of the book, followed by a separate chapter on the Endurance. John King Davis, a multi-facited friend of Mawson, served as captain of Aurora, irritating a good number of officers and men, though seldom Mawson.
p. 59: Ninnis said of Bickerton that ‘he has never been known to have an idle moment, unless he be reading poetry in his bunk at night.’
p. 60-61: Some read—a personal favourite brought from home, or a volume from the expedition library, in which Polar journals and general literature were to be found aplenty. Bickerton’s tastes varied from works on exploration to the comic verse of Hilaire Belloc, a lifelong favourite.
p. 63: The most extravagant dramatic production attempted was a comic opera: The Washerwoman’s Secret. ‘Admission free, children half price’, the printed programme announced. Much of the comedy was due to Hurley’s inexhaustible supply of drollery, but Bickerton, Laseron, McLean and Correll contributed with all their might. Bickerton—whose ‘fine sense of humour’ had been remarked by Madigan and whom McLean considered a ‘never-failing fund of humour’—played the role of village idiot and lolloped about the kitchen-stage interrupting the soliloquies of the other performers with a barrage of irrelevant questions and commentary. Ninnis observed that, ‘smoking a cigarette through his nostril and squinting in the most horrible manner … [Bickerton] was really funnier than anything I have ever seen, his expression being weird beyond believe’. [More follows on the production and Bickerton’s costumes.]
p. 81, during a sledging journey blizzard: It was, Bickerton noted, ‘a distinctly dismal outlook’. The noise of the wind was deafening, making normal conversation practically impossible. In an attempt to entertain his companions, Whetter tried to read aloud, but Bickerton found that ‘although I could have touched W. with my hand I could’nt [sic] hear what he was reading; the wind was—and still is—flapping the tent so violently.’
p. 82, the next day: By 9.45 p.m. he admitted to ‘getting sick of this’ and tempers were beginning to fray; ‘it’s damned annoying. ‘can’t sleep, can’t eat though we would like to, and can’t move on, which we would like to do more. W. is going to mumble the Virginian [Owen Wister] aloud: no he is not, he and H have quarrelled over the thing. H. says W. won’t read loud enough, so they have torn the thing in half and each man now reads his own portion quietly.
p. 106-07: While the postbag [from the returned ship] was much lighter than had been hoped for, it did, however, bring fresh entertainment in the form of [Bickerton’s sister] Dorothea’s newly published novel. The New Wood Nymph traces the romantic and emotional trials and tribulations of its young heroine, Eve Waldron, but it is most interesting for its vignette of Bickerton himself—fictionalized as Eve’s friend, ‘Theo’. Madigan and McLean both read the novel and may have recognized Theo’s endless fund of energy’ and ‘his evident relish of every detail of camping out’.
p. 115-16: During the first year of the expedition, the literary-minded McLean had proposed that they produce their own magazine, along the lines of Scott’s South Polar Times. The name chosen for this periodical was, appropriately enough, the Adelie Blizzard, but its production had been short-lived. Now, with fewer distractions and a greater amount of free time at their disposal, McLean revivied the Blizzard as a monthly publication, with the men contributing articles, poems or illustrations according to their particular talents….
Although the contributions to the Blizzard were made anonymously, it is possible confidently to attribute a number of pieces to Bickerton. The largest is a humorous composition entitled ‘Cornered!’ Purporting to be an extract from his diary, the essay describes how a reluctant Bickerton is chased by McLean for a contribution. Curiously, since the tale is both well written and entertaining, when McLean was preparing the Blizzard for its intended publication in later years, he dismissed ‘Cornered!’, noting in his diary that ‘Bickerton wrote this, I know out of good nature—something to fill up the May number. He would be the last to wish to put it in. Now we have much more readable matter.’
p. 133-34: Certainly the expedition still absorbed some of his attention as, before volunteering, he had found time to wish his erstwhile companions on the Endurance well, and presented them with the thin-paper edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was duly added to the expedition’s library. Having spent two winters in the Antarctic, Bickerton knew the value of the gift—he had relied upon it when writing his comical article for the Adelie Blizzard—and, during the ITAE [Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition], it would prove useful in more ways than one. In later years, Orde Lees remembered it particularly: ‘Mr Bickerton presented the thin paper edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, one of the most useful gifts on the expedition and one which we had especial cause to be truly grateful when marooned on Elephant Island.’ Shackleton himself considered it ‘the greatest treasure’ among the few books salvaged from the library of the sinking Endurance and its worth was so keenly appreciated that some of its tattered pages were even brought back to Britain in 1917.
p. 151, on meeting with Frank Hurley in November 1916 while Bickerton was on sick leave in London: Hurley had recently returned from the ill-fated but undeniably heroic Endurance expedition; now he was in London to see to the expedition’s photographs and to obtain prints of some of the AAE images. The two explorers dined together three days later, and perhaps laughed at the unexpected uses to which Bickerton’s parting gift of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had been put. As well as providing entertainment and settling disputes during the expedition’s long months of imprisonment on Elephant Island, it had just as importantly, served as toilet paper when all other supplies ran out.