Elephant Island and Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees.

A selection from the meticulous diaries of Orde Lees, who as chief of supplies and provisions was the least popular member of the Shackleton Endurance expedition, but nonetheless a fair, scrupulous, and fastidious store-master on the journey. Traces his aristocratic background and some of its effect on fellow crew members who could deride his chronic sea-sickness, or even accuse him of cowardice. Apart from his sometimes fawning attitude to Sir Ernest, it is a responsible piece of work.

p. 34, on unpacking the tractor sledge he found reading matter among the wrappings: To add to my joy I found the interior of the crawler entirely full of spare parts and all of them wrapped up in old motor papers!! Congenial reading for weeks.

p. 42, 18 February 1915: I really never seem to have any time to read or even do my needlework.

p. 60, 6 May, in the newly furnished Ritz: After dinner, everyone reads or writes or mends clothes etc. until 10 pm, when the Blanchard 300-candle-power lamp is extinguished. After this we are free to burn a lamp or candles in our cubicles as long as we like.

p. 62: 18 May I also seem busy from morning until late at night. Except at meals, I never sit down and I never read except after 10.30pm, and yet, as at home, I never really seem to achieve anything. How is it?

p. 67: 2 June We are all allowed to burn candles after lights out and so we all read for an hour or two in our bunks after turning in, but the crew do not seem to avail themselves of this privilege. No, they just sleep the time away as best they can and never seem to look for any occupation.

p. 69: 7 June After lights out we generally have some sort of a romp. Generally it is singing of songs, delicate or otherwise, sometimes it is ‘dressing up’. Members appear as ballet girls, decidedly abbreviated, or as ghosts of previous polar explorers and so on, but a very favourite form of amusement is mutual impersonations. I am inclined to be a little anxious to please Sir Ernest at times and last night Dr McIlroy took me off cleverly as follows:
(Dancing about in a most effuse way.) ‘Yes sir, oh yes sir, certainly sir, sardines sir, yes sir, here they are (dashes to pantry and back) and bread sir, oh yes sir, bread sir, you shall have the night watchman’s bread sir (another dash to pantry and much grovelling, effusion and so on) and may I black your boots sir? And so on.

I am in disfavour just now for stopping the supply of bread for the general run of members at night, and given biscuits instead. Still all said and done, there is no smoke without fire and perhaps the broad hint will do me good. Better to be called a toad than a toady.

p. 79: 8 July On Midwinter’s Day I opened several packages from home and the contents have given me and others extraordinary pleasure…. What afforded particular entertainment was the first five numbers of The Times History of the War.

p. 84, 24 July, while sick Orde Lees was taken into Shackleton’s own cabin,” where Shackleton made him tea and read to him, “always entertaining me with his wonderful conversation.”

p. 86: Being a very rapid reader, Sir Ernest reads a great deal and is particularly fond of poetry. He has an extraordinarily good memory and can recite pages of almost any known poet, many of which he has read though but once or twice.

p. 129-30, 30 October, and the disposal at what became Dump Camp: Our leader proceeded to set an example by deliberately throwing away all he possessed—away went his watch, about 50 golden sovereigns, silver brushes and dressing case fittings, books and a dozen other things. Whereupon we all did likewise until there was a heap of clothing and private property probably of some hundreds of pounds value, lying all about all over the floe. It seemed imperative at the time to lighten ourselves in this drastic way, but some of us afterwards came to regret it for, as events proved, there was no need for it, and this litter of discarded valuables, which we called ‘Dump Camp’, later became the marauding ground of one or two of the sailors who were suspected of reaping and concealing on their persons a rich harvest of ill-gotten gains.

p.143-44, 29 November, when Orde Lees says he made a fool of himself while reading on watch and being caught by Shackleton.

p. 150, 18 December: Sunday differs so little from other days down here that it passes almost unrecognized. Sir Ernest has desired often to institute regular services but is disinclined to unless he can be assured that they would find favour with the majority. This however does not seem to be the case; there are several of the Roman Catholic persuasion [Orde Lees converted on his return] who might not care to attend, and as many again are declared agnostics, so perhaps it is as well to let well alone.

p. 163, 21 January: Thanks to our encyclopaedia and a pack of cards, we are able to kill time fairly well, but our anticipation of the next meal is the principal past-time of the day.

p. 180, 25 March: The temperature is 10deg but the draught in the tents makes it so cold that we spend all day long in our sleeping bags reading.

p. 224, 18 May: The blizzard continues, routine same as yesterday. We fortunately brought five volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica along with us and one or two fellows brought poetry books on their own, so that we have something to read and, by exchanging, can always get a change, though personally I prefer the encyclopaedia which I like to read from beginning to end. The knowledge we obtain, though varied, is confined to subjects beginning with the letters A, E, M, P and S only. We know all about the manufacture of paper and the arts of printing, mining, engraving etc., but butter-making, dyeing and flying are sealed books to us.

The light is now so bad that it is seldom one can read in the hut for more than an hour at mid-day, except by artificial light, and we cannot afford much of that.

p. 234, 10 June: Some of the sailors are very reluctant to go out at times. Old McLeod sticks up in his stuffy bag all day long in the dark, quite content to be left alone smoking or chewing. The others read a good deal, but he is almost illiterate, I believe.

p. 244, in Elephant Island hut, 27 June: Those whose billets come within the range of the light from the blubber lamps are able to read a little, and the lamps have been placed to the best advantage so that as many as possible can benefit simultaneously, but unfortunately I am just out of reach of any of them except at night, when the night-light is placed on the sugar case…, and shining in my eyes, keeps me awake so that I often elect to sit up during the night and read for several hours if it is not altogether too cold.

As to lights, the wretched fellows who sleep up in the thwarts of the [overturned] boats [the roof of the hut] are very badly off. Still they scrambled for those very places in order to secure the driest billets. All the sailors are quartered up on the thwarts, and the inability to read does not seem to trouble them much. [The aristocrat speaking here.]

p. 247-48, 2 July: We have two collections of odd pieces of poetry, one of them called The Pilgrims Way, and a copy of Browning’s poems, and a Life of Sir Walter Scott, but I never could find any real pleasure in reading poetry whilst the Encyclopaedia Britannica, of which we have five volumes, fulfils all my requirements in the literary line. I read so slowly that I shall never be able to read all that these volumes contain even if we have to stop here five years, which God forbid.

Besides the above, there are several fragments of other volumes and two polar books. Nordenskjöld’s Antarctica, which Wild does not seem to care to have circulated, and an account of an early Arctic expedition to Grinnell Land, which is one of the books lent to us by Mr. Facer, of Northampton, a great polar enthusiast.

Hurley has possession of this book and is not disposed to lend it out because he desires to return it to Mr. Facer one day. I too have one of Mr. Facer’s polar books, quite an antique one, a voyage to Spitzbergen in 1775, which I have kept absolutely secret in my sleeping bag ever since we left Ocean Camp on Xmas Day 1915, and which I intend one day to restore to its owner.

p. 250-51, 9 July: Writing amuses me much more than reading does and I personally spend more time at it than I ever occupy in reading. One might think that there was nothing to write about when one is leading such an inert life as ours, but I find that one does such a lot of thinking that the trouble is to eliminate the purely conjectural matter.

Mine is by no means the only diary though I think it is the only one we have that has been kept regularly from the day the ship left England. Hurley, James, Macklin and Wordie are all keeping records and I can vouch for the last three being grammatical as well as interesting. Wild, too, I think is keeping notes.

p. 253: 11 July Wild has granted me the use of a blubber lamp immediately after supper instead of at ‘pip-down’, as heretofore. This is a privilege of enormous advantage to me as I can now read before going to sleep and so make myself a little more ready to go to sleep when the time comes.

p. 267, on Elephant Island, 12 August: Sir Ernest’s bag is a fine old solid leather suitcase in which are locked up all the papers connected with the expedition, and other sundries.