Antarctica Sixty Years Ago: A Re-appraisal of the British Expedition 1934-1937.

p. 151: Our reading matter, our library, was limited and exiguous. We had a pleasing special bookplate that may be a collector’s item one day. We had a good collection of Antarctic exploratory histories of past expeditions, a few basic reference books, to which each of us had added a personal collection limited, I think it was, to 10 volumes each. The voyage of the Beagle and Anson’s voyage I read while we sailed the Southern Ocean, and we compared the size and shape of Beagle with that of Penola. Darwin was a gentleman scientist; for him no hauling on the ropes watch by watch, by day and by night. Nor did Darwin nor Anson cook for the entire ship’s company, baking bread and washing up: times had changed, and they have changed again since. Darwin in Beagle started out at age 22, whereas I was already 23. The incredible genius of Darwin must astonish us all. Would that one could say with him in his biography: ‘My industry has been nearly as great as it could have been in the observation and collection of facts. What is far more important, my love of natural science has been steady and devout.’

But the Antarctic’s long hours of darkness did give time to read the whole of Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico and then his Conquest of Peru. Of particular pleasure to most were historical novels, and history written for the non-specialist, the Arthur Bryant level of sufficient scholarship. Shakespeare, the Bible, Tennyson, Shaw’s complete plays, the script of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and one’s own diaries and notes, all claimed their time. But one cannot read while making dog harnesses and sewing gloves: then the gramophone was welcome. We were truly very busy people.

Mrs Dorothy Irving Bel (obituary, Polar Record 23 (146); 1987, was a wonderful collector for our basic stock of Antarctic books.

Verbal discussion was, of course, interminable, often repetitive, and, inevitably among young men alone, often larded with a vulgarity novel to some, and doubtless that continues today. Of pin-ups I think we had none. Certainly we could have soon been shown to be a classic example of a small community identifiably peculiar in vocabulary, that is to say, in the relative frequency of use of certain nouns and adjectives. That apparently happens everywhere after even quite short periods of complete isolation. ‘Bum’ was the normal adjective for anything weak, poor, sub-standard; anything having to do with reproduction was ‘pupping.’

We were indeed a truly isolated community and utterly self-dependent. For us, in such close personal contact without our tiny ship or hut, there was ‘no wine, women, and song’ for more than two years.

Almost never did any one or more of us play any games, either singly or in groups. No patience, chess, bridge, scrabble, or otherwise, or am I just forgetful? Were we dull, non-competitive, apathetic, or just too busy with other details and requirement of life, writing, sewing, cooking, and so on? We read, but we did not play games, or rarely