Fourteen Men: The Story of the Antarctic Expedition to Heard Island

An expedition of scientific research, chiefly meteorological and magnetic, but with an interest in Australian claims in Antarctica. Stokes was a radioman but also one of the “mets.” The Captain of the ship was Lt. Cmd. George Dixon; the leader of the shore party for Heard Island was Stuart Campbell. The ship was Ellsworth’s Wyatt Earp, where the officers and men were separated even for the alternate night movies. The trip to Heard Island (4000 kilometers southwest of Australia) was so full of weather-related dangers that references to reading do not occur until one third of the way into the book, and then not very many. Most winterover books have a central winter chapter (July/August) that discusses what the men did to pass the time. This lacks such a chapter, never talks about what the author himself read, and mainly recounts weather-related adventures during that period. Most of the last 150 pages deals with the fauna of Heard Island.

p. 35: one manuscript book on the ship was the “line-book intended to record all tall stories told in the Board room.” Here there was no hierarchical discrimination and even the captain could be embarrassed—the men became very guarded in their speech for fear of the line-book.

p. 107: On the voyage we had read all we could of the Antarctic animals and birds. It was not long before we realized that much of this information did not apply to the fauna at Heard Island. One idea, common to several books, was that elephant seals were myopic. Our experience was quite contrary….

p. 122: In the summer the snow only remained on the ground for a few hours. During such days we found jobs to do inside the huts, fixing shelves, cupboards, floors and lining pre-fabs. with insulwood and silver paper. I offered my services as librarian. We had two hundred and fifty assorted volumes and a full set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the latter authority being used to settle many an after-meal argument. Other amenities and the library were installed in the rec. hut. We had chess, draughts, dice, crib, cards, Chinese checkers, dominoes and an advanced form of snakes and ladders, which we never really understood.

p. 130-31: We were huddled up in our blankets for warmth. We were listening to “Lem” Macey reading from a book.

In the afternoon we had been going through the library books. Macey had turned over a blue book, Notes of a Naturalist on H.M.S. Challenger,” by H. N. Mosley, M.A., F.R.S. The prosaic title belied the contents. The book contained the only account we had of a visit to Heard Island in 1873, during the cruise of the Challenger.

We had been so interested to hear what the island was like in the days of the sealers that after lights-out Macey continued reading by torchlight.

While he recounted the impressions of the naturalist, we lay listening:…
As he finished reading, doors and windows rattled in the wind. The masts moaned in ghostly sympathy. It was eerie. The hut door rattled.

p. 146: comment on Bible and “Six days shalt thou labour….”

p. 198: Library books were always in demand. We soon learn which were the dull ones. They were left well alone. Popular books passed from hand to hand.