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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 5/60 -

assistance to the expedition; but even with all this kindly aid it is doubtful if the Discovery would ever have started had it not been that among these helpers was one who, from the first, had given his whole and undivided attention to the work in hand. After all is said and done Sir Clements Markham conceived the idea of this Antarctic Expedition, and it was his masterful personality which swept aside all obstacles and obstructions.



They saw the cables loosened, they saw the gangways cleared, They heard the women weeping, they heard the men who cheered. Far off-far off the tumult faded and died away. And all alone the sea wind came singing up the Bay. --NEWBOLT.

On July 31, 1901, the Discovery left the London Docks, and slowly wended her way down the Thames; and at Cowes, on August 5, she was honored by a visit from King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. This visit must be ever memorable for the interest their Majesties showed in the minutest details of equipment; but at the same time it was natural for the members of the expedition to be obsessed by the fear that they might start with a flourish of trumpets and return with failure. The grim possibilities of the voyage were also not to be forgotten--a voyage to the Antarctic, the very map of which had remained practically unaltered from 1843-93.

With no previous Polar experience to help him, Scott was following on the track of great Polar explorers, notably of James Cook and James Ross, of whom it has been well said that the one defined the Antarctic region and the other discovered it. Can it be wondered therefore that his great anxieties were to be off and doing, to justify the existence of the expedition at the earliest possible moment, and to obey the instructions which had been given him?

Before the Discovery had crossed the Bay of Biscay it was evident that she did not possess a turn of speed under any conditions, and that there must be none but absolutely necessary delays on the voyage, if she was to arrive in the Antarctic in time to take full advantage of the southern summer of 1901-2 for the first exploration in the ice. This proved a serious drawback, as it had been confidently expected that there would be ample time to make trial of various devices for sounding and dredging in the deep sea, while still in a temperate climate. The fact that no trials could be made on the outward voyage was severely felt when the Antarctic was reached.

On October 2 the Discovery arrived within 150 miles of the Cape, and on the 5th was moored off the naval station at Simon's Bay. The main object of staying at the Cape was to obtain comparisons with the magnetic instruments, but Scott wrote: 'It is much to be deplored that no permanent Magnetic Station now exists at the Cape. The fact increased the number and difficulty of our own observations, and it was quite impossible to spare the time for such repetitions and verifications as, under the circumstances, could alone have placed them beyond dispute.' Armitage and Barne, however, worked like Trojans in taking observations, and received so much valuable assistance 'that they were able to accomplish a maximum amount of work in the limited time at their disposal.' In every way, indeed, the kindliest sympathy was shown at the Cape.

The magnetic work was completed on October 12, and two days later the Discovery once more put out to sea; and as time went on those on board became more and more satisfied with her seaworthy qualities. Towards the end of October there was a succession of heavy following gales, but she rose like a cork to the mountainous seas that followed in her wake, and, considering her size, she was wonderfully free of water on the upper deck. With a heavy following sea, however, she was, owing to her buoyancy, extremely lively, and rolls of more than 40º were often recorded. The peculiar shape of the stern, to which reference has been made, was now well tested. It gave additional buoyancy to the after-end, causing the ship to rise more quickly to the seas, but the same lifting effect was also directed to throwing the ship off her course, and consequently she was difficult to steer. The helmsmen gradually became more expert, but on one occasion when Scott and some other officers were on the bridge the ship swerved round, and was immediately swept by a monstrous sea which made a clean breach over her. Instinctively those on the bridge clutched the rails, and for several moments they were completely submerged while the spray dashed as high as the upper topsails.

On November 12 the Discovery was in lat. 51 S., long. 131 E., and had arrived in such an extremely interesting magnetic area that they steered to the south to explore it. This new course took them far out of the track of ships and towards the regions of ice, and they had scarcely arrived in those lonely waters when Scott was aroused from sleep by a loud knocking and a voice shouting, 'Ship's afire, sir.' Without waiting to give any details of this alarming news the informant fled, and when Scott appeared hastily on the scenes he found that the deck was very dark and obstructed by numerous half-clad people, all of whom were as ignorant as he was. Making his way forward he discovered that the fire had been under the forecastle, and had been easily extinguished when the hose was brought to bear on it. In these days steel ships and electric light tend to lessen the fear of fire, but in a wooden vessel the possible consequences are too serious not to make the danger very real and alarming. Henceforth the risk of fire was constantly in Scott's thoughts, but this was the first and last occasion on which an alarm was raised in the Discovery.

On November 15 the 60th parallel was passed, and during the following morning small pieces of sea-ice, worn into fantastic shape by the action of the waves, appeared and were greeted with much excitement and enthusiasm. As the afternoon advanced signs of a heavier pack were seen ahead, and soon the loose floes were all about the ship, and she was pushing her way amongst them and receiving her baptism of ice.

This was Scott's first experience of pack-ice, and he has recorded how deeply he was impressed by the novelty of his surroundings. 'The wind had died away; what light remained was reflected in a ghostly glimmer from the white surface of the pack; now and again a white snow petrel flitted through the gloom, the grinding of the floes against the ship's side was mingled with the more subdued hush of their rise and fall on the long swell, and for the first time we felt something of the solemnity of these great Southern solitudes.'

The Discovery was now within 200 miles of Adélie Land, and with steam could easily have pushed on towards it. But delays had already been excessive, and they could not be added to if New Zealand was to be reached betimes. Reluctantly the ship's head was again turned towards the North, and soon passed into looser ice.

One great feature of the tempestuous seas of these southern oceans is the quantity and variety of their bird life. Not only are these roaming, tireless birds to be seen in the distance, but in the majority of cases they are attracted by a ship and for hours gather close about her. The greater number are of the petrel tribe, and vary in size from the greater albatrosses, with their huge spread of wing and unwavering flight, to the small Wilson stormy petrel, which flits under the foaming crests of the waves. For centuries these birds have been the friends of sailors, and as Wilson was able to distinguish and name the various visitors to the Discovery, the interest of the voyage was very greatly increased.

'At 11 A.M. on the 22nd,' Scott wrote in his official report of the Proceedings of the expedition, 'we sighted Macquarie Island, exactly at the time and in the direction expected, a satisfactory fact after so long an absence from land. As the island promised so much of interest to our naturalists I thought a delay of the few hours necessary for landing would be amply justified.... A landing was effected without much difficulty, and two penguin rookeries which had been observed from the ship were explored with much interest. One proved to be inhabited by the beautifully marked King penguin, while the other contained a smaller gold-crested broad-billed species.... At 8 P.M. the party returned to the ship, and shortly after we weighed anchor and proceeded. Including those collected in the ice, we had no fewer than 50 birds of various sorts to be skinned, and during the next few days several officers and men were busily engaged in this work under the superintendence of Dr. Wilson. The opportunity was taken of serving out the flesh of the penguins for food. I had anticipated considerable prejudice on the part of the men to this form of diet which it will so often be essential to enforce, and was agreeably surprised to find that they were by no means averse to it. Many pronounced it excellent, and all seemed to appreciate the necessity of cultivating a taste for it. I found no prejudice more difficult to conquer than my own.'

Perhaps the most excited member of the party over this visit to Macquarie Island was Scott's Aberdeen terrier 'Scamp,' who was most comically divided between a desire to run away from the penguins, and a feeling that in such strange company it behooved him to be very courageous. This, however, was Scamp's first and last experience of penguins, for it was felt that he would be unable to live in the Antarctic, and so a comfortable home was found for him in New Zealand.

Late on November 29 the Discovery arrived off Lyttelton Heads, and on the following day she was berthed alongside a jetty in the harbor. For both the private and the public kindness which was shown to the expedition in New Zealand, no expressions of gratitude can be too warm. On every possible occasion, and in every possible way, efficient and kindly assistance was given, and this was all the more valuable because a lot of work had to be done before the ship could sail from Lyttelton. The rigging had to be thoroughly overhauled and refitted; the magneticians had to undertake the comparison of their delicate instruments, and as this was the last occasion on which it could be done special attention was necessary; and a large quantity of stores had to be shipped, because some of those in the Discovery had been damaged by the leaky state of the ship. This leak had never been dangerous, but all the same it had entailed many weary hours of pumping, and had caused much waste of time and of provisions. Among the many skilled workmen, whose united labor had produced the solid structure of the Discovery's hull, had been one who had shirked his task, and although the ship was docked and most determined and persistent efforts were made to find the leak, it succeeded in avoiding detection.

The Voyages of Captain Scott - 5/60

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