SCOTT & The South-Pole

Link to Table of Contents

8 - "Arrival"

On January 4th, 1911, the Terra Nova arrived at Ross Island, McMurdo Sound. Ross Island constitutes the eastern side of the Sound. Ross Island, as one can see from the Map, principally consists of three mountains, two of which were volcanic with smoky tops: Mount Erebus and Mount Terror.17 These mountains meant that much of the terrain is not suitable for erecting housing structures. However, on the western shores of the island, on the Sound, there were a couple of areas: one was Cape Armitage, on the point of which Scott had set his base ("Hut Point") during his Discovery Expedition in 1901. Scott, in 1911, planned to use "Hut Point" as backup, and did so; but he determined to build a larger base camp some miles north of Cape Armitage, at Cape Evans. Going back and forth between the two was easy enough when the Sound turned into solid ice (March-October) in other months, difficult, as over-land, one encounters the intervening western slopes of Mount Erebus. (See Map)

The Ross Ice Shelf

"The Ross Ice Shelf," as we learn from wikipedia, "is the largest ice shelf of Antarctica. It is several hundred metres thick. The nearly vertical ice front to the open sea is more than 600 kilometres long, and between 15 and 50 metres high above the water surface." It is "about the size of France." As for Ross Island, it actually forms part of this great barrier. The Shelf butts up against the southern side of the Island; its northern side against the Ross Sea which for about half of the year is navigable. (See Upper Right of Map)

At Cape Evans, the ice extends some distance from the shore even in the Antarctic summer. The Terra Nova was brought up as close as it could come to the shore, at the edge of the ice; then, the unloading commenced. There were tons of supplies and equipment to be hauled over the ice to the shore. The work commenced on arrival, on January 4th. It extended over a number days in "brilliant sunshine."

Unloading Ponies

It was tricky getting the ponies ashore. I believe there were 19 ponies that were loaded on the Terra Nova at New Zealand; on arrival there were 17, two having died at sea. These were slung over the side in a portable stall. Scott was particularly concerned about getting the ponies off the ship.

"I cannot express the relief when the whole seventeen were safely picketed on the floe. From the moment of getting on the snow they seemed to take a new lease of life, and I haven't a doubt they will pick up very rapidly. It really is a triumph to have got them through safely and as well as they are. Poor brutes, how they must have enjoyed their first roll, and how glad they must be to have freedom to scratch themselves! It is evident all have suffered from skin irritation -- one can imagine the horror of suffering from such an ill for weeks without being able to get at the part that itched. I note that now they are picketed together they administer kindly offices to each other; one sees them gnawing away at each other's flanks in most amicable and obliging manner."
As for the dogs:
"Meares and the dogs were out early, and have been running to and fro most of the day with light loads. The great trouble with them has been due to the fatuous conduct of the penguins. Groups of these have been constantly leaping on to our floe. From the moment of landing on their feet their whole attitude expressed devouring curiosity and a pig-headed disregard for their own safety. They waddle forward, poking their heads to and fro in their usually absurd way, in spite of a string of howling dogs straining to get at them. ... then the final fatal steps forward are taken and they come within reach. There is a spring, a squawk, a horrid red patch on the snow, and the incident is closed. Nothing can stop these silly birds. Members of our party rush to head them off, only to be met with evasions ..."
Wilson commented on the penguins:
"... they will always come up at a trot when we sing to them, and you may often see a group of explorers on the poop singing 'For she's got bells on her fingers and rings on her toes, elephants to ride upon wherever she goes,' and so on at the top of their voices to an admiring group of Adelie penguins. Meares is the greatest attraction; he has a full voice which is musical but always very flat. He declares that 'God save the King' will always send them to the water, and certainly it is often successful."18
As for the rest of the scene on the ice to one side of the Terra Nova:
"The motor sledges were running by the afternoon, Day managing one and Nelson the other. In spite of a few minor breakdowns they hauled good loads to the shore. It is early to call them a success, but they are certainly extremely promising. The next thing to be got out of the ship was the hut, and the large quantity of timber comprising it was got out this afternoon. And so to-night, with the sun still shining, we look on a very different prospect from that of 48 or even 24 hours ago."19
After two days, Scott commented on the progress the group were making unloading equipment and supplies:
"With ponies, motor sledges, dogs, and men parties we have done an excellent day of transporting -- another such day should practically finish all the stores and leave only fuel and fodder (60 tons) to complete our landing. So far it has been remarkably expeditious. ....
The site for the hut is levelled and the erecting party is living on shore in our large green tent with a supply of food for eight days. Nearly all the timber, &c., of the hut is on shore, the remainder half-way there. The ponies are picketed in a line on a convenient snow slope so that they cannot eat sand. Oates and Anton are sleeping ashore to watch over them. The dogs are tied to a long length of chain stretched on the sand; they are coiled up after a long day, looking fitter already. Meares and Demetri are sleeping in the green tent to look after them. A supply of food for ponies and dogs as well as for the men has been landed. Two motor sledges in good working order are safely on the beach.
It's splendid to see at last the effect of all the months of preparation and organisation. There is much snoring about me as I write (2 P.M.) from men tired after a hard day's work and preparing for such another to-morrow. I also must sleep, for I have had none for 48 hours -- but it should be to dream happily."
There was activity all about: at the Terra Nova, on the shore, and on the ice in between. The solidity of the ice, however, was unpredictable. While the track from the Terra Nova to their shore base was solid ice when they first started, after use, it started to break up. On January 8th, a "motor sledge" was lost through the ice. It got so bad, so quickly, that they could not go to the ship or away from her with any kind of a heavy load. Scott approached as far as he could and semaphored directions to the ship directing them to a new location which he had scouted out. The Terra Nova made her way through the pack ice to the newly directed position. Scott was "delighted to find a good solid road right up to the ship. A flag was hoisted immediately for the ponies to come out, and we commenced a good day's work."21

So it seems -- despite the initial criticism of them by certain members of Scott's party22 -- the ponies were paying their way. But the men and the dogs were also doing their work.

"All day the sledges have been coming to and fro, but most of the pulling work has been done by the ponies: the track is so good that these little animals haul anything from 12 to 18 cwt. Both dogs and men parties have been a useful addition to the haulage -- no party or no single man comes over without a load averaging 300 lbs. per man. The dogs, working five to a team, haul 5 to 6 cwt. and of course they travel much faster than either ponies or men."
We now might make reference to "Birdie" Bowers. He was an unlikely looking candidate for the rigorous activities that were to unfold for the members of the expedition. Bowers was short, at five foot four inches. He had red hair and a distinctive beak-like nose. Scott was not at all sure what he had fixed himself with, in this odd looking Sub-lieutenant, but Scott came to depend on him more than any of the others.
"Originally intended to be just a member of the ship's party in his role as storekeeper, Bowers quickly distinguished himself as a highly skilled organiser. By the time the Terra Nova left New Zealand, Scott had promoted him to be a member of the shore party in charge of landing, stores, navigation and the arrangement of sledging rations, a role in which his extraordinary powers of memory served Scott well."23
Up to January 17th, the men slept in tents around their new home which was being built by them since their arrival on the 4th. They worked nonstop hauling tons of equipment and supplies from the ship, including scientific equipment, tons of food and hay. Their surroundings were put in order so that they could come through a seven month Antarctic winter: April to October. On January 17th, "We took up our abode in the hut ... and are simply overwhelmed with its comfort." "Our residence is really a house of considerable size, in every respect the finest that has ever been erected in the Polar regions; 50 ft. long by 25 wide and 9 ft. to the eaves."24 (Note: The picture of the hut, below left, was taken close to a hundred years after Scott and his men built in 1911. It still stands, contents and all, kept in good condition on account of the sub-freezing temperatures.)

Unloading Ponies

All this work of unloading and running the loads to the shore, left the men, not only tired, but left them with minor health problems. Scott:

"A whole host of minor ills besides snow blindness have come upon us. Sore faces and lips, blistered feet, cuts and abrasions; there are few without some troublesome ailment, but, of course, such things are 'part of the business.' The soles of my feet are infernally sore."
We close this part by quoting Scott, as he admired the scene all about him:
"If you can picture our house nestling below this small hill on a long stretch of black sand, with many tons of provision cases ranged in neat blocks in front of it and the sea lapping the icefoot below, you will have some idea of our immediate vicinity. As for our wider surroundings it would be difficult to describe their beauty in sufficiently glowing terms. Cape Evans is one of the many spurs of Erebus and the one that stands closest under the mountain, so that always towering above us we have the grand snowy peak with its smoking summit. North and south of us are deep bays, beyond which great glaciers come rippling over the lower slopes to thrust high blue-walled snouts into the sea. The sea is blue before us, dotted with shining bergs or ice floes, whilst far over the Sound, yet so bold and magnificent as to appear near, stand the beautiful Western Mountains with their numerous lofty peaks, their deep glacial valley and clear cut scarps, a vision of mountain scenery that can have few rivals."



Found this material Helpful?


Peter Landry