From the Dundee Year Books - 1903
The New Zealand mail to hand in May furnished & detailed account of the relief of the exploring vessel Discovery from the grip of the Antarctic ice, and of the part played, in it by the S.S. Terra Nova, under the command of Captain Harry McKay, Dundee. In August 1901 the Discovery left Great Britain for the Antarctic, and about the middle of the Antarctic summer of that year she forced her way into the ice-pack. In the following year the S.S. Morning sent out by the Royal Geographical Society-—the promoters of the expedition— established communication, but had to return to New Zealand, bringing the news that the Discovery was fast bound in the polar ice, and that it was impossible for her to return to civilisation. Consequent on the representations made in Parliament as to the peril in which Captain Scott and his crew were placed, the Admiralty purchased the auxiliary screw barque Terra Nova, once well known Dundee whaler from her Newfoundland owners. The vessel was fitted out with great despatch at Dundee and under the command of Captain Harry McKay, an experienced whaling master, was sent out to effect relief in conjunction with the Geographical Society's vessel, Morning, Concerning the need for such relief and the discussion that has taken place there anent, several passages in letters and papers which came to hand in May are of special interest.
The following graphic description of the voyage and relief are furnished by Dr W, Clark Souter, Aberdeen, surgeon of the Terra Nova, Dr Souter writes:—"Having left Hobart on 6th December 1903, we proceeded in company with the Morning, and steering a south-easterly direction encountered lovely weather until, on the day after Christmas we entered the pack ice. At 10.30 a.m. on the Following day, the pack haying got somewhat heavier Captain Colbeck signalled us to take the lead. This we did, and steering an almost straight course through the pack—only dodging the extra heavy pieces—the Terra Nova did excellent work, and on the morning of New Year's Day we reached open water again, after having repeatedly to stop and wait for the Morning to come up. Then we pushed on, and sighted Franklin Island on 4th January. That same night we again entered heavy pack ice, which seemed to block the entrance to McMurdo Sound. Here again we were asked to take the lead and we spent most of the night negotiating this troublesome pack. Next day we pushed through some very heavy pack, and reached open water at the margin of the fast ice, to which we anchored at 1 p.m. on January 5th.
At 11 a.m. Captain McKay had seen from our crows nest a flag waving on top of a distant black island, and now he could just see with the telescope the fore and maintopgallant masts of the Discovery, peeping over the ridge at ut Point Eighteen and a half geographical miles of solid ice – varying in thickness from 3 or 4 feet at the edge to 13 or 15 feet at the Discovery— now separated the relief ships from the object of their search. Captain Scott came aboard the Terra Nova that same evening, and greeted his friend Captain McKay, whom he had met in Dundee in connection with the construction of the Discovery, Captain Scott was extremely despondent about his ship’s chances of getting out in time; and, indeed, it did not require a pessimist to take rather a mournful view; but Captain McKay said from the very first that the Discovery had to come out—and she did. Very little ice having broken away by nature, or been smashed to pieces by the heavily-protected bows of the Terra Nova, and still less by means of blasting with guncotton, the work of abandonment of the Discovery was commenced about the middle of January. It was arranged that all instruments, records, apparatus, coffee, collections of specimens, and all valuable books should be transferred in the first instance, while personal gear was to come later on. As the distance was so considerable, and as congestion was to be avoided, a home-made sailcloth tent-fitted with reindeer sleeping-bags, tarpaulins, stored, and cooking utensils—was erected on the ice near a glacier about half-way between the two ships.
The Discovery's party was to pull the precious loads down tothe tent, sleep there all night, and return light next day, while the united party from the relief ships came up to the tent, with more or less light loads, and returned to their own ships with the sledge loads left ready waiting. In this way the two ships' companies were never at the tent at the same time.
Accordingly, on Sunday, the 17th of January, the first sledge party left from the relief ships heavily laden with frozen beef and fresh potatoes for the Discovery. Camp being reached about 7 p.m., the party, feeling rather fatigued with the unwonted exercise, had & good meal of seal steak, biscuit, butter, a, ml cheese, with plenty tea or cocoa. After a copious repast, we turned in to our reindeer sleeping bags, which we laid on the tarpaulin spread on the ice—some to read, some to sleep, some to talk, but most, of course, to enjoy the greatest of Antarctic luxuries – a really good smoke. Next morning about nine, when the cook—a man from the Discovery—roused us up, our first consideration was not for our breakfast, but we went out at once to see how much the ships had come in during the night. After a big tin plateful of solid porridge and some tea and bread, we set out on our return to the ships, and it was a matter of everyday observation that the Terra Nova was always the nearer ship to the tent, and usually we made for it. On the march we suffered badly from thirst, which we used to quench by drinking lime juice whenever a halt was made. This transference of scientific gear went on till early inFebruary, when, all the valuables haying been transported, sledging was stopped to allow of the men being able to assist in the running of a line of blast holes along the ice. Blasting, carried out by Lieutenant Royds, R.N., and Lieutenant Evans, R.N., under the direct supervision of Captain Scott, was now being carried on in a very thorough and systematic manner, and for the first two days the results looked certainly encouraging. After that the blasting seemed to have extremely little effect, for the ice was either breaking up naturally by the swell, or did not crack up at all after the blasting. By February 12th we were distant from the Discovery about three miles. On the afternoon of the 14th the ice was breaking away tolerably rapidly, and several men of the s.s. Morning, who were busy digging holes in the ice, were forced to come Aboard our ship, else they should have been adrift soon. It was strange to see a number of unexploded newly-dug blast holes drifting gaily out to sea, and this, too, whilst blasting was going on a good bit astern of the Terra Nova.
About 4,30 p.m. we began butting, and did an hour at it. At 6 p.m. we resumed, and Captain McKay remarked that his chance had now come, and he would take it. There was a lead of open water off Hut Point, and it was our object to burst through the intervening ice and get up there. Once there, we should be quite close to the still ice-bound Discovery. As we kept on butting the Discovery's crowd began to gather round the flagstaff at Hut Point, and watched us eagerly as we gradually, but persistently, got nearer to the goal. The Morning was on our port side, and, quite unable to butt, was kept busy poking into the cracks which we made when we came full speed up against the solid floe. It was quite obvious that the s.y. Morning was anxious to enter the open water first and so get all the applause, but this she could not do by her own exertions. Once indeed, she tried to butt, but her performance was distinctly amusing, and some of the men aboard us were constrained to laugh. It was a cruel thing to do, but very human.
So close did the Morning come to us in her eagerness that we had to cease firing for a while and proceed away to the other side a bit to get room. Hither, however, she followed us, but we went on butting—all hands, as before, "rolling ship." The Terra Nova did some really good work, and on one especially well remembered occasion she broke- a big piece off on her port side; this opened up a nice crack just ahead of the Morning, and giving where she was access to the open water beyond. She made a bold bid to enter it. and we all stood breathless for a bit, each of us believing that she would get in after all before us, but we were meanwhile going astern, and the Captain grasping the situation, instantly put the engines full speed ahead, and in a very few seconds, while the Morning' was still struggling to insinuate her stem into the crack we came full speed against the piece ofice, and driving it away to port effectually closed the crack which had been soPromising. The Morning was stopped dead and had to retire, while we kept on ahead, chewing the ice up, then almost stuck for a little, when away we went crashing through the last few yards of ice and entered the open water at Hut Point about 10,30 p, m, on 14th February. As soon as we got through the crowd on Hut Point cheered lustily and hoisted the lovely blue Union Jack presented by Sir George Nares, while all aboard our ship gave three ringing cheers for Captain Harry McKay, for the good old ship, and for the Morning. The Morning soon followed, and both ships tied up to the fast ice not many hundred yards from the Discovery.
About midnight we moved nearer to the Discovery, and at 4.45 p.m. on the 15th we passed our wire hawser aboard the Discovery, and by permission tied up to her, having forced our way as near to the Discovery as was practicable. We could now fall asleep with an easy conscience—surely nothing, we thought, could now prevent the Discovery from reaching the high seas. On the 15th two small charges of gun cotton were fired at the Discovery's bows, but these had little effect. Next day at 1 a.m. a large charge was fired with much better results. About 10 a.m. we stood out in the bay a bit, in order to let the ice come if it were so impelled. About 11.50 a.m. a large charge of gun cotton was fired in a crack which running right across Winter Harbour, passed through by the Discovery’s stern. We could see several huge blocks of ice pitched up, and just at noon we could see that the Discovery was moving beyond all doubt. We ran up our ensign and got all hands aft, and gave three ringing cheers for the good ship. The Discovery slid right out and swinging round on one anchor cable (the other haying been taken on board previously) lay heading into the harbour which had kept her so long, instead of out of it as she was before. We were signalled to come alongside and we tied up to the Discovery, but that night about 11 p.m. the weather was so rough that Captain McKay went off in his own ship and made for more open water. Later on that night the whole bay became choked full of very heavy pack, which, however, had all gone by morning.
On the l7th the Discovery weighed anchor and proceeded, but soon went ashore on a shoal at Hut Point, where she lay from noon till 7 p, m. She bumped about a bit, and proved a great credit to her builders, for few ordinary ships could have stood for five minutes what she stood for so many hours. That night she joined the Terra Nova, which had stood by to offer assistance Both ships then proceeded to the glacier and here they tied up together, and the transference of coal and stores began. On the 19th we proceeded north, and later on, the Morning being sent on her voyage, the Discovery and Terra Nova went up the coast to Cape Adair where we landed a party on the 24th. Next day we proceeded, and on the 28th in thick weather, we lost the Discovery, and so we steamed leisurely to the Auckland Isles, This rendezvous was reached by the Discovery on the 15th, the Terra Nova on the 18th, and the Morning on the 20th. Here we again coaled the Discovery, and transferred back the valuables taken aboard at the ice. Leaving on March 29th we entered Lyttelton harbour on the forenoon of April 1st.
Much dubiety seems to have existed both at home and in the colonies over the question of who was leader of the relief expedition, but little light seems available on the subject. Each master was, of course, captain on his own ship. Captain Colbeck had been once before in the Antarctic as captain of a ship. Captain McKay had been for many years a master in the Arctic regions, besides having spent the rest of his life amongst ice. That the leader of the expedition should have been in charge of a ship capable of steaming two or three knots in smooth water, and should have been under the necessity of requesting the captain of the other ship to take the lead through the pack ice on the only two occasions when we met it, does indeed seem an anomaly. But apart from questions of administration, a, word may be said upon some of the doings of the Terra Nova, By our superior power we readed McMurdo Harbour eight days earlier than the Morning did last year, and so gave the Discovery's people their mails and some fresh beef in good time. Our men made a large number of ice drills for the use of the Morning's and Discovery's crews, who were busy boring blast boles on the ice. At the glacier we coaled and stored the Discovery, while at the Aucklands we gave her other 35 or 40 tons of coal. Here, too, we lent boats and men to help the Morning to take in her ballast, go that 1 should think few will be prepared to say that the Terra Nova has not earned in a manner which reflects every credit on all connected with the sending out and working of the vessel the title of the Antarctic relief ship.
Mr William Smith, the second engineer on board the Terra Nova, sent a long and interesting letter to his family in Dundee, who resided at 23 Dallfield Terrace. The letter is practically a "log" of the voyage, and records the writer's impressions of events as they occurred. The earlier pages deal with the voyage to Hobart, the incidents of which are already known. In detailing the voyage from Dundee, the letter states that they arrived at Portland on 26th August, "Had a view of our tug, and to my idea she looked like a land of houses alongside us.
We coaled by a party of bluejackets and they can fairly do it. Steamed alongside our horse. Feel very important now being towed by H.M.8. Minerva."
The sensation of being pulled along all day by a warship seemed to have been very pleasant from the engineer's point of view, and the writer states that he could see they were to have a good time. On the 28th August they "did a little work for the look of things, "and the sea was" beginning to kick a bit, and so are we." The other days appear to have been pretty much the same as those that had gone before, the only variation being caused by the changes of weather.
One night, however, the tow rope broke, but at daylight, by the aid of a barrel and skilful manoeuvring, they were made fast again, although the rope was a hard job to get on board. Sunday, 30th August, was not a day of rest for the crew, as the rope again broke. Another line was given out from the warship, and all went well until the big wire rope was being pulled up. It stuck, and the skipper shouted "Pull away, men; you will get a bucket when made fast." "Needless to say, it came on board in double quick time, and there were wishes that it would break oftener," Monday was "the same as yesterday, only the tow rope keeping all right," At Gibraltar a few Captains and" Admirals came aboard, but they were only in the harbour for about an hour, The progress in the Mediterranean was rapid, and only a brief stay was made at Malta. They had a smart passage through the Canal, The tow rape broke after leaving Aden, and the engineers had a hot time of it till it was fixed again. They reached Hobart all right, and after the necessary preparations were made steamed out along with the Morning on the last stage of their journey, viz., the Antarctic regions. The vessel left Hobart for the ice on 5th December 1903. The crew were "quite, sad, leaving a second home." But they were cheered by a hearty send-off. They lay at anchor all night at Sandy Bay, where two of the men tried to cut ashore, but were caught and brought back. The writer, however, managed to get ashore later. On Sunday, December 5, they were up getting engines ready for a race with the Morning, and steamed dead slow down the river Derwent to allow the other ship to keep company. For Wednesday, December 9, the entry reads:—" Getting along like a snail at the gallop, could pass a few remarks on speed of other ship, but refrain." On Saturday, he remarks that the engines were having a rest, but on the Sunday he adds that there was no rest for the weary, as it would scarcely be right unless the engines were started on a Sabbath. By the 15th it was "beginning to get a wee thing cold now,'' while next day the reflection was that " engines can't go slow enough to keep up with the yacht Morning." The following day the Morning came alongside to allow the officers to take a snap-shot of the Terra Nova under full sail, with the result that it came too close and almost carried away one of the after-boats, "The skipper came upon deck at the time, and the air was literally blue, red, and pink alternately for a space of ten minutes. Needless to say, the photographs were not taken, for the telegraph was rung for full speed, and the Morning was left to waddle on behind." Snow also began to fall, and they had a foretaste of what they were destined to experience later on. On 22nd December they passed some wreckage, a mast coming quite close to them, while the next day a big sea smashed the starboard; bulwarks. On Christmas Eve the writer hung up his stocking, but was doubtful if Santa. Claus would come so far South. Heavy winter was then experienced with snow and sleet, while the temperature wont down to freezing point and by 23rd December it was as cold as charity, with the wind blowing for all it was worth. The first of the icebergs also appeared, and on the 24th the ship was within the Antarctic Circle.
"Christmas! A typical one too. The kind you read about but seldom see. Big bergs floating all around. Snow falling at intervals. By look of things, not far from the pack ice" The day after Christmas the pack ice was reached, the Terra Nova leading. The Morning was allowed to pass, and on the Sunday the Terra Nova was "playing second fiddle." The Morning, however, got into the ice, and the other ship " made a few round turns in front of her to break up the ice, and started full speed, smashing everything that came in the way, the other ship coming onbehind until she got fast n-gain, so nothing- else but go back and fish her out" On 28th December the ice was pinching up all around, but it took a lot to stop the Terra Nova, and at noon they were fairly tearing through it. Seals were thick all found. "It does take a lot to put a seal about," the writer remarks- " We smashed through one lump of ice with a seal sleeping on it, but he (or they only lifted his (or her head, had a look, and lay down to sleep again. New Year's Day was an ideal day as regards the weather and the ship's company toasted " Absent Friends," By that time they had got through the ice to clear water, and did not expect any more punching till they met the land ice, On the second day of the New Year they passed Cape Adair, and were now on the lookout for the Discovery, which was supposed to be near at hand. On 4th January they saw a flag on the top of a hill, but could only getto within eight miles of it. They afterwards learned it was one of the Discovery's encampments. Two figures were seen making for them in the afternoon—Captain Scott and Dr Wilson of the Discovery, Sleigh parties came from the Discovery for the mails, and everyone seemed to be in good health. Some time was spent in waiting for the ice to break up, asit was too thick for smashing. They passed the time in learning to go on "ski," out my feet are apt to get mixed up."
Regarding Sunday, 17th January, the writer states:—"I shall remember this day all my life, a sledging party started for a camp, supposed to be halfway to the Discovery, to bring down some cases of instruments. There were four sleighs in all, We got half-roads all right, and then the fun started, for after that we were up to the knees in snow, and I can assure you it takes it out of a follow. First one man dropped out, and had to be put on the sleigh; then another man dropped out, but he had to fall behind, taking it easy— this all happening within ten minutes of reaching our goal. We got there all right pretty fagged out, but after a good tuck in felt not so bad. The next item on the programme was to get our bed (or bag) ready. Getting nicely ensconced into it, we all felt as happy as Harry. Just fancy sleeping inside a hut in five degrees of frost!" The return journey was safely accomplished. The succeeding days were spent in trying to force their way through the ice to the Discovery, the weather being variegated by wind and snow. A considerable amount of blasting had to be done, but progress, though slow, was made. They were assisted by the wind. The final race for their goal is thus graphically described by the writer:—"We backed out slow astern for a hundred yards, and flew at the ice full belt, tearing our way through and cracking it in all directions. The Morning, after picking up our blasting party and her own started the same game, taking full advantage of the cracks we were making. This was all very good for her as she could get in without any trouble, we doing all the butting. This game was kept up until about tea o'clock. When we were about a quarter of a mile from our goal the Morning was allowed to have a punch, with the result that she could not break an egg. She was allowed to continue at this for a few minutes, we acting the part of spectators, for she could never make a crack for us to sneak up first. It was nothing less than sneaking. We started again, it being a race now who would be first at the Discovery, only the Morning was going up the cracks we had made when going astern preparing for another fly at the ice and thus getting oftener further up than us, There was now a long patch of soft ice and about a couple of hundred yards of hard ice between us and the Discovery. We backed astern for about a quarter of a mile and flew at it, smashing' our way through a good bit of it Backing astern again, the Morning came sneaking up, but he reckoned without his host, it we only backed a few yards and made for the ice again at full speed, crossing right across the Morning's bows, thus showing all the broken ice in front of him. which finished his little game By this time we had got into the spongy ice and tearing through this, we were not long in getting to the place where the Discovery was jammed, By this time the crew of her were swarming all over us, shaking hands. A football match wasn't in it. The officers of the Discovery said they had seen yacht races, but nothing half so exciting as the way we bottled up the Morning, it being a masterly stroke. The Morning came alongside about half an hour later,"
On Tuesday, January 16th, the Discovery had begun to move, slowly at first, but soon it was afloat, Captain Scott invited the other crews all on board for dinner. While the fun was at its height there was a shout that the Discovery was dragging her anchor. Our captain got up on deck, and the chief mate and I did like-wise. And what a chaos! Blowing big guns, the two ships drifting apart, then coming together and knocking spots out of each other. We got aboard our own packet some way. The Morning had vanished, leaving her skipper on board the Discovery," Next day, however, matters were put to rights, although not without difficulty owing to the storm. On 23rd January they saw Mount Erebus in eruption, but darkness being an unknown quantity there at that time of the year no flames being visible. One morning the carpenter's mate was sent over to the Morning to assist coaling, but on the way he fell into a hole in the ice. Luckily some of his friends were there, and they got him out, although in a sad plight, Coal and stores were then transferred to the Discovery, and on February 18th they were all homeward bound. On 21st February the Morning left the others, as she was going to Auckland Islands to wait for them, the Terra Nova accompanying the Discovery to complete some of her work. The weather was bad, and the ships sometimes lost sight of each other. A typical entry in the log was that for 29th February, which was as follows:—"Started to blow big guns late last night; in fact, you have to tie yourself in a knot to keep in your bunk when it starts. No sign of Discovery all day. A few rockets were sent up at night. When spray comes on board it freezes all over the deck and rigging. Top of the boiler is the best place in the ship without a doubt. The man that wrote ‘Rock’d in the cradle of the deep’ never had a passage in the Terra Nova!" There is an interesting reference to a goat which the mate received from some Hobart friends. One Stormy night it got jammed in the windlass and had one of its horns almost torn out. The letter states that it was a wonderful animal, never happy unless eating some of the sailors' magazines, for which it received a good few kicks. It seemed to delight in eating tracts, which should have given it a patient mind. But that was doubtful, as it never cared to be kicked twice, and it could leave its mark. On March 18th they sighted land, and found the Discovery, which had sailed straight for the place, while the Terra Nova had taken a zig-zag course in the hope of picking her up. The Morning also arrived all safe, "Lying nicely here," the writer remarks, "we can hardly sleep, for we have been so accustomed to the heavy roll of the sea that we cannot do without it." While they were transferring some coal to the Discovery, he adds, they were told that there was no need for them; "but the need seems to become more apparent every day. They had a slender reed to lean on if this packet had not come."On Sunday, March 20, Mr Smith remarks—" To look at something green is a pleasure now to us, What must it be to the Discovery’s men! The Hills here are all covered with thick brushwood. In fact, you can hardly get ashore for it. The Morning, in reaching the rendezvous had had a very bad experience. Some of the boats had been carried away, and she was leaking like a basket. One of the boilers was also useless, and the topgallant yards had to be taken down as she was top heavy owing to the coal being exhausted."
On March 22 a party went ashore, but could not penetrate far into the bush, as it was too thick. They could see huts with stores and a boatshed placed by the Government to assist shipwrecked crews, as there were no inhabitants. They found a cemetery where a woman and child along with some men from a wreck had been buried. The walls of one of the huts were written over with tales of how long the different people had been on the island, the most recent being in 1897, when a shipwrecked crew were there for a few months. At another hut there were stories of two ship-wrecked crews. “What tales they told of suffering. The posts in one or two places were all notched with a knife. I suppose this was their record of the amount of days. I next paid a visit to a small cemetery. One grave struck me immensely. The feeling I cannot describe. There was a cross made out of the rough branches of a tree tied together with a piece of sailcloth. Hanging to this was a piece of stone. Scratched on it in deep but in artistic letters was the one word 'UNKNOWN.' It does make a fellow feel queer to look at it. There were four graves, one of which was that of a little baby from some wreck."
In a subsequent letter, dated Auckland Isles, March 27, Mr Smith states that the ships were lying fitting out again, the Terra Nova having come best out of the voyage. Her crew had really nothing to do; and they were assisting the Morning. Referring to the voyage, Mr Smith states that the trip had been a new experience to him. All the sleighing he did was done as a volunteer, to relieve the monotony, for the life did get stale at times. They were to leave for Ljttelton on the Tuesday following the date of the letter, and he remarked that "a piece of steak or some fresh 'spuds' would go down immensely now" A third letter, dated Port Lyttelton, 3rd April, states that he had had two shaves in four months, so that his friends would be able to imagine his classical features in those hard climes. The letter continues— "I am sending you two papers with very contradictory reports. You must judge for yourself or read the two and halve them. We can easily see that the other two ships do not want us but we being matter of fact gentlemen do not care." The log ends with the arrival of the Terra Nova at Lyttolion on 1st April, and closes with the word " Finis."
Mr Alexander Aitken, the boatswain of the Terra Nova, also wrote to his relatives intimating the sale arrival of the Discovery and relief ships. So far as the work and experiences of the relieving expedition are concerned, he contents himself meanwhile by sending a batch of New Zealand newspapers, in which very full reports are given of the return of the ships and of the story of two years among the ice Aitken writes in hearty terms regarding the enthusiastic reception which the several crews received on their arrival and the hospitality they subsequently experienced In one of the newspapers ("Canterbury Times") forwarded by him there are some interesting references to the Terra Nova and her crew. Here are extracts:—"The Terra Nova is an old Dundee whaler, and a very good specimen of her classher appearance isattractive, to the nautical eye at least. She looks a good, staunch, handy vessel, and, according to the testimony of those on board, she is one. As a seaboat she proved herself admirable, and came through the severe ordeal of a voyage to Antarctic seas with much credit. Captain McKay is an experienced Dundee whaling skipper, and he speaks highly of his vessel and of his crew. . There appears to have been some rivalry between the Morning and the Terra Nova, due in part to the innate weaknesses of human nature, and in part to the fact that one represented the Royal Geographical Society and the other the Admiralty. The seamen, of course, are invariably loud in their championship of their own vessel, but their more or less grudging admissions of the other ship's virtues are often compliments of price. A seaman on the Terra Nova gave am admiring crowd full and graphic details of the weaknesses of the Morning, 'But I daresay she can stand a bump or two,' he added, as he gazed thoughtfully at the rival vessel. . . The Terra Nova is generally voted to be a "good-looking' vessel. The same eulogy attaches to her complement. It was noticed by the feminine element that her officers did not sport brass buttons. They and their men are a sturdy and serviceable looking lot"