Saturday, October 31, 2009

31 October, 1910

The witching hour. 

You have to have good nerves to be in the Antarctic, knowing there is a whole vast continent out there with only a few souls on it. Especially in winter when it's dark 24 hours a day. You get used to taking your exercise in the pitch black. You think you see ghosts, but it's only your mind playing tricks on you. 

It's so odd for it to be nearly the end of Spring.

Friday, October 30, 2009

30 October, 1910

Finally with the Terra Nova. We have a good hard slog ahead of us getting her ship-shape. Everything must be unloaded and re-stowed with the fresh provisions we're picking up here, along with the animals and their feed. First, though, repairs: we can't have any leaks. She's going to be up in dry dock do we can take a good look at her. 

Kathleen not too impressed with New Zealand, thinks it very provincial. Everything not quite good enough. Hope she settles in soon of the month we have here will drag. 

That's her calling me for lunch now. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

28 October, 1910

Hooray! We've word that our last 2,500 pounds was raised by a generous fellow in Australia. 

This is surely the most expensive expedition ever undertaken, despite our cost-cutting. I doubt there will ever be such an amount spent to get to so distant a place by men ever again! 

The moon looks lovely tonight. 

Everything appears backwards down here, when you look up. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

27 October, 1910

Well, what a fine welcome we've had! No sooner do we disembark, than I am practically accosted by reporters wanting to know what I think of Amundsen's plans to beat me to the Pole! I'm afraid the little man wouldn't let it go, so I replied that should Mr. Amundsen want to try for the Pole from some part of the coast of West Antarctica, I bid him good luck. 

It seems that everyone and their mother knows more about what's going on here than I do. It is most trying. Are we going to sail into Cape Crozier only to find the Fram already moored there? Or will he be using our old Discovery hut? How impudent! It's truly shocking. 

Markham must know from the Press back home what is up. He must be absolutely livid! We are staying with his sister, Lady Bowen, and her husband. Sir Charles, before going on to Lyttleton. They are very nice, of course, and won't brook any talk about our being forestalled at any cost. 

Kathleen's just happy to be back on dry land, bless her. 
It's all rather exhausting and gives me the most dreadful indigestion. 

Monday, October 26, 2009

26 October, 1910

Our last day alone. We arrive Wellington tomorrow, then it's a short trip down to Lyttleton to join the ship. This respite has been nice, but I am anxious to get on. 

Was going to say I have to remember to get a proper haircut before we set sail, owing to the length of time since I see a real barber again, but my charming wife reminds me that not much remains to be cut. 

Always after the details, that woman.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

25 October, 1910

The missus is disappointed not to have seen any penguins. I told her they mate for life, she liked that. I told her the Emperor males stand with the egg on their feet for the duration of the winter while the females go off hunting at sea. She liked that, too. How they find their spouse and egg when they return is beyond me. But they do. 

We are hoping to procure some Emperor eggs so that we can study them at the embryonic stage. They say these primitive birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs, which we hope to prove. We took that photograph at Cape Crozier, where we hope to make our camp. 

They do taste awful, though. 

She didn't like that.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

24 October, 1910

Kathleen's a bit sea-sick. Yet another reason why women could never make good traveling companions. Imagine a ship manned entirely by women sailors! Absurd! 

She's getting a bit down in the mouth about our pending separation, but I remind her she knew I was a seaman when she met me, and that she encouraged me to pursue this expedition. 

She wants me to name some new bit of land after her, but I explained that's not how it works. It's all rather formulaic and regimented now. She says she can be named under provision A of the Second Order which states that a feature may be named after anyone whose "outstanding heroism, skill, spirit or labor has made signal contribution to the success of an expedition." She says her encouragement and sacrifice should be counted as such a contribution. Well, I wish it were so. But as it stands, the first thing I get to name on this trip will be after Teddy Evans. 

One has to do things by the book, especially when it comes to procedure. One cannot forget that one's superiors are always looking over one's shoulder. 

She mumbled from the bed "what about Queen Victoria Land, then?" but I let it go. 

Thursday, October 22, 2009

23 October, 1910

I don't know why people make such a fuss about what I said. 

It only stands to reason that when one engages the elements on ventures such as this, fate and providence have a vital role to play. One cannot determine the weather, say. One cannot foresee events beyond one's ken. One has to take into account the idea that fortune is on your side just as one takes into account provisions lists and sledging teams and geography and all the rest of it. And I see no reason why fortune should not smile upon us. 

And if she doesn't, well, there's nothing on earth that can be done for it. If luck isn't on your side, you're done for. 

I really miss a good curry. I don't suppose Bowers has packed Curry powder. 

22 October, 1910

Well, raised a measly 2,500 pounds from the Australians after all that lecturing. Only half what we need. I was asked by the Press about our chances and said: 

"We may get through, we may not. We may have accidents to some of our transports, to the sledges or to the animals. We may lose our lives. We may be wiped out. It is all a question that lies with providence and luck." 

Kathleen poked me in the ribs when I suggested we might come a cropper. But it's all theatre, isn't it? You have to introduce some element of extreme danger or there's no story. If you succeed after having lowered people's expectations, you reap double the praise. 

Some snipe wanted to follow up with a question about fatalism, but I pretended I didn't hear him. I'm not fatalistic; I'm realistic. I'm idealistic. I'm optimistic. Just because you believe in luck, that doesn't make you throw caution to the wind. 

Anyway, it's good to be back at sea. Kathleen and I are on our way to Wellington, at last. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

21 October, 1910

Ate too much. Damned indigestion again. Up all night. Can't stay long, have to sleep.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 October, 1910

Beautiful day today. Am slightly worried about how late in the season it is. Might have to spend less time in New Zealand than planned. Hoping to remember everything. 

Have been thinking of little Peter. How he must miss his mother! And how long it shall be before he sees her again! He'll be a proper boy by the time I get back. He won't know me. Such is the life of a sailor. I have some very nice photographs I can pin up in the hut though. 

Got to go -- big dinner. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

19 October, 1910


Am always struck by how new this country is when I come here. Nothing of architectural interest whatsoever. 

Have to figure out what to say to reporters. They keep wanting to ask me about the Pole, but I am not to forget this is primarily a scientific mission, to collect data, gather specimens, map features, note observations, etc. One has to judge one's audience and speak wisely. If they are a gung-ho lot, I'll crank out the speech I've been giving for years about us plucky Brits and the necessity of leading by example etc., etc. If not, then it's rocks and dots. 

Here you go: postcard from Sydney Harbour. Kathleen's been catching up with her correspondence and buying postcards non-stop. They really ought to build something there. 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

18 October, 1910

Off to Sydney with Kathleen and Simpson. We need at least 5,000 pounds, which is a tall order. Hoping that I can spin a few yearns about the Discovery days to stir up some Imperial spirit. 

Everyone wants to know about Shackleton, the absolute bane of my existence. Surely if he couldn't get to the Pole, how can I? they ask. For want of a mere 100 miles, I tell them. They want to know what that extra 100 miles will require, and it's dead simple: help from the motor sledges for a good headstart on the Barrier; a little more food, a little more fuel, and most of all, a little more heart! A little more drive! A little more willingness not to be such a Goddamn sissy! (I don't say that last bit though.) 

They seem very circumspect, these people. When they point out that I, too, have failed to reach the Pole the last time around, I am forced to remind them that I was dragging that damned fool Shackleton with me that time, too. Can they not see the connection? 

Look at him in that picture. How could anyone who looks like that hope to succeed in a real man's endeavour? 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

17 October, 1919

All this rich food. Been up all night with indigestion. 

There's nothing more dispiriting than to have a useless or careless cook on an expedition such as this. I certainly hope we have engaged a better one than last time -- I had to clap him in irons, I recall. First he cook the meat the same way every meal -- fried it -- then got us all sick because he used filthy pots to cook in, and he thawed the meat out without regard to blood pouring from the carcass and through the floorboards -- and to top it all off, the derelict refused to get up to work. Simply refused. 

Am a bit sore in other areas as well, truth be told. Kathleen's a bit of a workhorse. I do hope the men are being careful. I gave them a good talking-to before we landed. You never know, though, especially with the lower deck. 

Had to send that cook home because he had syphilis. 

Wonder what happened to him. 

Friday, October 16, 2009

16 October, 1910

"Fram proceeding Antarctic." 

Does this mean he's abandoned his Northern project? Is he coming to McMurdo? Is he going to the Weddell Sea? These expeditions take years of planning. Why on earth did no-one know of this until now? How much does Nansen know? Clement will be furious. I will have to find out what Scott Keltie has to say. Is Shackleton in on it? I am putting on my best face because frankly, I have had no sleep since this happened. 

Between this and Kathleen. 

I'm certain Amundsen is not such a blackguard that he would try for the Pole knowing full well that is our objective. 

I'm also certain that he would, knowing how devastated he was by Peary's success at the North Pole, which had always been one of his goals. 

I'm going to try to catch a nap while she's out. Blessed peace and quiet. 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

15 October, 1910

Decisions, decisions. 

Have decided not to tell anyone anything. 

I'm replacing Rennick with Bowers as Quartermaster. The little fellow's capacity for organization and endurance is remarkable. Rennick took the news well. 

The Terra Nova is off to New Zealand so they can get to the arduous business or unpacking and re-stocking, as well as repairing the meddlesome leaks. She'll be in dry dock for a while.

There is rumour of a Japanese expedition to Antarctica -- what on earth are they doing there? It's a very long way from Japan. Have no idea why a small island nation would care so much about this vast landmass so far away. Still, you can't fathom the Nips. 

I hate having to go about with my hat in hand, but that's what I am called upon to do. Asking for money is rather a grotesque thing for a gentleman to do, but we have no choice; the expedition is badly underfunded. Wonder if we can scare up some funds on the basis of competition from the Japanese? Surely Empire still means something. What laughing stocks we would be if they got anywhere! Well, it's only a theory. 

Wonder who sent that damn cable. Amundsen has a brother, hasn't he? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

14 October, 1910

Have decided not to do anything about the telegram for the moment, and carry on as if it never happened. When in doubt: do nothing. There's plenty to be getting on with, besides. 

Kathleen, for one. Good Lord, but that woman has needs. 

What with one thing and another I'm exhausted.

Monday, October 12, 2009

13 October, 1910

The first thing I did was show Gran the cable. He's a Norwegian, after all, and might have some insight. He had none. Seemed as astonished as I was. Did question the date though. Suggested I wire Nansen and ask him. 

Have decided not to share it with the men for a while -- it will only upset things. There is absolutely nothing about it in any of the papers. One would think that if he'd announced an expedition there would be news. Where is he going? It's a big place. 

It's good to be on dry land but to be honest, this has put me all at sea. Spent all these years competing with Shackleton and didn't contemplate Amundsen. No wonder the SOB refused to meet me when I visited his home in Norway. I stood there waiting, for hours. 

Hours, I sat in his drawing room, watching the fjord at the foot of his garden flow by. Come all that way. Beg my leave, my ass. 

Have to buck myself up for all sorts of fancy socializing with Admiral Poore and the like. Smile and shake hands.


12 October, 1910 (Part Two)

This changes everything.

Was just being introduced to our geologist Frank Debenham when they handed me a telegram dated 3 October.

"Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic, AMUNDSEN."

Why would he have sent this for me unless he planned to forestall me? This is most out of order. Where is he? 

I can barely stand up. I am shaken to the core. 

12 October, 1910 (Part One)

What a welcome! Absolutely battered all to hell by astounding hail as we approached Melbourne. It was big enough to leave bruises and we had the darndest time with our topgallant sail. I suppose we should consider ourselves lucky to have come through with just a damaged mast and nothing more. Never seen anything like it. You'd think the gods were trying to tell us something! 

First things first: The Admiral commanding the Australian Station had to come aboard to inspect the ship's cat, Nigger. Black as night, he is, except for a bit in the front. He wasn't feeling too well, having gorged himself on moths, but passed muster nontheless. 

After that we had to make ourselves shipshape because Kathleen, bless her, was so anxious to get to me she insisted the other wives and Bill (poor Bill!) accompany her in a small launch to the ship. Damn fool thing to do, as the sea was awfully choppy, and in the end, only she and her pluck was able to clamber aboard. She kept calling us the "beautiful men!" which might have been a bit much, but that is Kathleen. She was welcomed to the wardroom and then straight to my cabin, where we got her out of her soaked stockings and into a pair of my socks for the return trip to dry land. It was quite the spectacle, but honestly, I don't mind -- it is so nice to be wanted so demonstrably. Now we're waiting for the tender to take us in. 

What drama. One feels a bit ravaged. I expect I'm going to get my share of it tonight. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

11 October, 1910

As we approach Melbourne and prepare to go ashore, I have been giving a lot of thought to our mission and duty. I have for many years felt that this reward was mine - to be the capstone on all of our Antarctic achievement since Cook first speculated on the continent so many years ago. History looks to me to take those final steps to glory: I will be the first man at the South Pole or die trying. 

The men are excited. How good it is to know we have the hopes and honour of our nation riding on our shoulders and that the whole world is watching us. 

Looking forward to fresh milk and fruit. And eggs. And the newspapers, of course. Being at sea means you have no idea what is happening. You're completely in the dark. Thank goodness for cables. We're all looking forward to our mail.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

10 October, 1910

We are making good time and near Melbourne. Everything's been very orderly so far, I hope we shan't have any surprises. The women will be waiting. I do wonder why they see the need to follow us half way around the globe just to attend a few parties and pose for a photograph on deck. 

On the one hand, certainly, it is enjoyable to have the comfort of your wife while on dry land, and particularly so when one considers the three years or so til you get to be with her again, which for a man is an awfully long time. But one has to be especially careful to avoid leaving her in a delicate state to face all by herself. One simply must exert control. 

I suppose that the unmarried men suffer somewhat, and I do hope they are careful to avoid picking up anything that might be carried with us where no real medical help is available. 

I must talk to them about it. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

9 October, 1910

There's Peary on the Roosevelt with his dogs. Look at him, standing there dressed up like a dog himself. Has the man no self-respect? He's an Admiral! I'm sorry, but I fail to see how prancing about in furs accomplishes anything. Woolen jumpers and canvas jackets have been proven to be perfectly adequate clothing for polar travel. That's what all my men will be wearing. I can't imagine the jokes that would be made behind one's back if one were to suddenly don this sort of get-up for a sledge journey, say. Leave the reindeer fur for your sleeping bag, which is appropriate, especially given that pyjamas aren't much comfort against the cold. And of course sledging mittens to protect the hands are a given. But fur trousers! And all that fur around your face tickling your whiskers. 

Sorry to go on, but it annoys the hell out of me. 

I shouldn't wonder that his dogs don't set upon him as one of their own! 

Thursday, October 8, 2009

8 October, 1910

Enjoying a nice hot cocoa. 

My thoughts have been very much with those left at home. I do wonder how Amundsen's getting on. I have to say, I am rather relieved that his interests are so  much up North; I would have to have him as a rival. One Shackleton's enough, thank you. 

There's always the nagging doubt that whomever has been before you is not being entirely truthful about what they've achieved. Did Peary really reach the Pole? I'm sure Amundsen felt richly cheated when he heard the news. How awful that must be. 

That's him and his party at the Pole in the picture. 

I've never understood how Peary could have chosen a negro to accompany him. What was he thinking? For one thing, it does not look good for our race. We can't have people like that thinking they can lead expeditions all of a sudden. I suppose Henson will want to be honored for his part, too. I can't see that happening any time soon! Whatever next!
 Matthew Henson

"The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last." - Admiral Robert Peary, April, 1909

Still, how I would like to be able to write the same in my journal come spring a few years hence. It's already mine: I can feel it. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

7 October, 1910

Excellent wind, and we're making good progress now. Only 1000 miles to Melbourne. 

The trouble with ponies is that they eat. We have to bring every scrap of food they need with us. The dogs will need food too, but can eat what we kill for them -- seal, penguin, scraps -- each other if need be. They'll even eat their own waste. I won't let them do that. That doesn't bear thinking about. 

I'm hoping that we can live off our provisions without having to slaughter too many creatures for our food. I know there's plenty to be had, but it's a damned bloody business. Just the thought of it makes me queasy. It's not something I can show the chaps. As a sailor, you're supposed to have a strong stomach for this kind of thing. But I've never liked the sight of blood -- it makes my own blood drain from my head. When they are gutting some bird or dolphin on deck, I find other places to be. 

Speaking of which, that's the dinner bell.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

6 October, 1910

Have been planning for the ponies. Hope Meares was able to get good ones. I specifically asked him to buy white ponies, as Shackleton's dark ones all died first. The white ones must like the snow better. I budgeted for 19, but they've got a damned long journey from Siberia to New Zealand, so I hope he doesn't lose any along the way. We can't afford any losses. 

Once they join us, Oates will be in charge, seeing as he's the cavalry man. He keeps asking me about the forage we're taking for them, as if I don't know how to calculate food for horses. I do find it rather trying. 

The picture was all I could find, and it's not of ponies. They are a few of Shackleton's dogs from Quail Island, taken before Nimrod. 

We've had schools from around the country sponsor them - and the dogs, and the tents, sledges, and sleeping bags, even! In return for their donation, they get to name the item in question. The children seemed very keen. I didn't tell them we were going to eat them, though. They might have found that a bit distasteful. 

I'm sure when the time comes, we'll find it delicious. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

5 October, 1910

We have wind! At last! The delay in our being stalled by the weather has meant that I have decided to leave New Zealand earlier than planned so that we have more time to get through the pack ice before entering the Ross Sea. 

One of the things I like most about being in charge is that I have the absolute power to make decisions. I can change my mind if I want to and have to answer to nobody. I couldn't bear to be on an expedition like this and have to follow someone else's lead. 

It's funny: on a ship, you look about and see nothing but water; no landmarks of any kind, most of the time. It's only these charts and our instruments that let us know where we are, and experience that lets us know where we're going. But how grand it is to imagine oneself sailing into unknown territory, not knowing what lies ahead, able to claim and name everything before you according to your desires. 

O Columbus! Cook! Clark Ross! 
Your names all begin with C
And all you see is the sea. 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

4 October, 1910

Had a spot of bother this morning when I was caught short in my private affairs. I must remember to ask Bowers if he's packed enough latrine paper. It's all very well when you're in civilization -- you can make do, but we can't very well make our own if we run out. I'm pretty sure Bowers would have listed it under "latrine paper," because that's how it's sold, but generally speaking, we don't refer to it by any name. That's the power of euphemism for you. If you really have to ask for it, you call it "stationary." 

Gave the ratings a huge guffaw, I suspect, that. 

God only knows what they use.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

3rd October, 1910

Getting the hang of this blog thing. I rather like the imperative to write something down each day about my activities and thoughts. Not so sure about this typing lark though -- it takes me ages to find the right key. I much prefer to write by hand. I have been told my penmanship is notoriously bad though. 

I will start my official Captain's Log once we set sail from New Zealand, when the expedition begins proper. I've already contracted with Smith, Elder to publish an account of the expedition, and if it's anything like Discovery, it will be a huge bestseller. Maybe I'll be able to re-coup some of the money I have yet to raise to support this little venture. 

I have encouraged the men to keep journals as well. The Navy requires all officers to do so, of course. We'll use ink at base, but pencil on sledging trips, so the writing is protected against wetness. I've brought lovely small red journals for this purpose and a carrying pouch to put them in. 

I've always secretly fancied myself a writer. How odd it is that you are reading this. Thank goodness no-one will read my journals, and that I'll get a chance to develop a proper narrative from them once we return home. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

2nd October, 1910

Set all sail today to catch some wind, but not much luck. Am impatient to get on. 

Feeling a little better today; this morning, someone set up the piano, so the ship was filled with a kind of jangly music as the ship leaned and listed, throwing the rolls off. It's one of those pianos fitted with an automatic player. For a while there it reminded one of being at a London music hall while drunk. 

The men have been establishing nicknames. 

There's "Birdie" Bowers, for example. Obviously on account of his enormous beak of a nose. He doesn't seem to mind it. 

We have "No surrender Oates," too. Apparently he refused to give up despite being wounded in the leg in battle. Quite the hero. He's an army man, 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. Hates women. Should be good with the ponies though. Had the nerve to ask me what my nickname is! He must have forgotten his place, which is as a member of my crew aboard this ship, and not a bloody aristocrat, like he is back home. 

So I told him: Con. It's short for Falcon, my middle name. Only Kathleen and my family call me by this name. It makes me feel like a child. I can't avoid it. 

You can't choose what people call you. I'd love to be known by a name that had a sense of grandeur about it, one day. I suppose a photograph of myself planting the Union Jack in the South Pole will do it. Can't fail this time; I'd be a laughing stock. 

Thursday, October 1, 2009

1st October, 1910

Managed to fight with everyone today. Hence getting to this blog late. 

I can hear myself snapping at people and I really have no idea what it is that I'm angry about. There's so much responsibility, I suppose, and sometimes the weight is too much to bear. I can't let the men see me brooding, though. 

I've been sitting here for fifteen minutes and can't think of a thing to say. 

If I was a believer, I would say God is unhappy with me. Instead, I'll chalk it up to the albatross.