South: the story of Shackleton's last expedition, 1914-1917/Chapter 17
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Chapter 17 : The last relief
THE LAST RELIEF
When I reached New Zealand at the beginning of December 1916, I found that the arrangements for the relief were complete. The New Zealand Government had taken the task in hand earlier in the year, before I had got into touch with the outside world. The British and Australian Governments were giving financial assistance. The 'Aurora' had been repaired and refitted at Port Chalmers during the year at considerable cost, and had been provisioned and coaled for the voyage to McMurdo Sound. My old friend Captain John K. Davis, who was a member of my first Antarctic Expedition in 1907-1909, and who subsequently commanded Dr. Mawson's ship in the Australian Antarctic Expedition, had been placed in command of the 'Aurora' by the Governments, and he had engaged officers, engineers, and crew. Captain Davis came to Wellington to see me on my arrival there, and I heard his account of the position. I had interviews also with the Minister for Marine, the late Dr. Robert McNab, a kindly and sympathetic Scotsman who took a deep personal interest in the Expedition. Stenhouse also was in Wellington, and I may say again here that his account of his voyage and drift in the 'Aurora' filled me with admiration for his pluck, seamanship, and resourcefulness.
After discussing the situation fully with Dr. McNab, I agreed that the arrangements already made for the relief expedition should stand. Time was important and there were difficulties about making any change of plans or control at the last moment. After Captain Davis had been at work for some months the Government agreed to hand the 'Aurora' over to me free of liability on her return to New Zealand. It was decided, therefore, that
Captain Davis should take the ship down to McMurdo Sound, and that I should go with him to take charge of any shore operations that might be necessary. I "signed on" at a salary of 1s. a month, and we sailed from Port Chalmers on December 20, 1916. A week later we sighted ice again. The 'Aurora' made a fairly quick passage through the pack and entered the open water of the Ross Sea on January 7, 1917.
Captain Davis brought the 'Aurora' alongside the ice edge off Cape Royds on the morning of January 10, and I went ashore with a party to look for some record in the hut erected there by my Expedition in 1907. I found a letter stating that the Ross Sea party was housed at Cape Evans, and was on my way back to the ship when six men, with dogs and sledge, were sighted coming from the direction of Cape Evans. At 1 p.m. this party arrived on board, and we learned that of the ten members of the Expedition left behind when the 'Aurora' broke away on May 6, 1915, seven had survived, namely, A. Stevens, E. Joyce, H. E. Wild, J. L. Cope, R. W. Richards, A. K. Jack, I. O. Gaze. These seven men were all well, though they showed traces of the ordeal through which they had passed. They told us of the deaths of Mackintosh, Spencer-Smith, and Hayward, and of their own anxious wait for relief.
All that remained to be done was to make a final search for the bodies of Mackintosh and Hayward. There was no possibility of either man being alive. They had been without equipment when the blizzard broke the ice they were crossing. It would have been impossible for them to have survived more than a few days, and eight months had now elapsed without news of them. Joyce had already searched south of Glacier Tongue. I considered that further search should be made in two directions, the area north of Glacier Tongue, and the old depot off Butler Point, and I made a report to Captain Davis to this effect.
On January 12 the ship reached a point five and a half miles east of Butler Point. I took a party across rubbly and waterlogged ice to within thirty yards of the piedmont ice, but owing to high cliffs and loose slushy ice could not make a landing. The land-ice had broken away at the point cut by the cross-bearings of the depot, but was visible in the form of two large bergs grounded to the north of Cape Bernacchi. There was no sign of the depot or of any person having visited the vicinity. We returned to the ship and proceeded across the Sound to Cape Bernacchi.
The next day I took a party ashore with the object of searching the area north of Glacier Tongue, including Razorback Island, for traces of the two missing men. We reached the Cape Evans Hut at 1.30 p.m., and Joyce and I left at 3 p.m. for the Razorbacks. We conducted a search round both islands, returning to the hut at 7 p.m. The search had been fruitless. On the 14th I started with Joyce to search the north side of Glacier Tongue, but the surface drift, with wind from south-east, decided me not to continue, as the ice was moving rapidly at the end of Cape Evans, and the pool between the hut and Inaccessible Island was growing larger. The wind increased in the afternoon. The next day a south-east blizzard was blowing, with drift half up the islands. I considered it unsafe to sledge that day, especially as the ice was breaking away from the south side of Cape Evans into the pool. We spent the day putting the hut in order.
We got up at 3 a.m. on the 16th. The weather was fine and calm. I started at 4.20 with Joyce to the south at the greatest possible speed. We reached Glacier Tongue about one and a half miles from the seaward end. Wherever there were not precipitous cliffs there was an even snowslope to the top. From the top we searched with glasses; there was nothing to be seen but blue ice, crevassed, showing no protuberances. We came down and, half running, half walking, worked about three miles towards the root of the glacier; but I could see there was not the slightest chance of finding any remains owing to the enormous snowdrifts wherever the cliffs were accessible. The base of the steep cliffs had drifts ten to fifteen feet high. We arrived back at the hut at 9.40, and left almost immediately for the ship. I considered that all places likely to hold the bodies of Mackintosh and Hayward had now been searched. There was no doubt to my mind that they met their deaths on the breaking of
the thin ice when the blizzard arose on May 8, 1916. During my absence from the hut Wild and Jack had erected a cross to the memory of the three men who had lost their lives in the service of the Expedition.
Captain Davis took the ship northward on January 17. The ice conditions were unfavourable and pack barred the way. We stood over to the western coast towards Dunlop Island and followed it to Granite Harbour. No mark or depot of any kind was seen. The 'Aurora' reached the main pack, about sixty miles from Cape Adare, on January 22. The ice was closed ahead, and Davis went south in open water to wait for better conditions. A north-west gale on January 28 enabled the ship to pass between the pack and the land off Cape Adare, and we crossed the Antarctic Circle on the last day of the month. On February 4 Davis sent a formal report to the New Zealand Government by wireless, and on February 9 the 'Aurora' was berthed at Wellington. We were welcomed like returned brothers by the New Zealand people.