Scottish Antarctic Expedition

Story of the Voyage (by Captain Robertson)

December 1905.

Antarctic Ship Scotia, Captait t Robertson

The s.y. Scotia left Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, 26th January 1903, on a voyage of discovery in a part of the Antarctic known as the Weddell Sea, She was provisioned for two years, and carried a crew of 26 men and 7 of a scientific staff. We had a fair passage south, and made the pack ice on the 1st February, 60 miles north of the South Orkneys.
A party landed on one of the islands, and found bird life very abundant, but no vegetation save some lichens growing on the rocks.
As we could not get a passage south here, we returned to the north and traced our way east along the pack edge as far as the South Sandwich Islands. Here the ice trended southward, and we made an easy passage as far as the 69° parallel. We took soundings every day, and found the sea from 2000 to 2800 fathoms, or between 2½ or 3 miles deep.

Retreat before the Ice

On the 19th February we were pushing our way south, when a sudden fall of the thermometer took place, marking the near approach of winter. We were now m latitude 70° 25' south, long, 18° 30' W., we met great numbers of penguins migrating north.

It was with great disappointment that we had to give up hope of reaching the un­known land from whence these birds were coming, for the season was now far advanced, and a strong frost had set in; we had either to risk wintering in the pack or retreat to the north at once. Even as it was, our steam-power: was taxed to the utmost to get back into slack ice.

We now took a more westerly route, and worked our way N. W towards the Orkneys. Deep sea sounding and taking sea temperatures at different depths were daily operation and the deep sea trawl was let down every other day. This was no child's play in a sea 2½ miles deep. Although the trawl was lowered away at 8 a.m. it was often dark before we got it aboard again.

We had a powerful steam winch for heaving in the cable, but the drum on to which the wire cable is reeled has to be wound by hand, work requiring all hands. Yet it was always undertaken cheerfully by the crew and scientists alike. Although we did not get great hauls, there was always something in the trawl and many species new to science.

On the track of Weddell

We are now on the old track of that bold navigator, Weddell, who with two small ships, in the year 1823 was the first to go so far south as latitude 74 – 15. Weddell was favoured by an open season, having reached such a high latitude without meeting pack ice. We were stopped by different circumstances from those which affected Weddell. We had a well conditioned steamship, and provided with every comfort we could desire. The stormy region and the ice had no terrors for us, for we could take shelter in the pack during a bad night, and lie with ease and comfort, knowing our steam could always take us out again. But Weddell had to battle against storm and iceberg, with ill-found ships, unprotected for ice navigation, yet he gained a latitude higher than any attained in subsequent attempts. As the old song says: -

“Glory unto the men of old,
And may their sons copy there virtues bold.”

Weddell finding the colour of the sea change thought he might be approaching some land, and took a cast of the lead : but, finding no bottom with 300 fathoms of line out, makes the remark that if he had a longer line he might have got soundings. It could not have struck him that it would require a line nearly 3 miles long to reach the bottom.
In the latitude of 70° and 69° we saw few icebergs compared to the number we saw further north in latitude 63º and 65º. And the pack itself was one vast body of compara­tively young ice—only occasionally did we come into a patch which could at all be compared to the Polar ice of the north.
Where the heavier ice originated is a point which has to be settled yet.

Seeking Refuge for Winter

On the 22nd March we were back at the Orkneys again, and as the nights were now long and dark it was decided to seek a har­bour where we could take shelter. On the 25th we entered a deep bay on the south side of Lawrie Island, and two days after we anchored the ship was surrounded by old ice and securely frozen in, where we lay im­movable for eight months.
The head of the bay was formed by a neck of low land 500 yards broad, connecting high land on either side. Thus we were lying quietly frozen up in Polar ice, while on the north beach of the low land, less than a mile away, the swell of the Antarctic Ocean came rolling in.
In consequence of our insular position we had a very changeable climate, the thermo­meter often ranging 50 or 60 degrees in the 24 hours, and as much as 20 degrees in a single hour.
Our lowest temperature was in June, when the thermometer fell 26 degrees below zero, yet no overcoats or furs were worn, but when blowing hard with drift we put on our wind suits. We also had an abundant supply of good Shetland hosiery put on board by one of the friends of the Expedition.

All Hands Employed on Shore

Having plenty of open-air work and exer­cise, such a thing as a cold or sore throat was never known in the cabin. On shore we first built ft magnetic hut entirely of wood, fastened with copper nails, then we started to build a large stone house, and as we bad neither clay, mud, nor turf to connect the stones, we had to build an outer and inner wall of boulders, filling the apace between with rubble and gravel. The roof was a frame of wood covered with tarred canvas The walls in some parts were 6 feet thick. The inside was lined with canvasall sewed together. Then a thick wooden floor was laid, and when this house was finished we had a fine wind and water-tight room with two windows. This house is for the accommodation of a party of six men, who are to remain on the island to carry on the meteorological and other observations while the ship is away north getting coals for next summer's cruise. The party left are—R. C. Mosman, meteorologist; Dr Pirie, geologist; W. Cuthbertson, artist; A. Boss, taxidermist; W. Martin, and W, Smith.

Building a house for the Observatory

The building of this house gave us ample employment for many weeks, for the stones had to be sleighed some distance to the site of building. Fortunately our style of masonry could be carried on during frosty weather,
Our other work during winter was trapping and dredging in the bay for fish and crustacea. The dredging was confined to one tract near the ship, and for this pur­pose a rope was stretched under the ice, and a hole at each end was kept clear of ice and snow. The dredge was then hauled along the bottom from one hole to another at the ship's bow, and taken on to the ice. We could cut holes anywhere for the traps, and lower them baited to the bottom. When there was a good haul of fish in the traps those not required for natural history speci­mens were used for food so there was no lack of fresh food with fish, penguins, and seals available.
Our daily routine commenced at 7 a.m., when all bands were called; then the men sledged ice to ship to be melted for the day's water. Breakfast at eight, after which we were engaged with the traps and dredge most of the forenoon, for the trap holes had to be cleared of snow and ice.
We often noticed how quickly the fish died when brought to the surface. With the temperature below zero, in a minute or two they would be frozen as hard as a stick; while with the temperature above freezing pint they would live some hours after being lauded.

How the Winter Passed

Magnetical observations were made daily. Meteorological observations were made every hour of the day and night So with all the multifarious duties connected with such an expedition our time was fully occupied, and the winter passed away before we had quite overtaken all we intended to do. We were not able to make any extended sledge journeys owing to the rugged and hilly nature of the land and the uncertain state of the coast ice. We did once haul a sledge up ft ridge 500 feet high, and lowered it down the other side with whale lines. But the party were only two days away when a gale broke up the ice, and they had to retreat quickly.
As every man on board was provided with a pair of ski, all our wanderings round the coast and over the glacier-covered land were made on ski, which always afforded a most enjoyable mode of exercise. Some of the younger members of the crew became quite expert at ski-ing, and could easily do a run of 10 or 12 miles during a short afternoon, while few gradients wore too steep for them to come down. With so much open-air work and exercise, and with music and games in the evening, no special effort was required to keep the men in the best of health and spirits.

Good Fellowship in the Cabin

After breakfast the naturalists were free the whole day if any duty required them to go any distance from the ship, for we did not dine in the cabin till 5 p.m. After dinner the evening was spent in reading, writing, or a game at cards or chess.
And although there were eight men cribbed, cabined, and confined for 10 months within narrow limits the best of good fellow­ship prevailed, and the social barometer was very seldom low. And on Saturday nights, if we hail a smoker with music and songs, however hard the tempest might howl out­side, the social barometer was always high Inside.

Death of the Chief Engineer

One dark cloud did hang over us. Our first engineer, Mr Allan Ramsay, was ill most of the winter, and died of heart disease on the 6th August. Mr Ramsay was a native of Dundee, a son of Mr George Ramsay, Wellington Street. He was a promising young man, only 25 years of age, and by his unassuming and obliging manner he was well lilted by the scientific staff. He bore his long illness with manly fortitude to a peaceful end. Such is the uncertainty of life that death took one of the youngest from amongst us. It was with sorrowing hearts that we laid him in his lonely grave, far from home and kindred, amid the wild and rugged scenes of the Antarctic.

Back to Port Stanley

We expected to get out much earlier than we did, but the ice was too heavy for us to attempt to break the ship out, and we had to lie till the swell came in, which it did on the 23rd November. We sailed from the South Orkneys on the 27th, and after a very fine passage arrived at Port Stanley on the 3rd December, where everyone was delighted to see us back so early, and we received a hearty welcome from all who took an interest in our voyage. The Scotia will leave Port Stanley on the 7th December for Buenos Ayres for coal, and then make a summer voyage to the South after picking up our party of six men who were left to carry on observations on the South Orkneys.

Leaders Expectations

Mr James G. Ferrier, Secretary of the Scottish Antarctic Expedition, received from Mr W. S. Bruce the leader of the Expedition, narratives of the voyage of the Scotia, written by Mr Bruno and the individual members of the staff, dealing with meteorology, zoology, biology, and other scientific departments of the work of the Expedition. The Expedition left their winter quarters in Scotia Bay, South Orkney Islands, on 23rd November, sooner than was anticipated owing to the unexpected breaking of the ice, which was in places 50 feet thick, and of an average thickness of 15 feet. A party, consisting of Messrs B. C. Mossman, Dr Pine, Ross, and Cuthbertson, with William Martin, A.B., and William Smith, second steward, have been left behind in the winter quarters in charge of a meteorological station. Fully 18 months provisions were put ashore for the party, and no doubt they could hold out even longer as the place swarms with penguins, fish, and seals. Mr Brace says he has no fear for them.


Mr Mossman, writing under the same date, says that the ship has had to put into the har­bour for repairs, her trawling derricks having been carried away daring the last trawling oper­ations with only 4½ tons strain. Another trawling derrick was required, and as that could not be obtained at Stanley, they had been under the necessity of returning to Buenos Ayres. Referring to the death in August last of Mr George Ramsay, the engineer, Mr Mossman says it was due to heart disease after a protracted illness. He also says a meteorological station had been established at Laurie Island.
The above letters were written on board the Orissa going from Port Stanley to Monte Video, the Scotia, following in their wake.

An Artists Impressions

A Fight with Penguns.

Mr William Cuthbertson, the artist with the expedition, writing home to his parents from the winter quarters in the South Orkney Islands, south-east of Cape Horn, tells how the Scotia approached the South Orkney Islands among the heavy pack ice. "The ice round the Orkneys," he says, "was fearfully heavy— 50 and 60 feet thick—and if it had been tight (tightly packed) it would have been impossible to get through it. As it was, we had a fearful time of it. There was the captain in the barrel, a mate on the bridge, and the bos'n on the quarter-deck to watch that none of the tongues of ice struck the propeller when, she was backing. There were also three men at the wheel, and they had about as hard work as they ever had in" their lives before. It was. nothing but ‘port,’ ‘starboard’ steady,’ all the time ...the engines were constantly stopping and going astern ahead, and the ship bumping against great heavy pieces of ice and trembling from stem to stern, so there wasn't much peace or quiet aboard." Proceeding to describe the island, Mr Cuthbertson says it consists of two high peaks rising sheer up out of the water. It is very precipitous (all the land here is like that). We managed to find

A Landing Place at a Penguin Rookery

The penguins were on it in thousands. It was an awfully steep place. How the penguins— which, of course, can't fly—managed to reach it I don't know. However, they did it. A few of the nests had young birds in them, and some had eggs, but when we got the eggs on board they were all rotten. Those penguins are very plucky. They stood up to us and defied us to come near their nests, and didn't show any signs of fear. But the geologists didn't, have any respect for their pluck. I have discovered that an enthusiastic zoologist doesn't know what pity means." Describing a, run on shore, the writer proceeds—" At eleven o'clock we set off along the edge of the pack in an easterly direction, asthere was pack all along to south’ard. It was no use- to try to make straight for the south, This was on February 4th. We went through the pack all day, sometimes favoured with the leads of open water. We stopped fit 9 p.m. at night, and the outlook was far from promising, as we were surrounded by very heavy ice. The next day was very disappointing. During the night the ice had got even heavier, so the captain put the ship about and steered N.W. It was

Beastly Hard Lines to Have to Turn Back

So early on our journey south, but there was very heavy ice in every direction, except N. and N.W.N. We steamed on, and by 8 p.m. we were in open water. We steamed eighty miles through heavy ice that day, which was a very creditable performance, as it seemed impossible for a ship to get through it at times. The captain's intention was to steer 250 or 300 miles to the east, in which direction previous explorers in this region have been able to find open water to the south. For the next eight days—from 6th to the 13th February—we steered E, by S. . . . We took soundings on the 9th and 10th. On the 9th the depth was 1325 fathoms; and on the 10th it was 590 ... On the 14th of February we seemed to have turned the main pack, as our course was due south all day. On the 15th we made excellent progress, sailing along all day till eight at night with a N.W, wind. On February 16th the water was still pretty clear of ice, and we kept on in fine style, . . . On 17th we took a sounding:, getting a depth of 2729 fathoms. We crossed the An­tarctic circle on the 18th. 'It was blowing 4 gale and there was a pretty heavy sea on.

Nearly Everyone was Feeling Squeemish

as the motion of the ship was pretty lively. On the 19th the sea, was still clear, though we had met a lot of ice in the evening. On the 20th we made very little southing, , , , We were only in latitude 69, and nearly buried in ice; while Weddel—who reached his farthest smith 80 years ago a little to the west of us—was in perfectly open water in latitude 74 when he turned back. It was pretty cold down to about 21st February. . . . The temperature was down to 18 degrees F. On the 22nd we made very little progress, the frost was so strong and the ice was making so fast. The temperature was down to 13 degrees F. The ship got free on the 24th very unexpectedly." Mr Cuthbertson concludes by describing the arrangements for wintering on the island, arid the journey of the ship to Buenos Ayres, where, as has been stated, she was last heard of.

Scotia