Amundsen's Historical Review - Part Four - Scott and the Discovery Expedition
Antarctic exploration now shoots rapidly ahead, and the twentieth century opens with the splendidly equipped British and German expeditions in the Discovery and the Gauss, both national undertakings.
Captain Robert F. Scott was given command of the Discovery’s expedition, and it could not have been placed in better hands.
The second in command was Lieutenant Armitage, who had taken part in the Jackson–Harmsworth North Polar expedition.
The other officers were Royds, Barne, and Shackleton.
Lieutenant Skelton was chief engineer and photographer to the expedition. Two surgeons were on board — Dr. Koettlitz, a former member of the Jackson–Harmsworth expedition, and Dr. Wilson. The latter was also the artist of the expedition. Bernacchi was the physicist, Hodgson the biologist, and Ferrar the geologist.
On August 6, 1901, the expedition left Cowes, and arrived at Simon’s Bay on October 3. On the 14th it sailed again for New Zealand.
The official plan was to determine as accurately as possible the nature and extent of the South Polar lands that might be found, and to make a magnetic survey. It was left to the leader of the expedition to decide whether it should winter in the ice.
It was arranged beforehand that a relief ship should visit and communicate with the expedition in the following year.
The first ice was met with in the neighbourhood of the Antarctic Circle on January 1, 1902, and a few days later the open Ross Sea was reached. After several landings had been made at Cape Adare and other points, the Discovery made a very interesting examination of the Barrier to the eastward. At this part of the voyage King Edward VII. Land was discovered, but the thick ice-floes prevented the expedition from landing. On the way back the ship entered the same bight that Borchgrevink had visited in 1900, and a balloon ascent was made on the Barrier. The bay was called Balloon Inlet.
From here the ship returned to McMurdo Bay, so named by Ross. Here the Discovery wintered, in a far higher latitude than any previous expedition. In the course of the autumn it was discovered that the land on which the expedition had its winter quarters was an island, separated from the mainland by McMurdo Sound. It was given the name of Ross Island.
Sledge journeys began with the spring. Depots were laid down, and the final march to the South was begun on November 2, 1902, by Scott, Shackleton, and Wilson.
They had nineteen dogs to begin with. On November 27 they passed the 80th parallel. Owing to the nature of the ground their progress was not rapid; the highest latitude was reached on December 30 — 82° 17’ S. New land was discovered — a continuation of South Victoria Land. One summit after another rose higher and higher to the south.
The return journey was a difficult one. The dogs succumbed one after another, and the men themselves had to draw the sledges. It went well enough so long as all were in health; but suddenly Shackleton was incapacitated by scurvy, and there were only two left to pull the sledges.
On February 3 they reached the ship again, after an absence of ninety-three days.
Meanwhile Armitage and Skelton had reached, for the first time in history, the high Antarctic inland plateau at an altitude of 9,000 feet above the sea.
The relief ship Morning had left Lyttelton on December 9. On her way south Scott Island was discovered, and on January 25 the Discovery’s masts were seen. But McMurdo Sound lay icebound all that year, and the Morning returned home on March 3.
The expedition passed a second winter in the ice, and in the following spring Captain Scott led a sledge journey to the west on the ice plateau. In January, 1904, the Morning returned, accompanied by the Terra Nova, formerly a Newfoundland sealing vessel. They brought orders from home that the Discovery was to be abandoned if she could not be got out. Preparations were made for carrying out the order, but finally, after explosives had been used, a sudden break-up of the ice set the vessel free.
All the coal that could be spared was put on board the Discovery from the relief ships, and Scott carried his researches further. If at that time he had had more coal, it is probable that this active explorer would have accomplished even greater things than he did. Wilkes’s “Ringgold’s Knoll” and “Eld’s Peak” were wiped off the map, and nothing was seen of “Cape Hudson,” though the Discovery passed well within sight of its supposed position.
On March 14 Scott anchored in Ross Harbour, Auckland Islands. With rich results, the expedition returned home in September, 1904.
Meanwhile the German expedition under Professor Erich von Drygalski had been doing excellent work in another quarter.
The plan of the expedition was to explore the Antarctic regions to the south of Kerguelen Land, after having first built a station on that island and landed a scientific staff, who were to work there, while the main expedition proceeded into the ice. Its ship, the Gauss, had been built at Kiel with the Fram as a model.
The Gauss’s navigator was Captain Hans Ruser, a skilful seaman of the Hamburg–American line.
Drygalski had chosen his scientific staff with knowledge and care, and it is certain that he could not have obtained better assistants.
The expedition left Kiel on August 11, 1901, bound for Cape Town. An extraordinarily complete oceanographical, meteorological, and magnetic survey was made during this part of the voyage.
After visiting the Crozet Islands, the Gauss anchored in Royal Sound, Kerguelen Land, on December 31. The expedition stayed here a month, and then steered for the south to explore the regions between Kemp Land and Knox Land. They had already encountered a number of bergs in lat. 60° S.
On February 14 they made a sounding of 1,730 fathoms near the supposed position of Wilkes’s Termination Land. Progress was very slow hereabout on account of the thick floes.
Suddenly, on February 19, they had a sounding of 132 fathoms, and on the morning of February 21 land was sighted, entirely covered with ice and snow. A violent storm took the Gauss by surprise, collected a mass of icebergs around her, and filled up the intervening space with floes, so that there could be no question of making any way. They had to swallow the bitter pill, and prepare to spend the winter where they were.
Observatories were built of ice, and sledge journeys were undertaken as soon as the surface permitted. They reached land in three and a half days, and there discovered a bare mountain, about 1,000 feet high, fifty miles from the ship. The land was named Kaiser Wilhelm II. Land, and the mountain the Gaussberg.
They occupied the winter in observations of every possible kind. The weather was extremely stormy and severe, but their winter harbour, under the lee of great stranded bergs, proved to be a good one. They were never once exposed to unpleasant surprises.
On February 8, 1903, the Gauss was able to begin to move again. From the time she reached the open sea until her arrival at Cape Town on June 9, scientific observations were continued.
High land had been seen to the eastward on the bearing of Wilkes’s Termination Land, and an amount of scientific work had been accomplished of which the German nation may well be proud. Few Antarctic expeditions have had such a thoroughly scientific equipment as that of the Gauss, both as regards appliances and personnel.