–from an interview with Macklin published in James and Margery Fisher’s “Shackleton”–
“I waited all that morning, in fact all day, and I think what stood me in good stead was that during the time I was waiting for him I got to talking with other chaps, including Frank Wild. I went along to lunch with them and went back to the office in the afternoon, and Shackleton came in in a terrific hurry again, went into an inner room, spent ab out half an hour with Wild, and Wild came out and said ‘He’ll see you in a minute or two,’ and I said, ‘Well, will you put in a good word for me?’
“Whether he did or not I don’t know, but I went in to see Shackleton, he looked me up and down, asked me one or two questions, and just abruptly, like that said ‘All right, I’ll take you,’ without any further reference o requirement of any kind at all. . . .
“He asked, ‘Why are you wearing spectacles?’ For want of anything better, I said, ‘Many a wise face would look foolish without spectacles,’ and he laughed.”
–from a conversation with Hussey recorded by James Fisher, October 1955—
“He [Shackleton] called for me, looked me up and down, walked up and down when he was talking to me, didn’t seem to take any notice. Finally he said, ‘Yes, I like you, I’ll take you.’ He told me afterwards he took me because he thought I looked funny!”
—from a letter written by James, October 1955, quoted in “Shackleton” by Margery and James Fisher—
“On my way home I visited some relatives in Manchester, and while there received a telegram from Shackleton asking to see him next morning in London. I did so, and was appointed after an interview of about ten minutes at the outside, probably more nearly five. As far as I remember he asked me if my teeth were good, if I suffered from varicose veins, if I had a good temper, and if I could sing.
“At this question I probably looked a bit taken aback, for I remember he said, ‘O, I don’t mean any Caruso stuff; but I suppose you can shout a bit with the boys?’ . . .He did not ask me about my physics. . .After this he put out his hand and said, ‘Very well, I’ll take you.’”
–from his note enclosed with this gift– “I have pleasure in giving you my cheque for £24,000, without any conditions, in the hope that others may make their gifts for this Imperial journey also free of all conditions.”
–As quoted by the London Morning Post, Shackleton said “This magnificent gift relieves me of all anxiety.”
In May 1914 Shackleton journeyed to Norway, accompanied by Wild and Orde Lees, to test propeller- and crawler-driven motor sledges, and a rehearsal of life in the snow and cold. In a letter home to Emily, Shackleton wrote “I do not sleep very well, and the snow is rather crumply and the sleeping bag too hot yet it is cold with one’s head out so we are between the devil and the deep sea.”
–from Frank Worlsey’s book “Endurance”–
“One night I had an absurd dream. I dreamed that Burlington Street was full of ice blocks and that I was navigating a ship along it. Sailors are superstitious, and when I woke up next morning I hurried like made into my togs, and down Burlington Street I went. I dare say that it was only a coincidence, but as I walked along, reflecting that my dream had certainly been meaningless, and uncomfortable and that it had cost me time that I could have used to better purpose, a sigh on a doorpost caught the eye. It bore the words “Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition”, and no sooner did I see it than I turned into the building with the conviction that it had some special significance for me.
“Shackleton was there. He and I only spent a few minutes together, but the moment that I set eyes on him I knew that he was a man with whom I should be proud to work. He quickly divined what I wanted and presently said to me, “You’re engaged. Join you ship until I wire for you.” (I was then second officer in the Canadian trade, and had been in command of small vessels.) “I’ll let you know all the details as soon as possible. Good morning.” He wrung my hand in his hard grasp, and that was that. I was committed to my fate.”
This website was never intended for words other than those quoted from the members of the Antarctic exploring parties who risked their lives in the name of science and discovery. However, there is one book so compelling in its subject matter, so detailed and literate in its delivery, that it deserves a mention here, and a wider audience.
The subject matter is the story of Scott’s “Northern Party,” who were initially detailed to explore King Edward VII land and when that goal proved untenable transferred their field of discovery to the continental corner of the Antarctic at the northern verge of the Ross Sea. Many of you are aware of their sojourn at Cape Adare, later extended to the southward at Evans Coves, and the brutally hard winter in an ice-lined burrow on Inexpressible Island. Some of you may be familiar with Raymond Priestley’s diary published as Antarctic Adventure, quoted occasionally in this website one hundred years to the day after his words were written in 1912-13. Others may have encountered the story Victor Campbell published as The Wicked Mate. But until you have read and reread Meredith Hooper’s The Longest Winter, I’m afraid you will not have seen the overview of the whole adventure well and uniquely told.
The Eastern Party (as they called themselves), thwarted in their mission to explore King Edward VII Land, went instead to Cape Adare for their first winter, and were transferred by the Terra Nova in the spring of 1912 to Evans Coves farther south on the coast of Victoria Land. There, after a successful season’s exploration, they found themselves isolated in this barren land, and with the Antarctic winter coming on, holed up (quite literally) in a hand-dug snow cave on what they later called Inexpressible Island. These six men were forced to winter over surviving on the meat and blubber of the seals and penguins they killed in the autumn.
The hardship they endured here beggars description, but the diaries of these men, quoted at length in The Longest Winter, bring to immediate life their struggle to survive. With no fuel but burning blubber, no clothing but those on their backs day and night, no food but the frozen meat of the animals they had killed, they endured. In time the spring would come, and the time to emerge from their dungeon, load their sledges once more, and complete the 250-mile journey to the relative safety and plenty of the Scott expedition’s home base at Cape Evans.
Theirs is a tale of Antarctic survival that rivals all others. Told largely in their own words, it recounts endless months of misery with few regrets, of a growing sense of tolerance and interdependence that in the end demonstrates the enduring capacity of human endeavor to maintain, and to win through against overwhelming odds.
It is to author Meredith Hooper’s credit that she gives them scope to tell their story. She weaves together each of the six personal accounts so that we the readers share their experiences as they happen, colored at times by the diverse lenses of those who are living them. She manages to sidestep the fault-finding that many chroniclers of the Scott expeditions seem to fall into, bringing out a largely unbiased, uncritical accounting of the decisions that brought the Northern Party into their desperate straits. Our view of events is thereby enlarged, and with it our respect for the men involved.
Hooper also looks outside the snow cave, to other fields of endeavor happening in the Antarctic at the exact same time, occasionally quoting from the diaries of other men in the field: Amundsen and Scott on their ways to the Pole, the residents at Cape Evans and Hut Point, the men on board the ship Terra Nova as she tries and fails to rescue the stranded Northern Party. This look at what is happening in other places at the same time is one of the real strengths of The Longest Winter, that cements together the many efforts of what is essentially on large field exploration spread out across a continent.
Hooper ties it all together in a final chapter, when the men of the Northern Party, after two years of disappointment and privation come finally home to the security and plenty of the hut at Cape Evans. In spare and elegant language she shows us how in almost indescribable ways they have grown through their ordeal. And we, the readers, in sharing this with them, have also grown. There are few books that can claim this remarkable achievement.
“The Longest Winter: Scott’s Other Heroes” by Meredith Hooper
Pubished by Counterpoint Press, Berkeley CA 2010
$26.00 at your local independent bookseller, or amazon.com
Review by David Hirzel, author of Sailor on Ice and Hold Fast