Tag Archives: Antarctica

Remembering Sidney Jeffryes and the darker side of our tales of Antarctic heroism



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The Aurora lying at anchor in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica in 1913.
National Library of Australia

Elizabeth Leane, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, University of Tasmania

Antarctica is famous for its survival stories, but one of the most compelling has languished in the shadows for over a century. An unmarked grave in the public cemetery at Ararat has been the resting place of Sidney Jeffryes, the remarkable radio operator of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

Sidney Jeffryes photographed between 1912 and 1914.
Wikimedia Commons

In 1913, Jeffryes achieved a world first when he made ongoing two-way wireless contact between Antarctica and Australia. However, his mental illness during the expedition, and his subsequent committal to a high-security asylum, meant his contribution was swept under the carpet.

Only now has his important role in Australian Antarctic history been recognised with the laying of a plaque on his grave.

A Queenslander, Jeffryes was working as a shipboard radio operator and already making claims to long-distance telegraphy records when in 1911 he applied for a position on Mawson’s expedition. Although another applicant was selected, Mawson considered Jeffryes a “very good man”.

It is unsurprising, then, that the following year, when the expedition vessel, the Aurora, left Hobart to bring the expeditioners back from Antarctica, Jeffryes was offered a place as its wireless operator. What he didn’t realise was that he would end up spending an unexpected year in the far south.

Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition in polar seas, 1912.
E.W Searle, National Library of Australia

When the Aurora arrived at the expedition hut in Commonwealth Bay to take all the men home, three were missing: a sledging party led by Mawson had failed to return. With the season growing late, the ship’s captain had to leave to collect a group of men at another continental base. So he took most of the expeditioners with him, leaving five behind to wait for the missing party. Jeffryes agreed to stay behind and take the place of the original radio operator, Walter Hannam.

When Mawson returned to the hut, he was alone. His two companions had perished during the journey. Thus began a very trying year. Mawson was recovering from an extremely arduous journey, and he and the five men from the original expedition were mourning the loss of two beloved friends. As the only newcomer to the hut, unused to the extreme conditions, and under pressure to make the wireless work better than it had, Jeffryes was in a difficult position.

Despite these pressures, he made a success of his unanticipated role. In March 1913 the Australian press celebrated the establishment of wireless contact with Australia. The expeditioners were delighted to be able to communicate with their loved ones, although there was tension over whose messages would get priority. Jeffryes had to operate under testing circumstances, working late into the night, when reception was best, to try to pick up the faint and noisy messages.




Read more:
Sledging songs, penguins and melting ice: how Antarctica has inspired Australian composers


In June 1913, after a particularly strong gale, the always troublesome wireless mast blew down, making it impossible to send or receive messages. Shortly afterwards, Jeffryes began exhibiting unusual behaviour, at one point challenging another man to a fight.

‘Delusional insanity’

Over the next few weeks he exhibited a series of symptoms – including delusions of persecution, paranoia and decline in hygiene – that are consistent with what we now classify as schizophrenia. The expedition doctor, Archie McLean, diagnosed “delusional insanity”. With none of the men able to leave the hut in the freezing, dark winter, the situation became very trying for all.

Mawson’s hut at main base, 1911.
Wikimedia Commons

Believing his companions were trying to murder him, Jeffryes began sending out messages secretly on the wireless, including one saying that five others were “unwell” and he and Mawson would have to escape. Luckily, it was never received, but Mawson eventually dismissed Jeffryes – a strange situation given he was unable to leave his workplace.

Jeffryes’ cell in J-ward, Ararat Hospital for the Insane.
Elizabeth Leane

The seven men struggled through the next few months, and were relieved when the Aurora arrived to pick them up towards the end of 1913. Jeffryes’ behaviour remained erratic and he took no part in the celebrations that greeted the expedition on its arrival in Adelaide in February 1914.

Nonetheless, he was allowed to board a train alone, presumably headed home to distant Toowoomba. The next that was heard of him was media reports that he had been found wandering in the bush in regional Victoria, starving despite the money in his pocket, and saying Mawson had hypnotised him.

Jeffryes was quickly committed to Ararat Hospital for the Insane (as it was then called). Initially his prognosis was hopeful, and he was transferred to Royal Park and Sunbury asylums in the hope a change of scenery would help. In Sunbury, however, he attacked a staff member, which landed him back in Ararat, this time in “J-Ward”, the facility for the criminally insane.

Life in the high-security ward was notoriously hard and the temperatures could be very low; a cell in J-Ward must have made the hut in Antarctica look like a picnic. Yet Jeffryes survived for another 28 years, until his death from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1942.

The plaque unveiled on October 16 2018 in Ararat.
Elizabeth Leane

With mental illness highly stigmatized in the early 20th century, and incongruous with the heroic framework within which Antarctic explorers were viewed, Jeffryes’ part in the expedition was deliberately downplayed. He gradually vanished from exploration history, his impressive achievement largely forgotten.

This changed today (Tuesday), when Mawson’s Huts Foundation chairman David Jensen unveiled a plaque on Jeffyres’ grave, officially marking his contribution to wireless history and Australian Antarctic history.

We are moving beyond our obsession with heroes and now telling richer, more complex accounts of human presence in the far south.

This article was co-authored by Ben Maddison.The Conversation

Elizabeth Leane, Associate Professor of English and ARC Future Fellow, University of Tasmania and Kimberley Norris, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Remembering Antarctica’s nuclear past with ‘Nukey Poo’



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PM-3A McMurdo Station, Antarctica.
US Army Engineer Research and Development Labs – United States Antarctic Program, Antarctic Photo Library

Hanne E.F. Nielsen, University of Tasmania

We think of Antarctica as a place to protect. It’s “pristine”, “remote” and “untouched”. (Although a recent discovery reveals it’s less isolated from the world than previously thought.)

But it wasn’t always this way. Between 1961 and 1972 McMurdo Station was home to Antarctica’s first and only portable nuclear reactor, known as PM-3A, or “Nukey Poo.” The little-known story of Nukey Poo offers a useful lens through which to examine two ways of valuing the far south: as a place to develop, or a place to protect.




Read more:
How an alien seaweed invasion spawned an Antarctic mystery


The story of Nukey Poo

By the late 1950s nuclear power was viewed with optimism, as an exciting new solution to both the world’s energy and social problems. The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1959, designating Antarctica as a place for international scientific cooperation. Both the USA and USSR were original signatories, and both were concerned about the possible use of nuclear weapons in the far south.

The Antarctic Treaty therefore included freedom of inspection of all facilities, and stipulated “any nuclear explosions in Antarctica and the disposal there of radioactive waste material shall be prohibited”.




Read more:
In 30 years the Antarctic Treaty becomes modifiable, and the fate of a continent could hang in the balance


When Nukey Poo was built by the US Navy it was described by Admiral George Dufek as “a dramatic new era in man’s conquest of the remotest continent.”

While the early explorers set out with flags, pitting their bodies against the elements to claim new territory, nuclear technology represented a modern way for man to triumph over the hostile environment. PM-3A was seen as a trailblazer, and – if all went well – it was planned to be first of many installed in Antarctica.

Dufek also envisaged nuclear energy making possible a wide range of human activities in the far south. His imagined version of “Antarctica in the Year 2000” included nuclear-driven greenhouse crop production, geoengineering of the world’s weather, and mining ventures that helped broker world peace.

While geoengineering in the forms of slowing the melt of glacial ice, solar geoengineering, and marine geoengineering continue to be discussed, mining is prohibited by the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Contemporary visions of Antarctic futures tend to focus on environmental change and reducing human impacts, rather than enhancing the human presence.




Read more:
Pristine Antarctic fjords contain similar levels of microplastics to open oceans near big civilisations


Nuclear optimism fades

“Nukey Poo” began producing power for the McMurdo station in 1962, and was refuelled for the first time in 1964. A decade later, the optimism around the plant had faded. The 25-man team required to run the plant was expensive, while concerns over possible chloride stress corrosion emerged after the discovery of wet insulation during a routine inspection. Both costs and environmental impacts conspired to close the plant in September 1972.

This precipitated a major clean up that saw 12,000 tonnes of contaminated rock removed and shipped back to the USA through nuclear-free New Zealand. The clean up pre-dated Antarctica’s modern environmental protection regime by two decades, and required the development of new standards for soil contamination levels.

This elaborate process ensured that the US did not violate the Antarctic Treaty by disposing of nuclear waste on the continent. It also foreshadowed a shift in environmental attitudes away from development and use, towards protection; the removal of so much as one pebble from the Antarctic without requisite permits is now prohibited.

Today, all that physically remains at the site of the PM-3A reactor is a missing hillside and a plaque. Nuclear power is no longer viewed with the optimism of the 1960s, thanks to disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The site where Nukey Poo once stood has been designated as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty System, putting it in the same category as the huts of early explorers such as Mawson and Shackleton.

However, a site with a past of nuclear contamination does not sit well within modern narratives of Antarctica as a place to protect, so this episode in the continent’s history is not often told.




Read more:
Why remote Antarctica is so important in a warming world


When Admiral Dufek wrote in 1960 “Antarctica will be a fantastic land in the future” he had a very different vision in mind to the Antarctica we see today. Today, the far south is not a place to be improved upon with human innovation, so much as a place to be protected from our influence – including climate change.

The ConversationThe episode of Nukey Poo reveals the modern association between science and the Antarctic environment has not always been so. In demonstrating how Antarctica went from being seen as territory to conquer to a fragile environment, we are reminded that its protection cannot be taken for granted

Hanne E.F. Nielsen, PhD Candidate in Antarctic Representations, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cows in Antarctica? How one expedition milked them for all their worth



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Celebrity cows: Southern Girl and Iceberg enjoy a ‘hay cocktail’ at the Commodore Hotel in New York.
Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, contact for re-use

Hanne E.F. Nielsen, University of Tasmania and Elizabeth Leane, University of Tasmania

Domestic animals are rarely associated with Antarctica. However, before non-native species (bar humans) were excluded from the continent in the 1990s, many travelled to the far south. These animals included not only the obvious sledge dogs, but also ponies, sheep, pigs, hamsters, hedgehogs and a goat. Perhaps the most curious case occurred in 1933, when US Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition took with it three Guernsey cows.

The cows, named Klondike Gay Nira, Deerfoot Guernsey Maid and Foremost Southern Girl, plus a bull calf born en route, spent over a year in a working dairy on the Ross Ice Shelf. They returned home to the US in 1935 to considerable celebrity.

Keeping the animals healthy in Antarctica took a lot of doing – not least, hauling the materials for a barn, a huge amount of feed and a milking machine across the ocean and then the ice. What could have possessed Byrd to take cows to the icy south?

Klondike the Guernsey cow waits on the dock in Norfolk, Virginia, alongside the alfafa, beet pulp and dairy feed that would keep them alive in the far south.
with permission of Wisconsin Historical Society, WHS-127998, contact for re-use, CC BY-ND

The answer we suggest in our recently published paper is multi-layered and ultimately points to Antarctica’s complex geopolitical history.

Solving the “milk problem”

The cows’ ostensible purpose was to solve the expedition’s so-called “milk problem”. By the 1930s, fresh milk had become such an icon of health and vigour that it was easy to claim it was needed for the expeditioners’ well-being. Just as important, however, were the symbolic associations of fresh milk with purity, wholesomeness and US national identity.

Powdered or malted milk could have achieved the same nutritional results. Previous expeditions, including those of Ernest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen, had survived just fine with such products. What’s more, William Horlick of Horlick’s Malted Milk sponsored Byrd’s second Antarctic expedition; the seaplane Byrd used was named for this benefactor.

Crates of Horlick’s Malted Milk destined for Byrd’s second expedition. With its carefully placed sledge, husky and sign, the shot seems posed for publicity purposes.
with permission of Wisconsin Historical Society, WHS-23703, contact for re-use, CC BY-ND

So if fresh milk was not actually a health requirement, and other forms were readily available, why go to the trouble of lugging three cows and their accoutrements across the ice?

Maximising publicity

The cows represented a first, and Byrd well knew that “firsts” in the polar regions translated into media coverage. The expedition was privately funded, and Byrd was adept at attracting media attention and hence sponsorship. His backers expected a return, whether in the form of photographs of their product on the ice or mentions in the regular radio updates by the expedition.

Richard Byrd with Deerfoot in a publicity shot taken before departure.
with permission of Wisconsin Historical Society WHS-130655, contact for re-use, CC BY-ND

The novelty value that the cows brought to the expedition was a valuable asset in its own right, but Byrd hedged his bets by including a pregnant cow – Klondike was due to give birth just as the expedition ship sailed across the Antarctic Circle. The calf, named “Iceberg”, was a media darling and became better known than the expeditioners themselves.

The celebrity attached to the cows helped the expedition remain in the headlines throughout its time in Antarctica, and they received an enthusiastic welcome upon its return. Although the unfortunate Klondike, suffering from frostbite, had to be put down mid-expedition, her companions made it home in good condition. They were feted on their return, meeting politicians in Washington, enjoying “hay cocktails” at fancy hotels, and making the front page of The New York Times.

It would be easy, then, to conclude that the real reason Byrd took cows south was for the publicity he knew they would generate, but his interest in the animals may also have had a more politically motivated layer.


Further reading: The winners and losers of Antarctica’s great thaw


Eyeing a territorial claim

A third reason for taking cows to Antarctica relates to the geopolitics of the period and the resonances the cows had with colonial settlement. By the 1930s several nations had claimed sectors of Antarctica. Byrd wanted the US to make its own claim, but this was not as straightforward as just planting a flag on the ice.

According to the Hughes Doctrine, a claim had to be based on settlement, not just discovery. But how do you show settlement of a continent covered in ice? In this context, symbolic gestures such as running a post office – or farming livestock – are useful.

Domestic animals have long been used as colonial agents, and cattle in particular were a key component of settler colonialism in frontier America. The image of the explorer-hero Byrd, descended from one of the First Families of Virginia, bringing cows to a new land and successfully farming them evoked this history.

The Antarctic dairy.
Guernsey Breeders Journal, November 1 1935

The cows’ presence in Antarctica helped symbolically to turn the expedition base – not coincidentally named “Little America” – into a frontier town. While the US did not end up making a claim to any sector of Antarctica, the polar dairy represented a novel way of demonstrating national interest in the frozen continent.

The ConversationThe Antarctic cows are not just a quirky story from the depths of history. As well as producing milk, they had promotional and geopolitical functions. On an ice continent, settlement is performed rather than enacted, and even Guernsey cows can be more than they first seem.

Hanne E.F. Nielsen, PhD Candidate in Antarctic Representations, University of Tasmania and Elizabeth Leane, Associate Professor of English and ARC Future Fellow, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Revenge served cold: was Scott of the Antarctic sabotaged by his angry deputy?



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Scott and his team at the geographic South Pole, January 18, 1912.
National Library of Australia

Chris Turney, UNSW

On February 11, 1913, the world woke to the headline “Death of Captain Scott. Lost with four comrades. The Pole reached. Disaster on the return”. A keenly anticipated, privately funded scientific venture “off the map” had turned to tragedy.

Previous reports had described the polar party of the British Antarctic Expedition striking out confidently just 2.5º latitude from their objective: the geographic South Pole. The journals and letters recovered from the bodies, however, told a tale of heartbreak and desperation: the explorers were shattered to find themselves beaten to the pole by Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen, and weakened terribly during their journey back to base.

Of the five men in Captain Robert F. Scott’s party, Petty Officer Edgar Evans was the first to die, while descending from the high-altitude Antarctic Plateau. Then, while searching in vain on the vast Ross Ice Shelf for the dog sleds ordered to speed their return to base, Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates realised that his ever-slowing pace was threatening the others, and famously walked out into a blizzard with the parting words: “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

Pushing on with limited supplies, the remaining men (Scott, Dr Edward Wilson and Henry “Birdie” Bowers) found themselves trapped by a nine-day blizzard. All three wrote messages to friends and loved ones while waiting, until eventually their food ran out on about March 29, 1912.

Why did they really die?

Their deaths were put down to the fickleness of Antarctic weather, bad luck or, most controversially, poor leadership on the part of Scott.

But my new research, published in the journal Polar Record, has uncovered new evidence about this ill-fated journey. I have identified major contradictions in the testimony of Scott’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Edward “Teddy” Evans, who survived the expedition after being rejected from Scott’s party.

Was Scott scuppered by Evans?

Evans’s actions raise the possibility that he played a role in the deaths of the five men. Furious at not being included in the attempt on the pole, Evans was returning to base when he collapsed with scurvy. Evans was the only expedition member to develop scurvy, most probably due to his refusal to eat fresh seal meat, a known preventive measure.

His companions Tom Crean and William Lashly heroically saved Evans’s life, a tale made famous in no small measure by expeditioner Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s classic book on the expedition, The Worst Journey in the World.

Foul play over food?

Buried in the British Library, I found a crucial piece of evidence about Evans’s trip back to camp. Seven pages of notes detail meetings held in April 1913 between Lord Curzon, president of the Royal Geographical Society, and Scott’s and Wilson’s widows, both of whom had read their late husbands’ diaries and correspondence.

According to the notes, Kathleen Scott reported that:

Scott’s words in his diary on exhaustion of food & fuel in depots on his return… It appears Lieut Evans – down with Scurvy – and the 2 men with him must on return journey have entered & consumed more than their share.

Several days later, also according to the meeting notes, Oriana Wilson described how:

…there was a passage in her husband’s diary which spoke of the “inexplicable” shortage of fuel & pemmican [sledging ration] on the return journey… This passage however she proposes to show to no one and to keep secret.

Closer examination of diary entries suggest that the food in question went missing from a depot at the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf. Letters from the time indicate that Curzon immediately shut down the inquiry he was planning to hold. It is not unreasonable to assume that Curzon’s interpretation of events was that Evans was dangerously ill and if he had not taken the food would have also died.

But the account of exactly when Evans fell down with scurvy changed over time. Returning to civilisation in 1912, Evans described in a letter how he was stricken when he was 300 miles from base, a distance confirmed by media interviews from the time.

But by the following year, this figure had changed to 500 miles, a distance also reported in the book Scott’s Last Expedition. This would put the onset of his sickness at the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf, precisely where the food appears to have gone missing.

Unwittingly, Cherry-Garrard published a substantially embellished version of Lashly’s sledging diary in The Worst Journey in the World, in which Evans’s sickness was shifted one week earlier to align with the public timeline.

Overall, the evidence strongly suggests that Evans took the cached food when he had not yet succumbed to scurvy, possibly because of his anger at having been sent back early and forced to drag his sledge with just two men. The timing of the various pieces evidence suggest that his story was later changed to fit with the idea that he took the food because he was ill.

Disturbingly, Scott’s order to Evans to send the dog sled teams to the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf does not appear to have been communicated either, fatally slowing the polar party’s return.

Writing from his deathbed, Scott warned: “Teddy Evans is not to be trusted over much, though he means well.”

The ConversationGiven the evidence, this was arguably a generous statement.

Chris Turney, Professor of Earth Sciences and Climate Change, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Trek


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the Antarctic trek of Douglas Mawson.

For more visit:
http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2016/02/just-one-try-miraculous-story-douglas-mawsons-300-mile-race-survive-antarctic/


Article: 1912 Douglas Mawson Led Australasian Antarctic Expedition


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1912.

For more visit:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/01/125-mawson-trek/roberts-text


Article: Roald Amundsen and the South Pole


The link below is to an article that looks at Roald Amundsen’s journey to the South Pole.

For more visit:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/09/amundsen/alexander-text


Video: Race for the Poles



Photos: Historic Buildings of Antarctica


The link below is to an article with a number of historic photos of Antarctica.

For more visit:
http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2008/12/ghosts-of-antarctica-abandoned-stations.html


Today in History: 17 January 1773


Captain James Cook: First European Below the Antarctic Circle

Captain James CookOn his second voyage of discovery, Captain James Cook (with his crew) became the first European to cross below the Antarctic Circle. Cook was in command of the HMS Resolution, which was accompanied by the HMS Adventure at the time of the crossing.

During this second voyage, Cook never reached the Antarctic mainland. The purpose of this voyage was to find the supposed great southern land mass known as the Terra Australis. He had already discovered what was to become known as Australia during his first voyage, but a greater land mass was thought to lie further to the south.


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