The Second Antarctic Relief Expedition, 1903-4
80 direct positive glass lantern slides, 3 x 3in. (8 x 8cm.), numbered, some with identifying pencil note, in contemporary hinged wooden box. (Some images with light scratches, some occasional wear to paper edging.)
AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION OF FINE VIEWS AND SCENES presumably brought together and prepared for lecture use. An inscription in ink on the underside of the lid states that the total number of slides was 128 in December 1908, although the number of slides used for different lectures would have varied. The slides follow the progress of the second Antarctic Relief Expedition of the Morning, and include the journey out from Lyttelton, New Zealand, images of the ice pack, seal hunting, views of the Discovery trapped in the ice, sledging trips between the Morning and the Discovery, exploding the ice pack, the dislodging of the Discovery from McMurdo Sound, and the return to Lyttelton.
There were two Antarctic Relief Expeditions. The National Antarctic expedition, led by Captain Robert Scott and which had left England on the 6th August 1901, had not been heard of for some time. Such an eventuality had been anticipated by Scott and Sir Clements Markham, the driving force behind the expedition, and by the beginning of 1901 plans were being put forward to send out a ship to relieve the Discovery. Time was of the essence, not least because of the distances involved, but also because the short summer period in which the coastal waters of the Antarctic would be navigable. The first relief expedition, organised at considerable haste, and grossly underfunded, set sail in the Morning, a wooden hulled steam yacht which had formerly been a Norwegian whaler named Morgenen, from the London Docks on July 9, 1902. Captain William Colbeck, who had been on the Southern Cross expedition as magnetic observer 4 years before, was in command, and the ship, after a brief stop at Madeira sailed directly to Lyttelton in New Zealand. From Lyttelton they sailed south, discovering en route Scott Island, to Cape Adare. At various pre-arranged points they sought evidence of the Discovery's whereabouts, eventually finding the celebrated 'Antarctic pillar-box' where they learned of the Discovery's wintering in McMurdo Sound, (see Christie's, 10 April, 1997, lot 100.) After some difficulty with the ice pack between Beaufort and Franklin Islands, the Discovery was sighted. Doorly, in his account Voyages of the Morning (London: 1916) records an ice field separating the two by approximately ten miles - the Discovery was ice-bound - and it was decided to leave her and those of her crew who were well enough for another winter in the Antarctic. The Morning departed for Lyttelton on 2nd March 1903.
The first Antarctic Relief Expedition was organised by Sir Clements Markham under the joint interest of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society. The two Societies differed as how to proceed now that the Discovery had to spend a second winter in the Antarctic. The rather acrimonious proceedings which followed resulted in the Government deciding to hand the whole expedition over to the Admiralty. The Morning was re-equipped at Lyttelton. The Admiralty insisted upon a second, larger ship joining the second relief expedition, and the Terra Nova, a Newfoundland sealing vessel, was duly purchased. The Morning and the Terra Nova sailed together from Hobart, Tasmania, on 5th December 1903. The Discovery was sighted on 6th January 1904, at a distance of about twenty miles (slide 39). Unfortunately, the size of the ice pack was now considerably larger, placing some 18 miles of thick ice between the Terra Nova and the Morning and the Discovery.
What had been a hitherto relatively easy journey now faced a number of serious problems. The Morning's boiler was only partially working, and the depth of the ice around the Discovery was considerably greater than the year before. Nevertheless, Doorly records more wildlife (slides 20-23) on the second expedition than the first, and they shot and towed on board a sea-leopard. Captain Scott and Dr Wilson who had been camping at what became known as Cape Royds were extremely surprised to see the Morning accompanied by a second ship. Communication was established between the three vessels and soon the necessary preparations for revictualling, refuelling, and ultimately releasing the Discovery from the ice was begun. Coal was removed for the Discovery and the process of transferring mail and provisions by sledge was carried out in the much the same way as the previous year, but as the chances of releasing her seemed slim the more valuable items and equipment were dismantled and removed to the two relief ships.
At Scott's request the second relief expedition brought 'gun-cotton', and on 5th February a systematic series of explosions was undertaken to free the Discovery from the ice. Initial progress was disheartening, and on the morning of 11 February contingency plans were made should the Discovery have to be abandoned. The afternoon saw a considerable change in conditions and expectations: 'Long wisps of cirrus clouds hung over the top of Mount Erebus, (slides 36, 37). We assumed that a gale was on the other side in the Ross Sea, and sure enough, in a few hours, a long grateful swell came down the [McMurdo] sound. The blasting now continued with alacrity, and large floes broke away with every explosion. It was a thrilling sight. About 6 p.m. I went over with a note from our captain [Colbeck] to Captain Scott, and requesting him to send all available hands to assist. ...I had...to climb over the point down the other side to the winter harbour. ...At midnight I went up to Hut Point, and could hardly believe my eyes. The ships were not three miles off! ...The hole-party [those preparing the detonations], however, worked away with redoubled energy, in anticipation of the next swell, which surely would be the grand finale!' (Doorly pp. 167-8). Once a passage was broken through to the Discovery there remained the freeing of the ship from the ice immediately around it. Scott took the risk of detonating double, triple, and even quadruple explosions at a short distance from the ship (slides 82, 83). The three ships left McMurdo Sound on 19 February 1904.
Once back in England the expected celebrations were held and lectures were given. In his inaugural lecture at the Royal Albert Hall Scott included slides on the wildlife they had seen. Photographs taken from nature were supplemented by a small number taken from books. Whilst it cannot be presumed that this collection of slides was used for Scott's lecture, it is more than likely that like the present series, Scott's slides were a composite collection of the work of various photographers augmented by a handful of second-hand images. Particularly pertinent images have been included above in parenthesis, although the entire series of slides tells in its own way the story of the second Antarctic Relief Expedition. (80)