A Polar Affair by Lloyd Spencer Davis

A Polar Affair by Lloyd Spencer Davis

Author:Lloyd Spencer Davis
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Published: 2019-07-15T16:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER FIFTEEN

TIMING

Even when not part of the competition, it is possible to be affected by it.

December 11, 1911. Douglas Mawson, aboard his ship the SY Aurora, arrives at Macquarie Island, a large subantarctic island 960 miles south of Hobart. His Australasian Antarctic Expedition had finally got underway from the Tasmanian capital nine days earlier. Unable to go to Cape Adare as planned, because Scott has installed Campbell’s party there, Mawson is forced to head south into the unknown and unexplored parts of the big white continent directly below Australia. First, he is stopping at Macquarie Island to erect radio towers and leave a party there in the hopes that they may be able to relay radio signals between his base in Antarctica and Australia. He had left Paquita in Adelaide six weeks earlier, and though their parting had been more sweet than sorrowful, radio contact with Australia would be a bonus for his fiancée, not to mention all the other benefits it promised.

Macquarie Island is surprisingly steep and rugged, like a piece of land that in another life had been a shark’s tooth: a high craggy ridgeline extends down the entire backbone of the island, making access to its heights difficult. At its northern end, however, there is a small 350-foot-high headland where they will build their wireless communication station.

The black shingle beach is dotted with elephant seals, some alive, some dead. And among the four types of penguins to be found on the island, there are large congregations of the beautiful orange-cheeked King penguins, the very ones that Johann Reinhold Forster, in a case of mistaken identity, had ascribed to the first Emperor penguin seen in Antarctic waters. Despite their numbers, jammed onto the shore between the sea and the steep hillside, there are far fewer penguins than there should have been. For in their midst are large steam digesters that had been set up by a New Zealander, Joseph Hatch, a dozen years earlier. These are used to render down the penguins so as to extract oil from them. Other pots are used to boil up the blubber of seals to also extract oil, the unwanted parts of their bodies left to rot upon the beach.

Mawson is appalled. Yet Hatch’s ship, the Clyde, which had been preparing to take the penguin and seal oil off the island, had broken its moorings in a gale and been wrecked. Mawson has another ship, the Toroa, coming to Macquarie Island to bring supplies. He offers to take Hatch’s stranded men back to Australia on the Toroa, but only on the condition that it also takes back the penguin and seal oil that can be salvaged and that money derived from selling the oil goes to his expedition.

Mawson is happy to leave all the death and destruction on Macquarie behind as the Aurora finally heads south, but he will not forget the travesty he has witnessed. In the years that Hatch’s men operate the penguin digesters on Macquarie Island, they kill and boil around three million penguins, almost all of them King penguins.



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