2 December 1911
The Aurora departed Hobart. The ship’s Morse lamp signalled to the station at Mt Nelson: Everything snug on board, ready for anything. Good-bye…
3 December 1911
Strong south-westerlies welcomed the Aurora to the Southern Ocean.
Nearly all the wretched land party are as sick as dogs, and are puking in all directions, reported the ship’s second officer, Percy Gray.
11 December 1911
Arrived at MacquarieIslandto establish a weather and wireless relay station. They brought off several live penguins with them, and to see these animals walking about the decks was the funniest sight I have seen for some time. The way they walk is enough to make a cat laugh, wrote Percy Gray.
25 December 1911
LeftMacquarieIslandand a party of five men led by George Ainsworth. Christmas Day had a frightening start: At 3 am I was started out of my sleep by a bump which there was no mistaking the meaning of. I jumped up on deck found that the ship had dragged her bower anchor, and that the stern was bumping on the rocks (rather an unpleasant Xmas Box). (Diary of Captain J K Davis).
26 December 1911
Looking back I can only feel extremely well satisfied with our work at Macquarie Island … It was altogether one of the most strenuous and exciting fortnights I have spent … Mawson throughout worked like a Trojan (Captain Davis)
The spectacle everybody presents now is very funny; everybody’s beard is now in that sort of half and half stage, and that added to the appalling dirt would make it a difficult matter for some of their mothers to recognise them. (Percy Gray)
27 December 1911
Dr Mawson, who is a bad sailor, does not have his meals with us but in the Capt’s cabin on deck with Davis, and sleeps there too. (Charles Harrisson)
29 December 1911
4.20 pm. Sighted the first iceberg.
The depth and purity of the colouring marvellous. I dashed down for my paint box and canvas … I was doing what I never thought to, using pure cobalt and emerald green! (Charles Harrisson)
30 December 1911
At 2 pm we met the first pack, which consists of small floes of what is apparently sea ice… The SE wind makes things very raw and cold and has the old Antarctic sigh about it. I hope that the New Year will usher in New Land; we are just in the right locality. (Captain Davis)
31 December 1911
We struck that pack again at midnight last night, but Davis would not go into it but kept along the edge, and we are still keeping along the edge, looking for a lead now. Everybody is getting very sick as we shall have to get through it sooner or later, and this is only wasting time and coal. (Gray)
1 January 1912
We have be[en] all day steaming along the edge of pack which seems to be interminable … (Davis)
2 January 1912
A long weary day coasting along the edge of the pack trying to get south, but seldom making better than West… (Davis)
3 January 1912
This morning … a large proportion of failure appeared to stare us in the face (we had had the worst possible luck for some days past) … Things looked so bad last night that I could do nothing but just roll over and over on the settee on which I have been sleeping and wish that I could fall into oblivion …
This morning a great turn in events took place, and I now feel sure that we can complete the remainder of our programmes, though somewhat modified. Providence came forward at the eleventh hour and made a heaven for us. (Mawson to his fiancée Paquita)
4 January 1912
Moderate blizzard blowing.
We are all itching to be away as the excitement of the unknown is strong on everybody. (Gray)
5 January 1912
The blizzard freshened up again at midnight.
We are still fooling about in the same place as we were yesterday. (Gray)
6 January 1912
Behind the barrier rises mountains. Antarctica itself in sight at last.
The chief item of interest for the day is the alteration of plans. Owing to shortage of coal the landing of the third party has to be abandoned. (Frank Stillwell)
7 January 1912
At present there seems to be no chance of landing, as it seems to be nothing but ice barrier, and it will be an awful job landing them over [the] barrier. They will have to be landed somewhere so the sooner we start about it the better… I only trust that the show is not a failure. (Gray)
8 January 1912
First landing made atCommonwealthBayin bright sunshine.
Anchored under the Barrier near winter quarters site and landed (Mawson, diary)
We were soon inside a beautiful, miniature harbour completely land-locked. The sun shone gloriously in a blue sky as we stepped ashore on a charming ice-quay – the first to set foot on the Antarctic continent between Cape Adare and Gaussberg, a distance of about 2000 miles. (Mawson in The Home of the Blizzard)
Well, they really do seem to be making up their minds to land the first party at last, wrote Gray at 5 pm. [W]e proceeded on our way to the westward at six this morning, along the coast line, and at one o’clock we noticed a very promising looking place with a good deal of bare rock showing, towards which we altered course and arrived off at 3 pm this afternoon, when they sent a boat ashore which has not yet returned with news. (Gray)
7.30 [pm] Boat returned with favourable report of the place (Captain Davis)
In the evening the wind strengthened dramatically and they were only able to take one load of cargo ashore with the motor launch. The men returned frozen to the ship as a blizzard swept down upon the bay.
9 January 1912
Unloading suspended due to the blizzard.
After such a glorious day yesterday, we had a good shake down, as a reminder that we were in the Antarctic last night… When I turned out at midnight, a raging gale was blowing, and the temperature had dropped to 23º[F] covering everything the sea water touched or sprayed against with solid ice. (Gray)
10 January 1912
Blizzard continued. One small load of cargo was landed at 8 pm.
For the last twenty four hours it has been blowing a gale of wind, the squalls being very violent; indeed how our anchor has held is wonderful. … The wind has been very violent, lifting great sheets of spray off the water … (Davis)
Never was landing so hampered by adverse conditions (Mawson in Home of the Blizzard)
11 January 1912
Finally, as the weather lifted, a serious start was made in unloading…
… at 8 am this morning, all boats were lowered and work began in e[a]rnest. We have been getting our deck load off and will soon be more like a ship than a Xmas tree. (Davis)
We had to firstly haul the stores etc from the boats on to the ice and it was quite warm working; in fact we were able to work in a single Guernsey. We then hauled the material on the sledges up towards the rocks where our hut is to be built – some hundred yards. There is a gentle slope running up from the shore & it was great fun tobogganing down the slope on the empty sledges. (Jack Hunter)
12 January 1912
First night sleeping ashore. The men were sleeping on the ship and working on shore around the clock in shifts while the weather lasted, but as a storm brewed again on the evening of the 12th of January, Mawson and Frank Wild went ashore to join the five men working there and to sleep on the continent itself. After finishing unloading timber, Charles Harrisson records that we went up to Dr Mawson’s tent. He had the Nansen cooker going preparing a meal. Meanwhile, we pitched a couple of the little sledging tents … unscrewed boxes and got out the Reindeer sleeping bags. Then a mug of hot soup was served round, most delicious! Followed by a mug of hot cocoa. And we turned in about 2 am. Great amusement over Hannam getting into his sleeping bag! … I snuggled into mine, fastened up all the toggles, and tired and cold, slept well. We did not wake until past noon – the day bright but blowing fresh.
13 January 1912
… finished building a shelter of cases for the party to use while the hut was in progress. (Charles Harrisson)
14 January 1912
It has been blowing a gale of wind since last night, the sky quite clear and bright sunshine. Our anchor continues to hold well, though the tremendous squalls must try it badly…. This certainly seems a terribly windy spot, gale upon gale. (Davis)
The gale continues and work at a standstill. Still the day goes very fast since one manages to do about 12 hours sleep in this climate. The engine room is a great resort and is sometimes called the doss house. Five of us this morning distributed ourselves over the top of the two cylinders. … The shore party still away. (Frank Stillwell)
15 January 1912
At 2 am the wind dropped and an attempt was made at continuing the unloading of stores, but this had to be stopped an hour later as the wind again strengthened.
8 am Blowing hard from SE … very trying weather; anchor however still holding well. 3 pm Weather moderating, launch came off and discharging recommenced… (Davis)
16 January 1912
Unloading continued between the gales.
Blowing fresh from SE until 3 pm when, wind moderating, work started again; stores and fuel going away in the launch and two boats … 9 pm. Stores practically all ashore with exception of aeroplane and fuel … (Davis, Diary)
The wind is most peculiar, either it is a dead calm or else blowing a howling gale. (Gray)
17 January 1912
Only succeeded in landing one load of coal at 8 am before the wind stopped all traffic with the shore.
Hope if weather moderates at all to get away by tomorrow night. We have been quite long enough here, half the time doing nothing on account of the weather. It certainly seems to be a windy spot. (Davis, Diary)
18 January 1912
Thank goodness! At last we have been able to finish off the landing of this party.
… I made my first landing on Antarctic shores this afternoon, went on shore to get some photos, also complete a rough sketch of the bay I have been making … I was as usual fascinated with the penguins and seals! I only wish I were going to stay on shore with them. The landing place presents a most extraordinary appearance, covered with coal, and cases and sledges, and quite a little army of tents pitched amongst all the litter. (Gray)
19 January 1912
The Aurora departed west, in search of a place to land the second party. Eighteen men remained atCommonwealthBay.
They are a fine party of men but the country is a terrible one to spend a year in. (Davis)
15 – 21 February 1912
After charting 2400 kilometres of coastline, the Aurora landed a second party of eight men (led by Frank Wild) at ‘the Western Base’ on the Shackleton Ice Shelf in Queen Mary Land.
When we left the other bay, the night before last, we had scarcely a hope of landing … We were reduced to the last ton of coal allowed us too. At noon yesterday we were reduced to the 100 tons reserved for the sail back to Hobart! So it was quite a sensational ending, finding the landing place, the only possible one, at the eleventh hour. And a ‘God forgotten place’ it is, too! Not a speck of earth, nor a rock, or a stone to be seen! Indeed the very shore must be far distant, as we have 220 fathoms beneath us here. (Charles Harrisson, 15 February 1912)
Compiled by Tom Griffiths for the centennial voyage to Commonwealth Bay on Aurora Australis in January 2012 from the following diaries of expeditioners: Fred Jacka and Eleanor Jacka, Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2008; and Nancy Robinson Flannery (ed.), This Everlasting Silence: The Love Letters of Paquita Delprat and Douglas Mawson 1911-1914, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2000; Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard, London, 1915; Louise Crossley (ed.) Trial by Ice: The Antarctic Journals of John King Davis, Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press, Norfolk, 1997; Bernadette Hince (ed.) Still no Mawson: the Antarctic diaries of Frank Stillwell, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra (forthcoming); John George Hunter, Papers, National Library of Australia; Heather Rossiter (ed.) Mawson’s Forgotten Men: The 1911-1913 Antarctic Diary of Charles Turnbull Harrisson, Pier 9, Sydney, 2011; Percival Gray, Papers, Mitchell Collection, State Library of NSW.