New Year’s Day on Polar Expeditions

January 1, 2019

















The men of Carsten Borchgrevink’s British Antarctic Expedition, 1898–1900, were at their Cape Adare hut in December, 1899, awaiting the return of their ship, ‘Southern Cross’. ‘An anxious watch’ was being kept as the shore ice was clearing. Louis Bernacchi wrote that ‘Christmas Day was hopelessly dull’ due to an appalling storm, but that ‘New Year’s Day was slightly more cheerful’.

‘…the first fine day we had had for three weeks, and a fitting one for the beginning of a new year. We lay on the roof of the hut most of the day, basking like so many seals in the genial rays of the sun.’

Borchgrevink was more romantic about the whole affair.

‘New Year’s Day broke bright and clear with the Union Jack flying merrily at the flag-staff. We turned our shirts in the morning. We looked back with sentiments of pardonable pride on the work accomplished by us during the year just sped, feeling that s the young century was rising above the horizon like the sun after the long Arctic night, so was the light of knowledge illuminating the hidden mysteries of the last terra incognita on the face of the globe. A young Antarctic day was born, and we saw a vision of many bold band of explorers in our wake, struggling on towards the goal of scientific certainty.’

Fougner, Evans and Colbeck working inside the Cape Adare hut in November, 1899. (Scott Polar Research Institute)

In the afternoon of 1 January,1900, the men had a rifle shooting competition with the target at a distance of 150 yards. After ten shots each, Borchgrevink was the clear winner with sixty-five points.

 L. Bernacchi. To the Polar Regions Expedition of 1898-1900.

C. E. Borchgrevink. First on the Antarctic Continent: Being an Account of the British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900.



In late-December, 1901, Captain Scott and the expedition crew aboard ‘Discovery’ were on the final leg of their voyage to Antarctica. Scott felt ‘exceptionally fortunate’ for the ‘continuance of fine weather’ over the last days of the year. On 31 December, they were at latitude 61° South and met with a thick fog, ‘one of the commonest evils in these latitudes’, that lasted until the afternoon of the 2 January, 1902.

Starboard view of ‘Discovery’ in pack ice. (Scott Polar Research Institute)

To celebrate New Year’s Day, 1902, Scott broke out rations of whisky punch and lime. Some milestones were passed in the coming days—the expedition encountered its first iceberg on the afternoon of 2 January, and ‘Discovery’ crossed the Antarctic Circle the following day, 3 January.

R. F. Scott. The Voyage of Discovery Vol. I.

R. Fiennes. Captain Scott.



Having passed the 82° South parallel on 28 December, 1902, the three-man polar team of the ‘Discovery’ was coming to the end of its southern trek. ‘We have almost shot our bolt’, Scott wrote but he was not satisfied with a ‘furthest south’ position of 82° South. The men were confined to their tents by a blizzard on 29 December but made progress the next day, recording a position of 82° 15’ South at lunchtime. On 30 December, Scott and Wilson skied on, leaving Shackleton in the tent—he admitted that he had ‘slight scurvy symptoms’. The two men explored an inlet that lay ahead of them, collected geological samples and took one last reading of their position of 82° 17’ South. Scott later wrote the following:

‘Whilst one cannot help a deep sense of disappointment in reflecting on the “might have been” had our team remained in good health, one cannot but remember that even as it is we have made a greater advance towards a pole of the earth than has ever yet been achieved by a sledge party.’

Scott and Wilson at the ‘Discovery’ expedition’s farthest south (R. F. Scott. The Voyage of Discovery Vol. II)

On New Year’s Eve, 1902, the three men turned around to begin their return journey. That evening in the tent, Shackleton knocked over the hoosh pot. When every last drop is crucial, there was immediate worry.

‘There was an awful moment when we thought some of it was going to run away on to the snow; luckily it all remained on our waterproof floorcloth, and by the time we had done scraping I do not think that any was wasted.’

Scott described their march of 1 January, 1903, as ‘likely to be a sample of those which will follow for many a day to come’. As Ranulph Fiennes has written, they then ‘faced the classic race against time that is the anticipated risk of all such finely tuned return journeys. Speed of travel set against rate of food expenditure equals an outcome of either death by starvation or just reaching base.’

The exhausted men averaged eight miles a day over the next few days. Their dogs, however, were poorly. ‘The state of our dog team is now quite pitiable; with a very few exceptions they cannot pretend to pull’, wrote Scott.

R. F. Scott. The Voyage of Discovery Vol. II.

R. Fiennes. Captain Scott.

M. Smith. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.



Ernest Shackleton’s ship ‘Nimrod’ arrived at Lyttelton, New Zealand, on 23 November, 1907. There was much to do, including the loading of the dogs and Manchurian ponies onto the ship.

Shackleton and members of the expedition were treated to a semi-private dinner on 30 December, 1907, given at the Canterbury Club. The preparations ‘involved an enormous amount of work’ but everything was ready by New Year’s Eve.

Crowds as high as 50,000 spectators crowded the wharves of Lyttelton to wave the expedition off. ‘Nimrod’ left the harbour at 4pm on her own steam. The steamers ‘Waikare’ and ‘Manuka’ accompanied ‘Nimrod’ out of the harbour. Both were packed with passengers waving and striving to get a good view of the expedition’s departure. Shackleton was given a megaphone and said that ‘the expedition will never forget the send-off you have given us…I am deeply touched’. In a final statement of thanks to the government and people of New Zealand, Shackleton said:

‘Let me just say on the immediate eve of my departure, that I appreciate very, deeply indeed the sympathy and assistance that we have received from the dominion of New Zealand… on behalf of the staff, officers and crew of the ‘Nimrod’, that we will do our utmost to merit the confidence that has been placed in us, the generosity that has been bestowed upon us and the desire that has been shown in all quarters to help us. Whether we win to our heart’s desire or whether we fall short of the goal, we hope to bring back some results that will be of value, not only in the patriotic sense, but also to science…’

Crowds gathered for the departure of ‘Nimrod’ from Lyttelton. (Photograph by Sir Joseph James Kinsey. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, National Library New Zealand.)

The Union Steamship Company’s 1,100-ton, steel-built steamer, ‘Koonya’, under the command of Captain F. P. Evans, towed ‘Nimrod’ to within the Antarctic Circle. The Government of New Zealand paid half the cost of the tow, and Sir James Mills, chairman of the Union Steamship Company, offered to pay the other half.

New Years Day, 1908, then, represented the start of the voyage to Antarctica for Shackleton and his British Antarctic Expedition.

‘For me [Shackleton] this day brought a feeling of relief, after all the strenuous work of the previous year, though the new work I was entering upon was fraught with more anxiety and was more exacting than any that had gone before. We all looked forward eagerly to our coming venture, for the glamour of the unknown was with us and the South was calling.’

The Star, 2 January, 1908.

E. H. Shackleton. The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 Vol. I.

M. Smith. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.



Jean-Baptiste Charcot’s Second French Antarctic Expedition, 1908-1910, aboard ‘Pourquoi-Pas?’ left Punta Arenas 16 December, 1908. At midnight, at the beginning of 1909, ‘every bell on board, the foghorns and the phonographs gave forth their sounds in a deafening discord to welcome the New Year.’ The crew ate grapes that had been given to the expedition, especially for the celebratory, good-luck tradition, by M. Blanchard at Punta Arenas. The freshness of the grapes was worth comment:

‘Packed in sawdust, they had already made the journey from Malaga, so that they are of a certain age; and yet they taste as if they had just been picked.’

Spring Quarters of Charcot and ‘Pourquoi-Pas’, 1909. (J. Charcot. (Translated by Philip Walsh.) The Voyage of the ‘Why Not?’ in the Antarctic: The Journal of the Second French South Polar Expedition, 1908-1910.)

Later on that day, 1 January, 1909, the expedition discovered a cove (65° 11′ South 64° 10′ West) on the southeast side of Petermann Island, which they named Port Circumcision as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ was upon that day.

J. Charcot. (Translated by Philip Walsh.) The Voyage of the ‘Why Not?’ in the Antarctic: The Journal of the Second French South Polar Expedition, 1908-1910.

Cool Antarctica. Jean-Baptiste Charcot – Pourquoi-Pas? Second French Antarctic Expedition 1908-1910.



On 26 December, 1908, the four men (Shackleton, Wild, Marshall & Adams) of the ‘Nimrod’ polar team began their march on the Antarctic Plateau, having reached the end of the Beardmore Glacier. New Year’s Eve was ‘the hardest day we have had almost’, as Shackleton wrote. After the day’s struggle, the men were at latitude 86° 54’ South and an altitude of 10,477 feet. ‘We all get iced-up about our faces, and are on the verge of frost-bite all the time’. Marshall had taken their body temperatures on 29 December to find that all four men registered as three degrees below normal.

Adams, Marshall and Wild stand at their tent on the Antarctic Plateau, Christmas Day, 1908. (Scott Polar Research Institute)

The terrain they faced was very soft snow and their work was made harder by the high altitude. On 1 January, 1909, the men travelled eleven miles and at 6pm they stood at 87° 6½’ South. This was a higher latitude than any human had ever achieved, north or south. New Year’s Day and their success should’ve been cause for celebration but, as Shackleton wrote, all four men were ‘done up and weak from want of food’. Shackleton was leading from the front and pushing himself to the limits. He only had the energy to write a few lines that evening and wrote that his head was ‘too bad to write much’.

E. H. Shackleton. The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 Vol. I.

M. Smith. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.



At noon, 31 December, 1910, Roald Amundsen’s expedition aboard ‘Fram’ was in latitude 62° 15′ S, Antarctica-bound.

‘We had reached the end of the old year, and really it had gone incredibly quickly. Like all its predecessors, the year had brought its share of success and failure; but the main thing was that at its close we found ourselves pretty nearly where we ought to be to make good our calculations—and all safe and well. Conscious of this, we said good-bye to 1910 in all friendliness over a good glass of toddy in the evening, and wished each other all possible luck in 1911.’

‘Fram’ at Bay of Whales (Fram Museum)

At 3am, 1 January, 1911, Amundsen was alerted that the first iceberg had been spotted by the watch. Though the last thing a sailor wants is to see icebergs, the men greeted it with excitement:

‘The meeting with the imposing colossus had another significance that had a stronger claim on our interest—the pack-ice could not be far off. We were all longing as one man to be in it; it would be a grand variation in the monotonous life we had led for so long, and which we were beginning to be a little tired of.’

R. Amundsen. The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram’, 1910-1912 Vol. I.



Captain Scott’s ship, ‘Terra Nova’, left Port Chalmers, New Zealand, 29 November, 1910, but on 10 December she met the Ross Sea’s pack ice and was halted. The ship moved slowly through the pack and the delay was the cause of much frustration for Scott. Frank Debenham later noted a conversation with Scott:

‘Talking to Capt. Scott about it he told me he thought our slow passage through the pack was due to our starting so early in the season and due to rank bad luck.’

‘Terra Nova’ delayed in the pack ice, 13 December, 1910. (Scott Polar Research Institute)

The change came on Thursday, 29 December, when the ship was able to progress well. By the next day ‘Terra Nova’ was out of the pack.

‘We are out of the pack at length and at last; one breathes again and hopes that it will be possible to carry out the main part of our programme, but the coal will need tender nursing.’

Throughout New Year’s Eve, Saturday, 31 December, 1910, Scott was concerned for the ponies onboard the ship and was anxious to keep track in smooth waters. At 4am, 1 January, 1911, ‘Terra Nova’ was steaming slowly to the south-east.

‘The wind having gone to the S.W. and fallen to force 3 as we cleared the ice, we headed into a short steep swell, and for some hours the ship pitched most uncomfortably. At 8 A.M. the ship was clear of the ice and headed south with fore and aft sail set.’

She lay easier in this course but still experienced much motion. Captain Lawrence Oates reported, however, that the ponies were ‘taking it pretty well’. The watch sighted Mount Erebus of Ross Island during New Year’s Day and Scott headed straight for Cape Crozier, his intended base camp. The evening and night of the first day of 1911 was ‘absolutely calm, with glorious bright sunshine.’ Members of the expedition were sunning themselves at 11pm. Scott sat on deck, however, reading.

The expedition arrived off Ross Island on 4 January, 1911.

R. F. Scott. Scott’s Last Expedition Vol. I.

R. Fiennes. Captain Scott.



Having reached the South Pole on 14 December, 1911, the five Norwegians began their return journey on 18 December. They passed 87° South on 30 December and were approaching the Devil’s Ballroom and Devil’s Glacier. The following day, New Year’s Eve, was ‘brilliantly fine—temperature -22° F.—with a good breeze’. The team reached the Devil’s Glacier on 1 January, 1912, but arrived at a different spot and avoided the Devil’s Ballroom completely.

‘We were extraordinarily lucky on our homeward trip; we escaped the Devil’s Ballroom altogether. On January 1 we ought, according to our reckoning, to reach the Devil’s Glacier, and this held good.’

Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting at the South Pole. Olav Bjaaland took the photograph. (R. Amundsen. The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram’, 1910-1912, Vol. II)

The men were not totally certain of their location and needed to direct themselves to their next depot. Olav Bjaaland was the only one who had a different reading of their situation.

‘The Captain [Amundsen] thinks we are East of the depot…so do the others[Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel & Oscar Wisting]. I, on the other hand, believe just as firmly that we are a little to the West. Tomorrow we shall see.’

R. Huntford. Scott and Amundsen.

R. Amundsen. The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the ‘Fram’, 1910-1912 Vol. II.



The polar team of Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ expedition had reached the end of the Beardmore Glacier on 20 December, 1911, and they laid the Upper Glacier Depot at Lat. 85° 7′, Long. 163° 4′, about 8,000 feet above sea level.

The five men of the first supporting group (Edward L. Atkinson, Charles S. Wright, Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Patrick Keohane) were sent back by Scott on 22 December, 1911. Scott wrote the following: ‘All are disappointed poor Wright rather bitterly, I fear. I dreaded this necessity of choosing nothing could be more heartrending.’

Cherry-Garrard, Bowers, Keohane, Crean and Wilson foundering in soft snow on the Beardmore Glacier, 13 December, 1911. (Photograph by Scott. Scott Polar Research Institute)

Three Degree Depot was laid on Sunday, 31 December, 1911. Petty Officers Edgar Evans and Tom Crean were busy throughout the evening dismantling their sledging and shortening them from twelve feet to ten feet. This took longer than expected and Evans badly injured his hand. Lieutenant Teddy Evans recorded their latitude at 86° 56’ South. The men had an extra brew of tea later in the night and Scott was up until about 2am writing and working.

New Year’s Day, Monday, 1 January, 1912, began at 7.30am for the remaining polar team when Scott roused them from their sleep. They moved out at 9.30am and, after some initial trouble with their skis, they were steadily climbing all day.

‘We have been rising again all day, but the slopes are less accentuated. I had expected trouble with ski and hard patches, but we found none at all. ‘

The core polar team, with whom Scott intended to continue all the way the Pole, were comfortable that evening in their double tent. They had a stick of chocolate to celebrate the new year. Not all was well—’The supporting party not in very high spirits, they have not managed matters well for themselves.’ The day, however, seemed to end on a good note:

‘Prospects seem to get brighter only 170 miles to go and plenty of food left.’

R. F. Scott. Scott’s Last Expedition Vol. I.

R. Fiennes. Captain Scott.

Scott vs. Amundsen: A day-by-day account of the race to the South Pole.



In December, 1914, Shackleton was leading ‘Endurance’ through the ice of the treacherous Weddell Sea. Progress was slow as the ship confronted areas of dense pack ice. The expedition crossed the Antarctic Circle on 30 December, 1914, but had a ‘serious encounter with the ice’ on the morning of 31 December and by noon the ship was jammed between tow floes. The situation improved throughout the day as Frank Worsley endeavoured to track out a course through the ice form the vantage point of the crow’s nest.

Looking south over the frozen sea, January, 1915
Three men of ‘Endurance’ looking south over the pack ice, January, 1915. (Photograph by Hurley. Scott Polar Research Institute)

At midnight, there was a clamorous ringing of the ship’s bells to mark the new year. Worsley came down from the crow’s nest and ‘met Wild, Hudson, and myself [Shackleton] on the bridge, where we shook hands and wished one another a happy and successful New Year.’

E. H. Shackleton. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917.

M. Smith. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.



In December, 1914, the progress of the ‘Aurora’ and the Ross Sea party of Shackleton’s expedition were about three weeks behind its intended schedule. Aware that they needed to make up for lost time, Commander Mackintosh ordered ‘Aurora’ to finally sail for the Antarctic from Hobart on 24 December, 1914. The last outpost of human habitation, Macquarie Island, came into view on 29 December and Lionel Hooke, the expedition’s wireless telegraph operator, went ashore the next day as there was a wireless station on the island that had been established by Douglas Mawson in 1911.

Canvas boots and woollen leggings belonging to Andrew Keith Jack during the 1914-17 Antarctic Expedition. (State Library of Victoria)

From Shackleton’s book, ‘South!’:

‘The Aurora had some stores for the Macquarie Island party, and these were sent ashore during succeeding days in the boats. The landing-place was a rough, kelp-guarded beach, where lay the remains of the New Zealand barque Clyde. Macquarie Island anchorages are treacherous, and several ships engaged in the sealing and whaling trade have left their bones on the rocky shores, where bask great herds of seals and sea-elephants.’

On 31 December, 1914, Mackintosh ordered ‘Aurora’ to steam away from Macquarie Island. Andrew Keith Jack was at the wheel and he later wrote that they had ‘severed our last link with civilisation’.

K. Tyler-Lewis. The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party.

E. H. Shackleton. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917.



For the men of Shackleton’s Weddell Sea party, New Year’s Day, 1916, was spent at their new temporary home of Patience Camp. Having begun the hard struggle of a march across the ice floes (pulling along two life boats behind them), the march was called off on 29 December, 1916. Some of the men returned to their recently abandoned Ocean Camp to retrieve belongings, supplies and gear left behind.

From Shackleton’s book, ‘South!’:

‘The apathy which seemed to take possession of some of the men at the frustration of their hopes was soon dispelled. Parties were sent out daily in different directions to look for seals and penguins. We had left, other than reserve sledging rations, about 110 lbs. of pemmican, including the dog-pemmican, and 300 lbs. of flour. In addition there was a little tea, sugar, dried vegetables, and suet. I sent Hurley and Macklin to Ocean Camp to bring back the food that we had had to leave there. They returned with quite a good load, including 130 lbs. of dry milk, about 50 lbs. each of dog-pemmican and jam, and a few tins of potted meats. When they were about a mile and a half away their voices were quite audible to us at Ocean Camp, so still was the air.’

Hurley and Shackleton at Patience Camp. (Scott Polar Research Institute)

The men of the expedition were restless and the end of march was disappointing and depressing for some. Shackleton was starting the feel the fatigue and stress of his situation but he continued to exude positivity and caution. Michael Smith has written:

‘Shackleton, in fact, had been under intense strain for months, He was on the go constantly, barking orders or trying to breathe hope into the company without ever showing outwards signs of his fears or anxieties. His self-control was remarkable and it was still apparent to everyone how little he seemed to sleep.’

E. H. Shackleton. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917.

M. Smith. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer.



In their second depot-laying season, the Ross Sea Party were bringing the intended supplies from Cape Evans to Hut Point. The ten stranded men had all reached Bluff Depot at 78° 52’ South, 169° 05’ East on 28 December, 1915. The next day Ernest Joyce’s team left for the Rocky Mountain Depot at 80° 02’ South, 169° 25’ East to haul 2,000 pounds of supplies forward. Joyce was confident in the health and ability of his dogs, however.

The journey between 79° and 80° was treacherous, stormy and unpredictable. On 31 December, 1915, the ten men camped near each other. Joyce and Commander Mackintosh discussed plans to advance the supplies to the further depots at 81°, 82° and 83° South.

From Kelly Tyler-Lewis’s book ‘The Lost Men’:

‘[Irwin Owen] Gaze celebrated the new year with [Rev. Arnold] Spencer-Smith and [Andrew Keith] Jack. As usual, he produced an unlikely array of delectable: gentlemen’s relish, pate, and a stack of books. After the cheerless Christmas on the march, their reunion was the most welcome gift of all, and they kept up an excited stream of talk for hours about evolutionary theory, religion, and, inevitably, home.’

The Mount Hope sledging party. (L-R) Victor Hayward, Ernest Joyce, Harry Ernest Wild and Richard Richards, with dogs Gunner and Towser. Canterbury Museum, Ernest Edward Mills Joyce Collection.

On 1 January, 1916, the parties broke camp for the next stage of the depot-laying.

K. Tyler-Lewis. The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party. 

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