The ship arrives
Davis, too, had harboured grave concerns about the Western Party. He had departed Cape Denison believing he would be fortunate to penetrate the ice to reach them and then get out of it again. As Aurora approached the Shackleton Ice Shelf, as Davis wrote later:
…as if by magic, the snow ceased to fall and with uplifted hearts we stood in toward the western base. As we drew nearer we caught sight of Wild and his comrades. Eight figures. I understood then, the feelings of the old Arctic explorer who had bestowed the name of Thank God Harbour upon the place of his deliverance from tribulations. They were all safe!
Laseron, returning home from Cape Denison, was at the rail as the ship approached the fast ice.
At its edge stood a number of figures, some of whom we could see waving their arms. We rubbed our eyes and counted again. There should have been eight, but here were twenty or more. Then as the distance lessened, the figures separated into two groups. Eight of them were men, the others Emperor penguins.
The two parties – ship and shore – had difficulty recognising faces. Laseron noted the ‘year’s growth of hair and beard, and… the effect of a year’s exposure’ on the faces of Wild and his men.
There was anxiety mixed with the good cheer, as Harrisson noted, at the prospect that not all the ship’s news would be good. ‘The bowsprit came over the ice, Adams dropped down with a line, & in reply to Wild’s anxious questions told us that part of the First Party had been left behind – that Ninnis and Mertz were dead! Poor lads – they were fine fellows both of them.’
Davis was relieved to find that Wild, the former mariner and old Antarctic hand, was prepared for a rapid departure, having sledges loaded with gear on the sea ice, ready to be lifted on board. Then it was ‘a bit to eat, chatting round the table, all in high spirits’ as the ship set off, at 9 pm on 23 February. Noted Harrisson:
Up for a last look. Dark twilight, sky still glowing, moon in E showing thro broken cloud. The dim white line of the cliffs – & above the bright ‘mast-head’ light, that Wild had hoisted before leaving. The light shining there, the last we saw of the year’s home.
See this extract from Harrisson’s diary [PDF], describing the arrival of the Aurora to relieve the party, 11 & 12 March 1912. © Harrisson Papers, Mitchell Collection, State Library of NSW