An unexpected extension

For most of their first year, the Macquarie Island party expected to be on the island until the end of March 1913, a little over 15 months. They had landed with barely enough provisions to take them through to then. In November 1912 an unexpected visit from Aurora, bringing a few extra supplies, gave them some breathing space, but the disappearance of the two remaining sheep of their original flock was a setback.

A two-way wireless link with Cape Denison — after a year of trying — on 20 February brought only bad news — the deaths of Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz on a sledging expedition. Even then, however, the Macquarie party did not anticipate any change in plans for their evacuation.

With the discovery a week later that sugar was in short supply the men readily agreed to restrict themselves to a pound each per week. ‘The arrangement,’ wrote Ainsworth, ‘had its drawbacks, inasmuch as no sugar was available for cooking unless a levy were made. Thus puddings became rarities, because most of us preferred to use the sugar in tea and coffee.’

Then, on 7 March 1913, came the fateful wireless message. From Cape Denison, Mawson told his Macquarie party that he and six companions had to remain in Antarctica for another season. Ainsworth read to his party Mawson’s message, ‘stating the necessity for keeping Macquarie Island station going till the end of the year’. He gave them a week to decide whether to return aboard the sealing vessel Rachel Cohen in a month’s time or stay until November to be collected by Aurora.

The prospect of another year focused Ainsworth’s attention on the food stores. His check revealed that apart from sugar, milk, kerosene, meats and coal were in short supply, and that while flour would last a couple more months, the butter allowance would have to be reduced. Two days later the men found the lost sheep and killed one for meat, but soon afterwards lost the sole remaining one in a bog-hole.

They had their decision to make. They had to balance the uncertain reward of a possible visit to Antarctica at the end of their stay against the prospect of a very pinched existence for many months. All of them decided to remain on the island, providing Cape Denison with its wireless link to Australia, until the end of the year.