Desperate times

This was the low point of the year. In the depths of winter, with no immediate prospect of relief, the Macquarie Islanders — scientist and sealer alike — faced a miserable time.

The constant intake of seal meat (chiefly the hearts, livers and tongues) had given the men severe constipation. Hamilton and Sawyer were suffering from bleeding piles, and Blake was feeling the strain from his hard physical work on a purely meat diet, as he recorded on 4 August:

Topographical work today. Will finish next fine day thank goodness. Am beginning to feel it a bit now climbing about the hills on meat “straight”.

Then, a breakthrough. On 9 August, a telegraph advised that the New Zealand government steamer Tutanekai would take the stores from Rachel Cohen on 15 August and sail directly for Macquarie.

The news provided Arthur Sawyer with an option he could not pass up. Suffering from various digestive disorders, he told Ainsworth he wished to return to civilisation aboard Tutanekai. It was a request Ainsworth felt he could not refuse: asked by Eitel if he could manage without an operator, ‘after consulting with Sandell, I answered that Sandell and I together could manage to run the wireless station.’

The sense of relief was tempered by the knowledge that in the meantime life would continue as before. Ainsworth wrote that ‘we found ourselves with nothing but sea elephant meat and sago, with a pound-tin of French beans once a week and two ounces of oatmeal every morning.’