Getting the house in order

When the six-member Southern sledging party departed in mid-March, Alexander Kennedy and Andrew Watson were left behind at the winter quarters. With their colleagues away having the adventure of their lives, the pair knuckled down to get things organised at home.

Just before the party’s departure, the group had a sharp reminder of the transitory nature of the ice shelf that had become their home. George Dovers, while fetching dog biscuits from the remaining cache near the cliff edge, watched a ‘great mass’ of ice fall from the sea cliffs of the ice shelf, breaking up sea ice below.

‘With the bay-ice gone and merely a perpendicular cliff of 60 to 100 feet high along the sea front,’ wrote Wild, ‘opportunities for obtaining seals and penguins for food were greatly restricted.’ Perhaps more significantly, the stores remaining where they had been deposited after unloading from the ship suddenly looked vulnerable.

So the first task for Kennedy and Watson was to get the dogs to help in getting remaining stores to the safety of the Hut. Two days were enough to train five of the dogs to pull in the same direction, so they were put to work hauling the stores from the cliff to the Hut, a distance of 600metres.

The men found the weather conditions very trying — they were confined indoors much of the time the Southern party was away — but managed to complete 124 traverses backwards and forwards. The total distance covered was more than 145 kilometres — well over half the distance covered by the sledging party.

The first blizzard had broken both the wireless masts, made of poor, knotty timber. The pair managed to re-erect one of the masts, but it was only 10 metres high. In the end it didn't matter. The amateur wireless technicians among the party discovered eventually that the equipment could not work because vital parts were missing.

The isolation of the Western Party was complete.