South Georgia Newsletter, November 2011

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- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

Antarctic Legend Laid To Rest At Grytviken

Frank Wild
Frank Wild

In a moving ceremony in the old whalers' church and white-picketed graveyard in the now-derelict Grytviken Whaling Station the ashes of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s trusted lieutenant Frank Wild were finally laid to rest alongside The Boss on November 27th.

Wild sailed to Antarctica four times with Shackleton between 1902 and 1922 on the “Discovery”, the “Nimrod”, the “Quest” and the legendary “Endurance” expedition, perhaps the greatest of all maritime sagas of survival. When Shackleton sailed a small lifeboat 1200 km across the Southern Ocean to seek rescue, he left Wild in charge of the remaining 22 men on desolate Elephant Island. Shackleton finally returned five months later to find all still alive, bolstered by Wild’s confidence in Shackleton not to let him down.

Shackleton died on the “Quest” and was buried in Grytviken in 1922; Wild died in South Africa in 1939. He wished to be cremated and buried alongside his beloved leader but WWII intervened. Then his ashes were lost. Only this year did British historian and author Angie Butler find them in a crypt in Johannesburg. The ashes were carried by Butler, accompanied by some of Wild’s great nieces and nephews and the Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, Sir Ernest’s granddaughter. They sailed from Ushuaia to South Georgia via the Falkland Islands aboard One Ocean Expeditions’ “Akademik Ioffe” with 100 passengers.

Reverend Richard Hines addresses the congregation.
Reverend Richard Hines addresses the congregation.

The casket containing the polar explorer's ashes was accompanied by a replica of Wild's four bar polar medal. Photos SGHT.
The casket containing the polar explorer's ashes was accompanied by a replica of Wild's four bar polar medal. Photos SGHT.

The simple church ceremony was performed by Rev. Richard Hines, the Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, Stanley, FI. As well as the ship's passengers and crew, staff from the science base, museum and the crew of the “Pharos SG” and others attended. After the ceremony a procession made its way through the ruins of the whaling station and past wallowing elephant seals, gleaming king penguins and snapping fur seals to the tiny graveyard. There, a grave had been dug in the peat and Julie George, a great niece from Melbourne, Australia, placed the urn containing Wild’s ashes in their final resting place next to Shackleton.

Photo Sam Crimmin.
Photo Sam Crimmin.

Photo SGHT.
Photo SGHT.

The tradition for every ship’s crew into Grytviken is to go first to Shackleton’s grave and have a toast and pour a libation on his grave. For the first time there was a new ritual – a toast to both Shackleton and Wild together again, and forever, 90 years later.

By David MacGonigal

Ernest Shackleton said of Frank Wild, “He is my other self. I love him like a brother”.

Author of a new biography, “The Quest for Frank Wild”, Angie Butler bought the explorer's ashes from South Africa. On the trip to South Georgia she was accompanied by six of Wild’s extended family members, including 2 great-nephews, a great-niece, and a great-great niece. Passing through Stanley the party were invited to afternoon tea at Government House by the Acting Governor, Ric Nye.

There was a good deal of media interest in the interment. Travelling on the “Akademik Ioffe” were several film crews, representatives of BBC television and radio, and journalists writing for the UK Guardian and Telegraph newspapers as well as those writing for various travel magazines and other publications.

Also travelling with the party was Mike Wain, owner of Wild's polar medal. A replica of the polar medal, one of only two awarded with four clasps, was placed besides the wooden casket holding the explorer's ashes in Grytviken church.

Of the day's events Wild's great nephew Martin Francis said: "It's a bit of fulfilment to get Frank where he wanted to be, I'm pretty happy."

A BBC documentary about the life of Frank Wild including the interment of his ashes in South Georgia will be shown BBC2 in April.

Norwegian Pledge

In a gesture to mark the centenary of the first expeditions to the South Pole by Norwegian and British explorers, the respective Governments have announced a £600,000 fund for collaborative projects in the year ahead, which will include cultural heritage projects at Husvik, Grytviken and Leith as well as work on krill in the Southern Ocean.

In announcing the fund, Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, were underlining their commitment to enhance their government's cooperation in the Polar Regions. The announcement follows the signing of a joint statement by Prime Ministers Jens Stoltenberg and David Cameron on January 19th on building a bilateral and global partnership.

A krill and ecology project will see the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Polar Research Institute, and other relevant institutes collaborate on researching the Scotia Sea krill-based ecosystem.

The two Governments say they will identify opportunities for practical cooperation to effectively and appropriately conserve the industrial archaeology and legacy of the early Norwegian whalers and sealers operating on South Georgia. Priority projects will be to: plan to repair, and remove asbestos from, the Manager's Villa at Husvik; also at Husvik, to produce specification and budget for vessel and site survey on the old whale-catcher “Karrakatta”; at Leith, to draw up a progress plan and costing for a virtual guide and other recording of buildings; and at Grytviken, to develop a management plan for the remaining buildings, and management and improvements to the church and cemetery. Other projects include work on: recording oral history of former whalers; documentation and archives; and developing an educational outreach programme.

Commenting after the signing, the Foreign Secretary said: "I am delighted that Foreign Minister Støre and I have been able to sign this important arrangement which celebrates the centenary of Amundsen and Scott’s expeditions to the South Pole. The spirit of exploration and the dedication to discovery demonstrated by the early explorers of the 20th century left a legacy of scientific excellence, which both our countries continue to this day. The UK and Norway continue to share close common values for the future protection of the Polar Regions and we are delighted to collaborate with them closely on a range of projects of mutual interest".

More information on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website here.

Norway's Foreign Secretary Jonas Gahr Store and Foreign Secretary Hague. Photo FCO
Norway's Foreign Secretary Jonas Gahr Store and Foreign Secretary Hague. Photo FCO

The Successful Eradication Of Rats From Grass Island

By Sally Poncet

Grass Island was first confirmed as being rat-free in 2002, after a baiting operation was carried out in November 2000. This was the first attempt at rat eradication at South Georgia, and the operation, which was financed and managed by GSGSSI, has paved the way for the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s (SGHT) current restoration plans for the whole of South Georgia.

The first post-baiting check for Grass Island was carried out in March 2002, two years after baiting, and no evidence of rats or rat sign was found (chew-sticks deployed for 12 months were untouched and no droppings, burrows, chewed tussac or rat runs were seen). A second check in December 2003 also revealed no sign, but even better evidence came two years later when the first South Georgia pipits were sighted on the island: two pairs were seen and suspected to be breeding. On a visit in November 2006, 2 male pipits were seen aerially singing, and several new white-chinned petrel burrows were found in areas where none had been previously recorded. In February 2008 two birds were present, one carrying food in its beak, and further confirming the breeding status of the species on Grass Island.

The risk of rats re-invading Grass Island by swimming the 350m of water that separates the island from the nearest rat-infested mainland area on Tonsberg Point was recognized at the time the island was baited. However, the separation distance was considered to be a sufficient barrier to re-invasion, in the short-term at least. With eleven years now elapsed since baiting, a visit on November 28th provided the opportunity to check for possible re-invasion and also to monitor the pipit population on the island. Andy Black, Sally Poncet, Anton Wolfaardt, Leigh-anne Wolfaardt and Tom Hart were landed by “Pharos SG” and searched the island for rat sign and pipits. The team was en route to fieldwork sites around the island to collect rat DNA samples and survey birds for a GSGSSI research study. The study is jointly funded by Overseas Territories Environment Programme and GSGSSI, and the results will provide key information for the SGHT’s current rat eradication project.

Poor weather conditions (continuous rain and sleet) hindered the survey, and the team was not able to cover the entire island. Nonetheless, approximately 1 km of the island’s 2.8 km of coastline was surveyed for snowy sheathbills and some of the interior was checked for rat sign and the location of pipits and brown skuas and of southern and northern giant petrel nests recorded. No rat sign was found. Two male pipits were seen and heard singing on adjacent aerial territories at the same time above the south coast summit ridge. Several other pipits were also seen and it is assumed that at least two pairs of pipits, maybe three, were breeding. The population may possibly be higher still.

White-chinned petrels now occupy burrows in a site that has been colonized since the eradication, and several South Georgia pintail were seen, including a family of ducklings (in contrast to none in 2000).

Grass Island is a fine and unique example of a successfully eradicated tussac island at South Georgia. It has the potential to be a miniature show-piece of the benefits of rat eradication, particularly now that breeding pipits are abundant enough to be seen even in adverse weather conditions. It took about 5 years for this species to colonise, the first birds being recorded in 2005, and it is thanks to these monitoring visits that we now have real evidence of the benefits of rat eradication and the importance of habitat restoration.

Reindeer Advisory Group Report

Following a wide consultation, GSGSSI took the decision in early 2011 to responsibly and humanely eradicate reindeer from South Georgia. An expert advisory group was established to inform the most appropriate way to achieve the eradication, with reference to best practice guidelines around the world. The Advisory Group published a report in November.

Initially only aerial and ground shooting were under consideration as methods for eradication the introduced reindeer. During the course of discussions, it became apparent that a third option, herding and corralling, may also be a valid proposal. It was agreed that this method should be investigated further.

The Advisory Group now suggest herding and corralling is a desirable method as it allows animals to be killed humanely under veterinary supervision, allows for the utilisation of meat and other products, and allows for the disposal of carcasses.

Herding and corralling was used in 2001 and 2002 on South Georgia to capture small numbers of reindeer for translocation to the Falkland Islands with varying degrees of success. The animals on the Busen were found to be easy to manage, with the Barff animals being “flighty” and more difficult to herd. It is likely that these difficulties will be reduced through the use of experienced reindeer herders.

Current estimates suggest that 90-95% of the population will be recoverable by herding. There will therefore be a requirement for some other form of management, either by shooting from the air or ground.

In January 2012 two Norwegian experts will visit South Georgia to reconnoitre the areas occupied by reindeer in order to better inform the development of a methodology appropriate for South Georgia. Through careful consideration of animal behaviour and terrain, the feasibility of herding and corralling as a valid method will be established definitively.

Eradication of the introduced reindeer from the two areas they inhabit is a prerequisite for eradicating rodents in those areas. This is because the deer would eat the rodent bait causing the deer to suffer or die inhumanely; poisoned bait would be unavailable to the rodents; and any deer carcasses left after consumption of poison bait would have high concentration of poison that would cause mortality amongst scavenging birds.

The reindeer have not been thoroughly censused for many years but are thought to number around three thousand reindeer in two geographically separated herds.

The 89 page document 'Report on the Outputs of the Advisory Group on Reindeer Management Methodology' can be downloaded from this website here.

Fishing and Shipping News

Nine tour ships called in at Grytviken during November including the “Akademik Ioffe” on November 27th, on the 'Wild Cruise' bringing the polar explorer's ashes to be interred at Grytviken (see above).

One charter yacht “Pelagic Australis” was in the area supporting a group of expeditioners enjoying skiing and climbing, including two mountaineers attempting to climb Mt Nordenskjold (see below).

The BAS research ship “RRS James Clark Ross” called into Cumberland Bay on the 13th to pick up and drop off passengers.

The Storied Ice - Book Review By Bob Burton

The Storied Ice: Exploration, Discovery, and Adventure in Antarctica's Peninsula Region

This is a welcome new book to the Antarctic (and South Georgia) library. It covers the history of the Antarctic Peninsula region and includes the South Shetlands and the Scotia Arc chain of South Orkneys, South Sandwiches and South Georgia. In effect, this region is the old British territory of the Falkland Islands Dependencies, but the author Joan Boothe's rationale is that it is the area covered by the cruise ships sailing out of Ushuaia. It is also the part of the Antarctic richest in history. Without having to worry about the 'Race to the Pole' conducted on the other side of the continent, Boothe can devote more space to expeditions that tend to get overlooked, especially those of Charcot, Bruce and Nordenskjöld who achieved so much in revealing the nature of Antarctica. She admits, quite reasonably, that she can cover only highlights. This is all to the good. I would rather read little-known details of the major expeditions and explorations, with all their excitements and achievements, than have to plough through a comprehensive but dull catalogue.

The story starts with the much-disputed visit of Hong Bao's junks to the South Shetlands in about 1421 and proceeds through William Smith's sighting of and subsequent landing on the South Shetland Islands, the ensuing sealers' invasion and the 'fly-by' expeditions of Bellingshausen, Dumont d'Urville, Wilkes and James Clark Ross. The bulk of the book covers the Heroic Age of de Gerlache, Charcot, Bruce, Nordenskjöld, Filchner and Shackleton and ends with the post-World War II era. The last is a difficult section to cover comprehensively because there are so many expeditions and so much politics. It's more current affairs than history! South Georgians would like more on the all-important fisheries and their regulation.

The text, and accompanying reference list and notes, show that Joan Boothe is extremely well-read and I envy the time she has spent foraging in obscure corners of Antarctic literature. I shall make an effort to find some of the writings that I was not aware of!

A problem, however, for anyone writing a general history is deciding the veracity of previous accounts. History is full of pitfalls. Original sources may differ when describing the same event (Shackleton even contradicts himself!) and errors readily creep into secondary sources when a story is retold (and I have to hold my hand up here). The story of the wreck of Endurance and the rescue of the crew has been told many times and elaborations creep into them. Boothe has accepted that the first people Shackleton, Crean and Worsley meet at Stromness were 'two small girls' even though she notes that Shackleton described them as 'boys'. Worsley describes them as 'lads of 18 or 19', and there is no reason to doubt either man. But she does not repeat the fabrications that Anton Anderson, the Stromness foreman, mistook our three heroes for drunken whalers or that the manager Thoralf Sørlle cried when Shackleton introduced himself. These are small quibbles that every author falls prey to and should not distract from the overall value of the book. A cruise ship lecturer who had an early draft used it as an 'invaluable and concise reference'. So shall I!

The Storied Ice is published by Regent Press, Berkeley, in hardback, paperback and e-book. It has 373 pages and approximately 100 black and white illustrations and over 30 maps.

One of the illustrations from the book.
One of the illustrations from the book.

First Ascent Of Mt Nordenskjold: The Last Leviathan

By Crag Jones

The target Mt Nordenskjold seen from the camp.
The target Mt Nordenskjold seen from the camp.

Well Nordenskjold is ‘in the bag’ so I guess the cat can be let out of it as well? This particular cat being that we think ours is the first ascent of the mountain, which at 2354m is the second highest summit on the Island.

It has for long been assumed that Christian de Marliave made the first ascent in the 80’s. However Christian is thought to have got high on the mountain but not to the summit on his bold and determined solo effort. I have to emphasise that I still have to confirm this. (* See note at end)

So, on to the gory details of how Richard Spillett and I faired in our derring-do. Two years ago we had skied from the beach but there was much less snow this year. The first day was spent thinning out our loads to two heavy packs apiece which were carried up to on to the glacier to the point where we could start using the sledges. The next day we commenced our approach proper. The ice fall was nearly completely ‘dry’ this year. Everything as hard ice with all crevasses visible and open. It became a very torturous and slow process navigating the sledges through the labyrinth. Finally we crested the ice fall and found the first skiable ribbon of snow ‘ the yellow brick road’ heading gently downwards into a collapsing basin. We donned the rope in case of suspect snow bridges and sped on, happy to be using the skis at last. As we skinned up out of the bowl my binding came off three times in quick succession. The back half of my sole unit had come completely unstuck and was uselessly flapping around. Disaster! This could scupper the entire expedition. My brain started racing; a spare pair of boots under the forward bunk on the boat! A couple of frantic calls on our Sat Phone and the boots were on their way.

Meanwhile we had established ‘Boot-Camp’. A lash-up with a prussic loop had made a surprisingly robust crampon attachment to my boot. This was holding the whole caboodle together, perhaps good enough to climb on? But if it all came apart on an exposed ridge it would be a nightmare scenario. I’d have to return to sea-level to get the spare boots.

So back down, taking a more circuitous route avoiding any soft snow and bridged crevasses. More hidden ledge systems and through passages were discovered as I descended. Everything went smoothly and I was back at the beach by mid-day. I had a quick refuel on some previously abandoned chocolate before setting off once more. I was back at boot camp by early afternoon. I was racing to beat the advancing fog to the lip of the glacier, but in the end had to stop to deal with the inevitable blisters that were developing. It was good to be back.

Navigating the labyrinth.
Navigating the labyrinth.

Next day we made an early start pulling sledges once again with crampons. We found a way through a lateral moraine that led to the toe of the ridge extending down northwards from Sheridan Peak. There is then a steep climb, just on the limit of what is possible with skins. We were soon over the lip and on to the third section of the Nordenskjold, a vast broad snow covered valley leading up alongside the western slopes of Sheridan Peak. A truly enormous wind scoop forms a moat adjoining this. We gave the dizzying drop into the wind scoop a very wide birth. Roped up again we marvelled at how skis and sledges crossed crevasse after crevasse without any breaking through, even in hot soft conditions. I knew from previous experience that terrain like this would be murderous if we were only on foot. By early afternoon we were near to our high camp from two years previously. This time we camped out on the glacier flat away from the avalanche danger and snow dumps that had done for us on that occasion.

The next morning we loaded rucksacks and climbed the long steep snowfield that led to the upper stage of the Nordenskjold Glacier. It by-passed a long and heavily crevassed ice fall to the NW. It took us two carries to get all the gear up. I trailed an empty sledge during the first carry. We had wet snow and very poor visibility all day. We reached the shoulder navigating by memory from two years ago. Returning to locate the last load was a very real test of Richards GPS skills. He navigated us right back to the dump in a complete white out.

Next morning we set a likely location by lat/long on the GPS so we could progress in the continuing whiteout. Odd breaks enabled me to remember the lay of the land. As we finally pulled on to the last flat a brief clearing enabled us to get our bearings and choose a good spot for a rest day.

We got out of bed at 2am on the 26th, getting away by around 4. The right hand side of the North face is threatened by regular serac falls. But by skirting the rocks on the left of the face you can avoid these. A convenient spindrift avalanche cone bridged the bergschrund and we were on to the face. We moved together heading up and right, aiming for the foot of a steep gully that broke through the rocks. The bottom part is the steepest. As we passed the 500’ mark we started to become aware of the worrying void. On this kind of terrain its essential to have a clear instinct for every crumbling step. As we emerged from the gully it was a relief to find the ice was slightly softer than before. Now we made quick progress. We crossed various rubble shoots and broken terrain. At last we reached the crest of the east ridge. The rock is hilariously rotten. In high winds chunks are simply blown off! All those years Richard and I had spent climbing on the shale of Devon sea cliffs were now paying dividends.

The boiling broth thickened. Soon all I could see was a thin shard of dark shale soaring skyward. Eventually this ran out leaving us with ‘white on white’. Things were now becoming a bit abstract as we started to depend on the subtle differences of whiter shades of pale. The angle of the crest was not extreme but the north side fell away very steeply. I crawled forward on my belly in the strong wind and poked my head over the south side. Oh dear, it was an impressive drop. The ice was now glass hard along the crest. The saving grace was a ribbon of wind-blown snow glued to it like a rooster’s comb. When the wind dropped we could stand up instead and balance along this precarious banister rail. Every now and then the snow comb would develop into a proper cornice an often treacherous structure can break off without warning. I was becoming increasingly aware that our progress along this perch was only possible if the winds remained low as they were. We inched onwards and after a while reached a more level section where we could walk. The mist cleared briefly and revealed bulbous overhanging ice pillars disappearing into the southern depths in a grotesque phantastagorasmiasm. If Gaudi had designed mountains, this would be one of his. Things got steeper again. We had already passed the ‘false knob’ and surmised this was the real one, a distinct lump visible from afar, high on the summit ridge. We crept over the top and down-climbed a steep pitch of pure best crystal to reach the saddle beyond. It was the sort of place where you make the final commitment to go for the top. We distinctly felt like we were space walking now, out on the upper limbs. Visibility got even worse but we knew we must be getting close and prayed there would not be horrible obstacle at the last. Richards bank of instrumentation, altimeters and GPSs were registering summit proximity. We might be in with a chance. Gradually the angle eased off and after 4000’ of climbing what look ed like a typical South Georgia summit assumed its form. We staggered up together. Everything fell away in all directions. I waited and peered through breaks in the broth to make sure there was nothing higher nearby. It was the top. We logged the point on Richards GPS it was midday. We said what was on our minds almost together; “right we’re half way there, lets get our asses off of here in one piece”.

(*) Crag, subsequent to this article, has managed to get hold of Christian de Marliave and reports that Christian had in fact got very close to the summit, effectively climbing the mountain, only stopping below the final 30meters because it was a steep summit ice ‘mushroom’ that was too dangerous for him to climb on his own. As tends to happen over the years, the configuration of such icy summit mushrooms has altered considerably and did not present Crag and Richard Spillett with any difficulties for their final step to the summit.

The full version of this report can be read here.

The summit in a whiteout.
The summit in a whiteout.

Crag and Richard safely back as sea level.
Crag and Richard safely back as sea level.

Richard and Crag haul their kit over the Nordenskjold Glacier on a pulk.

(Video and photos Crag Jones.)

Who's Eating Who

Three scientists have been based at KEP for a few weeks to carry out trawls in the coastal shallows of Cumberland Bay as part of a 'Darwin Initiative' funded project conducting a benthic survey of South Georgia.

The “RRS James Clark Ross” has been surveying selected areas around the Island in an attempt to fill in the gaps from previous benthic surveys. Chester Sands, Yana Doemel and Gabbi Stowasser were dropped by the ship at KEP to continue the work. They used a RIB to deploy a trawl inshore. Their findings will compliment the work of the Shallow Marine Diving Group to document the species present in the shallower waters around South Georgia. The two methods of recording species are very different - the divers record what they see and find inshore, often around the kelp beds. The inshore trawling may be on what looks unproductive muddy seafloor, but the samples collected show rich life in the top layer of mud. The trawl can also deploy deeper than the divers can sample.

Out trawling in a RIB
Out trawling in a RIB

As well as surveying species the scientists are trying to work out how the various species reached South Georgia.

Geologists say the ice-sheets extended over the continental shelves of Antarctica and South Georgia and so the ice would have scoured the seafloor around them clean of benthos. The period of extended glaciation is geologically recent, 18,000 years ago - too recent for the static life that now occupies the continental shelf and areas inshore to have moved back in from far remote non glaciated regions. It also means there should not be any endemic species, especially sedentary ones, but there are. Chester explained that a study of the whole Antarctic is not feasible, but South Georgia can be looked at like a smaller version of what may have happened on the Antarctic Continental shelf.

Their findings may help to resolve a mystery about how relative immobile animals have managed to colonise only recently unglaciated parts of the seafloor.

One area the three scientists are concentrating on is the area just inside the entrance moraines in the fjords. In this area there tends to be a lot more animals as the moraines protect the seafloor from ice-scour by trapping the larger icebergs. They are also finding that the shallower bays teem with small crustaceans. The scientists wonder if perhaps pockets of benthos managed to survive in a few ice-free areas and from there repopulate newly ice-free seafloor as the ice melted back. Other theories as to how the animals repopulated after the ice scour are that they used the islands in the Scotia Arc as stepping stones maybe using kelp rafting to move back, or that, in South Georgia's case, all the life returned from the deep sea.

Actually, because the biological evidence does not fit the glacial modelling, Chester suspects the geologists are wrong and that Antarctica and South Georgia were not that heavily glaciated.

Gabbi's work on foodwebs is adding an extra dimension to the survey. She is looking at what animals are eating by analysing tissue samples. The results will help them understand the importance of individual prey species in the South Georgia food web. “Everyone thinks krill are so important in the food-chain,” Chester said, “but the vast amount of benthic biomass may be eating something different such as copepods. Krill is not the only underpinning species. It is important to higher predators such as penguins and seals, but the vast majority of animals that live in the Southern ocean are not reliant on them.”

The researchers were surprised to have caught vast numbers of cumaceans (small crustaceans) in West Cumberland Bay. They have not been seen in those sort of numbers before, so the question is, who is eating them?

The work this time is a pilot study and the scientists hope to return and replicate the trawls and maybe deploy trawls in deeper water. “Knowing how the benthos came to be here may be academic,” Chester said, “but with climate change, knowing how things adapt and evolve is important for the future.”

Emptying the trawl. Photos Sam Crimmin.
Emptying the trawl. Photos Sam Crimmin.

New Stamp Issues - Frank Wild

Text by Angie Butler, author of ‘The Quest for Frank Wild’.

A new issue of stamps commemorating Polar Explorer Frank Wild was released to coincide with his ashes being interred in the Grytviken cemetery.

John Robert Francis Wild C.B.E. known as Frank, was one of the most outstanding Polar explorers of the ‘Heroic Age’. He was one of only two people to be awarded a four bar Polar Medal and each pair of stamps in this issue represent the expeditions for which he was awarded a bar.

Frank Wild was born in Skelton, Yorkshire in 1873, the second born of 13 children. His father, Benjamin, a school teacher, hoped he would follow in his footsteps but from the age of 4 Wild recalled his yearning to go to sea. At the age of 16 he joined the Merchant Navy where he remained for the next nine years, often working on “lime juicers for maximum work for minimum food and wages.” His capacity for hard, honest work in the harshest of conditions paved the way for his acceptance into the Royal Navy shortly followed by being selected from 3,000 naval recruits to join Robert Falcon Scott’s “Discovery” expedition of 1901 (2 x 60p).

During a sledging foray in 1902, a young seaman, George Vince, slipped and disappeared over an ice cliff into the sea never to be seen again. Three more of the party nearly met the same fate when Wild, who had hammered nails into the soles of his boots, managed to halt their passage. It was typical of his quick thinking and exceptional capacity to stay calm at all times.

In 1909 Wild joined the “Nimrod” expedition (2 x 70p) and was chosen to join Shackleton on the attempt on the South Pole. Beating all records they got within only ninety-seven miles of the Pole when forced to turn back. On the return journey, some seven hundred miles of appalling exhaustion and hunger, Wild and Shackleton’s relationship was cemented. “S[hackleton] privately forced upon me his one breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another tonight had I allowed him. I do not suppose that anyone else in the world can thoroughly realise how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this; I do, and by God I shall never forget. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that one biscuit."

In spite of Scott’s pressing invitations to join him on what was to be his fateful “Terra Nova” expedition, Wild joined the Australian, Mawson on the “Aurora” (2 x 95p) and took charge of the Western party of seven men, surviving for a year on an ice shelf, named the Shackleton Ice Shelf.

In 1914 he joined Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition (2 x £1.15) in an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. Eventually the “Endurance” was crushed and sank in the Weddell Sea and Wild displayed outstanding fortitude and leadership when Shackleton entrusted him with the 21 men stranded on Elephant Island.

On his return, Wild was commissioned Lieutenant in R.N.V.R. and sent to Archangel to supervise the arrival of war materials. In 1918 he was released by the Admiralty to take part in an expedition under Shackleton to Spitsbergen, ostensibly to prospect for minerals but quasi-officially to establish a British presence in the area.

After the war, Wild with his great friend Dr James McIlroy, departed for Nyasaland to try their hand at farming, a venture that showed potential until Shackleton asked them to return to England and join him on the “Quest” and a foray back into the ice. Wild did not hesitate.

Tragically, Shackleton died suddenly of a heart attack on board and Wild assumed command of the ship. The following year, in 1923, with his new wife Vera Altman, Wild emigrated to South Africa to farm cotton. The farming venture failed, as did his marriage and to compound his difficulties South Africa was caught up in the grip of the Great Depression. Wild moved from job to job, often struggling to make ends meet. The privations he had endured during his expeditions took a toll on his health, yet he maintained the same calm and sagacity that had seen him through his years as an explorer.

In 1931 he married Trixie Rowbotham with whom he spent eight happy years. While working as a store-keeper on a mine in the town of Klerksdorp he suddenly died of pneumonia.

In November Frank Wild made his final journey. His ashes were interred alongside Shackleton’s grave and he has finally been re-united with his beloved ‘Boss’ in the whaler’s cemetery in Grytviken.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Bird Island Diary

By Allan Thomson, Base Commander, Bird Island BAS Research Station.

Over the last couple of months, it has been a period of transition at Bird Island as we have changed from the overwintering team to the full summer team. In September Andy Wood, Jaume Forcada and Jennifer James arrived on the FPV “Pharos SG”. Jennifer was taking over the responsibility for the albatrosses from Jennifer Lawson. Andy came along to help Jennifer in the transition and to carry on some of his own research into burrowing petrels. Jaume came to continue his studies into the leopard seals and to reinforce Mick in advance of the arrival of the rest of the seal team.

In October the rest of the team arrived on the “JCR”. This included: Allan Thomson the new Summer Base Commander; Jon Ashburner who will be taking over from Mick with responsibility for the the fur seals; Robert Lord the new technician who was taking over from Paul; and Catharine Horswill from St Andrews University who is studying macaroni penguins for her Ph.D.

“JCR” off Bird Island. Photo Andy Wood.
“JCR” off Bird Island. Photo Andy Wood.

The 'relief' was a very busy time for us all. We had the standard cargo for Bird Island to unload and 180 drums of diesel fuel for the generator. In addition we had: a Bobcat (excavator); a 10 foot container (with some of the materials for the installation of the bulk fuel facility); all the pipework for the bulk fuel facility; and all the scaffolding to repair the Special Study Beach (SSB) structures for the fur seal research which were badly damaged in recent storms.

Relief was supposed to take place over three days but Bird Island weather came into play and we only managed to unload the general cargo and fuel drums in the first two days. As light was fading and in heavy rain, and with sea conditions becoming marginal, we managed to offload the Bobcat and the container and some of the scaffolding. It was an epic day which most of those involved will remember for some time and which demonstrated the true BAS spirit of rising to a challenge and overcoming adversity.

As the weather prognosis was not suitable for the next week or so, the “JCR” went to KEP and completed a science cruise before returning. This time the weather was perfect and we managed to offload the rest of the scaffolding and the pipework. The Deck Engineer on the “JCR” could recall only two such beautiful days in about 20 years of 'reliefs' at Bird Island! As the BAS personnel on-board the “JCR” had been really busy with the science cruise, they very much appreciated some down-time between the tender loads to relax in the sun and an opportunity to visit the albatrosses in the meadows. It was a beautiful day for those leaving us and a superb last memory of their time here and there was much sadness at their departure. We all wish them very well for whatever the future may bring for them.

The Bird Island team is now nine-strong and the new members have got to know Bird Island and the wildlife, particularly the fur seals! As always, the seasonal breeding of the albatrosses, penguins and fur seals have dominated our lives. There have been opportunities for us all to get out and about to count penguins and albatrosses and to watch the build up of the fur seals. There have also been numerous social occasions including a Spanish night, Andy's birthday and a St Andrew's night, which included a Burns supper and some highland dress. The arrival of the first seal pup born on the SSB is always a time of celebration. All new pups on the SSB are marked with blond dye and it was an opportunity for us to get into the spirit of the event by participating as with the "blonding" as well!

Bird Island blondes.
Bird Island blondes.

South Georgia Snippets

Judicial Review: On Tuesday November 22nd the Supreme Court of the Falkland Islands (which has jurisdiction over South Georgia matters) dismissed an application for Judicial Review of the allocation of licences by the Director of Fisheries, Dr Martin Collins. The dismissal followed the withdrawal of the application by the claimants, Copemar SA and Beauchene Fishing Company Ltd, less than an hour before the court was due to convene. The Chief Justice further ordered that the applicants pay the costs of the respondents.

Download full note here.

GSGSSI Vacancies: Two jobs were advertised within GSGSSI on this website. GSGSSI are recruiting for an Environment Officer to be based in the Falkland Islands and a Government Officer to be based on the Island (though the closing date for applications for the Government Officer position has now passed.)

The Environmental Officer is responsible for the environmental management of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Environment Officer will focus on the terrestrial environment including: development of policy and legislation, development of management plans for Specially Protected Areas, biosecurity, non-native and invasive species management and the planning and implementation of terrestrial environmental projects. They will liaise with the UK Government on international agreements such as the Agreement on Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The Environment Officer will be responsible for managing the GSGSSI budget for environmental work, but will also be expected to work with scientific organisations to secure external funding for environmental projects on South Georgia.

You can view any available appointments here.

The Government Officer will be responsible for the administration of Government duties at KEP. Duties will include harbour administration, licensing and inspections of fishing vessels, compilation of fisheries and government reports, local management of visitors, including briefings and monitoring of biosecurity protocols, post office duties and other Government duties as required.

Tourism Monitoring: A Government Officer and one other camped for four nights at Salisbury Plain to carry out tourism monitoring. They observed landings by four cruise ships. Poor weather damaged their tents on the first day and continued windy weather throughout their stay forced them to find a more sheltered camp site in the middle of a moraine at the foot of the Grace Glacier.

Live Ordnance: An intact rifle grenade was found on a slope behind Grytviken, close to where a similar item was found a few years ago. Live ordinance left over from the war in 1982 and subsequent military activity is still occasionally found.

Rodent and Bird Surveying: A team of six fieldworkers have been deployed around the Island in three pairs to conduct rodent and bird survey work. After surveying and rat trapping in an area for a fortnight they have been moving to new areas up and down the north-east coast. They are being supported by the “FPV Pharos SG”. The work is funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Program (OTEP). This survey is being undertaken by GSGSSI as a priority project before Phase 2 of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project proceeds in 2013.

Invasive Plants: The spraying campaign of the past few years against various introduced plants has started up again this month. The bittercress at KEP and Grytviken has been sprayed, though the patch at Grytviken was found to be a lot larger than previously thought.

Searching of Grytviken for procumbent pearlwort has continued. The plant is mainly found in the centre of the old whaling station. The spraying this species last summer seems to have been effective with very little re-growth occurring.

Spraying herbicide on invasive bittercress at Grytviken.
Spraying herbicide on invasive bittercress at Grytviken.

Airdrop: The RAF, using a Hercules and a VC10 aircraft, practised their capability to do an airdrop to Cumberland Bay on November 4th. Field rations for a coming science project were dropped as a test cargo as the Hercules made one drop of one parachute. Two boats were out in the early evening to set off smoke flares from which those aboard the plane would gauge the drop zone, and to pick up the parcel and parachute. The forecast showed high winds all day which were only expected to drop sufficiently to allow the drop in the early evening. The arrival of the planes was perfect, the wind dropping just before the drop. This now rare event attracted all the locals who were not out on the two boats to gather at Hope Point to watch the show. Whilst the Hercules made its low run for the drop, the VC10 was seen circling further off.

Photo Sam Crimmin.
Photo Sam Crimmin.

Wildlife: November saw the end of the elephant seal breeding season with only two females left with pups by the end of the month. Earlier the beach at KEP had been the scene of impressive battles between the bulls for mating rights as the females came into season.

Fur seals have now started taking over the beaches and the first small black pups were born in late November with many more to come.

King Penguins are gathering, especially in cooling stream beds, to moult, and the gentoo penguins at Maiviken all have eggs and the first chicks will be hatching any day now.

Gentoo at sunset. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Gentoo at sunset. Photo Sam Crimmin.

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