Monday, 13 February 2017

Moments...in polar exploration

 ...let the Reckless come

             The centenary of Roald Amundsen’s party reaching the South Geographic Pole.



Ernest Shackleton (left), Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen meet in Philadelphia, USA, 1913. Ed Webster collection/



On 14 December 1911 Roald Amundsen, Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting and their remaining 16 huskies crossed the final stretch of what they called King Haakon VII’s Plateau to reach Polheim, ‘Home of the Pole’, the South Geographic Pole. Amundsen’s team was the first to set foot at this hallowed juncture of longitudes, fully 35 days ahead of a British expedition led by Robert Scott. The Norwegians sledged southwards from their winter base, Framheim, at near sea level on the Ross Sea barrier. They drove huskies across the Ross Ice Shelf, (making use of depots laid the previous autumn) before gaining height up the Axel Heiberg Glacier that carves through the Queen Maud Range. Once through this crevassed section of the Transantarctic Mountains Amundsen pushed on southwards across King Haakon VII Plateau to cross a high point of 3376 metres (now called Titan Dome). Though hindered at times by sastrugi, (ridges of wind-compacted snow) they generally made good time across a firm surface, gradually descending to the South Pole itself at 2835 metres. Amundsen’s men spent several days camped at the Pole, resting and skiing out in four directions, taking sun shots to make sure they were at precisely 90〫South. Leaving a tent behind with a note for Scott to deliver to the Norwegian king in case they failed to get back, they set off home, reaching Framheim with 11 dogs on 25 January 1912 - a return journey of 1600 n.m. (nautical miles) in 99 days, one day short of their original estimate. Wednesday, 12 October 2011 < previous next > Hedgehog House Roald Amundsen - polar explorer Norwegian flag, Longyearbyen, Svalbard Photo: Colin Monteath Cover of Roald Amundsen’s original Norwegian edition Sydpolen - The South Pole. Hedgehog House archive


 “ Stumbling wide at the limits of the compass 
Fur and canvas in the wilderness of pain 
You can lose your mind in the panic of snow blindness
Icy winds strike you deaf and numb - at the midnight sun. 
 None but cowards seek badges of courage
Only fools seek the trappings of fame 
There’s no conquest, just an endless striving
There’s no glory, just a restless flame.
No man’s land, white desert, ice mountains 
Beyond the pole, let the reckless come 
Bathed in light, an infinity of silence 
Cleanse the soul, leave the senses stunned - at the midnight sun.” 


Australian band Red Gum song Midnight Sun The British, meanwhile, had set out from Cape Evans, Ross Island, on 1 November 1911. In various combinations, they employed dogs, tractors, and Manchurian ponies as well as a support party of men to cross the Ross Ice Shelf on a route pioneered by Scott in 1902. Scott’s Pole party then ascended the highly crevassed and wind-polished ice of the Beardmore Glacier (discovered and traversed by Ernest Shackleton’s British Nimrod expedition in 1908) before finally reaching the South Pole on 17 January 1912. Utterly dejected at finding Amundsen’s tent and fully aware of what the loss of priority at the Pole meant for themselves and the British Empire, they set off homeward facing grim prospects. Injury, gradual starvation and a deep penetrating cold were constant companions. All five perished on the Ross Ice Shelf during February and March 1912, the final trio including Scott himself dying in their tent 11 n.m short of a depot. By then, Amundsen was in the warmth of Australia giving lectures. Over the past 100 years there has been a near-constant analysis of what is often called the ‘race to the Pole’, comparing Scott’s seemingly flawed planning with the clinical efficiency displayed by Amundsen. Whatever one’s views on the merits of relying primarily on ponies instead of huskies to travel across what can be nightmarishly soft snow on the Ross Ice Shelf, it is indisputable that dogs can be fed to dogs to keep going (Amundsen’s plan) while all the food for ponies must be carried on sledges. (In 1910 the efficiency of the tractor engine left much to be desired - although now vehicles powered by internal combustion engines make most polar journeys). Amundsen’s use of huskies and his method of travel with them proved masterful. As a great many Norwegians spend their entire youth perfecting the most refined aspects of skiing, Amundsen’s carefully selected team was able to glide almost effortlessly beside the dogs. Skiing for hour after hour was a vital skill on a journey (skis 244 cm long - extra length to help spread weight when crossing small crevasses), as it took the body weight of five men off the sledges. (Scott’s men didnt ride their sledges either but they coudn’t glide on skis as they had to constantly pull the full weight of the sledges from the front.)


 Captain Scott’s 1910-12 Cape Evans base, windcloud over Mt Erebus behind , Ross Island. Photo: Colin Monteath / Hedgehoghouse.com 

 In addition to the energy-saving nature of skiing, Amundsen’s success hinged on his reliance on wearing loose-fitting, windproof fur clothing. Heat generated by the work of skiing is retained inside fur garments and crucially, given the constant brutal cold of the Polar Plateau, excess sweating can be kept to a minimum. (Amundsen did make the mistake of depoting his crampons which could have been a costly error given the large areas of hard bare ice in Antarctica). Conversely, the British were more traditionally clad in woolens and gabardine windproofs. Outfitted this way, Scott’s party was weakened on the return leg by various factors including less and less calorific intake, in part a result of inadequate rations. There was also a lack of fuel due to leaking fuel cans which added enormous stress to the process of melting snow for hydration and cooking what food they had. Amazingly, when death stared them in the face, they failed to lighten the sledges by depoting their rock samples. This all added up to being beaten by the cold. It was prophetic that during the previous winter at Cape Evans, Scott’s right hand man, surgeon and artist Edward Wilson, painted a scene depicting the polar party - five men hauling a sledge, each wearing skis. This painting was done months before Scott made the last-minute decision to increase his party from four to five, in spite of the planned food and fuel being calculated to support four. Somehow, circumstance dictated that, for a party of five, they only took four pairs of skis. Antarctica does not forgive mistakes like that. Scott’s men achieved much in Antarctica including superb exploratory forays into the Transantarctic Mountains, ground-breaking scientific observation around Ross Island and, later, a treasure-trove of quality scientific and geographic literature with comprehensive maps. But when it came to the actual Pole journey itself, some of Scott’s thinking has to be considered muddled. Despite two winters in Antarctica and hard lessons learned on the 1901 Discovery Expedition Scott remained a ambitious Royal Navy officer without a significant aptitude or affinity for dealing with polar terrain. One of Scott’s men, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who later wrote the time-honoured classic The Worst Journey in the World, described the Pole party as ‘They were an Epic’. Manhauling sledges in the polar regions can be surprisingly efficient but it can also be brutally hard work, especially with heavy sledges, poor snow conditions or battling into strong winds.

To read more, go to Colin Monteath's website and to view his wonderful photographs.

http://www.colinmonteath.com/Colin_Monteath/Moments/Entries/2011/10/12_...let_the_Reckless_come_the_centenary_of_Roald_Amundsens_party_reaching_the_South_Geographic_Pole..html

Sunday, 12 February 2017

The life and climbs of Edgar Williams

I first became interested in Edgar Williams when I was part of the Pictures Online digitisation project in 2011. My role was creating descriptive records from viewing the images taken by both Edgar Williams and his father, William Williams. The negative registers, inventories of the individual negatives, had scant information with only some general entries. Because so little information was readily available on Edgar Williams, the other people in the photographs, or their climbing expeditions, I decided to do some research to discover more about Edgar’s life.



Studio portrait of photographer William Williams holding small child on his knee [Owen Williams?] ca 1895 Ref: 1/2-140243-G





Edgar Williams with Owen playing in snow at the Williams' home, Kew, Dunedin. William Williams Ref: 1/4-055557-G

Edgar Williams

Edgar was born in 1891 in Dunedin to William and Lydia Williams, and in 1893 saw the arrival of his brother Owen. William, an amateur photographer, took numerous photographs of the boys growing up at the family home in Royal Terrace, Kew, Dunedin, including the family outings, their holidays and travels across New Zealand.
In 1993 the Turnbull Library held an exhibition of William's black and white photographs of Lydia, covering 1884-1906. This coincided with the centenary of the 1893 suffrage petition, which Lydia had signed. The information accompanying this exhibition contained some early family history and this was a useful resource.
Lydia Williams, with her two sons, Edgar Richard and Owen Williams, 5 March 1900.  Reference No. 1/4-054948-GLydia Williams, with her two sons, Edgar Richard and Owen Williams, 5 March 1900. Ref: 1/4-054948-G





























Edgar developed a love of the outdoors from an early age – camping, tramping, and mountaineering – as well as an interest in photography. Edgar’s father William was reputably the first Pākehā explorer to canoe up Lake Manapouri, Te Anau, and the Clinton River. He took Edgar and Owen on frequent excursions into the bush from their holiday home at Pounawea in the Catlins.
On long trips into the bush William took his photography equipment, which was no mean feat in the early 1900s. He regularly carried his camera, gelatin dry glass plates, a dark tent, and chemicals. A portable dark room (tent) was used for putting the glass plates into a dark slide which went into the camera. The glass plate, once exposed, could last a few days before needing to be developed and fixed.
Stereographic image of Edgar Williams, aged 14 years, standing beside a small hut in the bush at Pounawea on the Catlins River. Williams built the hut and there are a number of dead rabbits hanging from it. Photographed January 1906 by William Williams. Ref: 1/2-140370-GStereographic image of Edgar Williams, aged 14 years, standing beside a small hut in the bush at Pounawea on the Catlins River. Williams built the hut and there are a number of dead rabbits hanging from it. Photographed January 1906 by William Williams. Ref: 1/2-140370-G
I explored the family history resources available in the reading room, including electoral rolls and the biographies index, which gave me obituaries and newspaper articles, as well as probates at Archives New Zealand for further biographical information.
Although I was unable to confidently identify members of the extended Williams family in the photographs, I was able to identify Edgar’s wife, Alice. Using Papers Past, the New Zealand Alpine Journal and the Canterbury Mountaineer proved invaluable for information on Edgar’s climbing career.

Mountaineering

By the time Edgar was 18 the family had moved to Christchurch. His climbing record begins in his early 20s, when according to a friend “he was a gentleman of leisure with a passion for mountain climbing.” He was free to go climbing whenever companions were available and he often went solo, climbing Mt Taranaki (previously Egmont) on Christmas Day 1914 and Mt Ruapehu New Year’s Day 1915.
During these years he accomplished some significant mountaineering climbs, including a second ascent with Jack Murrell in 1913 on Mt Balloon (from Jervois Saddle) and a 2nd ascent on Mitre Peak in 1914.
[Jack Murrell] sitting on a mountain, with Mitre Peak behind during Edgar Williams and Jack Murrell's climbing expedition in the Southern Alps, Fiordland National Park. Williams, Edgar. 1914 Ref: 1/4-094489-G[Jack Murrell] sitting on a mountain, with Mitre Peak behind during Edgar Williams and Jack Murrell's climbing expedition in the Southern Alps, Fiordland National Park. Williams, Edgar. 1914 Ref: 1/4-094489-G
As reported in the Otago Daily Times (2 May 1914) Edgar and Jack Murrell reached the summit of Mitre Peak on the second day of climbing. During their overnight campsite at 2,000ft Jack talks about the kakapo “coming out of their holes with catlike noises” and “squawked and bumped round in the scrub”. He made a prediction (given the absence of kiwi in the area) that the kiwi would “be extinct long before the kakapo”.
At 4 a.m. we were astir, and at 5 a.m. were ready to start. There was a heavy fog, but that is often a forerunner of a fine day in the Sounds, so we set off with only a few pounds in our rucsacs, and made our way through the wet scrub and grass until we reached the bush level (3000 ft). By this time the sun had struggled through the fog, and Milford Sound could be seen below: calm as a pond and of a wonderful blue colour. Away to the north-east towered Tutoko (9042 ft), with his beautiful snowcap, and immediately north of us Pembroke Peak and Glacier seemed within a stone's throw, so clear was the atmosphere. After making good use of our cameras we turned our faces to Mitre Peak, and worked our way on to the almost level rock-ridge which leads to the main face of the peak. All the way to the main face was plain sailing; but there our work began, and we soon had plenty to occupy ourselves with in climbing an almost perpendicular rock face, with very few hand or foot holds; but what there was were good, so we soon worked our way up to the next spur, where we were amply rewarded with magnificent views to the north-east and south. From this point to the summit it is all good rock climbing, with an occasional difficult corner and some bad slabby rocks (which we avoided by working round to the left and making use of a "chimney" which gave us some interesting work and views into space). We reached the summit, and found J. R. Dennistoun's cairn and handkerchief, to which we added a small glass pot containing two coins and a bronze token, and then built the cairn up to a height of about 4ft. We rolled some huge rocks (which were just on the balance) down into the sea, an almost clear drop of 5560 ft, and the splash was almost as good as the Wairoa Geyser in eruption.

Otago Daily Times (2 May 1914)
Between 1914-1918 Edgar and Jack Murrell achieved a number of 1st ascents near Milford Sound including,

Their second attempt of Mt Elliot in 1917 was successfully achieved when they took the only likely route which involved an almost perpendicular gully filled with ice, a rock chimney with unstable rocks and finally a difficult “tummy wriggle” to arrive at the 6,000 ft summit. Mt Elliot Milford Sound. Feb 1917 Ref: 1/4-120564-F

View from the summit ridge of Mount Elliot, Southland, at the head of the Jervois Glacier, showing peak of Mount Balloon at centre, and the Clinton River valley filled with fog. Date: 21 Feb 1917 Ref: 1/4-120571-FView from the summit ridge of Mount Elliot, Southland, at the head of the Jervois Glacier, showing peak of Mount Balloon at centre, and the Clinton River valley filled with fog. Date: 21 Feb 1917 Ref: 1/4-120571-F
In December 1917 Edgar, accompanied by Will Kennedy and Tom Fletcher, went on a five week expedition in the Godley Glacier region. The journey to the mountains was an eventful trip in itself. Edgar’s four cylinder Talbot car carried camping and climbing equipment, a camera, 16 gallons of petrol in suitcases and even a person perched on all the luggage.
They travelled by car over rough roads and water courses, then crossed rivers and farmland with horses carrying their gear and five weeks’ worth of supplies to a base camp near the Godley glacier. The area fascinated Edgar with its extensive glacier system that supplied Lake Tekapo.
Edgar’s Talbot motorcar had a crank handle, carbide lamps and brakes that didn’t work in the wet. Edgar Williams, W A Kennedy and T A Fletcher, Godley Trip 1917-1918 Ref: 1/4-120755-FEdgar’s Talbot motorcar had a crank handle, carbide lamps and brakes that didn’t work in the wet. Edgar Williams, W A Kennedy and T A Fletcher, Godley Trip 1917-1918 Ref: 1/4-120755-F
Battling bad weather, an alpine storm with high winds, an unsuccessful climb of the Maud Glacier, they all eventually climbed an unnamed peak off a divide between the Maud and Grey glaciers. It was Tom Fletcher’s first ascent so he had the honour of naming the peak Mt Gordon (after his wife). Edgar and Will Kennedy continued on to make a 1st ascent on Mt Sibbald (9161ft) the second highest peak in the district.
As Fletcher had sore feet he stayed behind and instead prepared a “4 course hot dinner” for their return “having found an old cracked camp oven in the tussock”. This was a welcome sight after their 7,000 feet up and down Mt Sibbald that day.
During this period Edgar covered all the major peaks in both the South Island and North Island. While following in his father’s footsteps as an amateur photographer, he also had other interests such as cars and trains.

Reliance gear change

Initially training as a fitter, then a motor engineer, Edgar worked at the Addington railway workshops and started a small engineering business, a repair shop in Addington, Christchurch.
Nui Robins, who knew Edgar at this time, said the business “was a model shop in every way but Edgar was such a perfectionist that he could never recover his costs.” However with his mechanical mind and Kiwi ingenuity he started inventing car gear boxes. One in particular was called the “reliance gear change”. After much persuasion from his friends he eventually patented this design which was considered revolutionary. It was successfully taken up by car manufacturers and was still being used well into the 1980s.
Car parts [gearbox invented by Edgar Williams?]. Ref: 1/4-056054-GCar parts [gearbox invented by Edgar Williams?]. Ref: 1/4-056054-G
Miniature engines [made by Edgar William Williams?] powered by electricity. Ref: 1/2-140931-GMiniature engines [made by Edgar William Williams?] powered by electricity. Ref: 1/2-140931-G
Edgar married Alice Williams (nee Hazlehurst) in 1925 and he moved to the West Coast where he taught engineering at Westport Technical High School in 1930s. There are photographs of Edgar and Alice accompanying school groups on various trips, tramping in the hills around Westport, Haast Pass and Wanaka in the South Island. Edgar and Alice Williams with a group of school children on a mountain, West Coast Region. Ref: 1/4-055909-FEdgar married Alice Williams (nee Hazlehurst) in 1925 and he moved to the West Coast where he taught engineering at Westport Technical High School in 1930s. There are photographs of Edgar and Alice accompanying school groups on various trips, tramping in the hills around Westport, Haast Pass and Wanaka in the South Island. Edgar and Alice Williams with a group of school children on a mountain, West Coast Region. Ref: 1/4-055909-F
Another prolific climbing period for Edgar was from 1927 through to 1936. While Edgar owned a car he found cycling to the mountains more reliable. He completed another round of first ascents on mountains near the Godley Glacier, in the Sibbald Range overlooking the Rangitata Valley, Canterbury and the Lady of the Snows, near the Milford Track.
Godley Glacier, Southern Alps. Williams, Edgar Richard Ref: 1/4-120772-FGodley Glacier, Southern Alps. Williams, Edgar Richard. Ref: 1/4-120772-F
His climbing career continued in spite of his age. In 1955 aged 62 he accomplished more first ascents, including Terror and Lawrenny Peaks in Milford Sound. His favourites were the Tutoko valley and Mitre Peak areas, making his third ascent on Mitre Peak in his 70s, the only climber to have achieved this at that time.
Mt Torlesse was always one of his favourite mountains, and he again climbed it aged 85, although "he lamented the solo climb took him 13 hours when it usually took only 6”. He unsuccessfully attempted it again on his 91st birthday, camping out overnight but abandoned the climb because of snow. When he died in 1983 he held the longest climbing record in New Zealand. (Press, 1 November 1983)
I have included a summary of his first ascents as it’s not possible to do justice to his remarkable climbing achievements in the limited space of this blog.
First ascents:
  • 1914 Mt Wilmur (with Jack Murrell)
  • 1917 Mt Elliott, 6260ft (Jack Murrell)
  • Jan 1918 Mt Gordon (Fletcher, Kennedy)
  • Jan 1918 Mt Sibbald, 9180ft (Kennedy)
  • Jan 1918 Panorama Peak, (Fletcher, Kennedy)
  • Jan 1928 Maude Peak, (CAV Stewart)
  • Jan 1930 Mt Daniel (J K Martin)
  • Dec 1931 Mt Commander (A J Scott, R H Booth)
  • Jan 1932 Mt Forbes (solo)
  • Jan 1932 A J (Scott, R H Booth)
  • Jan 1932 Mt Coates (Scott, R H Booth)
  • Jan 1932 Mt Kennedy (Scott, R H Booth)
  • Jan 1934 Mt Ward (S A Grave, E A Hogg)
  • Jan 1934 Lady of the Snows ( J K Martin)
  • Dec 1953 Mt Lion (A Deans, R Taylor)
  • Dec 1954 Lawrenny Peak and Mt Terror (Austin Deans, Marty Bassett, Ray Copp)

Edgar Williams with a push bike outside house with front brick entrance, [Christchurch, circa 1950s]. Ref: 1/4-095568-F

Cycling

By the 1950s Edgar had retired from teaching and having sold his car, went on some long distance cycling trips across New Zealand. He covered 1,400km on a round trip from Christchurch to the Haast Pass, via the Lindis Pass especially for the opening of the Haast Pass road in 1966. He cycled the North Island in 1968, from Hastings to Cape Reinga then south through Kawhia to New Plymouth, to Wellington then back to Hastings covering well over 3,000 km. Almost always he carried dozens of slides, a projector, screen and camera on his trips and gave talks to schools on route. (Taranaki Herald 1 Aug 1968)
In his later years he was famous for his slideshow evenings, always done to a meticulous pattern. Glass lantern slides were shown first, a gelatin silver positive image on a glass plate that was projected onto a screen with a slide projector. These were followed by the ‘modern’ 35mm images, accompanied by his lively commentary and equally famous baking.

Stereographic photographs

Many of his photographs are from stereoscopic glass and film negatives taken with a camera that had two lenses. Stereoscopy was a common photographic technique of the time for creating the effect of a three dimensional image. The two images placed side by side and mounted on a card (stereograph) were viewed with a stereoscope. Images from the left and right eye combine in the brain to give the perception of depth.


Detail from: Lydia Williams sitting on a verandah holding a stereoscope and stereographic cards, [190?]. Ref: 1/2-141216-G



Edgar Williams’ collection

The Edgar Richard Williams collection came to the Library as a bequest when Edgar died in 1983. Although the photographs include both William and Edgar’s photographs, provenance is one collection under the name E.R. Williams.
We also hold selected prints from the negatives of William Williams (1859-1948) on shipping and railway topics that were made by Edgar between May 1950 and August 1951. A further donation arrived from Mr John Wilson, Christchurch, in 1998 of mountaineering photographs and John Williams, son of Owen Williams, also donated material in 2013.
In some respects it is hard to separate the collections as it’s not always known who took the actual photographs. The collection includes single negatives, film and glass stereoscopic negatives, prints, lantern slides, panorama prints, and photographic equipment.
Over 9,000 black & white original negatives were digitised as part of the Pictures Online digitisation project and are now viewable on the National Library website: PA-Group-00076.
William’s photographs have an emphasis on Wellington (1880s), Napier (late 1880s-1890s), Dunedin & Catlins (1890s-1900s), railways, shipping, and a trip William and Lydia made to Europe during the 1920s.
Edgar’s photographs cover his mountaineering expeditions, engine inventions, trips in his car from 1920s to 1930s, school tramping trips (1930s – 1940s), and Stewart Island (1940s). We hold only a few photographs from 1950s and almost nothing from 1960s onwards.
While Edgar made several cycling tours and continued to climb right through to the 1980s, this period is absent from his collection.

Thanks to National Library of NZ for permission to reproduce this wonderful article.

The life and climbs of Edgar Williams