Mike and Kulak, Scott Base huskies. During the summer of 1969-70, they were the two best dogs on my team. Chris Knott used Rangi as his lead dog. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Polar medals, knighthoods, and a host of accolades have been bestowed on those who have carved their names in Antarctic ice, but of the hundreds of faithful huskies who pulled their hearts out opening up the New Zealand sector of Antarctica, what is their memorial?
A lone husky in Central Park New York, honours one husky, Balto, who in 1925 saved a community in Alaska from Diphtheria. Huskies at Scott base saved one New Zealander, George Marsh from dying of Diphtheria, but no bugles or no drums for them !
After heated newspapers debates in January 1986 when the DSIR’s Antarctic Division announced they were pulling the huskies out of Antarctica, not a lot has been written about them since. In this article I attempt to give the full history of huskies that lived at Scott Base and played such in vital role in surveying and exploring the New Zealand sector of Antarctica.
Two of the best: Rangi (left) and Oscar (right) 1969 Scott Base. Photo: Bob McKerrow
The start of New Zealand’s involvement in acquiring dogs for pulling sledges in Antarctica starts in 1955 when mountain guide at Franz Josef, Harry Ayres was selected by Sir Edmund Hillary for the first New Zealand Antarctic Expedition. Harry was attached initially to the Australian Antarctic Expedition engaged in the relief of Mawson Station where the Australians had promised 26 huskies, bred at Mawson.
Finding money for the expedition and for the dogs in particular, was difficult. The government gave a grant of 50,000 pounds but the rest of the money was raised by the strenuous efforts of innumerable district committees and private individuals. The greatest per capita enthusiasm was shown by children. The boys of Wellington College contributed $300, enough to pay for a sledge and a dog. Some youngsters raised money by rearing and selling guinea pigs and tadpoles! With the expedition running on a shoe string budget, Harry left Sydney aboard the Ice-breaker Kista Dan. He sailed on to Melbourne, passed by Heard Island with its amazing sheer pinnacle of rock, ‘Big Ben’. Before reaching Antarctica, the Soviets who were establishing their first Antarctic base made contact with the ship. At Mawson, Harry had his first opportunity to learn something about huskies. These dogs were the descendants of huskies of Greenland-Labrador cross (Malamutes) that were presented to the Australians by the ill-fated ship, the Commandant Charcot, which failed to reach the Antarctic in 1949 as part of the French Government’s attempt to establish a base in Antarctica. The dogs were off -loaded in Hobart.
Harry Ayres and Murray Douglas, two top dog handlers
Harry Ayres returned with 26 huskies via Kerguelen Island, a French Antarctic Base, arriving in Melbourne in March 1956. The final stage to New Zealand was abroad a Bristol Freighter which flew to Brisbane, Norfolk Island, Auckland and finally Christchurch. By now the dogs were tired and upset by the noise and heat. The final stage of the journey was by army truck to Mount Cook where they were tethered in a wire enclosure beyond the Hooker Bridge from March to June 1956. Today, the place is named Husky Flat. In June, Harry Ayres was joined my Murray Douglas and two men Hillary selected from the UK: Dr George Marsh and Lt. Commander Richard Brooke.
They were both experienced dog handlers having spent seven years in the Polar Regions. The dogs were kept fit, most days they pulled an old car without an engine up to Ball Hutt and back, much to the amazement of bewildered tourists. Some trips over the hooker flats were attempted but inevitably the dogs would become entangled in the Matagouri bushes. It was with some relief for both dogs and handlers when they moved up the Tasman Glacier to Malte Brun Hutt in June 1956. The conditions were so much better with the dogs spanned out in the snow around the hut.
While the first 26 huskies, which were soon to become 34 with the arrival of puppies, were enjoying the snow of the Tasman Glacier, 12 more huskies were being loaded into the HMNZS Endeavour on the 18th of August 1956 at Butler’s Wharf on the South Bank of Thames just below the Tower Bridge. The huskies were housed in kennels on the ship foredeck and, except for a spell of rough water in the Bay of Biscay when they were all sick, they withstood the long journey to New Zealand well, via Kingston, Jamaica, Panama Canal and Tahiti.
In Tahiti the crew and the dogs received traditional Tahitian hospitality with each of the dogs being garlanded with flowers. After eight weeks out from London the dogs landed in Auckland where they were quarantined in Auckland Zoo until they went south.
Fifteen husky pups, bred at the Auckland Zoo, were about nine months old when they arrived at Mt. Cook for the further training. One reliable source believes these pups were bred from descendants of the dogs used by Admiral Richard Byrd for his 1928-30 Expedition to Antarctica.
On 21 December 1956 when the HMNZS Endeavour, left Bluff she carried with her most of the men and dogs ready to set up New Zealand’s first base in Antarctica, Twenty-four of the remaining dogs, mostly the untrained dogs from Greenland and some of the Auckland Zoo pups, were taken to Scott base aboard the American cargo ship the SS. Private John R. Towie a WW2 Victory Class cargo ship.
On January 5 1957, the majority of the 61 huskies set their paws on Antarctic ice. After some local training trips with the dog teams a longer trip commenced. On 19 January 1957 three teams left Scott Base to cross the McMurdo and Ross Ice Shelves to the Skelton Glacier, but five days later they were back. George Marsh got terribly sick a few days out and with poor radio communications, Brooke and Peter Mulgrew made a mercy dash back to get medical help. Sensing the urgency, the dogs covered the 50 km back to Scott base in just over seven hours, a speed of just over 7km an hour. Marsh was airlifted out the next day suffering from diphtheria
Dr George Marsh
This was not the first time huskies have been involved in life-saving action against diphtheria. A monument of the most famous Greenland Husky of all, Ba lto, in Central Park New York, keeps the courageous image of this breed alive. Photoof Balto below.
In 1925, the gold rush town of Nome in Alaska, was threatened by a diphtheria epidemic in the middle of a dark winter, and the only way to save the lives of over 2,000 inhabitants, was to get a twenty pound packet of diphtheria anti- toxin over a trail that usually took 25 days. The word was flashed out by telegraph from Nenana, Alaska to diphtheria stricken Nome, over 674 miles of the roughest, most desolate country in the world. The route was known as the Iditarod mail trail, now a famous dog sled race.
The dog drivers were predominantly Innuit, Athabascan Indians and Scandinavians. The little Norwegian Sepal with his lead dog Togo, made 84 miles in one day. Gunnar Kasson ran the last 55 miles to Nome, with 13 dogs. He left in total darkness and in an 80 mph wind driven snow storm. The lead dog Balto an Inuit Siberian, put his nose down and sniffed and felt his way along the hidden trail. In the tradition of the great Innuit huskies, Balto, ears flattened against his head, to keep out the driving snow, nose working to pick up the trail, guided his team, driver and serum to Nome. When they reached their destination at 5.30 am on February 2nd, the half frozen Kasson collapsed by his battered dog team and began pulling ice from Balto’s frozen feet. “Balto”, he was heard to mumble…..” Damn fine dog.”
A seal is butchered by Richard Brooke for some hungry dogs, (plus some seal liver for the dog handlers, see on the right!) Spring Journey, at the Stranded Moraines, Sept. 1957. Photo. Bernie Gunn.
During the summer of 1957, the New Zealand expedition huskies went on many trips with their drivers moulding and training them into solid teams.. However, training the dogs had its moments. Bob Millar describes one of those periods when the dogs would do nothing right. “ Dog trouble was with us yesterday and it looks like it will be another problem day. “ We were so exasperated that we turned a bitch loose and the dogs, like a pack of rugby forwards, surged forward, never noticing the 1000 pound load behind them.”
At Midwinter's Eve,1957 Bob Miller deputy leader says a few words. Bob, or Sir J Holmes as he later became, was an artilleryman in the desert in the war. On left is Dr Trevor Hatherton, geophysist and IGY chief. On right is Dr Ron Balham, our resident biologist. He also was co-opted for a time into driving tractors to the Pole.
The greatest feat of exploration in Antarctica by New Zealanders using dog teams was the Northern Party of The Trans Antarctic Expeditions (1955-58) which left Scott Base on the 4th of October 1957, comprising, Brooke, Gunn, Warren and Douglas.
The Northern Party at Corner Peak, Feb. 1958. Photo: Bernie Gunn
They returned to Scott base on February 6th 1958 having travelled over 1000 miles by dog sledge and had obtained the information required for the preliminary geological and topological mapping of 20,000 square miles of rugged mountain country. In terms of knowledge gained, geological, exploratory and topographical, this journey might well be regarded as the most rewarding in Antarctic history. A tribute to the two teams of huskies that pulled all the equipment, food and supplies for 127 days.
A photo taken by Bernie Gunn when he used dogs on an expedition to climb Mount Huggins.
By late 1959 the dog population at Scott Base had dwindled to 26 dogs. The New Zealanders, realising the usefulness of the dogs for field work, decided to search for more dogs. In May 1960, Wally Herbert, Dr. Hugh Simpson and Myrtle Simpson (a New Zealander) were driving through Arctic Norway and in an old Austin van, planning to explore Spitzenbergen. Wally and Hugh had spent many years in Antarctica together. Late in May they arrived in Tromso, the northern-most village in Norway, renowned as a starting point for Arctic expeditions, having seen Nansen, Amundsen, Sverdrup and many others depart here by ship for the unknown. In this remote Arctic village, Wally Herbert received a telegramme from the New Zealand Government asking him to go to Greenland and buy twelve dogs for the NZ Antarctic Expedition, and transport them via the USA, Hawaii, Fiji and Christchurch to Scott Base where he was invited to join the expedition for two summers and one winter.
An early Antarctic Husky listening to a grammaphone. Photo taken by Herbert Ponting on Scott's Terra Nova Expedition.
Wally carried on with his expedition on Spitzenberge (now Svalbard) for a few weeks, before he had to kayak along the coast to Longyaerbyen to catch a boat back to Norway. Three weeks later he arrived in Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland. He made his way to Jacobshavn which had a dog population of over 3000: two dogs to every human being. This village had supplied dogs to many polar expeditions and there was always great excitement when ‘Kabloona’s’ (whitemen) came to buy dogs. Wally recalls his days in Jacobshavn, “the villagers were delightful old rogues to deal with when it came to buying dogs, and some of my happiest recollections of Greenland are the wranglings between dog owners and myself through interpreters. I often received the most incongruous answers that were presumably lost in the translation, but by drawing portraits of dog owners and priming them just before the final purchase with a crate of beer, I eventually got the dogs I wanted.”
The Greenland huskies were flown south aboard a Globemaster of the US Military Air Transport Service from California, arriving at Scott Base at the end of October 1960.
The 1963-64 summers saw the end of an era in Antarctica with the introduction of ‘Tin Dogs’, motor toboggans, winding up a decade of dramatic journeys by dog sledge. It was fitting that Bob (Sir Holmes) Miller, Ed Hillary’s deputy on the TAE, led the last major New Zealand dog sledge expedition. In 101 days, this expedition collection over 500 geological specimens from 145 localities, occupied over 50 stations. In all they sledged 1600 miles and surveyed 49,000 square miles of previously unmapped country.
From 1964 onwards, most New Zealand field parties moved about by motor toboggan. The dog teams continued to be used for short scientific and field trips of a recreational nature.
When I arrived at Scott Base in October 1969 I did numerous trips with Chris Knott the dog handler.
Chris Knott, dog handler Scott Base 1969-70, hitching up a team to the sledge at Scott Base, Photo: Bob McKerrow
Often we would set off with a team each and race over the ice shelf towards Mt. Lister and Huggins, or visit the Shackleton and Scott Huts at Cape Royds and Cape Evans. In a strange way, although being a science technician, I became the second dog handler and helped Chris to train, to feed them, and to assist him with the unpleasant tasks of killing aging seals to feed them over the winter. My lead dog was Rangi and he was an enormously strong dog and I spent many sunny evenings down at the dog lines talking to the dogs one by one, but Rangi always got special attention.
Chris Knott leaving the dog lines at Scott Base, for a training trip 1969. : Bob McKerrow
From 1970 onwards, efforts were made to acquire dogs from other Antarctic bases to minimise in-breeding. In 1975 a bitch and a dog came in by Twin Otter from the British Base Rothera. They evidently mated in the air over the South Pole and their progeny were successfully integrated into the Scott Base teams. In 1979 pairs of huskies were exchanged between Mawson Station and Scott Base.
In January 1986 when the DSIR’s Antarctic Division announced they were pulling the huskies out of Antarctica, Christchurch newspapers debated the issue at length. While this debate was raging, I was slugging it out on the Arctic Ocean with 49 huskies, as a member of Will Steger’s International North Pole Expedition. During the training period and on the expedition, Will often quizzed me on Antarctica and of his dream to cross the continent with dogs.
Will Steger driving a team of dogs on his 1986 North Pole Expedition
When I returned to New Zealand I saw an opportunity for the Scott Base dogs to be kept together, and to go to a good home with Will Steger, the veteran Arctic explorer, at his homestead near Ely Minnesota where he runs a dog sledding outdoor centre. I began negotiations on behalf of Will Steger with Bob Thomson, Director of NZ Antarctic Division. That was in the days before New Zealand’s Antarctic bureaucracy had reached its politically correct zenith, and the deal was finally sealed with a handshake and a few beers with Bob Thomson. The Scott Base Huskies’ had their last winter in Antarctica in 1986.
The author, Bob McKerrow on a training trip with Will Steger on Baffin Island in 1986.Photo: Will Steger
The last outing by the Scott Base dog team was on 17 January 1987.
The dogs on the team were: Jens, Bjorn, Footrots, Odin, Kiri, Nimrod, Tania, Stareek, Julick, Monty, Herbie, Casper. Tama and Rehua
Each name has a history. Monty after Colin Monteath a mountaineer and Antarctic traveller, Odin after Mt. Odin overlooking Vanda station and named by Colin Bull, Nimrod after Shackleton’s ship. Arnold Heine, veteran of countless trips in Antarctica, calculates there have been between 500 and 600 named dogs at Scott Base in the 30 years they have been in the NZ sector of Antarctica.
Arnold Heine on Mt. Marmsworth in 1957. Photo: Bernie Gunn
Grant Gillespie, the last dog handler sent me an envelope with the names of all the dogs, a special post mark, and Ross Dependency stamps, and the words:
Carried on the last dog sledge journey made in Antarctica by the Scott Base Dogs – 17 January 1987.
On February 4 1987 at midday, the US ship the Greenwave, entered Lyttelton Harbour delivering the last 14 Scott Base huskies. Accompanying them, was Grant Gillespie, the last dog handler. Watching on the wharf were many people who had close association with the huskies such as Murray Douglas, who, with moist eyes, spoke to me about his days training the first Scott Base Huskies at Mount Cook and then accompanying them to Scott Base in 1956-57, vetinarian David Marshall who had worked with the health of the dogs for over 12 years. Pete Cleary, dog handler at British Antarctic bases for two years, and dog handler at Scott Base in 1978-79, Richard Balm dog handler in 1985-86, Eric Saxby who had done so much in organising the return of the dogs, and Bob Thomson, Director of Antarctic Division, were there. One 81 year old woman I spoke to said she saw the dogs off in 1956 and was pleased to welcome their off spring back.
This was the type of terrain the Antarctic huskies excelled in, rugged, at altitude and remote. Taken near the Beardsmore Glacier.Photo: Bob McKerrow
As I boarded the ship to help take the dogs off, I was impressed with their condition. They were excited and looking at me with anticipation. I spent a lot of time at Will Steger’s homestead on a Lake near Ely, Minnesota in preparation for the 1986 North Pole expedition, and knew they would have a great home there, and a possibility of returning to Antarctica with Will.
David Marshall checked each dog as we put them in cages and loaded them onto a truck. Murray Douglas took great interest and remarked “: They looked similar to the ones he took down.” My two daughters, Tania and Kira helped Grant, Eric and I load the dogs on the truck. Eric drove the truck as I sat on the deck with 14 howling dogs in cages; a curious traffic officer passed on a motor bike and stood up on his footrests and gazed at the dogs, and decided that asking questions would not help anyone.
Man and dog in Antarctica. Photo: Bob McKerrow
We got the dogs to the airport and we lugged their cages into a refrigerated chamber. The dogs were now mine. Will Steger said he would pay for the air freight to the US, but the money had not arrived. It was 5 pm. I knew if I presented my American Express Card, the woman on the counter would phone Amex HQ in Auckland, and from previous experience, I would be declined. I knew from previous experienced the office closed at 5.30 pm in Auckland, so I dithered around pretending to be examining the dog’s condition. At about 5.45 pm I presented my Amex card and the women said, “ I think the office for verification is closed. Do you have a good credit rating ?” Deliberately lying through my teeth, I said “I am wealthy, no problem “ and she gave me a bill for NZ$ 25,000. Will’s money came into my account a few days later.
Grant Gillespie had agreed to fly with the dogs via Nadi, Honolulu, Los Angeles and Denver, finally arriving in Aspen Colorado on 25 February 1987. Sadly, on arrival it was discovered that one dog had died, it was Stareek, a seven and a half year male. Stareek was the name of one of Scott’s dogs and in Russian means “ The old man.” The old man had led his team all the way to the US, and an autopsy revealed he had died of stress. All the other dogs arrived in perfect condition.
Keizo Funatsu describes meeting the dogs at Snowmass Colorado for the first time. “ I worked for Krabloonik Kennel there and Grant brought them over before they went to Minnesota. They had never seen trees and were fascinated by them, and slowly learned to take a pee on trees! “
Grant settled the dogs in at Will Steger’s homestead in Ely Minnesota before returning to New Zealand some months later.
Two years later, five of the 13 Scott Base dogs were selected for an arduous crossing of Antarctica with Will Steger’s International Trans-Antarctic expedition
In March 1990, Will Steger completed what no man had ever before attempted: the crossing of Antarctica on foot using dogs to pull the sledges. Steger and his International Trans-Antarctica Team performed an extraordinary feat of endurance covering 3741 miles.
In his book Crossing Antarctica, Will Steger describes the performance of the former Scott Base Dogs:
“Kenzo’s team is the unruliest of the three, comprised of the five Antarctic dogs and seven from the Homestead…”
The five Antarctic dogs were: Bjorn the leader, Odin, Monty, Herbie and Casper. Of the thirty six dogs that set out on the Trans Antarctic journey, only twelve completed the full 3,741 miles. Three of them were from Scott Base, Bjorn, Monty and Herbie. Their Antarctic births at New Zealand’s Scott Base, strong genes and acclimatisation were a key factor. Monty was taken by Kenzo back to Japan, along with another dog, Kinta, to Osaka, where Kenzo used them as the foundation for a new dog team that he used at an outdoor centre he set up.
Five years later fear of the impact of dogs on wildlife led to a new clause in the Antarctic treaty: 'Dogs shall not be introduced onto land or ice shelves and dogs currently in those areas shall be removed by April 1994.' The last dogs were removed from Antarctica on 22 February 1994, 96 years after huskies were first used for transport in Antarctica during the Southern Cross expedition under the Norwegian, Carsten Borchgrevink, in 1898 -1900
Fittingly, to close the story, I quote from the letter I received from Kenzo Funatsu on 1 September 2009
I am Keizo Funatsu. I received an email from Will Steger about you. I had the New Zealand Antarctica dogs during the Trans-Antarctic expedition 20 years ago. I have been living in Alaska for 15 years. I miss all Antarctic dogs. Their power was incredible compare to Alaskan huskies here.
Monty and Herbie were brothers, both 4 years old and strong dogs. Bjorn was one of the leaders and the oldest dog in the Antarctica team. I think he was 6 years old. Those three Antarctic dogs completed the journey. Casper and Odin flew back when the airplane came to us on our way the South Pole. Odin got frost bite and I forgot why Casper flew out.
Bjorn was 8 years old when he completed the Antarctic trip. He was a good leader.
Monty and Herbie were strong fighters but they were steady workers and cute dogs.
All male Antarctica dogs were fighters among them but it was fun to work with.
Monty went to Japan to breed with some other dogs in Hokkaido, the northern-most island in Japan. Monty bred with the offspring of the dogs which Naomi Uemura brought back from his trip in the Arctic. Naomi was a famous Japanese explorer who died on the Mt. Denali right after his successful first solo winter ascent.
Kinta who came from the Eskimo village in Canada completed the journey and went to Japan. Kinta went to Hokkaido and worked for the outdoor school there.
For me the journey is completed. The off spring of the New Zealand’s Scott Base dogs returned to their rightful place, the northern parts of the world after 31 years of useful work in Antarctica. For posterity, I list the names of the last Scott Base dogs and their details:
Thanks to David Harrowfield, Colin Monteath, Arnold Heine, Grant Gillespie, Will Steger, Keizo Funatsu and Gary Lewis for assistance with his article
THE LAST DOGS.
Name Date of birth Sire
Odin m 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Tania f 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Casper m 20-02-85 Jen and Reheat
Herb m 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Monty m 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Kiri f 06-01-84 Footrots and Manea
Bjorn m 15-12-82 Tama and Helga
Footrots m 09-09-81 Julick and Abbe
Tama m 02-06-80 Muff and Cherry
Stereek m 09-12-79 Muff and Kiritea
Rehua f 14-06-79 Dick and Karen
Nimrod m 14-06-79 Dick and Karen
Julick m 14-06-09 Dick and Karen
Jens m 28-7-78 Huka and Kuia