NO PATHWAY HERE
by John H Marsh
DANIELS was buried soon after his shipmates had been
taken off the island. Weather conditions made it
impossible for the Good Hope's Captain to land and
conduct the service, or to send any representatives
from the ship. Bond therefore deputised for him. All
he had to guide him was a New Testament, but with
the aid of the "walkie-talkie" Fougstedt was able to
give him the words of the Burial Service. A spot was
chosen on the mountain slope, half a mile from the
camp towards East Cape, overlooking the sea. There,
with simple and sincere ceremony, the Coloured man
was buried by the Europeans. A large white cross was
erected on the grave.|
There were now only six weeks to go before the onset of winter would force the construction party to leave the island. Yet the erection of the huts had not begun, nor had any construction work in fact been started. And the Gamtoos had gone off with the equivalent of a complete hut, which would necessitate the replanning and reallocation of the resources that were left. Ever since landing, the men had been working overtime almost daily, and now it was necessary to increase their output until they were working 16 hours a day.
Four days passed from the time she arrived at the islands before the Good Hope was favoured with good landing conditions. On February 1 she began to send timber and other supplies ashore. On the following day Fougstedt and Crawford, accompanied by a few others, set out on an overland reconnaissance to find Ship Cove, where the Challenger's party had landed and the Solglimt's wreck was said to lie. They travelled further from the camp site than anyone had yet done, and after
|a two-mile trudge found themselves looking down
upon the place from the top of a 200-foot cliff. It was
a small bay, protected on the north side by an island
of rock 150 feet high. It had a beach of black sand or
decomposed lava rock, 200 yards long and 50 feet
wide, which was occupied by about 50 sea-elephants,
including a herd of young males isolated from the
others, and thousands of penguins, mainly Kings. On
the beach at the foot of the cliff was a sealers' try-pot,
and a short distance out in the bay was a piece of metal
that looked like a killer-whale's fin but was undoubtedly
the tip of the bow of the sunken Solglimt.|
Two large dark shapes, apparently the portions of the Solglimt's hull, could be made out just beneath the surface of the water. They did not block the Cove, as some reports had stated, and it appeared that it could still provide shelter for quite large craft if they took care to avoid the wreck.
On the northern side of the Cove the explorers found the remains of the Solglimt's village. The ladderways, steps and floors were still in position, though rotted, but the walls and roofs had fallen in or been blown away by gales. Pots and pans and other cooking utensils were lying about. Rummaging among the wreckage the visitors retrieved six bottles labelled "Worcester Sauce" that had apparently fallen through the decayed flooring of one of the huts. Despite their 40 years there the contents showed no signs of deterioration in taste.
The plateau above the Cove produced the first solid ground yet discovered on the island. There were acres of rocky shale that would provide firm foundation for buildings. The site had other advantages for a meteorological station over Transvaal Cove, for it had a far better sea view and the harbour provided more protection for ships and a sandy beach on to which boats could be hauled. Crawford would have liked to change Snoektown's site at once, but after an exchange of radio messages with the Union it was decided that the
|difficulties in the way, mainly of transport, could not
be overcome before winter set in. Already the Union
Government had committed itself to an expenditure
of over £75,000 on the project, and it was most anxious
to have the weather and radio stations operating by
the original deadline date of March 7 or as soon as
Actually, on the day that the new site was located, the construction party began laying the floor of the first hut at Transvaal Cove. Five days later, despite more gales that drove the Good Hope to sea for a couple of days and forced her to leave behind three of her petty officers who had been sightseeing ashore, the roof trusses were erected, the flag indicating that the highest point of the building had been reached was hoisted, and every man was issued with a tot of whisky to mark the occasion.
A party led by Crawford now climbed the lower slopes of the mountain range to investigate the possibility of diverting the stream that reached the coast midway between Transvaal Cove and Ship Cove to the former, so that Snoektown might have a freshwater supply at its front door. An old watercourse that indicated that the stream had once come down this way was found, but the task of redirecting it was too big to be tackled now.
While the others were investigating the water question, Bond climbed on past the snowline, which had been creeping slowly down as autumn advanced, until he had reached a height of 2,500 feet. The climb took him three and a half hours. He looked down upon five conical hills that lay between the mountains and the coast, and found that all five had craters on their summits, though he could see no indication of their being volcanically alive. The crater of Junior's Kop (so named after the Officer of the Watch of the Transvaal who first pointed it out, and who happened to be the junior sub-lieutenant of the ship), which lay immediately behind the settlement, was filled with cold water. The other hills were too far away to see whether their craters were also water-filled.
Two or three nights later a hurricane struck Marion Island. The wind was so fierce that it seemed that it must sweep the tents and everything else that was movable right into the sea. The lighthouse, with its paraffin pressure lamp, that had been erected on Gunner's Point as a guide to ships was blown over, and when Boyer emerged from his tent to try to save it he was picked up bodily and carried about ten feet by the wind before he managed to obtain an uncertain footing on the ground. He had to go down on hands and knees as he approached the exposed position on which the light had been erected. In the darkness he collided with his commanding officer. Bond was also trying, low on all fours, to reach the lamp. They were too late to save it, but found that the valuable apparatus had suffered little damage in its fall.
While making an inspection of the camp to see if all was well, Bond found the wind so strong when in the open that he could make no progress against it at all except during occasional brief lulls. He had the greatest difficulty in drawing breath even when he sheltered his face under his greatcoat.
Though the wind moderated slightly during the following day, stormy weather continued for five days, preventing the Good Hope returning to anchor and making it almost impossible for the construction party to continue their work on the buildings. On the Sunday, February 15, the Transvaal came back with the Good Hope, which she had been sent to relieve. What was of most interest to the island party was the fact that she had brought mail, for they had received none for nearly three weeks. The landing stage could not yet be used, but they signalled the frigate to send in the mail and they hoisted it over the cliff at the end of a line.
The Good Hope left on the following day, taking
|with her one of the construction party who required
hospital treatment ashore.|
In the fortnight that followed there was an outbreak of boils among a section of the soldiers, the boils appearing on the most exposed positions, such as faces, necks, and arms. A peculiar feature of the minor epidemic for which no satisfactory explanation could be found was that it affected all six men who were working on the actual erection of the buildings, and nobody else.
The Transvaal had brought with her Lieutenant Bob Richardson of the South African Air Force, who spent several days ashore examining possible sites for laying down moorings for a flying boat. The authorities planned, if the necessary arrangements could be made, to despatch a Sunderland of the S.A.A.F., from Durban at the first opportunity, on a survey flight to the islands. It was by now realised that an aerodrome for land-based aircraft on Marion could only be provided, if at all, at a huge outlay, owing to the sogginess of the ground. Nor would local weather conditions apparently permit flying boats to be based there except under good artificial cover, which would also be costly to provide. But even if the islands provided only a refueling point they could double the range of flying- boats keeping guard over the ocean south of the Cape.
The variability of the weather in these latitudes was again illustrated by the fact that on March 1 the island party endured what to them was a minor heatwave, a north-westerly wind bringing the temperature up to the highest figure they had yet recorded - 70 degrees - while by the following night a strong southerly wind had forced it down again to the lowest they had yet known - 28 degrees, or four below freezing point. They saw their first ice form in pools among the rocks, and sleet squalls were frequent.
The Transvaal ended her second spell of duty at the islands on March 2. For five days there were no ships standing by. In the interim Bennetts and Hawkins
|succeeded in intercepting the first radio signals direct
from the mainland. Bond, between more serious
administrative duties, made time to meet a request
from the South African Institute for Medical Research
to obtain specimens of any insect life that he could
find. It had sent down in the Transvaal a selection of
jars and bottles in which to put them. Cursory examination
had suggested that there was hardly any insect life
on the island, but by dint of meticulous examination
of ground and vegetation, and the exercise of much
patience, Bond was eventually able to capture specimens
of spiders, wingless flies, fleas, bugs and lice.|
The Natal came in on her second spell of guard duty, bringing with her other kinds of bird and animal life that the authorities were anxious to introduce and see multiply on the islands. She put ashore eight Black Australorp hens and two cocks. The hens began laying almost at once.
The frigate also landed five German Merino ewes in lamb. They and the fowls had been specially picked by the Government experimental farm at Onderstepoort. It was thought that since sheep were thriving on the Falklands and Tierra del Fuego, both of them in higher latitudes, a hardy type might do well also on the Prince Edwards. There was enough pasturage to feed millions of them.
The sheep proved to be as adaptable as the hens. They ate heartily, and wandered without a care over the green slopes.
But nobody had given thought to the treacherous bogs. On the very day the sheep were landed they claimed their first victim. Somebody noticed that there were only four sheep in sight. A search for the missing one resulted in its discovery, submerged except for a portion of its head, in a morass. It was quickly rescued and carried to the camp, where the doctor tried his utmost to revive it. It died of suffocation, however.
It was two months since the island party had tasted fresh meat, and even then the shortage at home
|had made mutton a special delicacy. They wasted no
tears, therefore, on the demise of the sheep, but immediately
the doctor pronounced life extinct they set to
with knives and soon the whole camp was celebrating
the accident in a mutton feast on the beach.|
It was not easy the next day to convince the Natal's men, who had been told when they embarked the sheep at Cape Town to consider them as V.I.P.s and take the greatest care of them, that the island men had not allowed their longing for fresh mutton to get the better of them and had not " cooked" their story to cover up their crime. There were many on the lower deck who agreed with the views of their shipmate from the duty boat when he reported the story he had heard ashore and commented: "They just done the poor thing in!"
Nevertheless the men on the island stuck to their story and thereafter kept more careful watch on the surviving animals. It would not do to allow one to sink right out of sight!
The bogging of the sheep produced fears that the attempt to raise sheep on the Prince Edwards was doomed to be a repetition of that by the French at Kerguelen. There determined efforts were made to introduce what promised to become a valuable industry, but despite every precaution the animals were all lost in the bogs.
After landing the birds and animals the Natal put ashore 1,000 gallons of high octane fuel to await the arrival of the Sunderland. Then she escorted in the Norse Captain, a 3,OOO4on Norwegian motor-freighter that the Union Government had on charter and that was being used to bring down the stores that the Gamtoos had left behind at Cape Town, in addition to those she had been forced to take back there. She was a more suitable ship than the Gamtoos for this kind of task, but the negotiations to obtain the permission of her owners to send her to the "Roaring Forties" had taken up two valuable weeks, and set the construction party that much behind in their schedule for completing
|their work. Now the days were getting shorter and the
weather ever more unkind, and they had to count the
hours ere they would be forced to leave. They were
working every day and much of every night.|
The Norse Captain had brought with her the island's power plant, comprising heavy Diesel-driven electric generators. At Dassen Island, just north of Table Bay, she had picked up 34 Coloured men, including many who had made the previous trip in the Gamtoos, and two guano boats similar to those the Gamtoos had used. The Coloured men who were not required to man the boats were put ashore to serve as a labour force, and the Natal provided a stevedoring party to get the cargo out of the store-ship, and a fatigue party to assist ashore. In addition her Chief Engineer, Lieut. Sharpe, and some of his staff were put ashore when the weather allowed, to assemble the power plant and get it going, and also to carry out much necessary plumbing. Harvey, the Co-ordinating Officer, had come down with the Norse Captain to see for himself how things were going, and he took up his headquarters ashore.
Thus the erection of the settlement proceeded at maximum speed. The weather did its best to interfere, allowing the Norse Captain one day only at the anchorage before driving her and the Natal to sea to ride out a two-day gale. Then she had 48 hours at anchor before again being driven out for two days.
But that second spell at anchor saved the day. She needed only one and a half of the two days she was given to get the last of her cargo ashore. That was done on Saturday, March 13. At noon that day, with the power plant functioning and a temporary aerial crudely rigged with the aid of floorboards over the roof of the radio room, two-way wireless communication with South Africa was at last established. When the dots and dashes from Waterkloof were heard acknowledging Marion Island's signals, the men around gave expression to their pent-up excitement in spontaneous cheering. Harvey celebrated the occasion with a
|luncheon party on the Norse Captain, whose hospitality
was extended by Captain August Nielsen, her master, in
honour of Crawford and the senior officers afloat and
The store-ship sailed for home four days later, by which time Island House (accommodating the Tristan islanders), Union House (for the South Africans) and the meteorological and radio station huts had been erected and all had been fitted with electric light. The dwellings also had running hot and cold water laid on, the water being brought by pipeline from a dam built 150 yards away, and the heating being done by paraffin geysers. All the buildings had been fitted with paraffin heaters. They were linked with each other and the beach by duckboard walks. Six 50-foot masts, four of them for the rhombic directional radio and two for the auxiliary radio systems (the latter including provision for homing beacons for ships and aircraft and emergency aerials), had been stepped in position and guyed to withstand 100 m.p.h. winds.
The Natal was to take the construction party home, and her departure had been arranged for Sunday, March 21. Crawford had in the meantime decided that as the full party he had originally been given was unnecessarily large for the functions of what he now considered to be merely a temporary station, and accommodation was so limited, he would keep only one radio operator instead of three. He chose Bennetts, who had been with him for a year at Tristan. Hawkins, the mechanic, had been with them at the same time. The fourth man was Sergeant Strydom, a medical orderly who had been sent down to replace Kinsella, who needed medical care. Thus the winter party would comprise four South Africans and the six Tristan islanders.
The inhospitable weather that had delayed the landing of the construction party two months previously now hurried them off the island ahead of their time. All hands were busy putting the finishing touches
|to their work and cleaning up when on the Saturday
afternoon, March 20, the weather began to deteriorate
rapidly. The wind and sea rose, the sky darkened,
and it became bitterly cold. Dymond decided to
evacuate immediately. He signalled the shore party
to prepare for immediate embarkation. They were to
come off as fast as his boats could pick them up. They
were to leave behind their stores and tools so as not to
delay the evacuation.|
As the last boat left the landing-stage with Dike and Lts. Merry and Bond, snow and sleet were falling. The sea was already so rough that they had to jump for the boat. There was no time for proper farewells. Their last picture of those they were leaving behind was of the South Africans standing on the stage, obviously charged with emotion, and the Tristan islanders grouped, silently watching, on the beach. Then in the gathering darkness the men, and soon even the outline of the island, were lost to sight.
Copyright John H Marsh (1948)