South Georgia Newsletter, December 2012
From South Georgia Website
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Next Commissioner Announced
The next Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has been announced as Mr Colin Roberts CVO. Mr Roberts has previous experience of the British Overseas Territories in his recent role as Director of the Overseas Territories Directorate within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK. In that role he was Commissioner for both the British Antarctic Territory and the British Indian Ocean Territory.
Invasion Of South Georgia - Thatcher’s Worst Moment
Thousands of pages of formerly secret documents have been released by the National Archives which shed new light on the decisions and feelings of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thirty years ago.
There were seven cruise ship visits during December; most of them in the latter half of the month when several made use of the church to hold Christmas celebrations. Cruise ship Bremen unusually visited twice, once to do a normal shore visit and avoid bad weather elsewhere on the island, then again the following day to use the church for a Christmas Eve ceremony.
Worsley’s Almanac Returns To The Island
A beat up old book has joined the South Georgia Museum Collection and is now among its most precious artefacts. The navigational almanac is the one that was used by Captain Frank Worsley to navigate the lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia in April 1916, to enable the rescue of the shipwrecked crew of the Endurance.
A crowd of passengers and locals filled the Museum entrance hall to see the handing over of the almanac. Captain Natke passed the carefully wrapped package to Thomas Kennedy and said a few words which Sylvia translated. Whilst it was unwrapped, Museum Director Sarah Lurcock used Worsley’s own words to explain why the book looks tired and torn, barely held together by the remaining section of binding. In his book ‘Shackleton’s Boat Journey’ Worsley wrote of a day during the journey in the lifeboat to South Georgia, “I had previously managed to keep the books from getting wet, but that day my navigating books and log were in a pitiable state--soaked through, stuck together, illegible….it took me all my time to open them without completely destroying all chance of navigating to land….the Navigational Almanac shed it pages so rapidly before the onslaught of the seas that it was a race whether or not the month of May would last to South Georgia. It just did, but April vanished completely.”
As a memento of the time Worsley had spent working on navigation with Reginald James whilst in the ice of the Weddell Sea, he presented the remains of the almanac to the young scientist when they were in Punta Arenas (Chile) after all were safely rescued. A note to this effect, written by Reginald James, accompanied the almanac.
Far-flung Jurisdiction Visit
The Chief Justice of the Falkland Islands, the Honourable Christopher Gardner QC, came for a comprehensive familiarisation visit to South Georgia. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, as well as the British Antarctic Territory, and the British Indian Ocean Territory, also come under his jurisdiction.
Mountains - New Stamp Issue
A new set of six stamps celebrating the Mountains of South Georgia was released on December 11th, International Mountain Day. Three se-tenant pairs show mountains and the men they were named for. The description of the new set below is by experienced South Georgia mountaineer Caradoc Jones.
The £1 stamps feature the Allardyce Range. Sir William Lamond Allardyce (1861 – 1930) was a good-hearted man who bore his gubernatorial responsibilities with foresight and success. The peaks that bear his name witness a determined soul who resolutely ascended the career ladder of pan-global colonial administration. This began as an 18 year old with a twenty-five year apprenticeship in Fiji prior to becoming Governor of the Falkland Islands (1904 – 1915) and its ‘Dependencies’, which then included South Georgia. He was subsequently the Governor of the Bahamas (1915-1920), Tasmania (1920-1922) and finally Newfoundland (1922-1928). A career indeed upon which it may justifiably be said the sun never set. His period of office in the South Atlantic outposts included the crucial assertion of authority over South Georgia and a pivotal role during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in the First World War. His prescient understanding of the need for rational exploitation of natural resources and careful stewardship of the environment is now being enacted with the resources and management finally befitting a man who was ahead of his time.
The other £1 stamp features Mount Paget which, at 2934 metres, is the highest summit on the Island and stands head and shoulders above the three nearest contenders: Nordenskjold, Carse and Sugartop. This imperious peak is named after Sir Alfred Wyndham Paget, RN (1852 – 1918) who commanded the Squadron from which HMS Sappho was detached to visit South Georgia in 1906, under the command of Captain Hodges. Thus it was fitting a Royal Navy officer, Commander M.K. Burley, led the 1964/5 Joint Services expedition that succeeded on their second attempt to make the first ascent of the mountain.
Mount Carse (2331m) features on a 75p stamp and is the third highest summit of the Island. It is named after the explorer and broadcaster Duncan Carse (1913 – 2004). As an explorer Carse was both tenacious and indefatigable, characteristics which enabled him to succeed in the herculean task of mapping South Georgia. The superb map produced by his unofficial team served sailors, scientists, climbers and soldiers for nearly 50 years. With the glacial recession wrought by global climate change, only the advent of satellite technology allowed its replacement. Described in an obituary: ‘to those who knew him best, he was a man of great integrity, as well as a loyal, amusing but very tough-minded friend and expedition companion, whose endurance in the field few could match’. Despite ranging the length and breadth of the Island leading successive survey teams, his dedication to the task in hand never allowed him to attempt the peak named in his honour. The first ascent fell to Stephen Venables and Brian Davidson in a lightning dash from their cabin fevered snow-hole in 1990.
Stenhouse Peak (525m) is shown on a 65p stamp. Found a mile to the west of Maiviken on the edge of Cumberland Bay, it is named after another larger than life character, Joseph Russell Stenhouse (1887 – 1941). Stenhouse was in the other half of Shackleton’s ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1916). Supported by the vessel Aurora, their role was to lay depots across the Ross Sea ice shelf in support of Shackleton’s anticipated traverse of the icy continent. Stenhouse unwittingly found himself in command of the Aurora when, with the vessel beset in the ice and the Captain ashore, the vessel was wrenched from its moorings. They drifted northwards through the Ross Sea for nine months still beset in the ice in a curious mirror image of Shackleton’s Endurance in the Weddell Sea on the opposite side of the continent. The two halves of the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition were destined never to meet. The Aurora, unlike the Endurance, did escape to open water and was nursed the 1000 miles back to New Zealand by Stenhouse. He then served with distinction in the First World War. Stenhouse later returned to Antarctic waters as Captain of Scott’s old ship, RRS Discovery, which was engaged in oceanographic and whaling research in the South Georgia based Discovery Expeditions. He entered active service for the second time with the outbreak of the Second World War, again serving with distinction until killed in the explosion and sinking of his ship in the Red Sea.
Bird Island Diary
By Jerry Gillham at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.
The unseasonably warm and dry December has allowed plenty of long, enjoyable days outside for the new Field Assistants to try and learn all they can from the 2012 wintering team. The mountains of South Georgia have been visible more days than not and some days we’ve been sat in the sun looking at distant icebergs in the long, light evenings.
The fur seal puppies are gathering together at the edges of the beach, playing and fighting amongst themselves while waiting for their mothers to return from sea and feed them. Jon, Hannah and Jaume have been crazy-busy with the seals; keeping track of all the males, females and puppies twice a day at the Special Study Beach (SSB) and recording the movements of the increasingly mobile young ones on Freshwater Beach.
South Georgia Snippets
HMS Edinburgh on Patrol; a Last Visit: HMS Edinburgh called into Cumberland Bay on December 16th for a two-day stay during a patrol around the SG Maritime Zone. The 141m vessel anchored off Hope Point and the KEP jet boats assisted getting members of the 280-strong crew ashore for a leg stretch. This will be the last ever visit of the type 42 warship, known as the ‘Fortress of the Sea’, as she will shortly be decommissioned from the Navy.
Museum Whale Log Data Research: A paper using information from a whale sightings log held in the South Georgia Museum, and sightings of cetaceans from the science base at Bird Island, has been published. Sightings such as the southern right whale seen in Cumberland Bay in mid-December are logged. The logs contain information such as the position, heading and behaviour of any whales seen. The resulting paper is entitled ‘Changes in distribution, relative abundance, and species composition of large whales around South Georgia from opportunistic sightings: 1992 to 2011’. The 4 most reported species in both data sets were southern right, humpback, minke and orca (killer) whales, but the species composition of has changed over time; for instance southern right whales have become the most sighted species in both data sets, with a peak of reported sightings in the 2001 to 2005 period. Sightings in the bays around South Georgia have also increased over time. In an area such as the Antarctic, which poses many difficulties when conducting research, opportunistic data sources such as these, although not ideal, can be valuable, since such information would otherwise be unattainable.
South Georgia Featured on BBC4, Christmas Day: The SGHT Habitat Restoration (rat eradication) Project was one of three sections on environmental problems in the British Overseas Territories on the programme ‘Saving Species’, broadcast both on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Project Director Tony Martin was interviewed about the start of Phase Two of this massive eradication attempt. Also featured was a proposal for Marine Protected areas in the Antarctic.
Christmas celebrations at King Edward Point started with the traditional community decoration of the church on December 15th. The decorators were rewarded with mulled wine and mince pies and a BBQ was put on close by afterwards. Snow that night and throughout December gave an unseasonal twist to the events. There was also a Christmas Quiz, and a feast on Christmas Day evening.
Huge Antarctic icebergs drifted into Cumberland Bay at the end of the month. A regular visitor on one of the cruise ships remarked that he had not seen such a display of icebergs here in many years. And the Captain of another vessel said the bergs stretch a long way all off the north coast, making navigating in the coastal waters a cautious and slow business.