“Morrell’s Land”


“New South Greenland, sometimes known as Morrell’s Land, was an appearance of land recorded by the American captain Benjamin Morrell of the schooner Wasp in March 1823, during a sealing and exploration voyage in the Weddell Sea area of Antarctica. Morrell provided precise coordinates and a description of a coastline which he claimed to have sailed along for more than 300 miles (480 km). Because the Weddell Sea area was so little visited, and hard to navigate due to ice conditions, the alleged land was never properly investigated before its existence was emphatically disproved during Antarctic expeditions in the early 20th century.

“At the time of Morrell’s voyage, the geography of the then unnamed Weddell Sea and its surrounding coasts was almost entirely unknown, making the claimed sighting initially plausible. However, obvious errors in Morrell’s voyage account, and his general reputation as a fabulist, created scepticism about the existence of this new land. In June 1912 the German explorer Wilhelm Filchner searched for but found no traces of land, after his ship Deutschland became icebound in the Weddell Sea and drifted into the locality of Morrell’s observation. A sounding of the sea bottom revealed more than 5,000 feet (1,500 m) of water, indicating no land in near proximity. Three years later, trapped in the same waters with his ship Endurance, Ernest Shackleton was able by similar means to confirm the land’s non-existence.”

— text and map: wikipedia

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“A wretched day. Blowing a blizzard—wind and snow. Unable to move. We are very much stuck in the pack. There is ice all round us, even under the stern, and no open water alongside the ship at all, as there usually is, but as the temperature is high, 29deg, there is no fear at present of our getting frozen in.”

“Sir Ernest seems to know just what the ice is going to do every time and so far he has been infallible. He is ready to attempt anything and yet if the ship gets into a position involving the remotest possibility of peril, he is unremitting in his attention to her navigation until she is removed from every vestige of prospective danger.”

— Thomas Orde-Lees, 20 January 1915

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Closed around the ship like pudding

“Almost immediately they realized that this was a different sort of ice from anything encountered before. The floes were thick but very soft, and consisted mostly of snow. They floated in a soupy sea of mushy brash ice composed of ground-up floes and lumps of snow. The mass of it closed in around the ship like pudding.”

— Alfred Lansing, Endurance

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It is now seven weeks…

“It is now seven weeks since we first entered the pack ice and since then it has been almost an incessant battle. It is gratifying to feel we are only 80 miles from… Vahsel Bay. We are all keen to reach it as the monotony is telling on some of us.”

— Frank Hurley

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His Natural Life


Copy of (For the Term of) His Natural Life, by Marcus Clarke, publ. 1874*

“[This] novel is considered one of the first examples of Tasmanian Gothic literature. [Read on gutenberg.org.]

“The original tragic ending was considered unsuitable for readers in the US, as a result of which Marcus Clarke added additional chapters taking the story up to the Victorian gold rush for US editions. Most modern publications and film media presentations of the story have been based on the US edition.

“The story was meant as an alchemical allegory. Clarke had studied the industrial production of diamonds, in which an essential stage of ugly blackness precedes the beauty of the diamond’s crystallisation.

“Eventually, the novel became known as For the Term of His Natural Life but, originally, Clarke wanted the shorter title to suggest that this story was about the universal human struggle and the future Australian race. He wanted to celebrate the survival of the human spirit in the direst circumstances. With its cruelty and systemic violence, this book, more than any other, has come to define the Australian convict past.” — wikipedia; image: NFSA, Australia

* In 1926, [the actress] Marion Marcus Clarke gave an early edition of the classic Australian novel For the Term of His Natural Life to American director Norman Dawn, who was about to make Australia’s third film adaptation of the book. Marion Marcus Clarke, besides playing mother to the hero of this film, was a daughter of the author, Marcus Clarke (1846-1881).Graham Shirley, NFSA Historian]

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Evil Conditions


“I had been prepared for evil conditions in the Weddell Sea, but had hoped that in December and January, at any rate, the pack would be loose, even if no open water was to be found. What we were actually encountering was a fairly dense pack of a very obstinate character. Pack ice might be described as a gigantic and interminable jigsaw puzzle devised by Nature. The parts of the puzzle in loose pack have floated slightly apart and become disarranged; at numerous places they have pressed together again; as the pack gets close the congested areas grow larger and the parts are jammed harder til finally it becomes “close pack,” when the whole of the jigsaw puzzle becomes jammed to such an extent that with care and labor it can be traversed in every direction on foot. Where the parts do not fit closely there is, of course, open water, which freezes over in a few hours after giving off volumes of “frost-smoke.”


In obedience to renewed pressure this young ice “rafts,” so forming double thicknesses of a toffeelike consistency. Again the opposing edges of heavy floes rear up in slow and almost silent conflict, till high “hedgerows” are formed round each part of the puzzle. At the junction of several floes chaotic areas of piled-up blocks and masses of ice are formed. Sometimes 5-ft to 6t-ft piles of evenly shaped blocks of ice are seen so neatly laid that it seems impossible for them to be Nature’s work. Again, a winding canyon may be traversed between icy walls 6 f to 10 ft high, or a dome may be formed that under renewed pressure bursts upward like a volcano. All through the winter the drifting pack changes — grows by freezing, thickens by rafting, and corrugates by pressure. If, finally, in its drift it impinges upon a coast, such as the western short of the Weddell Sea, terrific pressure is set up and an inferno of ice blocks, ridges, and hedgerows result, extending possibly for 150 or 200 miles off shore. Sections of pressure ice may drift away subsequently and become embedded in new ice.”


“Another point that may require to be explained was the delay caused by wind while we were in the pack. When a strong breeze or moderate gale was blowing the ship could not safely work through any except young ice, up to about 2 feet in thickness. As ice of that nature never extended more than a mile or so, it followed that in a gale in the pack we always had to lie to.”

— Ernest Shackleton, South

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Caird Coast


“The Brunt Ice Shelf, visible here, borders the Antarctic coast of Coats Land, Antarctica, between the Dawson-Lambton Glacier and the Stancomb-Wills Glacier Tongue. The Brunt Icefalls extend along Caird Coast, a portion of the shore of Coats Land, for about 80 km (50 mi), where the steep and jagged ice-covered coast descends to Brunt Ice Shelf.”

— Earth Snapshot [link]

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