Islands of Despair
Three — Enderby Island
Friday, 11th February, found us pushing into a moderate sea against a light wind. The weather was heavily overcast and it was raining steadily. As the day wore on the wind increased to gale force and the sea rose rapidly, so that the Ranui began to take a bit of water aboard, and it soon became necessary to wear sea-boots in the forecastle. The wind was shrieking and wailing in the rigging, and the spray hissed as it was whipped off the crests of the waves.
About 2 p.m. Captain Worth got a brief glimpse of land slightly on our starboard bow, and he altered course accordingly. This brought the sea almost abeam. He had to reduce speed, as the motion of the ship was becoming violent. By 4 p.m. he was able to recognize the entrance to Carnley Harbour, and we entered the heads with sheets of spray flying over the tops of the masts. It took us a long time to reach Tagua Bay, as progress was nil during the passage of the heavier squalls. Our arrival in this sort of weather took the camp personnel rather by surprise.
Although the next day was still somewhat boisterous with occasional rain squalls we continued our journey to Port Ross. It was regarded almost as an insult to be served with bully-beef for the evening meal at Ranui Cove, after having dined regularly on Campbell Island mutton.
After living so long on board the Ranui circumstances demanded that the first day ashore be declared washing-day, page 30and we all made good use of the wash-tub and the bath. Drinking and cooking water was obtained from rain-water tanks, but to conserve the supply we adopted the practice of using creek water for washing. All the creeks in the northern part of the islands are discoloured by the peat, and have a light chocolate colour, but this does not in itself affect the potability of the water. All of the streams, however, are subject to pollution by seals and penguins.
The weather was lovely, quite warm with plenty of sunshine. The hillsides around the camp were ablaze with flowering rata, and dozens of tuis and bellbirds were disporting themselves, completely regardless of our intrusion in their domain. The fine weather was soon succeeded by stormy days, with high winds and driving rain, and all hands were more or less confined to the camp. In my case I took advantage of the opportunity to prepare the plan and final records of the work done at Campbell Island.
The evening of 17th February was clear and calm, so George and I repaired to the astronomical station. Except for a brief cloudy interval about midnight, which break we utilized to boil the billy, the conditions remained very good till 2.15 a.m. Passing clouds were then becoming very troublesome and we had to abandon observations. However, I felt confident that sufficient observations had now been completed, and this subsequently proved to be the case.
Sunday, 20th February, turned out to be a perfect day, and after lunch we decided to make a picnic trip to the little bay just north of Deas Head. Being reluctant to see a good day lost we combined business with pleasure and erected a trig beacon on the head. Deas Head provides a fine example of columnar basalt, and is 205 feet high. The bay itself is a very attractive spot and would have made a splendid camp site.
One of the men also managed to shoot a couple of goats, which are still reasonably plentiful in this vicinity. As far as I have been able to ascertain, goats were first liberated on the page 31islands in October 1865, when some were landed at Erebus Cove from H.M.C.S. Victoria. About the beginning of the next month further goats were put ashore in the North Arm of Carnley Harbour from the paddle-tug Southland. In 1880 the sealing vessel Friendship reported seeing about two dozen white goats on Enderby Island. Then in 1890 Mr. F. R. Chapman reported that goats which had been landed on Figure-of-Eight Island in Carnley Harbour appeared to be thriving. It seems certain that it is only in the northern part of the group that these animals have survived. The whole of the islands were traversed by the survey party, and we saw no goats, or traces of goats, south of Port Ross.
By this time we had been long enough on the islands to realize that it would be essential to establish temporary camps as bases for our survey work, even in localities reasonably handy to the main camps. This was because we would then waste only a minimum of time in travelling on the occasional days that were suitable for survey work. Also it would mean that we would not have to run the risk of being stranded without adequate food and shelter if the weather should deteriorate rapidly and prevent our returning to the main camp by boat. We had already decided that the difficulty of overland travelling was such that we would rely on sea transport as much as possible. The weather had a disconcerting way of changing very suddenly, and even the most sheltered harbours could quickly become dangerous for open boats. For this reason it was a general rule that "Mae West" life-jackets were to be carried on all boat trips. Actually this was quite a practical idea too, as the jackets were both warm and waterproof, and most of us got into the habit of wearing them for reasons of comfort rather than prudence.
During my previous short visit to Enderby Island I had decided that that island offered the most favourable country for a measured base-line for the triangulation system, and I accordingly arranged that our first field camp would be there. Captain Worth agreed to bring the Ranui round to the main page 32camp on Monday, 21st February, provided of course that the weather was reasonably suitable for landing us on the island.
Monday proved to be an overcast day with a fresh wind from the south-east blowing at about force five. Since this wind was blowing directly on to the sandy beach at Enderby Island we anticipated that we might have some difficulty in landing our equipment through the surf. Nevertheless we got ourselves and our supplies ashore in a reasonably dry condition, although a certain amount of spirited opposition from the resident sealions forced us to land at the extreme end of the beach. The Ranui then left for her anchorage at Erebus Cove, arrangements having been made for her to return on Saturday, as I hoped to have the work completed by that time.
The three of us then prospected for a suitable camp site, the essential requirements being shelter, water, and proximity to our dump of supplies on the beach. On my previous visit I had selected a site near a good stream, but on inspecting it now we found that it was overrun with sea-lions of all sizes and ages. We soon found a satisfactory site further inland, in good shelter and alongside a fair-sized stream. All the same we did not persuade ourselves that the stream was not polluted by sea-lions, as there were plenty of them about. We managed to get all our supplies up to the camp site and had our tents erected before a steady drizzle set in.
All the cooking was done on a battery of Primus stoves built into a wooden carrying-case. Cooking on a Primus stove does not, of course, allow of any fancy dishes being prepared, and apart from the morning porridge it was confined to heating tinned foods. At Enderby Island w set up our stoves under a large rata tree. In wet weather the cook had to attire himself in oilskins and sou'wester to attend to his duties. When the meal was ready we had the option of eating it under the tree to the accompaniment of frequent copious drips, or else trying to eat it in the rather cramped confines of our sleepingtents. We decided that the extra work of transporting and erecting a mess-tent would be amply justified on every occasion in the future.
It rained steadily all night, but our camp was well sheltered from the boisterous wind. I found that I had insufficient fern under my tent, and the ground had become so waterlogged that the tent floor was lying in water. The rain continued till 4 p.m., but it was succeeded by mist, which effectually prevented any work being done, and in the evening the rain started again.
Tuesday night our sleep was disturbed by a couple of seabears which were trying to find their pups. The pups were in the stream alongside our tents, but unhappily the mothers approached from the other side of the camp. As a result the mothers bellowed continuously on one side of us, and the pups bleated on the other. This went on for about an hour before the animals exercised enough initiative to find their way round the tents.
During the wet and misty weather which prevailed during the next few days we had ample opportunity for observing the activities of the sea-lions. Actually the male of the species is correctly known as a sea-lion, the female is a sea-bear, and the young are known as pups. The sandy beach at Enderby Island is frequented by hundreds of the creatures, and they are page 34also very commonly seen in other parts of the islands in lesser numbers. They are sometimes known as hair-seals, their skin having little or no commercial value. At times, however, the animals have been killed for the sake of the oil which can be obtained from the blubber.
The sea-lion, or bull, is a bulky animal, dark brown in colour, and the older ones have a considerable growth of shaggy hair rather like a mane. The female is smaller and sleeker, with a colour ranging from light brown to silvery grey, and the pups are similar in colour. All of the animals have large liquid eyes. The ears are very small and the creatures do not appear to hear very well, but they have a very keen sense of smell.
During the winter months the sea-lions go to sea, and disappear almost entirely from the islands, only an occasional one being seen. About the beginning of November the males start to return to the beaches, where they select their individual allotments. They are in fine physical condition at this time, but as they never leave the beach until the breeding season is over at about the end of February they are then in somewhat of an emaciated condition. All the females that come ashore on the allotment of any particular bull are regarded by him as belonging to his harem, and during the period of the breeding season he is fully occupied in preventing the bears from escaping, and in driving off bachelor bulls who may attempt to invade his territory. As there are always plenty of bachelor bulls in the vicinity of the harems, the master of each harem has to keep a constant vigil, and on a calm day the roaring of angry bulls could be heard at Ranui Cove, three miles from the beach. Actually it was not often that the bulls came to grips, probably because most of the harems were controlled by huge old battle-scarred bulls whose appearance was so formidable that any interlopers hastily made off when their intentions were detected. Some of the bulls had shocking injuries, but these of course may have been sustained in fights with other creatures at sea.
When landing on the beach at this time of the year it is page 35quite necessary to select a spot well removed from the nearest harem, as the bull treats a man in exactly the same way as if he were a bachelor bull with designs on the ladies of the harem. When a sea-lion gets up on his flippers he is capable of a very good turn of speed for a short distance, and although we often went fairly close to them to get photographs I personally always took good care to make sure that there was nothing on the ground that would be likely to trip me when I beat an undignified retreat with an angry bull at my heels.
During my first visit to Enderby Island the pups were being born, and by now they had grown considerably, and were very entertaining to watch. A large fresh-water pond near the beach was in much demand for a swimming-pool. Usually dozens of the pups were disporting themselves in the filthy water, while the mothers lolled indolently on the bank, listlessly flicking at flies with their flippers.
There was still quite a number of harems on the beach at this time, and I had noticed that one of them was situated close to a steep bank. I found that I could approach from behind the bank without being seen, and upon reaching a good position overlooking the harem I would toss down a pebble or a piece of turf. The old bull would soon become frantic in his endeavours to discover the origin of the disturbance, and would charge back and forth in a distracted fashion. His onslaughts were made in total disregard for the comfort of the bears and pups, as he thought nothing of hurling himself over their prostrate bodies.
It is interesting to note that the sea-bears in particular often penetrated a considerable distance inland, and we came across occasional ones at an altitude of several hundred feet. Sometimes very young pups were also found in unexpected places well away from the sea. It was always somewhat of a mystery to us why these bears would struggle their way to such places. Perhaps they wanted to get away from the rough and rigid discipline enforced in the harems.page 36
We also found that our camp was located on the established route of a number of yellow-eyed penguins. Every evening they would approach from the beach, and when they reached the camp they would stop abruptly and stare at us in utter disbelief, turning their heads slowly from side to side. After about fifteen or twenty minutes it would occur to them to make a detour, and off they would go. Sometimes, however, they would not think of that, and the whole contingent would silently return to the beach. On one such occasion I followed them and found that the whole party had formed a rough circle on the beach, and was discussing the matter with the seriousness that it undoubtedly merited. These penguins are quite attractive birds, but their appearance is rather spoilt by the pallid yellow eye with its tiny black pupil.
The weather eventually improved, although it never became good, and on most days we experienced periods of fog or drizzle. In due course we got the base-line measured on a reasonably level stretch of country at the top of the northwestern cliffs. This line, which was about three-quarters of a mile long, was fortunately almost clear of scrub, being covered chiefly with Bulbinella rossi and in places with the remains of pastures of English grasses. The bulbinella is not unlike a hyacinth in general appearance, with an orange-coloured flower, while the English grass is a relic of the Enderby settlement. Enderby Island is comparatively free of large bush, although in some places the scrub is almost impenetrable.
7. (Top) Camp on Enderby Island.
8. (Bottom) Seal pups on Enderby Island.
10. (Bottom) Rata Forest on Musgrave Peninsula
Then we had more seal trouble at the camp, and Les had to get up at 5 a.m. to chase away a bear that was getting mixed up with our cooking utensils and cutlery. It was bellowing to its pup, which was in the stream just alongside it, but neither of them seemed to have enough sense to get together. When Les drove the bear away she was most upset, and bellowed all the more from a new position just behind my tent.
During our stay on Enderby Island we saw quite a number of the wild cattle which are the descendants of those landed there in 1895 from the Government ship Hinemoa. In that year Mr. T. D. A. Moffett of Invercargill, New Zealand, secured a lease of Enderby and Rose Islands at an annual rental of £5 5s. In 1916 the Rachel Cohen returned from a sealing expedition to the islands, and reported that the progeny of these cattle were in a very bad way, as they had multiplied to such an extent that there was insufficient food. Many had died from starvation and the remainder were in a weak and emaciated condition. Some of the beasts were wading into the sea to eat kelp, while others had swum to Rose Island only to find that food was equally scarce there and that there was no fresh water. The second engineer of the vessel, Mr. O. Magnus, expressed surprise that Commander Hooper of the Government ship Amokura had not notified the condition of the cattle and reported it to the Government.
There is quite a number of cattle still living on Enderby Island, and some were shot to provide fresh beef for the personnel of our expedition. It was our practice to select only young bulls for this purpose. Although Enderby Island has an area of 1770 acres the land cannot be regarded as very productive. As much of it is scrub-covered it would not be capable of supporting a great number of cattle.
Furthermore the whole of the island is infested with rabbits. It is believed that these animals were introduced by Ross in 1840, and the schooner Friendship, which visited the Auckland page 38Islands in 1880, reported that Enderby Island was overrun with them. Many of them have a very attractive blue-grey fur, and are believed to be of French origin. Although these rabbits appear to be perfectly healthy, the same cannot be said of those on Rose Island, as they appear to suffer from some disease or mineral deficiency which renders the bones extremely brittle.
It was on one of the wet days when I was taking a stroll along the sand dunes beside the beach that I stumbled on the almost unrecognizable remains of a building. This, together with the odd patches of pasture, was the only remaining evidence of the occupation of this island by the Enderby settlement in the 1850s. The activities of this settlement will be described in a later chapter.