THE ANTARCTIC FLEET
I finished taking the slack out of a bottom end bearing on the main engine at St Vincents, Cape Verde Islands, just off the west coast of Africa, our first stop since leaving Britain and our last before we reached Leith Harbour Whaling Base on the island of South Georgia. While fuel and stores were being taken on board, I joined my shipmates in buying, begging, bartering, or stealing, flagons of ‘alco pura’ (gutrot booze) from the ‘Bumboat’ men. Otherwise it would be a dry trip through the ‘Roaring Forties’ degrees south where the weather is worse than any government’s policy — though not consistently so — to the grog-dry Whaling Station and even drier Whaling Men who had spent the winter there. They knew we were coming, we knew they were there and the traditional obligation of bringing supplies must be honoured.
Stand your watch, oil the engines, retell old incidents — for news is scarce now.
Quite suddenly, out of the mist one morning, appeared the ice-cragged peaks of South Georgia — conversation sparkled once more as we threaded our way towards Leith Harbour and all its majestic squalor. HR
THE ANTARCTIC FLEET
Lyrics and Music: Harry Robertson
I went down south a-whaling, to the land of ice and snow,
And eight-and-twenty pounds a month, was all I had to show,
For being on a little ship like a sardine in a can,
And eating salty pork and beef, they stewed up in a pan.
Heigh-ho! Whale-oh! Wi’ the Antarctic fleet,
I’ve got a drip upon me nose and I’m frozen in the feet.
South Georgia is an island, it is a Whaling Base,
And only men in search of whales, would go to such a place,
No entertainment does exist unless you make home brew,
Then we would have some singing and, we’d have some fighting too.
Our gunner came from Norway, like many of the crew,
And others spoke wi’ Scottish tongues, as whalers often do,
But when the ship was closing in to make the bloody kill,
The Scotsmen and Norwegians worked, together with a will.
We sailed down to the Weddell Sea, where the big Blues can be found,
We chased between the icebergs and, we chased them round and round,
And when they couldn’t run no more, and fought to draw their breath,
Our gunner shot harpoons in them, ’til they floated still in death.
For months we sailed the ocean, and wearied with the toil,
Of slaughter and of killing just to get that smelly oil,
And when the savage storms blew and snow kept falling down,
I often wished that I was back, in dear old Glasgow town.
It’s twenty years since I’ve been there, and I won’t go there again,
I didn’t like the climate but, I liked the whaling men,
And even in the sunshine now when I walk along the street,
I’ve got a drip upon me nose, and I’ve still got frozen feet.
© Harry Robertson,
and subsequently ©1995 Mrs Rita Robertson, Brisbane, AUSTRALIA
Registered with APRA-AMCOS www.apra-amcos.com.au
Click to play the song