RRS John Biscoe at Halley Bay

The following comments were triggered by a query (published in the Z-fids Newsletter No. 20) from John Youle, a stamp collector who specialises in First Day Covers from Halley Bay. In the course of preparing an article on the John Biscoe (II) for the Polar Post (a philatelic journal) he noted the similarity of John Smith's picture of the Biscoe in January 1960, to the painting of the ship at Halley Bay in 1967 by Mike Skidmore, and being unaware of any previous visits, he wondered whether the ship really had been there in the 1959/1960 season. According to his records, the 1959/60 Halley Bay relief had been carried by the MS Kista Dan. He says "The 1959/60 season at Halley is a bit of a mystery. There are only two postmark dates known, one in December 1959 and the other 22 January 1960 which presumably coincided with the John Biscoe relief. The Kista Dan did operate for FIDS that season but perhaps she did not go to Halley as assumed by collectors!" -- Ed.

John Smith:

Yes, that really is the John Biscoe at Halley Bay in January 1960. The Kista Dan was not at Halley Bay during my time there.

The bay was full of sea ice when John Biscoe arrived. Throughout her stay the weather was brilliant. The bay ice remained intact in contrast to the previous year. From my photo of Tottan leaving (January 1959) you can see the bay ice has broken up. This happened during unloading and Tottan ended up alongside the ice cliff under cloudy skies.

John Biscoe took us in absolute luxury to Port Stanley where most of us transferred to the Shackleton which then took us to Cape Town. I recall that George Lush R.N. stayed in Port Stanley as ordered by the Royal Navy - but I don't know why. It is possible that Nelson Norman also stayed behind there. He was the M.O. and was doing R.A.F. National Service. Norman Hedderley stayed at Halley Bay to become 1960 Base Leader.

All a long time ago now!

Nelson Norman:
I noticed your interest in Biscoe at Halley in the newsletter. [Here is ...] a picture of Biscoe anchored to the sea ice in 1959. It may be the same occasion as the one reported for 1960. It was widely stated at that time that it was the first British ship to penetrate so far South since Shackleton lost the Endurance. In any event she sailed straight in and then out with no problem whatsoever under the command of Captain Johnston. [11 April 2009]
RRS John Biscoe, 1959
Photo by Nelson Norman
RRS John Biscoe, 1959

Gordon Artz:

[I remember..] RRS John Biscoe's call at Halley Bay in 1960 ... as well as any event; it was our relief ship! Having gone down in the MV Tottan at the end of 1958, it was with joy that we were relieved by a vessel of comparative ocean liner dimensions. This was the "new" Biscoe's maiden visit to the Weddell Sea, captained by the well-known veteran Bill Johnston. He receives worthy mention in Fuchs' book "Of Ice and Men", which is a splendid reference.

In that excellent book, however, Halley Bay does not enjoy the same prominence as other FIDS bases, having been established by a "rival", The Royal Society. Our team was a hastily assembled group that suffered from a low budget and inadequate pre-planning, resulting in South Africa being asked to supplement the personnel needs of a dozen Troglodytes. Getting back to the Biscoe, we relished the return voyage to South Georgia, where we transhipped to the RRS Shackleton, en route to Cape Town. There, having disembarked our team, the Shackleton undertook a relief (charter) voyage to the South African sub-Antarctic islands under the command of the redoubtable David Turnbull, known somewhat impolitely as "Frostyballs".

08 Oct 2011
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