Arthur Farrant


Arthur Farrant committed suicide 17 February 1953. Before he took his own life he was involved in an escapade recorded by Sir Vivian Fuchs in Of Ice and Men.

"Admiralty Bay was a small meteorological station where a constant source of interest was the nearby gentoo penguin rookery. In February 1953 a fine day encouraged George Hemmen, Roger Banks, John Raymond and Arthur Farrant to make a boat trip to the rookery, and also to check a depot which lay seven miles across the bay. Because they landed at a very sheltered point, they failed to notice that a rising wind was whipping up high waves in the open water. After a few hours ashore they started back, and sailing out from behind sheltering rocks they suddenly realised that it would be impossible to reach base in their small boat. Hastily they turned back to shore.

"Unwisely they had set out without a tent, and though they had taken a radio transmitter it failed to work. There was no way of reporting their now uncomfortable situation, and the prospect of spending a night in the open was hardly cheering. Hauling up the boat above the apparent high water mark, they turned it upside down and huddled miserably beneath it, hoping , eventually to sleep.

"The wind continued to rise, and by nine o'clock was gusting to seventy-five knots. The snow had turned to rain, and soon it was obvious that there was` going to be an exceptionally high tide. Four times during the night they dragged the boat yet higher up the beach, the wind constantly threatening to blow it away. Their concerted efforts only just held it down, but with each move they gained experience, finally achieving a reasonable shelter by resting it on food boxes taken earlier from the depot and using the floor boards to sit on. A wall of old whale bones and boulders collected from the beach gave additional protection, and when the larger holes were filled with seaweed most of the draughts were excluded.

"They had a Primus, and had already picked up fuel and four-year-old rations from the depot which they intended to take back to base to sample. A cooking pot placed outside caught the rain, and presently they tried to brewup but without success.

"The next day was equally miserable with alternating hail, rain, snow and a blustering wind. By evening they were all much colder, but a heavy snowfall blocked up the remaining gaps in their make-shift shelter and this was deemed a blessing. No one slept much. By tea time the wind had dropped and they rushed down to the beach to launch the boat, but no sooner were they at sea than the weather again deteriorated, and when they cleared the headland the waves were seven feet high - too high to turn the boat across them and regain the shore.

"They were forced to cross the bay to a beach four miles away, but since they were now being driven towards the open sea, they could only try desperately to edge on to course for a few moments every time the boat rose to the top of a wave:

"It seemed obvious to me that the only hope of survival was to take each wave dead astern and ride with it ... I had to concentrate all my attention and energy on the battle ... I was mighty glad I was at the tiller, for I had no time to think of what would happen should we not make the crossing.... What the others thought I hate to imagine, what with being in such a little cockleshell, and with their lives in the hands of a novice ... one good wave breaking over us and that would have been that." George Hemmen's Journal

"A hundred yards away from the shore the engine ran out of petrol. Two men seized the oars struggling to keep the frail craft from broaching-to, while the third hastily slopped fuel into a heaving tank. The engine reluctantly spluttered into life again, and they came slowly inshore.

"Another miserably cold night under the boat followed. In the morning they collected moss to light a smudge-fire near which all four stood, hoping that base would notice them. They also wrote BOAT OK in letters three feet high made out of rocks and boulders laid on the snow, in the hope that with the x70 magnification of a theodolite telescope base would read the signal.

"The evening that the party failed to return, the base had alerted Stanley, and on the third day they had seen the men attempting a crossing though the boat was frequently lost to sight in the rough seas. They had also spotted the signal fire, and rescue was being organised. As the marooned mariners were preparing for another attempt to put to sea, HMS Snipe suddenly appeared round the headland and dropped anchor. Almost immediately a motor boat towing a whaler was chugging towards them. The whaler came in close, the rescue party leapt ashore, and there were relieved introductions all round. The Fids had been living with an improvised lamp made from a cigarette tin with a string wick; now their faces and clothes were black from smoke which accentuated their broad white smiles. While the whaler returned to the ship, the motor boat took them in tow and soon they were safely home, four days overdue, cold, tired and hungry, but with no lasting effects worse than some minor frostbite suffered by Banks.

"To everyone involved this episode caused much anxiety, and emphasized the point that small boats can be used only with great caution in Antarctic waters. It was emphasized tragically three years later when a dinghy leaving Biscoe after dark overturned and Ron Napier, on a visit from Signy to Admiralty Bay, was drowned. His body was never found, but it was thought that he hit his head as he fell and had been unable to help himself."

Extract from Of Ice and Men, by kind permission of Peter Fuchs.

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