Over the past few days the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian ship filled with almost 70 scientists, tourists and crew, has been stuck in the ice off Antarctica. They were on an Expeditions Onlinetrip retracing the path of the famous expedition of Sir Douglas Mawson. He sailed aboard the SY Aurora, which at another point in her career encountered a situation like that met by the modern explorers. In 1915, while serving as a support ship for a crew laying supplies for Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica, she was blown away from her anchorage in McMurdo Sound. She was caught in heavy ice, and was stuck there for the better part of a year.
Some things haven’t changed in the past 100 years, but much has. The Aurora was completely cut off from contact with the outside world. But 100 years later, when a ship is trapped, her crew can send out a call for help. Not long after Akademik Shokalskiy was trapped, three icebreakers set out from different directions to free her. Those aboard the trapped vessel have even been able to post video reports on the internet.
The Aurora, while carrying the Mawson expedition, had been fitted with new wireless equipment. But the range was very limited and could not be relied on. When she was trapped in the ice, she remained there for 315 days. The ice tightened its grip on the ship, and the crew gathered what supplies they had, ready to jump overboard if it seemed she was about to give. Finally she broke free, and with a makeshift rudder the men were able to get her back to New Zealand. She was refitted, and set out the next year to pick up the survivors of the shore party. We can hope that the story ends even better for the Akademik Shokalskiy.
Today. the day after Christmas, is the feast of St. Stephen. During the Middle Ages this was traditionally a day in which horses would be bled. In this poem Thomas Naogeorgus, a 16th century German protestant pastor and playwright, describes the custom:
Then followeth Saint Stephens days, whereon doth every man His horses jaunt and course abrode as swiftly as he can Until they doe extreemely seate, and than they let them blood, For this being done upon this day, they say doth do them good And keepes them from all maladies and sicknesse through the yeare, As if that Steven any time took charge of horses heare
While this practice seems strange to us today, it was in accordance with the ancient’s theories of medicine. From the ancient Greeks to the 19th century, the four humors was one of the leading medical theories. It held that there were four elements: fire, earth, water and air, and four corresponding fluids in the body: yellow bile, black bile, phlgem and blood. Sickness was thought to be caused by an imbalance of these fluids. Thus, it would make sense to bleed their horses on St. Stephens day if an abundance of blood would cause sickness.
Today is Boxing Day, a traditional holiday in England and other places that involved, at one time, giving gifts to your servants. One English gentleman wrote this account of the holiday in 1731:
By that time I was up, my servants could do nothing but run to the door. Inquiring the meaning, I was answered, the people were coming for their Christmas-box: this was logic to me; but I found at last, that, because I had laid out a great deal of ready-money with my brewer, baker, and other tradesmen, they kindly thought it my duty to present their servants with some money for the favour of having their goods. This provoked me a little; but being told it was ‘the custom,’ I complied. These were followed by the watch, beadles, dustmen, and an innumerable tribe; but what vexed me the most was the clerk, who has an extraordinary place, and makes as good an appearance as most tradesmen in the parish; to see him come a boxing, alias begging, I thought was intolerable: however, I found it was ‘the custom’ too, so I gave him half-a-crown; as I was likewise obliged to do to the bellman, for breaking my rest for many nights together.
Having talked this matter over with a friend, he promised to carry me where I might see the good effects of this given box-money. In the evening, away we went to a neighboring alehouse, where abundance of these gentry were assembled round a stately piece of roast beef, and as large a plum-pudding. When the drink and brandy began to work, they fell to reckoning of their several gains that day: one was called a stingy dog for giving but sixpence; another called an extravagant fool for giving half-a-crown, which perhaps he might want before the year was out; so I found these good people were never to be pleased. Some of them were got to cards by themselves, which soon produced a quarrel and broken heads, In the interim came in some of their wives, who roundly abused the people for having given them money; adding, that instead of doing good, it ruined their families, and set them in a road of drinking and gaming, which never ceased till not only their gifts, but their wages, were gone. One good woman said, if people had a mind to give charity they should send it home to their families: I was very much of her opinion; but, being tired with the noise, we left them to agree as they could.
My friend next carried me to the upper end of Piccadilly, where, one pair of stairs over a stable, we found near a hundred people of both sexes, tome masked, others not, a great part of which were dancing to the music of two sorry fiddles. It is impossible to describe this medley of mortals fully; however, I will do it as well as I can. There were footmen, servant-maids, butchers, apprentices, oyster and orange-women, and sharpers, which appeared to be the best of the company. This horrid place seemed to be a complete nursery for the gallows. My friend informed me, it was called a ‘threepenny hop;’ and while we were talking, to my great satisfaction, by order of the Westminster justices, to their immortal honour, entered the constables and their assistants, who carried off all the company that was left; and, had not my friend been known to them, we might have paid dear for our curiosity.1