Philip van Dueren: Last April I contacted the Foundation offering to assist in the transcription of Wilkins’ diaries. I was an underemployed travel agent suddenly with a lot of extra time on my hands and as a bit of a polar nut had read several books featuring our man. Dr Stephen Carthew sent me some pages from Wilkins’ 1911 diary which quickly showed this was not going to be an easy task! However I persisted and slowly became more proficient and soon started the 1912 diary where I learned that he travelled to England and arrived in Southampton 109 years ago this week (on a day the Titanic was in port before its doomed voyage). A fascinating insight into his Balkan War reporting followed later that same year. Next was his 1920 diary where he writes about his first journey down to the Antarctic with the Cope Expedition, he didn’t last long mainly due to severe mismanagement by its leader. The 75-day journey to get to the start of that expedition on the Falkland Islands contrasts with my journey there 4 years ago in less than a day! In September 1921 Wilkins sailed from England on the Quest with Shackleton but was sent ahead to South Georgia when they arrived in Rio. The 5 weeks he spent on South Georgia would be particularly interesting to keen birders or ornithologists as he is employed as the expeditions’ Naturalist. It is a bit of a killing spree however which makes even Wilkins feel guilty when killing a pair of albatross – ‘I felt like a murderer + had a mind to give up the whole ??? of bird collecting but then decided it must be done so I shot the remaining bird almost with my eyes shut praying to some unknown power to forgive me + hoping that if there is such a thing as a Valhalla for birds that these two would go to it.’

The pages of all these diaries are scanned as individual files and made available on the OSU website. No attempts are made to read any of it and thus the whole diary is scanned and put in one subfolder. When opening a subfolder called ‘1921 Shackleton Expedition Scientific files’ I came across a page titled ‘A Tale of Smuggish Satisfaction’ subtitled Sekliw Gnirednaw – I quickly worked out the latter was to be read backwards. Initially I referred the transcription of this tale to other possible transcribers but as they weren’t forthcoming I took it up myself as the timing (being in a 1921 diary) meant it was written exactly 100 years ago and may fit in with any centenary publishings. Wilkins writes about his younger self as his young friend and relates stories from his early life and teenage years. The story was rather hard to read and not all pages were in order (minor indications to reorder sections were included) but with Stephen’s help we solved the puzzle of most illegible words and revealed some surprising, and disturbing, events in his early life. 
Many more diary pages and other writings are available to be transcribed; any assistance would be appreciated, please contact me or 0402 765 707 if you’d like to have a go and perhaps reveal another surprise!
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