For being a constant presence in the hut both years, he isn't much of a presence in other people's journals. His name usually turns up in lists, and in connection with his 'igloo', a frozen wall built up around a hole cut in the sea ice, through which he took measurements and specimens, which was a landmark in the immediate geography of Cape Evans. Personal references are sparing and peculiar. I share the most illustrative collection direct:
Scott thought him idle and might have paid earlier attention to his [Scott's] wife's opinion that Nelson 'spends all his time on shore being a man about town, which makes him look exceedingly tired'. (Thomson, 151-2)
Even when removed from civilisation with plenty of opportunity to catch up on sleep, he still looked exceedingly tired, so this may be slightly unfair – he was one of the first to bed after the boozy Midwinter Feast in 1911.
And to be fair to Scott, who crisitcised him for being superficial and "dilettantish", he also had nice things to say about Nelson:
Nelson has been out a good deal more of late. He has got a good little run of serial temperatures with water samples, and however meagre his results, they may be counted as exceedingly accurate; his methods include the great scientific care which is now considered necessary for this work, and one realises that he is one of the few people who have been trained in it. (RFS, 14 Aug 1911)
Nelson—at first called “The Immaculate One” on account of his care in dressing. Since his falling off has been named “Marie Ducas”. Has a taste for gin and bridge. (Wright, 28)
The name 'Marie' stuck. It appears to have been a pop culture reference of some sort.
[January, 1911] Day is a rattling good chap, Nelson (biologist) not so good.
[November, 1911] Nelson is weird. It is easy enough to get on with him as he won't lose his temper, but it is very easy for the other man to do so. He is such an anomaly that he is best described verbally. (Debenham, 41 and 127 respectively)
… never have I had such amusing arguments (cags we called them) as during the Antarctic night. Women's Suffrage I have known argued ad nauseam from dinner-time (7 p.m.) till midnight, when Nelson and myself were left still opposed, and still full of argument. Prayers for peace never deterred Nelson from preaching women's inferiority. Boots were the arguments that usually drove him to seek his cubicle and sink to rest. (Taylor, 260)
This primus . . . had a pressure gauge with a red mark and pointer to indicate the pressure when the hand pump was operated. To cut a long story short, the pressure gauge stayed obstinately immobile so I thought it would be wise to give it up as a bad job. But Nelson, who was next to me at the large table in the hut, evidently thought this was a cowardly attitude on my part, grabbed the contraption and pumped away at a furious rate until the body of the lamp burst and blazing oil poured over the table and on to the floor. (Wright, 285)
During the second winter, Nelson cultivated a bit of a mania for calculating longitude based on when the moon eclipsed other heavenly bodies (a 'lunar occultation'). He also was in the habit of writing terrible poems for people when he was on night watch. These combine in this immortal work, gifted to and preserved by Silas:
“It really is a bit too
Thick when you habitu-
-ally fail (and that too
After making accu-
To get an observation
For longitude of station
By lunar occultation!!”
So as not to disappoint you.
Whatever Nelson's thoughts on women might have been, he married within months of returning to England. He resumed his post at the marine biology lab, but was soon off again to fight in the First World War, at Gallipoli and then in France. The same was true of many of the scientists, and the war delayed publication of the promised in-depth scientific reports; after returning from service, they got reacquainted with their data and gradually the publication effort got underway, organised in large part by Debenham. In my exciting and varied adventures through stacks of miscellaneous documents, I've gone through Deb's correspondence from this time, and from about 1921 a question comes up: Has anyone heard from Nelson? Gradually this turns into He's supposed to be doing the Biology report but he hasn't sent me anything in months and he's not replying. Anyone know how I can get hold of him?
Whether it was the expedition, the war, or a combination of those with his own demons, Nelson's later life wasn't happy. The apparent difficulties of the early 1920s came to a crisis in 1923; he and his wife divorced early in January and, shortly after, at a marine lab in Scotland, he took his own life.
As through the leaden hours I sit
And try to conjure up, in vain,
For verses bold a fitting theme
My brain is mocked by this refrain:
'Tis difficult indeed to soar
On Pegasus, at half-past four.
How can a mortal at, Oh Muse,
Thy plenteous table hope to sup
When wearied by mundane affairs?
For done (colloquial) to a turn
My rabbit (welsh) if left, will burn. (Silas, 301)
David Thomson: Scott's Men (London, 1977) 151-2
Charles S. Wright: Silas (Columbus, 1993)
T. Griffith Taylor: With Scott: The Silver Lining (London: 1916)
Frank Debenham: The Quiet Land (Huntingdon, 1992)
Plenteous thanks to the Expedition Genealogist, Andy Airriess, for biographical details and Nelson's middle name.