On November 12, 1912, the frozen bodies of Robert Falcon Scott and his men are found on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Robert F. Scott was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all died from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.
As it was a family tradition, Robert Scott and his brother Archibald were predestined for a life in the armes services. He started his naval career at the age of 13 as a cadet and was sent to South Africa in 1883 to join the flagship HMS Boadicea. During this trip, got to know a member of the Royal Geographical Society, who would later support Scott’s career. Scott became lieutenant in 1889 and applied for a torpedo training shortly after. About ten years after, Robert Scott learned about an Antarctic mission and volunteered to lead the expedition on June 11, 1899.
The so called ‘Discovery Expedition’ lasted from 1901 – 1904 and was indeed led by Robert Scott, who was promoted to the rank of commander just before the take off. The crew consisted of about 50 men, who had only little training and experience, which became dangerous in the Antarctic waters. Even though they took many skis with them, hardly anyone knew how to use them. Still, the crew fulfilled some scientific and exploration objectives. Robert Scott and two further crew members traveled towards the South Pole, which took them 850km from the pole, until one man collapsed and the team was forced to return. The members improved their abilities and skills on the expedition and they managed to make significant biological, zoological, and geological findings. At the end, it took explosives to free the Discovery crew from the ice. When the expedition returned to Britain in September 1904, Scott became a popular hero.
Around 1909, Robert Scott has already announced his plans for another Antarctic expedition, which later became known as the Terra Nova Expedition and started only one year after. He stated that next to several scientific goals, his main objective was to reach the South Pole but back then he did not known that Roald Amundsen followed the same goal. In October of the same year, he received a telegram, stating that Roald Amundsen was on his way to the South Pole as well. Already at the beginning, the expedition was trapped in pack ice and one of the motor sledges got lost. The march towards the South Pole started on 1 November, 1911. A group of five men, including Robert Scott himself reached the pole on 17 January 1912 and learned that Amundsen’s team got there five weeks earlier.
The devastated crew’s return journey began two days later and faced heavy weathers. The physical condition of the five men decreased and on 17 February the first member, Edgar Evans passed away. Another man passed away in March and Robert Scott himself, while waiting in a tent, wrote his last words into his diary on 29 March saying “Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people“. The position of the three bodies in the tent was discovered eight months later.
At yovisto, you may enjoy the video lecture ‘Scott, Amundsen and Science‘ by science historian Edward Larson. He reexamines Roald Amundsen’s and Robert Scott’s so-called Race to the Pole in light of their objectives. Larson will retell the story of these expeditions in context and contrast it with the conventional wisdom about them.
References and Further Reading:
- Robert Falcon Scott collection
- Captain Scott – Antarctic Explorer, covered in snow once more
- “Crucible of Ice” New York Times
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