Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole

Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole

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After a two-month ordeal, the expedition of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrives at the South Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, had preceded them by just over a month. Disappointed, the exhausted explorers prepared for a long and difficult journey back to their base camp.

Scott, a British naval officer, began his first Antarctic expedition in 1901 aboard the Discovery. During three years of exploration, he discovered the Edward VII Peninsula, surveyed the coast of Victoria Land–which were both areas of Antarctica on the Ross Sea–and led limited expeditions into the continent itself. In 1911, Scott and Amundsen began an undeclared race to the South Pole.

READ MORE: The Treacherous Race to the South Pole

Sailing his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales, Amundsen set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off; Amundsen using sleigh dogs and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the pole. Encountering good weather on their return trip, they safely reached their base camp in late January.

Scott’s expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds soon broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad, two members perished, and Scott and the other two survivors were trapped in their tent by a storm only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott wrote a final entry in his diary in late March. The frozen bodies of he and his two compatriots were recovered eight months later.

Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole - HISTORY

The team had set out on its final push to the Pole the previous January. They knew they were in a race to be the first to reach their destination. Their competition was a Norwegian expedition lead by Roald Amundsen. The two expeditions employed entirely different strategies. Amundsen relied on dogs to haul his men and supplies over the frozen Antarctic wasteland. Scott's British team distrusted the use of dogs preferring horses, once these died from the extreme conditions the sleds were man-hauled to the Pole and back. In fact, Scott deprecated the Norwegian's reliance on dogs. Their use was somehow a less manly approach to the adventure and certainly not representative of the English tradition of "toughing it out" under extreme circumstances. Man could manage Nature. A similar spirit guided the building of the "unsinkable" Titanic and then supplied the ship with far too few lifeboats to hold its passengers if disaster did strike. Just as the passengers of the Titanic paid a price for this arrogance, so too did Captain Scott and his four companions.

In addition to Capt. Scott, Lieut. Bowers, and Dr. Wilson, two others, Capt. Titus Oates and Petty Officer Edgar Evans made the final push to the Pole. Conditions were appalling: temperatures plummeting to minus 45 degrees F., nearly impassable terrain, blinding blizzards, or blinding sunshine. On January 16, nearing their objective, Scott and his team make a disheartening discovery - evidence that the Norwegians have beat them to the Pole. In fact, the Norwegians had arrived four weeks earlier on December 14, 1911. Psychologically numbed by the finding, the team pushes on. We pick up Scott's journal on the following day:

Thursday morning, January 18 - . We have just arrived at this tent, 2 miles from our camp, therefore about l 1/2 miles from the Pole. In the tent we find a record of five Norwegians having been here. We carried the Union Jack about 3/4 of a mile north with us and left it on a piece of stick as near as we could fix it. . Well, we have turned our back now on the goal of our ambition and must face our 800 miles of solid dragging - and good-bye to most of the day-dreams!"

Death of the First Team Member

"Saturday, February 17 - A very terrible day. Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well. He started in his place on the traces, but half an hour later worked his ski shoes adrift, and had to leave the sledge. The surface was awful, the soft recently fallen snow clogging the ski and runners at every step, the sledge groaning, the sky overcast, and the land hazy. We stopped after about one hour, and Evans came up again, but very slowly. Half an hour later he dropped out again on the same plea. He asked Bowers to lend him a piece of string. I cautioned him to come on as quickly as he could, and he answered cheerfully as I thought. We had to push on, and the remainder of us were forced to pull very hard, sweating heavily. Abreast the Monument Rock we stopped, and seeing Evans a long way astern, I camped for lunch. There was no alarm at first, and we prepared tea and our own meal, consuming the latter.

After lunch, and Evans still not appearing, we looked out, to see him still afar off. By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn't know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again. He showed every sign of complete collapse. Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12.30 A.M. On discussing the symptoms we think he began to get weaker just before we reached the Pole, and that his downward path was accelerated first by the shock of his frostbitten fingers, and later by falls during rough travelling on the glacier, further by his loss of all confidence in himself. Wilson thinks it certain he must have injured his brain by a fall.

It is a terrible thing to lose a companion in this way, but calm reflection shows that there could not have been a better ending to the terrible anxieties of the past week. Discussion of the situation at lunch yesterday shows us what a desperate pass we were in with a sick man on our hands at such a distance from home."

Oates Walks Into Oblivion

"Friday, March 16 or Saturday 17 - Lost track of dates, but think the last correct. Tragedy all along the line. At lunch, the day before yesterday, poor Titus Oates said he couldn't go on he proposed we should leave him in his sleeping-bag. That we could not do, and we induced him to come on, on the

"I am just going outside
and may be some time."

A contemporary painting of Oates
walking into the blizzard and death
afternoon march. In spite of its awful nature for him he struggled on and we made a few miles. At night he was worse and we knew the end had come.

Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his Mother, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not - would not - give up hope till the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake but he woke in the morning - yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since."

The final page of Scott's journal
"Wednesday, March 21 - Got within 11 miles of depot Monday night had to lay up all yesterday in severe blizzard. To-day forlorn hope, Wilson and Bowers going to depot for fuel.

Thursday, March 22 and 23 - Blizzard bad as ever - Wilson and Bowers unable to start - to-morrow last chance - no fuel and only one or two of food left - must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural - we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks.

How many times did Scott travel to the Antarctic?

Scott led two expeditions. His first expedition, in the ship Discovery, took place between 1901–04 and was partially funded by the Government. Discovery was specially built for the voyage, as a research ship to go through icy seas. This expedition was significant as it was the first time Antarctic land had been explored extensively for zoological and geological purposes.

In 1910, Scott sailed on another scientific voyage, this time in the Terra Nova, originally a whaler. Scott was determined to be the first explorer to reach the South Pole, but he faced stiff completion from Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

Scott of the Antarctic: the lies that doomed his race to the pole

Frozen in time: the five members of Scott’s expedition who made it to the South Pole in 1912, but died on the return. From left: Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson and Evans. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Frozen in time: the five members of Scott’s expedition who made it to the South Pole in 1912, but died on the return. From left: Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson and Evans. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

O n 12 November 1912, a party of British explorers was crossing the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica when one of the team, Charles Wright, noticed "a small object projecting above the surface". He halted and discovered the tip of a tent. "It was a great shock," he recalled.

With his companions, Wright had been searching for Captain Robert Falcon Scott who, with four colleagues, had set off to reach the South Pole the previous year. The team, from the Scott expedition base camp, knew their comrades were dead: their provisions would have run out long ago. But how and where had Scott perished?

Wright had found the answer. "I tried to signal my party to stop as I considered it would be a sort of sacrilege to make a noise," he said later. The men began digging and revealed a tent, perfectly pitched, as Scott would have insisted. He was lying at its centre with Lieutenant Henry Bowers and Dr Edward Wilson on either side. His companions appeared at peace but Scott looked agitated, as if he had struggled to the last. Of his other men, diaries showed that Petty Officer Edgar Evans had suffered concussion after a fall and died a few weeks after the group began trudging back from the pole, while Captain Lawrence Oates had walked out of their tent to his death because he felt that he was holding back his comrades. Those diaries also showed that Scott had been beaten to the Pole by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen.

The cold had turned the skin of Scott, Wilson and Bowers yellow and glassy. "That scene can never leave my memory," recalled Apsley Cherry-Garrard, another search-party member. "We never moved them. We took the bamboos of the tent away and the tent itself covered them. Over them we built the cairn." The party's leader, Edward Atkinson, read the lesson for the burial service from Corinthians.

It took three more months for the expedition's survivors to reach New Zealand and to cable Britain. Four days after the news arrived, a memorial service was held at St Paul's, attended by the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the elite of British society. More than 10,000 people gathered outside. Just as it did when Princess Diana died, Britain reacted with an outpouring of national grief.

Over the following century, Scott's death provided Britain with a powerful legend imbued with heroism, sacrifice – and a noble defeat that will be the focus of considerable attention when, on 14 December, the 100th anniversary of the South Pole's conquest is commemorated. On that day, at exactly 3pm, Amundsen and his four companions reached the planet's most desolate, inhospitable spot. Amundsen noted in his diary: "We had a celebration dinner: a small piece of seal meat each." Thirty four days later, Scott arrived and found that his greatest fear – to be beaten to the pole by the Norwegian – had come true. "Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority," he wrote.

Amundsen's victory and Scott's defeat have acquired a mythic status over the years: a battle between cold, Scandinavian efficiency and British have-a-go pluck and cheery amateurishness. The victory of the former was therefore assured, it is assumed, while the latter was doomed from the start.

'A chain of events – and lies – put Amundsen there. He should have been at the other pole.' Scott in his naval uniform and Roald Amundsen. Photograph: Getty

In fact, the arrival of Amundsen at the South Pole that day was by no means a certainty, a point that remains one of the least appreciated aspects of the Scott-Amundsen story. Indeed, it had taken an extraordinary chain of events – and lies – to place Amundsen there. By rights, he should have been standing on our planet's other pole that year. From this perspective, Scott was a victim, not simply of bad luck but of deception. As UK polar expert Nick Cox says: "Only the slightest change in circumstances could have produced a dramatically different outcome for Scott."

Roald Amundsen, the fourth son of a family of Norwegian ship owners, had been fascinated since adolescence with the fate of Sir John Franklin's lost expedition to find the Northwest Passage, a sea route that would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He was also inspired by the great Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who had come close to conquering the North Pole in 1895. Amundsen vowed to achieve the goals that had eluded his two heroes. In 1900, aged 28, he used up his inheritance to buy the shallow-hulled ship Gjoa which he then sailed through the knots of tiny islands, ice floes and shoals of northern Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Northwest Passage had been conquered. Amundsen turned to the North Pole and his hero, Nansen, agreed to lend his ship, the Fram, for a new expedition. And then the bombshell dropped.

Within weeks of each other, in 1909, two rival US explorers – Robert Peary and Frederick Cook – announced they had led two separate expeditions to the North Pole. Neither man's claim is accepted today, so poor was their proof of arrival and so incredible were the speeds with which they claimed to have travelled over the ice. Even at the time, there were mutterings. Both were backed by rival New York newspapers, it was noted. But it was enough for Amundsen. There was no glory in going north, he decided. Robbed of one pole, he simply chose to bag the other. But there were complications: Robert Scott, the 42-year-old who had already led one expedition to Antarctica from 1901 to 1904, was preparing to embark on a new voyage there.

"Norway had only just achieved independence and its biggest ally in gaining this had been Britain," says Geir Klover, director of the Fram Museum in Oslo. "Our queen, Maud, was British, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria." Protocol indicated that Scott's expedition should not have to face a last-minute Norwegian rival. Amundsen knew this and was aware he would probably be refused permission to use the Fram to go to Antarctica. So he sailed off from Oslo, on 3 June 1910, with the professed intent of sticking to his old plan to sail the Fram round Cape Horn and back north to Alaska and the easier route to the North Pole.

Only when he reached Madeira, while Scott was on his way to Australia, did Amundsen reveal his new plan. A telegram awaited Scott in Melbourne: "Beg leave to inform. Fram heading south. Amundsen." The news stunned Scott and his men. As one of them remarked: "We are up against a very big man." This view is backed by Klover: "Amundsen had a tremendous reputation. He was a meticulous planner, easily the best organised explorer of his generation. It was not good news for Scott."

Yet it had taken a series of deceptions to send Amundsen on his way to clash with Scott. "If Peary and Cook had not been believed, then Amundsen would not have lied and headed south," says Cox. "Scott would not have got to the South Pole any quicker, but his party's return – having been first to the pole – would have been a far more spirited, cheerful affair. Scott, Bowers and Wilson died 11 miles short of a huge food depot. They just might have made that with the spring of victory in their steps."

As it was, Scott now had to contend with a race to the pole in addition to the complex scientific missions he had planned. Apart from the expedition's geological, meteorological and biological goals, he had included ponies, dogs and mechanical sledges to try out each one's transport potential and carry out many other tests. By contrast, Amundsen merely telegrammed the scientists he had promised to collect in San Francisco en route to the North Pole and told them not to bother. "Amundsen was keen on science, but not on this expedition," admits Klover. Unencumbered, his teams of dog sledges swept easily to the pole. By contrast, Scott refused to give up a single scientific goal and that cost his men dearly.

The ice men: Scott, seated at the far end, celebrates his 43rd birthday during his Terra Nova expedition to the Antarctic, 6 June 1911. Photograph: Scott Polar Research Institute

Thirty miles north of London, at Tring in Hertfordshire, the Natural History Museum has one of its most important collections. Eggs from more than half of the world's 10,000 bird species are stored here, from giant specimens provided by ostriches to tiny hummingbird eggs. It is an astonishing array and involved a great many individuals undertaking hazardous missions to collect them. However, none endured the hardship of the men who gathered the collection's greatest prize: three emperor penguin eggs that are kept in a cardboard shoebox-sized container labelled "Aptenodytes forsteri, Cape Crozier, 20 July 1911" and stored in one of the hundreds of cabinets lining the museum's walls.

"At the time, it was thought the emperor penguin was one of the planet's most primitive birds," says Douglas Russell, Tring's curator of eggs, "and that analysis of its embryos would allow scientists to peer deep into the evolutionary history of all birds and establish links between them and their reptile predecessors. All that was needed were some fresh-laid emperor penguin eggs." It sounded uncomplicated and appropriate for Scott's mission. There was a catch, however. The emperor penguin lays its eggs in June, in the Antarctic midwinter.

No one had ever travelled in Antarctica during winter. But Scott's chief scientist, Edward Wilson, thought it would be straightforward and enlisted Bowers and Cherry-Garrard. If nothing else, the egg-collecting trip fitted in perfectly with Scott's goals. He recruited specialists in zoology, geology, physics and meteorology to take part. From the start, he had insisted research was to be the main purpose of his expedition. Bagging the pole would merely be a bonus, he claimed. Thus Scott established a substantial base camp on Ross Island when he arrived in Antarctica and arranged for his men to carry out several other mapping and geological missions while he made a bid for the pole. Of these other missions, the one led by Victor Campbell to the north would be the most arduous – with the exception of the journey taken by Bowers, Cherry and Wilson.

At midday on 27 June 1911, the trio left their base-camp hut – and walked into a freezing, pitch-black, gale-battered nightmare. The men had to pull two sledges of food, fuel and equipment to reach the penguin's breeding colony at Cape Crozier, 70 miles away. Temperatures plunged to -60C while the thick cloying snow forced them to pull their sledges in relay, so they gained only one mile for every three they walked. They could only navigate by moonlight or by the dim twilight around noon. The rest was utter darkness. The men took turns falling into crevasses. At one point, Cherry's teeth chattered so violently they shattered. "Sometimes it was difficult not to howl," he recalled in his aptly titled account of the expedition, The Worst Journey in the World.

The trio eventually found the colony, snatched six eggs, dropped three and staggered back to base camp close to death. "Their faces were scarred and wrinkled, their eyes dull, their hands whitened and creased," Scott noted. For five weeks, the men had endured the hardest conditions on record, he added. Cherry never fully recovered. As to the eggs, after the death of the scientist they were intended for, they were passed around until 1934 when zoologist CW Parsons concluded, "They did not greatly add to our understanding of penguin embryology." For good measure, scientists no longer believe that embryos help much in studying a species' evolutionary history. Science can be a harsh mistress.

Yet in many other ways, Scott played a key role in opening up Antarctica to scientific scrutiny. He used mechanised sledges – the only aid Amundsen feared might win the race for Scott. The sledges failed, but the lessons learned were crucial to their use in future expeditions. The meteorological readings made by his team provided science with the longest unbroken measurement of weather in Antarctica and are still used today. "Scott's expedition also brought back 40,000 specimens and their research produced 15 volumes of bound reports written by 59 specialists," says Elin Simonsson, of the Natural History Museum in London. "The birth of glaciology can be traced to the expedition while the photography of Herbert Ponting transformed the use of cameras on other expeditions."

The most important of all specimens returned was one of the last to be collected. On 12 February 1912, as his team trudged, defeated from the pole, Scott stopped at the top of the Beardmore glacier and, noting some interesting moraine, decided it would be a good day to spend "geologising". Incredibly, they added 35lb of rocks to their load, an act that is seen by Scott's critics as an act of utter folly. Roland Huntford describes it as "a pathetic little gesture to salvage something from defeat at the pole" (see box above).

Certainly, it seems an extraordinary move, wasting time and adding weight to sledges that were difficult to haul. Climate expert Professor Jane Francis of Leeds University disagrees. "I have worked on the Beardmore glacier. On a sunny day, it is a beautiful place. Scott was probably giving his men a rest before the last trek home. And the weight would have made little difference to the energy they expended."

Whatever the reason, it was a providential decision. Among the rocks, scientists found a fossil sample of a Glossopteris fern. "Glossopteris has big feather-shaped leaves and Scott and his men found a very small fragmentary piece. But it was a very important find," says palaeontologist Paul Kenrick of the Natural History Museum in London, where the Scott Expedition's myriad fossil samples are stored. "The plant is extinct, but fossils had already been found in Australia, South America and India. Its discovery in Antarctica provided key support for the idea that all these continents had once been linked together in one vast supercontinent, a theory we now know to be correct."

This success was the last moment of relief for Scott and his men. Edgar Evans, the team's strongest man, had already begun to weaken. On 17 February, Scott found "the poor man… on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes." Evans died that night – probably of brain damage, incurred during a fall, and aggravated "by scurvy, dehydration, high altitude, or a combination of all these factors", states atmosphere chemist Susan Solomon.

A monument erected to Scott in 1912 in the French Alps where he had tested dog sledges for his expedition and the last page of Scott’s journal. Photograph: Getty

Oates was next. Lame from frostbite, he could hardly walk and had his reindeer-skin sleeping bag slashed on one side so he could keep his leg outside so it would freeze and kill the pain. He asked Scott to leave him to die, but was refused. By 16 March it was obvious he could not go on and he walked out of the tent, into a blizzard, to his death, an act of self-sacrifice that has achieved mythic status. It was "a luminous moment in our history", as the polar travel writer Sara Wheeler has put it. The search party that had found Scott, Bowers and Wilson in their tent later discovered Oates's effects and erected a cross there. "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman," it stated.

After Oates's sacrifice, Scott realised that he, Bowers and Wilson had little chance of survival. By 22 March they had two days' food left, but were three days short of their next depot. Then a blizzard struck and stopped them moving on. They never left their tent again. "We have struggled to the end and have nothing to regret," Wilson wrote to his wife, Oriana. For his part, Bowers tried to soothe his mother. "For me, the end was peaceful as it is only sleep in the cold," he told her. Scott, almost certainly the last to die, wrote copious letters to the expedition's backers, his colleagues and the families of his dead comrades. His final letter is dated 29 March. "It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R Scott," he scrawled, before adding a last frantic message: "For God's sake look after our people."

Many of these letters are gathered at the Scott Polar Research Institute's museum in Cambridge, and displayed in drawers where visitors can study them. Written in pencil, they are hard to decipher, but nevertheless have a powerful impact. "I still find them intensely moving," says Heather Lane, the institute's librarian. Oates's sleeping bag is also displayed there, with its slashed-open side, another poignant reminder of the men's suffering.

As to Scott's last words, these were not a general cry of despair but a very specific call for financial help for his family, says Lane. "Scott was desperate because he knew he was the sole breadwinner, not just for his wife Kathleen and their son Peter, but for his mother and sisters. He was frantic they would be left destitute. That is why he wrote those words." In this case, he need not have worried. An appeal for funds by the Lord Mayor of London was so successful it provided pensions for all the polar party's widows and orphans, with enough left over to set up the Scott Polar Research Institute.

There is one final twist to Scott's story. Edward Atkinson, the man left in charge of Base Camp, knew Scott was dead, but had no idea what had happened to a second expedition led by Lieutenant Victor Campbell to survey the coast to the north. (He and his men had become trapped by the Antarctic winter, but survived for months in blubbery filth by sheltering in a cave they carved out of the ice.) As the weather improved, Atkinson had to decide: should he try to find Scott's or Campbell's party? The former were certainly dead while finding Campbell could make the difference between life and death for his men.

Atkinson held a vote. There was one abstention. The rest voted to find Scott. "It says everything about Scott and his centrality to the whole expedition, that not a single man spoke up for the living," notes his biographer David Crane. If the search party had failed to find Scott, and if Campbell and his men had died, their names would have "stunk to the heavens", Wright noted at the time.

But Campbell survived and the bodies, letters and diaries of Scott and his men were found. As a result, our perceptions of the Antarctic were changed for ever. We learned of Oates's sacrifice, the death of Evans, and the final, terrible days the last three survivors had to endure before they lay down to wait for death. (They had enough morphine to kill themselves, but decided to die naturally.) We also learned of Scott's last words and read the desperately poignant letters he wrote to his comrades' families and to his own loved ones. "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman," he wrote. "These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale."

As the explorer Ranulph Fiennes says: "Scott wrote wonderful English under awful circumstances." Crane goes further: "His letters, diary and last message extend our sense of what it is to be human. No one else could have written them no one else, at the point of defeat and dissolution, could have so vividly articulated a sense of human possibilities that transcend both." As to the fate of Scott's body, and those of Wilson and Bowers, the impromptu mausoleum created by Cherry, Atkinson and the rest of the search party has long since disappeared, says Lane. "The cairn with their bodies is still out there on the Barrier, deeply buried under accumulated snow, heading slowly towards the Southern Ocean as the ice fields move towards the sea – where they will eventually receive a marine committal."

South Pole: Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott Still Race

Dec. 18, 2011 — -- On December 14, 1911, a five-man Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen became the first explorers to reach the South Pole. Another five-man expedition reached the pole just 34 days later, this time a led by British Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

But a century later, both teams still seem to be competing against one another.

While Amundsen's team traveled faultlessly back to their base on the edge of Antarctica and then on to civilization, Scott and his companions all died on their return from the pole. Today, both teams in the race to the Earth's southern extremity leave behind legacies that impact the modern understanding of the so-called heroic era of exploration, as well as the scientific understanding of the forbidding continent of Antarctica.

Initially, Scott was seen as a tragic hero, particularly in Britain and other English-speaking countries. Many observers outside Scandinavia regarded Amundsen -- who had secretly changed his destination from the North to the South Pole -- as a usurper who had unsportingly jumped in on Scott's long-planned mission.

Shifting Reputations

Then in 1979, a book by Roland Huntford, a British journalist with long experience in Scandinavia, painted an entirely different picture. In "Scott and Amundsen," Huntford portrayed Scott as an incompetent martinet and Amundsen as a perfect team leader who serenely achieved results.

"Scott was the parade ground automaton waiting for orders, while Amundsen wanted to give each man independence and make him feel that he was worth something," Huntford said. "Amundsen made sure that his men never approached the outer limits of exhaustion he had enough food and a large margin of safety. Scott took delight in exhausting himself, as the English idea was exhaustion and suffering."

"Huntford's book was the first to take a contrary view of Scott," said Heather Lane, keeper of collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England. "Possibly more influential in changing public perception was the BBC drama based on it."

Recently, views have begun to change again.

Some historians point to the two ventures' contrasting goals. While Amundsen sought only the pole, they say, Scott's expedition included several prominent scientists who carried out significant research in other parts of Antarctica while the five-man team undertook its polar journey.

"While Scott's objective was to get to the pole, he was completely committed to running a first-rate scientific expedition," said Edward Larson, university professor of history at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

In addition, some meteorological studies have made Scott a more sympathetic leader, by suggesting that his party encountered unprecedentedly bad weather on their return from the pole.

"The work done by recent biographers and historians has enabled a far more balanced view of Scott's achievements to come to the fore," Lane said.

Fateful Decisions

Amundsen's change of destination lies at the crux of the debate over the two men's reputations.

A fearless explorer who had led the first party to navigate the Northwest Passage above Canada's and Alaska's Arctic coast, Amundsen originally planned to sail from Norway on a route that would take him around the tip of South America and then north for an attempt on the then undiscovered North Pole.

But that target became moot in September, 1909, when Amundsen learned of claims by two Americans, Robert Peary and Frederick Cook, that they had reached 90 degrees north. Today, most Arctic historians regard both claims as false.

Burdened by debts incurred in furnishing his expedition, Amundsen decided that he needed a spectacular achievement to appeal to his creditors. He chose the South Pole -- but initially told only his close friends.

That represented a direct challenge to Scott, who, in 1909, had announced his intention to try for the pole. He was in Australia, en route to Antarctica, when learned of Amundsen's new target.

Scott had already led an Antarctic expedition early in the decade, while another British explorer, Ernest Shackleton, had led a party to within 100 miles of the South Pole in January 1909.

Amundsen and Scott relied on markedly different forms of transport.

"Amundsen's technique was the combination of skis and dogs," Huntford said. Indeed, his team included a champion cross-country skier.

Scott, meanwhile, opted for motor sledges, Shetland ponies, and just a few dogs. But the sledges malfunctioned and the ponies couldn't cope with the snowy surface. That left Scott's men with the slow and energy-sapping endeavor of hauling their own sleds. And they used skis only reluctantly.

In speed, that meant advantage Amundsen.

"Whereas Scott was following a track that Shackleton pioneered and mapped to within 100 miles of the pole, Amundsen was blazing a new trail over terra incognita. He was explorer and ski racer rolled into one," Huntford said.

Scott's critics note that for nine days in late March, 1912, he and his two surviving companions stayed in their tent, during what Scott described as a blizzard, rather than marching toward a nearby food depot. That decision, they say, provides evidence of his poor organization.

But meteorological studies reported in 2001 by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Susan Solomon suggested that a stretch of excessively cold weather beginning in late February, rather than poor planning, led to the polar party's deaths.

That assessment remains controversial, however. Among others, Polish physicist Krzysztof Sienicki has recently challenged that view.

Scott's Strong Science Effort

Even supporters of Scott admit that Amundsen bested him at polar travel. However, Larson said, "Scott had attracted a very, very good team of scientists."

"Chief scientific officer Edward Wilson [who died with Scott] wrote: 'We want the scientific work to make the bagging of the Pole merely an item in the results,'" Lane said.

In his book "An Empire of Ice", Larson outlines the expedition's scientific achievements, from studying the movement of glaciers to mapping the continent's snow-free "dry valleys" and collecting Emperor penguins' eggs in the dark Antarctic midwinter.

"Scott's expedition came back with a wealth of fossil fish and plants and evidence of a plant that is the link to ancient flora," Larson said. "There's an enormous amount of research now on very small microorganisms in the Antarctic soil and lakes, based on a foundation of work on Scott's expedition,"

In addition, present-day scientists use the amounts of contaminants in the dead bodies of penguins left behind by the expedition as examples of the levels of atmospheric contaminants at a time and place unaffected by human activity. Other work laid the foundation for modern research on Antarctic microorganisms and historical temperatures.

This Explorer's Corpse Has Been Trapped in Ice for More Than a Century

You may know the sad story of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the British explorer who aimed to be the first to reach the South Pole—only to arrive in January 1912 to find a Norwegian flag had been planted by explorer Roald Amundsen five weeks prior. Among other setbacks, the Scott expedition was plagued by technical difficulties, infirm ponies, and illness during their 800-mile trek across the Ross Ice Shelf back to their base camp in McMurdo Sound.

Ultimately, all five men perished before they reached the camp. Petty Officer Edgar Evans suffered a head injury, a serious wound on his hand, and frostbite before dying at a temporary campsite on the return journey. Captain Lawrence Oates, suffering severely from frostbite, voluntarily left the camp one night and walked right into a blizzard, choosing to sacrifice himself rather than slow the other men down. Captain Scott, Lieutenant Henry "Birdie" Bowers, and Doctor Edward Adrian Wilson subsequently died in late March of a vicious combination of exposure and starvation.

The makeshift camp in which the last three men died was only 11 miles from a supply depot. When their frozen corpses were discovered on the ice shelf by a search party the following November, a cairn of snow was built around them, tent and all, as there was no soil in which to bury them. A cross made of skis was added to the top. Before they left, surgeon Edward Leicester Atkinson, a member of the search party, left a note in a metal cylinder at the site:

November 12, 1912, Lat. 79 degrees, 50 mins. South. This cross and cairn are erected over the bodies of Captain Scott, C.V.O., R.N., Doctor E. A. Wilson, M.B. B.C., Cantab., and Lieutenant H. R. Bowers, Royal Indian Marine—a slight token to perpetuate their successful and gallant attempt to reach the Pole. This they did on January 17, 1912, after the Norwegian Expedition had already done so. Inclement weather with lack of fuel was the cause of their death. Also to commemorate their two gallant comrades, Captain L. E. G. Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons, who walked to his death in a blizzard to save his comrades about eighteen miles south of this position also of Seaman Edgar Evans, who died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. “The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away blessed be the name of the Lord.”

But something even more curious happened next.

In the century and change since Scott and his comrades died, the cairn-tomb has been slowly moving. That’s because it was erected on top of a 360-foot-thick section of ice—the Ross Ice Shelf, which is constantly fed by glaciers on either side. As of 2011, according to the Polar Record, it was buried under approximately 53 feet of ice, as the surface accumulates more ice and the bottom of the shelf melts and refreezes. Assuming the rate of accumulation has been approximately the same for the last five years, they’re about 55 feet inside the ice by now.

The north edge of the ice shelf also grows and shifts, as the entire plate moves slowly toward the water’s edge. As such, the cairn, the tent, and the corpses have traveled about 39 miles away from their original geographic location, and they’re still on the move. No one seems to have pinpointed exactly where they are, but glacierologists who have weighed in on the topic generally believe the bodies are still preserved intact [PDF].

Within another 250 years or so, the bodies of Scott, Bowers, and Wilson will have at last traveled to the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, where it meets McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea. By then, they’ll be encased in more than 325 feet of ice. The ice is not as thick at the front of the shelf as it is where the cairn began its journey, and so they could be embedded low by the time they get to the water.

It’s tempting to imagine that once the bodies meet the edge of the ice shelf in about two and a half centuries, they’ll just slide out of the melted ice and splash into the ocean. But that’s not quite how it works. As the Ross Ice Shelf advances further out to sea, every 50 to 100 years it can no longer support its own weight and the shelf calves off an iceberg. The particular chunk of the ice shelf holding the remains of Scott and his men is expected to break off into an iceberg (or possibly a mini version called a growler or bergy bit) before they get to the front of the ice shelf at the water. Back in 2011, the Polar Record forecasted that the special day will fall in 2250 or thereabouts.

If all goes as predicted, this means that Captain Scott, Lieutenant Bowers, and Doctor Wilson will then get to ride around the Ross Sea—and later the Southern Ocean—inside of an iceberg about 350 years after their deaths.

Depending on where the berg with the British bodies breaks off from the ice shelf, it will probably stay local and head toward the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. The iceberg will almost certainly melt someday, be it in a decade or a century. Then, the dead men will be free-floating in the water, where, depending on a host of circumstances, they’ll stay until currents and sea animals have their way with them. Their skeletons are then predicted to wash up somewhere, possibly the South Shetlands—but who can say for sure? All we can really do is keep an eye out for them in the area in about 250 years.

Although the deaths of Robert F. Scott and his team were tragic, it’s possible to imagine that as explorers, they might have approved of the far-out adventure their bodies would endure—centuries after their final one got cut a bit short.

Robert Falcon Scott reaches the South Pole

After a two-month ordeal, the expedition of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott arrives at the South Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, had preceded them by just over a month. Disappointed, the exhausted explorers prepared for a long and difficult journey back to their base camp.

Scott, a British naval officer, began his first Antarctic expedition in 1901 aboard the Discovery. During three years of exploration, he discovered the Edward VII Peninsula, surveyed the coast of Victoria Land–which were both areas of Antarctica on the Ross Sea–and led limited expeditions into the continent itself. In 1911, Scott and Amundsen began an undeclared race to the South Pole.

Sailing his ship into Antarctica’s Bay of Whales, Amundsen set up base camp 60 miles closer to the pole than Scott. In October, both explorers set off Amundsen using sleigh dogs and Scott employing Siberian motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. On December 14, 1911, Amundsen’s expedition won the race to the pole. Encountering good weather on their return trip, they safely reached their base camp in late January.

Scott’s expedition was less fortunate. The motor sleds soon broke down, the ponies had to be shot, and the dog teams were sent back as Scott and four companions continued on foot. On January 18, they reached the pole only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by over a month. Weather on the return journey was exceptionally bad, two members perished, and Scott and the other two survivors were trapped in their tent by a storm only 11 miles from their base camp. Scott wrote a final entry in his diary in late March. The frozen bodies of he and his two compatriots were recovered eight months later.

Captain Scott’s Heroes and the Tragic Quest for the South Pole

The “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration” was a period when the Antarctic continent became the focus of an international effort for scientific and geographical exploration.

Ten countries launched 17 major Antarctic expeditions at a time when success hinged on feats of personal courage that tested human endurance to the very limit.

Heroes were born, some of whom did not survive the experience.

South Pole Expedition – Capt. Scott and his exploration ship Terra Nova

This is the story of the South Pole march of the British Terra Nova Expedition team—the last leg of a journey to the end of the world, and one that would bring bitter disappointment and heartbreaking tragedy.

The team were in high spirits on board the Steam Yacht Terra Nova and disembarked with enthusiasm for the voyage of a lifetime.

Officers of the ‘Terra Nova, by Herbert George Ponting Scott’s Crew on board the Steam Yacht Terra Nova

On 17 January 1912, Scott arrived at the South Pole only to find Roald Amundsen ‘s Norwegian expedition had already set up camp.

Scott and team see Norwegian flag at the South Pole

Scott had been beaten, and now faced an 800-mile trek back to base camp. With 150 miles to go, Scott and his companions were caught in a blizzard and perished.

The South Pole team hauling their sleds on the way back to base camp

He kept a journal with a moving account of their tragic demise as they slowly froze to death.

The whole team knew what they were up against, as Scott had described a storm the year earlier:

Their struggle back to base camp showed the bravery, courage, and honor of these five men.

Knowing his severe frostbite was slowing the team’s progress, Lawrence Oates sacrificed his own life to improve the chance of survival for his companions.

On the morning of March 16, Oates walked out of their tent into the blizzard and certain death in the -40°F temperatures.

According to Scott’s diary, these were Oates’ last words before he left the tent:

A Very Gallant Gentleman by John Charles Dollman (1851 – 1934)

Meet some of the other heroes on Scott’s team.

Scott’s beloved sled team: Krisarovitsa, Tresor, Vida, and Osman The ponies that Scott used for sledge hauling during the first half of the trip to the South Pole

Although Amundsen’s Norwegian team used dogs exclusively, Scott’s team relied on ponies to do much of the hauling, which were ill-suited to work on snow and ice without snow-shoes.

A team of 11 dogs would sometimes pull a load of 1,000 lbs a distance of 15 miles in four hours.

On Thursday, March 29th, Scott made the final entry in his Journal:

The grave of Robert Falcon Scott, Henry Robertson Bowers and Edward Adrian Wilson

Following the news of his death, Scott became an iconic British hero, a status reflected by the many permanent memorials erected across the nation. Scholars have debated Scott’s legend, and although some questions were raised about his character and errors by his team, they concluded that the ill-fated outcome of the expedition was largely due to misfortune.

Scott’s mission was not in vain. His team made groundbreaking scientific discoveries. Of the 2,000 specimens of animals collected, including 400 new discoveries, the most important was a trio of Emperor penguin eggs—seen as long-awaited proof of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The cross erected on Observation Hill a few months after the deaths of Robert F. Scott and his men when returning from the South Pole in 1912. Credit Mounterebus

Scott’s team also discovered a fossil link that helped changed the geological understanding of the planet. Read more in the fascinating BBC article “Four things Captain Scott found in Antarctica (and one that found him).”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott writing in his diary, Cape Evans hut, 7th October 1911 The ‘Terra Nova’ at the ice foot, Cape Evans Beautiful broken ice, reflections and Terra Nova. Jan. 7th 1911 The Siberian ponies on board the ship Terra Nova Terra Nova in a gale by Herbert George Ponting Penguins and a berg at Cape Royds, Scott Expedition, Antarctica Grotto in an iceberg, photographed during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913 Dr. Edward Wilson, Scott’s Antarctic Expedition, c. 1911 Edward Evans, 1. Baron Mountevans, in October 1911 during Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra-Nova-Expedition Petty Officer Crean, Scott’s Antarctic Expedition, c. 1911 Dr Edward Atkinson in his lab, during the Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913 under command of Robert Falcon Scott Bowers, Wilson & Cherry-GarrardBowers, Wilson & Cherry-Garrard Petty officers Edgar Evans and Tom Crean mending sleeping bags. 16 May 1911 Camping after dark, pencil drawing by Edward Adrian Wilson To entertain the men, Captain Robert Scott took a gramophone on his South Pole Expedition. Chris, one of his dogs, was apparently also a fan, September 1911 Mealtime during the Terra Nova Expedition. From left to right – Evans, Bowers, Wilson and Scott Two pairs of grampons, boot type and sandal type

Researchers praise Scott's South Pole scientific legacy

The tributes come on the centenary of Scott's party reaching the South Pole.

The so-called Terra Nova expedition found that they had been beaten to the pole by a Norwegian team by 33 days, and on their return journey Scott and his four fellow explorers died.

Some saw it as a mission of heroic failure, and Scott quickly became an iconic figure for his efforts.

But in the later half of the 20th Century his status was re-examined by historians, some of whom questioned Scott's capabilities and contribution.

Scott's granddaughter Dafila Scott told BBC News that it was time to re-evaluate his life and contribution.

"My grandfather's reputation has been through various ups and downs and this is a good time to reflect on the wider legacy and what they achieved not only in getting to the pole but the scientific work that they did," she said.

Ms Scott is a zoologist by training, but subsequently went on to become a painter and artist. She says that she is not surprised her grandfather became interested in science.

"There's no question that he was very much focused on the science," she said.

"The exploration was part of it but it was only part of it. In the Antarctic, there were and still are so many possibilities for things to discover. It's a wonderful place. It's an open air laboratory".

It is a view shared by Scott's grandson, Falcon, who has recently arrived at the Antarctic as part of a project by the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust to restore the hut that was the base of operations on the North Shore of Cape Evans on Antarctica's Ross Island.

Speaking from Scott Base he told BBC News: "It's long overdue that his scientific legacy should be appreciated. It was a very significant part of the expedition. They undertook the science in very extreme conditions with amazing endurance.

"You only realise that when you come down here. There was no contact with the outside world and the risks were enormous."

On his arrival at Scott Base two weeks ago, Falcon Scott went into his grandfather's hut alone so that he could fully take in the moment.

"It was like walking back in time," he said.

"There's a feeling of the presence of the man. There are still his possessions lying there, lots of tins of food that are well preserved and clothing on the beds. It was like the man had only just left it".

According to Heather Lane, curator and keeper of collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the aim of the Terra Nova expedition was not just to get to the pole but also to do as much scientific investigation as possible.

"When Scott found out about the Norwegian team's plans to get to the pole first he makes a very clear decision to stick with the scientific programme," she said.

She said there was "enormous disappointment" in getting there second, but "he felt it was so important that they stick to the idea of the mapping and the science and the collection of the meteorological data all the way to the pole, and it was that that was going to be the long term legacy".

There were 12 researchers on the expedition who were recruited by Scott himself. One member of his team, Charles Wright, wrote that "if Scott had not been a Naval man he would have been a scientist".

That is a view shared by the British adventurer and Scott biographer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who himself has crossed the Antarctic continent.

"He was a curious man, he was a very clever man. He was a brilliant man in every respect and he was the world's greatest polar explorer," Sir Ranulph told BBC News.

The Terra Nova expedition was Scott's second excursion to the Antarctic. It was more ambitious in scope and its scientific aspirations than Scott's first trip on the Discovery expedition 10 years earlier.

In his expedition prospectus, Scott wrote that Terra Nova's principal objective was "to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the glory of this achievement".

Of course, a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen reached the pole first. And Scott and his team never returned home, dying of starvation and exposure on the return journey.

But alongside their bodies were several pounds of their precious geological samples and scientific notebooks which, even while approaching death through exhaustion, Scott and his men continued to take with them.

Those samples and data are an enduring legacy of the Terra Nova expedition.

The expedition was the ambitious scientific endeavour of its time, and it was the largest ever research mission to the pole - comprising 12 scientists including two biologists, three geologists and a meteorologist.

The team collected specimens from 2,109 different animals. Of these, 401 were new to science. They also collected rock samples, penguin eggs and plant fossils.

One of the most important discoveries was a fossilised fern-like plant which was known to grow in India, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It suggested that the climate 250 million years ago had been mild enough for trees to grow.

More intriguingly, the discovery, along with other evidence gathered by Scott's team, was a hint that India, Africa, New Zealand, Australia and Antarctica had in the distant past all been part of one "supercontinent". Researchers now call this landmass Gondwanaland.

It was around this time that the idea of continental drift was first put forward, independently, by the German scientist, Alfred Wegener. Scott's team also collected the first thorough set of weather data for the Antarctic, which has served as a baseline to track changes in weather patterns ever since.

The team also travelled for five weeks to study an Emperor penguin colony come on to land and lay their eggs. The team took some of the eggs - which contained embryos - believing that they would shed more light on a possible link between birds and dinosaurs. According to David Wilson, the great nephew of Scott's chief of scientific staff, Dr Edward Wilson, their efforts illustrated just how passionate they were about the science.

"This was one of the greatest scientific questions of the time. But they had to go through extraordinary hardship to get the penguin eggs. It was minus 60C, so cold that their teeth cracked," he said.

In the end, the eggs were of little use in this regard, but the efforts the men went to and the risks they took under the most extreme circumstances epitomise a spirit of heroic scientific investigation that arguably has not been matched since.

The Doomed South Pole Voyage’s Remaining Photographs

“Great God!” British Capt. Robert Falcon Scott wrote in his journal on January 17, 1912, the day he reached the South Pole. He was not exultant. “This is an awful place,” he went on, “and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”

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For more than two months, Scott and his men had hauled their supply sledges across 800 miles of ice from their base camp at Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound, hoping to become the first people to reach the pole. But the photograph at left, taken by Lt. Henry Bowers the same day, makes clear the reason for Scott’s despair: The Norwegian flag flying above the tent had been left by the explorer Roald Amundsen, whose party had arrived five weeks earlier. Inside the tent, Scott’s men found a letter Amundsen had written to Haakon VII, king of Norway, along with a note asking Scott to deliver it for him.

Even if you don’t know what came next, Bowers’ photograph conveys a sense of failure. The men show no arm-in-arm camaraderie. Their faces are weather-beaten. No supplies are visible. In fact, Scott and the four men he brought with him on the last 150-mile dash to the pole were running low on food and fuel. (Bowers had been added at the last minute, dangerously stretching their rations.) Their return trip would become one of the most dismal failures in the annals of polar exploration.

In the late Antarctic summer, the men encountered unusually cold temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and blizzards kept them tent-bound for days on end. Petty Officer Edgar Evans died on February 17, probably from a head injury sustained in a fall into a crevasse. As resources ran low, Capt. Lawrence Oates famously sacrificed himself: Crippled by frostbite, he left the party’s tent during a March 16 snowstorm with the words, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

The following November, a search party came upon Scott’s last camp, a mere 11 miles from a cache of supplies. Inside a tent were the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Edward A. Wilson, the expedition’s chief scientist. Scott’s journals were there too, with the last entry dated March 29, along with 35 pounds of geological specimens carried at great cost and Bowers’ undeveloped film. David M. Wilson, a descendant of Edward Wilson and author of the recently published The Lost Photographs of Captain Scott, says Bowers’ pictures proved that both Scott and Amundsen had reached the pole.

Bowers’ straightforward work contrasts with that of Herbert Ponting, the photojournalist Scott had hired to document his expedition. Ponting had traveled extensively in Asia and sold his work to prominent London magazines, and the Scott assignment made him the first professional photographer to work in the Antarctic. The image on this page shows Ponting’s artistry: It captures the textures of ice, water and cloud in a perfectly balanced composition, with Scott’s ship, Terra Nova, in the background. Scott described the scene in terms that suggest his own sensitivity to art and nature: “It was really a sort of crevasse in a tilted berg parallel to the original surface. Through the larger entrance could be seen, also partly through icicles, the ship, the Western Mountains, and a lilac sky.”

Ponting did not accompany Scott to the pole—among other things, his equipment was considered too heavy. As planned, he left Antarctica for England in February 1912, while Scott and his men were still struggling to make it home. At first, the news of Scott’s fate overshadowed Ponting’s pictures, but after World War I the photographer published his work, to great acclaim, in a book titled The Great White South. “All subsequent Antarctic photography,” Wilson wrote to me in an e-mail, “is a footnote to his pioneering work.”

Taken together, the two images reflect the two poles of Scott’s expedition despite the tragedy, the words and images Scott and his men left behind became a lasting legacy to science and art. As Scott noted in his final diary entry, “these rough notes and our dead bodies” would tell his tale. Amundsen planted the flag, but it was Scott who captured our imagination.

Victoria Olsen last wrote for Smithsonian about the photographs of Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Watch the video: Why No Ones Allowed To Explore The Antarctic


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