Edited by Gerald Boerner
The early 20th century was a time of innovation and discovery. History records the Wright Brothers first flight, Ford’s Model T from an assembly line, new weapons of warfare, and, oh yeah, the exploration of the last frontiers on our planet — the North Pole, the South Pole, and the dark continent of Africa. We explore the quest of the South Pole today. It was not to require only navigational skill, but these explorers were confronted by the elements of nature, such as winds, extreme cold, and unpredictable snow packs. They faced not a land mass, but a continent with a “frosting” of glacial ice!.
Scott was not the first explorer to reach the South Pole. Amundsen beat him on that front. But Scott’s team did reach the pole. And they met the same fate on their return trip. In fact, they discovered the last camp of the Amundsen expedition before they too met their fate. It is a cruel and hard world out their!
So, let’s get on with our own journey of exploration… GLB
These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2011 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved
[ 3740 Words ]
Quotations Related to ROBERT FALCON SCOTT:
“Slowly but surely the sea is freezing over.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“We are very near the end, but have not and will not lose our good cheer.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“The dog lives for the day, the hour, even the moment.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“But take comfort in that I die at peace with the world and myself – not afraid.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“But we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen. I regret only for the women we leave behind.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“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. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
“We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past.”
— Robert Falcon Scott
Robert Falcon Scott, Antarctic Explorer — Second to South Pole
The South Pole, also known as the Geographic South Pole or Terrestrial South Pole, is one of the two points where the Earth’s axis of rotation intersects its surface. It is the southernmost point on the surface of the Earth and lies on the opposite side of the Earth from the North Pole. Situated on the continent of Antarctica, it is the site of the United States Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which was established in 1956 and has been permanently staffed since that year. The Geographic South Pole should not be confused with the South Magnetic Pole.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott CVO (1868 – 1912) 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 perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.
Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the conventional career of a naval officer in peacetime Victorian Britain, where opportunities for career advancement were both limited and keenly sought after by ambitious officers. It was the chance for personal distinction that led Scott to apply for the Discovery command, rather than any predilection for polar exploration. However, having taken this step, his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed during the final twelve years of his life.
Following the news of his death, Scott became an iconic British hero, a status maintained for more than 50 years and reflected by the many permanent memorials erected across the nation. In the closing decades of the 20th century, the legend was reassessed as attention focused on the causes of the disaster that ended his and his comrades’ lives, and the extent of Scott’s personal culpability. From a previously unassailable position, Scott became a figure of controversy, with questions raised about his competence and character. Commentators in the 21st century have on the whole regarded Scott more positively, emphasizing his personal bravery and stoicism while acknowledging his errors, but ascribing his expedition’s fate primarily to misfortune.
Discovery Expedition 1901–1904
The British National Antarctic Expedition, later known as the Discovery Expedition, was a joint enterprise of the RGS and the Royal Society. A long-cherished dream of Markham’s, it required all of his skills and cunning to bring the expedition to fruition, under naval command and largely staffed by naval personnel. Scott may not have been Markham’s first choice as leader but, having decided on him, the older man’s support remained constant. There were committee battles over the scope of Scott’s responsibilities, with the Royal Society pressing to put a scientist in charge of the expedition’s program while Scott merely commanded the ship. Eventually, however, Markham’s view prevailed; Scott was given overall command, and was promoted to the rank of commander before Discovery sailed for the Antarctic on 31 July 1901.
Although experience of Antarctic or Arctic waters was almost entirely lacking within the 50-strong party, there was very little special training in equipment or techniques before the ship set sail. Dogs were taken, as were skis, but hardly anyone knew how to use them. In Markham’s view, professionalism was considered less praiseworthy than "unforced aptitude", and possibly Scott was influenced by Markham’s belief. In the first of the two full years which Discovery spent in the ice, this insouciance was severely tested, as the expedition struggled to meet the challenges of the unfamiliar terrain. An early attempt at ice travel resulted in the death of George Vince, who slipped over a precipice on 4 February 1902.
The expedition had both scientific and exploration objectives; the latter included a long journey south, in the direction of the South Pole. This march, undertaken by Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, took them to a latitude of 82°17′S, about 530 miles (850 km) from the pole. A harrowing return journey brought about Shackleton’s physical collapse and his early departure from the expedition. The second year showed improvements in technique and achievement, culminating in Scott’s western journey which led to the discovery of the Polar Plateau. This has been described by one writer as "one of the great polar journeys". The scientific results of the expedition included important biological, zoological and geological findings. Some of the meteorological and magnetic readings, however, were later criticized as amateurish and inaccurate.
At the end of the expedition it took the combined efforts of two relief ships and the use of explosives to free Discovery from the ice. Afterwards, Scott remained unconvinced that dogs and ski were the keys to efficient ice travel. In the following years he continued to express the British preference for man-hauling (the practice of propelling sledges by manpower, unassisted by animals), a view he maintained until very late in his Antarctic career. His insistence during the expedition on Royal Navy formalities had made for uneasy relations with the merchant navy contingent, many of whom departed for home with the first relief ship in March 1903. Second-in-command Albert Armitage, a merchant officer, was offered the chance to go home on compassionate grounds, but chose to interpret the offer as a personal slight, and refused. Armitage also promoted the idea that the decision to send Shackleton home on the relief ship arose from Scott’s animosity rather than Shackleton’s physical breakdown. Although there were later tensions between Scott and Shackleton, when their polar ambitions directly clashed, in public mutual civilities were preserved; Scott joined in the official receptions that greeted Shackleton on his return in 1909 after the Nimrod Expedition, and the two were exchanging polite letters about their respective ambitions in 1909–10.
Discovery returned to Britain in September 1904. The expedition had caught the public imagination, and Scott became a popular hero. He was awarded a cluster of honors and medals, including many from overseas, and was promoted to the rank of captain. He was invited to Balmoral Castle, where King Edward VII created him a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).
Scott’s next few years were crowded. For more than a year he was occupied with public receptions, lectures and the writing of the expedition record, The Voyage of the Discovery. In January 1906, he resumed his full-time naval career, first as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the Admiralty and, in August, as flag-captain to Rear-Admiral Sir George Egerton on HMS Victorious. He was now moving in ever more exalted social circles – a telegram to Markham in February 1907 refers to meetings with the Queen and Crown Prince of Portugal, and a later letter home reports lunching with the Commander-in-Chief of the Fleet and Prince Heinrich of Prussia.
Dispute with Shackleton
By early 1906, Scott had sounded out the RGS about the possible funding of a future Antarctic expedition. It was therefore unwelcome news to him that Ernest Shackleton had announced his own plans to travel to Discovery‘s old McMurdo Sound base and launch a bid for the South Pole from there. Scott claimed, in the first of a series of letters to Shackleton, that the area around McMurdo was his own "field of work" to which he had prior rights until he chose to give them up, and that Shackleton should therefore work from an entirely different area. In this, he was strongly supported by Discovery‘s former zoologist, Edward Wilson, who asserted that Scott’s rights extended to the entire Ross Sea sector. This Shackleton refused to concede. Finally, to end the impasse, Shackleton agreed, in a letter to Scott dated 17 May 1907, to work to the east of the 170°W meridian and therefore to avoid all the familiar Discovery ground. It was a promise that, in the event, he was unable to keep after his search for alternative landing grounds proved fruitless. He based his expedition at Cape Royds in McMurdo Sound, and this breach of agreement caused a profound shift in the Scott–Shackleton relationship. Historian Beau Riffenburgh states that the promise to Scott "should never ethically have been demanded", and compares Scott’s intransigence on this matter unfavorably with the generous attitudes of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who gave freely of his advice and expertise to all, whether they were potential rivals or not.
Terra Nova Expedition 1910–1913
It was the expressed hope of the RGS that this expedition would be "scientific primarily, with exploration and the Pole as secondary objects" but, unlike the Discovery Expedition, neither they nor the Royal Society were in charge this time. In his expedition prospectus, Scott stated that its main objective was "to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honor of this achievement". Scott had, as Markham observed, been "bitten by the Pole mania".
Scott did not know that he would be in a race until he received Amundsen’s telegram in Melbourne, in October 1910. Before this, he had set about fashioning the expedition according to his own preferences, without the restraints of a joint committee. So far as transport was concerned, he decided that dogs would be one element in a complex strategy that also involved horses and motor sledges, and much man-hauling. Scott knew nothing of horses, but felt that as they had seemingly served Shackleton well, he ought to use them. Dog expert Cecil Meares was going to Siberia to select the dogs, and Scott ordered that, while he was there, he should deal with the purchase of Manchurian ponies. Meares was not an experienced horse-dealer, and the ponies he chose proved mostly of poor quality, and ill-suited to prolonged Antarctic work. Meanwhile, Scott spent time in France and Norway, testing motor-sledges, and recruited Bernard Day, from Shackleton’s expedition, as his motor expert.
The expedition itself suffered a series of early misfortunes, which hampered the first season’s work and impaired preparations for the main polar march. On its journey from New Zealand to the Antarctic, Terra Nova was trapped in pack ice for 20 days, far longer than other ships had experienced, which meant a late-season arrival and less time for preparatory work before the Antarctic winter. One of the motor sledges was lost during its unloading from the ship, disappearing through the sea ice. Deteriorating weather conditions and weak, un-acclimatized ponies affected the initial depot-laying journey, so that the expedition’s main supply point, One Ton Depot, was laid 35 miles (56 km) north of its planned location at 80°S. Lawrence Oates, in charge of the ponies, advised Scott to kill ponies for food and advance the depot to 80°S, which Scott refused to do. Oates is reported as saying to Scott, "Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice." Six ponies died during this journey. On its return to base, the expedition learned of the presence of Amundsen, camped with his crew and a large contingent of dogs in the Bay of Whales, 200 miles (320 km) to their east.
Scott refused to amend his schedule to deal with the Amundsen threat, writing, "The proper, as well as the wiser course, is for us to proceed exactly as though this had not happened". While acknowledging that the Norwegian’s base was closer to the pole and that his experience as a dog driver was formidable, Scott had the advantage of travelling over a known route, that pioneered by Shackleton. During the 1911 winter, his confidence increased; On 2 August, after the return of a three-man party from their winter journey to Cape Crozier, Scott wrote, "I feel sure we are as near perfection as experience can direct".
Journey to the Pole
The march south began on 1 November 1911, a caravan of mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, travelling at different rates, all designed to support a final group of four men who would make a dash for the Pole. Scott had earlier outlined his plans for the southern journey to the entire shore party, without being specific about precise roles – no one knew who would form the final polar team. During the journey, Scott sent a series of conflicting orders back to base concerning the future use of the expedition’s dogs, leaving it unclear whether they were to be saved for future scientific journeys or were to assist the polar party home. Scott’s subordinates back at base were unsure of Scott’s intentions, and consequently failed to use the dogs in a concerted attempt to relieve the returning polar party when the need arose.
The southbound party steadily reduced in size as successive support teams turned back. By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87°34′S. Scott announced his decision: five men (Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) would go forward, the other three (Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean) would return. The chosen group marched on, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott’s anguish is indicated in his diary: "The worst has happened"; "All the day dreams must go"; "Great God! This is an awful place".
The deflated party began the 800-mile (1,300 km) return journey on 19 January. "I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous", wrote Scott on the next day. However, the party made good progress despite poor weather, and had completed the Polar Plateau stage of their journey, approximately 300 miles (500 km), by 7 February. In the following days, as the party made the 100-mile (160 km) descent of the Beardmore Glacier, the physical condition of Edgar Evans, which Scott had noted with concern as early as 23 January, declined sharply. A fall on 4 February had left Evans "dull and incapable", and on 17 February, after a further fall, he died near the glacier foot.
With 400 miles (670 km) still to travel across the Ross Ice Shelf, the party’s prospects steadily worsened as, with deteriorating weather, frostbite, snow blindness, hunger and exhaustion, they struggled northward. On 16 March, Oates, whose condition was aggravated by an old war-wound to the extent that he was barely able to walk, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. Scott wrote that Oates’ last words were, "I am just going outside and may be some time."
Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (1872 – 1928) was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the first Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole between 1910 and 1912. He was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage. He disappeared in June 1928 while taking part in a rescue mission. Amundsen, along with Douglas Mawson, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest Shackleton, was a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
After walking a further 20 miles, the three remaining men made their final camp on 19 March, 11 miles (18 km) short of One Ton Depot, but 24 miles (38 km) beyond the original intended location of the depot. The next day a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress. During the next nine days, as their supplies ran out, with frozen fingers, little light, and storms still raging outside the tent, Scott wrote his final words, although he gave up his diary after 23 March, save for a final entry on 29 March, with its concluding words: "Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people". He left letters to Wilson’s mother, Bowers’ mother, a string of notables including his former commander Sir George Egerton, his own mother and his wife. He also wrote his "Message To The Public", primarily a defense of the expedition’s organization and conduct in which the party’s failure is adduced to weather and other misfortunes, but ending on an inspirational note, with these words:
We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last [...] 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. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.
Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, possibly a day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent, when it was discovered eight months later, suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die.
Please take time to further explore more about SOUTH POLE, ROBERT
FALCON SCOTT, ROALD AMUNDSEN, and the DISCOVERY OF THE SOUTH
POLE by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…
Other Events on this Day:
Capt. James Cook and the crew of HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery sail past the islands of Oahu and Kauai, becoming the first known Europeans to discover the present-day Hawaiian Islands. Cook names the island group the Sandwich Islands, after his patron, the fourth Earl of Sandwich.
Commanded by Capt. Arthur Phillip, the first of 11 British ships arrives in Botany Bay to establish the first European colony in Australia. Eight days later, a date now commemorated as Australia Day, the passengers of the First Fleet, including hundreds of convicts, marines and their families, will disembark at Sydney Cove as the founders of modern Australia.
The first landing of an aircraft on a ship takes place aboard the USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco harbor.
English explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his expedition reach the South Pole, more than a month after a team led by his Norwegian rival, Roald Amundsen, became the first people to find the pole. Scott’s expedition will be less fortunate on the return journey, as well — he and his team members will all perish during the harsh trip back to their base camp.
The post-World War I peace conference begins in Paris, ultimately resulting in the Treaty of Versailles, which sets the terms for the end of the war.
Robert C. Weaver becomes the first black cabinet member as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
President Ronald Reagan signs legislation setting aside the third Monday in January to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: South Pole…
Wikipedia: Fugitive Slave…
Wikipedia: Roald Amundsen…
Wikipedia: Ernest Shackleton…
Brainy Quote: ROBERT FALCON SCOTT Quotes…
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