Edward Evans Stands Accused of Sabotaging Scott’s Southern Journey.
Did his actions lead to the deaths of the Polar Party, in 1912?
Arguably the best known scientific Antarctic venture was the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1913 led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Whilst the so-called race to the geographic South Pole with Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian Antarctic expedition excited international interest, the tragic death of Scott and his returning Polar Party was a striking reminder of the hazards of operating in the south. Recent work has highlighted the possible role expedition second-in-command Lieutenant Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans played in the deaths of Scott and his men. Here I report newly discovered documents which, when placed in a wider context, raise significant questions over Evans’ behaviour during the expedition. The evidence focuses on the shortage of food at key depots, the apparently deliberate obfuscation of when Evans fell down with scurvy and the failure to pass on orders given by Scott. It is concluded that Evans actions on and off the ice can at best be described as ineffectual, at worst deliberate sabotage. Why Evans was not questioned more about these events on his return to England remains unknown.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s, British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913), also known as the Terra Nova Expedition, is in my opinion the most convoluted saga ever to play out on the ice of Antarctica. It is a complex tale of plot and subplot, with 34 men comprising of the Shore Party and Scientific Staff, who in the close confinement of their huts, and the vast expanse of the Antarctic wastes, weaved the epic tale of scientific research, pioneering journeys, glorious triumphs and desperate tragedy.
It is of course the desperate tragedy, with the death of all five members of the polar party, that has dominated and formulated opinion of the expedition ever since. Every available aspect of the venture has been scrutinised and re-scrutinised. When men die someone must be at fault, it seems. Despite the fact that Scott, Wilson, Edgar Evans, Oates and Bowers, all died returning from the southerly depths of the most inhospitable and remote territory on earth, many have sought to find a human element to assign the burden of blame to.
Scott himself has come under fire for perceived fault, the accusations ranging from bad planning, and his choice of ponies as a mode of transport as opposed to dogs, to his placement of One Ton Depot and his selection and demotion of the various members of the supporting teams, on the southern journey. All can be validly argued, and indeed counter argued, in most instances. Albeit that is, the placement of One Ton Depot, 30 miles shy of it’s intended standing, which did of course have massive repercussions, on the homeward journey. Lawrence Oates walked to his death, in the latitude where it should have stood, and Scott, Wilson and Bowers, all died, 11 miles shy of it’s more northerly footing. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean On The Polar Plateau.
December 25th 1911.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s, assault on the South Pole began on November 1st 1911. The southern journey was a mammoth undertaking – a 900 mile march, on foot, with provisions being hauled on sledges. Dog teams and ponies played supporting roles to the physical efforts of the men, but once the team had reached the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, manpower was the only mode of progression.
The dog teams turned back at this point, and the last of the surviving ponies, including Crean’s pony Bones, were shot. Their meat was cached.
The journey can be summarised in three main stages;
1. Across The Barrier (Ross Ice Shelf), from their base at Cape Evans, to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. A journey of approximately 400 miles.
2. Traversing the Beardmore Glacier. A steady climb of 10,000 feet over a 120 mile crevasse riddled glacier.
3. The Polar Plateau – From the top of the Beardmore to the South Pole. Approximately 380 miles.
Shambles Camp was the name given to their last Barrier depot, before the group began the ascent of the fearsome glacier. Three sledge teams began the treacherous clamber on December 10th, 1911:
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Atkinson, Wright and Lashly.
Sledge 3 – Bowers, Cherry-Gerrard, Crean and Keohane.
On Friday , December 22nd the three teams had reached the top of the Beardmore, made their Upper Glacier depot, and Scott now had to decide which team would return to base, and who would forge ahead. There was no pre-planning by Scott, regarding returning teams, and decisions were made, it seems, only at the point when they needed to be made. This probably allowed Scott to monitor the physical and mental conditions of the men, and make his choices based on that diagnosis.
Man hauling on the Beardmore Glacier, December 13th 1911. Front from left – Cherry-Garrard and Bowers. Rear from left – Keohane and Crean, while Wilson pushes.
Atkinson, Wright, Cherry-Gerrard and the Irishman, Keohane, were selected to return, and begin the weary descent of the Glacier they had just scaled. “Affecting farewell’s” were made and the two sledge teams continued their heavy hauling south.
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans.
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Bowers, Crean and Lashly.
On This Day – November 21st 1908.
The first of Shackleton’s ponies, is killed.
On November 3rd 1908, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams and Frank Wild, left Hut Point. Their destination, as Shackleton had put it, was “the last spot in the world that counts as worth striving for” – the South Pole.
It was not Shackleton’s first attempt at reaching the pole, as he had joined Robert Falcon Scott and Edward Wilson, on the Discovery Expedition’s southern journey in 1902. The aim of that endeavour was “to get as far south in a straight line on the Barrier ice as we can, reach the Pole if possible, or find some new land.” Hardly a battle cry of inspiration, or intention. In truth the venture was a pioneering journey, deeper into the unexplored realms of Antarctica, than anyone had ever dared before.
Scott and the two men were supported by teams of sled dogs, which over the course of their travels struggled with the extreme conditions, and did not perform as expected, or indeed hoped. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean, The Solo March & The Albert Medal.
Free iBook Download.
From the Tom Crean Discovery post of the same name, Tom Crean – The Solo March & The Albert Medal is now free to download in iBook format.
Widely considered as the single most, greatest act of bravery, in the history of exploration, Tom Crean’s solo march to raise rescue for Lt. Edward Evans, earned him the Albert Medal for Gallantry in Saving Life On Land. Both he and Bill Lashly, who had hauled the stricken Evans on their provisions sledge, as they made their return from Scott’s southern journey, were awarded the medals, at Buckingham Palace, on July 26th 1913.
For the moment this iBook is only compatible with Apple Devices.
Download Free – Tom Crean – The Solo March & The Albert Medal
Terra Nova Expedition – Medal Awards Ceremony.
Buckingham Palace – July 26th, 1913.
The Terra Nova Expedition is probably better remembered for it’s tragic failures than for it’s heroic triumphs. The deaths of Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans on their return from the South Pole, sent shockwaves around the world, that reverberate to this very day.
They had arrived at the pole, on January 17th, 1912, to find that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen had preceded them there over a month beforehand. It was a cruel blow, but the worst was yet to come for the polar party. Their return journey became a desperate battle for survival. One that they were destined to lose.
Misfortune and mishap would contribute to their deaths, but it was cold and hunger that ultimately killed them. Having crossed the polar plateau, and descended the Beardmore Glacier, the party had expected that the most grueling stages of their journey were behind them. Edgar Evans had died on February 17th 1912, near the foot of the Beardmore. As they progressed across the Barrier, the temperature plummeted beyond anything they could have expected. Their advancement was slowed by Oates’s frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered an alarming shortage of fuel.
Oates walked to his death on March 17th, no longer able to withstand the agonies he was enduring. It was his 32nd birthday. The temperature continued to fall and the air was deathly still. With no wind at their backs, their sledge sail was of little or no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul their sledge over. Gradually they weakened, and sequentially they starved and froze to death. Scott’s last diary entry was on March 29th, twelve days after the disappearance of Lawrence Oates. In that time Scott, Wilson and Bowers had only managed to cover a further 20 miles. They died in helpless limbo, 11 miles from One Ton Depot.
After the long Antarctic winter, a search party left Cape Evans on October 29th, in an attempt to uncover the fate of their comrades, whom they knew were dead. On November 12th the men found the tent containing the bodies of the Scott, Wilson and Bowers. Scott’s diaries would outline the prologue to their fate, and tell the tragic tale of the demise of Evans and Oates. Efforts to locate the body of Lawrence Oates, only yielded his discarded sleeping bag, and the party returned to base on November 25th. Continue Reading →
Crean and Scott’s Last Farewell
Terra Nova Expedition
January 4th 1912
On January 4th, 1912, Tom Crean would bid a final farewell to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, on the Polar Plateau, approximately 150 miles from the South Pole. Crean had served with Scott on the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904, and afterwards at Scott’s request, Crean joined him as a member of the crew of the Victorious in 1906. The two men would serve together from this point, right up until Scott’s untimely demise on his return from the South Pole, and they had formed a strong mutual respect for each other.
Above: Camp on the polar march taken during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew, among them Lieutenant Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers who took this photograph, circa December 1911. Bowers and Scott were both tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled them to take their own memorable pictures before perishing on their return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
On the 3rd of January Scott had announced that his Polar Party would consist of 5 men, namely Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Taff Evans and Oates, while Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans were to return to base, as the last supporting team. Crean was sorely disappointed, not to have been among the number of the Polar Party, and privately he had surely thought he would have been selected. When one takes into consideration, the amount of time he had served under Scott, coupled with his vast experience on the ice, he probably should have been. Crean had also been spared the rigours of man hauling the sledges, on the 400 mile Barrier section of the outward journey, as he had been tasked with leading one of the ponies. He did not fall into harness until the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, and as a result would have had more reserves of strength than some in the Polar Party, who had hauled for the duration.
Scott referred to the returning party in his diary on January 3rd, 1912 – “They are disappointed but take it well.” But it appears Scott did have a lingering sense of guilt, regarding his decision not to elect Crean. On hearing Crean clearing his throat, Scott by way of a justifiable excuse, opined, “that’s a bad cold you have Crean.” While Crean was not a man to hold a grudge, or indeed question the orders of his Captain, he knew Scott was dishonestly trying to validate his decision.
“I understand a half-sung song, sir,” was his curt response.
It (among many other facets of the journey) has long since been argued that Scott made a grave error, by not selecting Crean, and denying the Polar Party the benefits of his indomitable spirit, character, strength and stamina. Many hold the opinion that, had the Irish Giant been among the polar party, things may not have taken such a tragic turn. The truth is we will never know.
On the Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909), Shackleton, Wild, Adams and Marshall had reached a new Furthest South record at latitude 82°17′S, on January 9th 1909, before electing to abandon their quest, 97 miles from the South Pole.
Shackleton had astutely surmised that he and his team were capable of reaching the Pole, but would not have the provisions to survive the return trip. As it transpired Shackleton and Wild were extremely fortunate to make it back to Hut Point, on February 28th 1911, the day before their ship Nimrod was due to leave Antarctica. The departure was delayed, and rescue was raised for Marshall who had collapsed, around 38 miles from the hut, and Adams who had remained behind to care for him.
Despite falling short of actually reaching the South Pole, Shackleton received much acclaim and recognition for his brave effort, and he had pioneered the route from the Barrier to the Polar Plateau, via the Beardmore Glacier.
This seemed to be the catalyst for Scott’s decision to return to Antarctica with his Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), and he opted to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps, treading the same route, southwards, towards the Pole, and indeed by using ponies as a means of hauling supplies, just as the Irishman had.
Scott’s assault on the South Pole was finally set in motion on October 24th 1911, when the Motor Party rolled out of Cape Evans with two motorised sledges, which carried vast quantities of supplies. On November 1st, Scott and the pony party would follow in their tracks, and the two groups were scheduled to meet beyond One Ton depot, at latitude 80° 30′ S.
Meanwhile Roald Amundsen in his desperation to beat his rival Scott, to the accolade, had set off on from his base Framheim on September 8th, but the desperate, freezing conditions forced him into an inglorious retreat. The temperature had plummeted to -56º C.
Amundsen had decided to pioneer his own route south, from his base in the Bay of Whales, and he would reach the Plateau by being the fist to scale the Axel Heiberg Glacier. Crucially, in terms of the ‘race’ Amundsen had elected to use dog teams instead of ponies, for hauling the sledge loads, and he did so with utter proficiency.
Terra Nova Expedition – Southern Journey.
Outward March – Camp 15, November 19th 1911.
It was day 19 of Robert Falcon Scott’s Southern Journey, and progress was slower than Scott had expected. The ponies were struggling in the harsh conditions and were constantly sinking in the deep snow. Scott’s team had developed pony shoes for the animals, and when trialed on the soft surfaces, they proved to be a significant success. However, Lawrence Oates who was in charge of the ponies, objected to their use, and most were left behind, despite their effectiveness.
This was a decision that Scott should have over-ruled. Of the 19 ponies brought along on the expedition, 9 had died prior to the departure of the South Pole journey, which greatly weakened their prospects of hauling the supplies to the Beardmore Glacier. The remaining 10 animals that set out with the team on November 1st, should have been afforded every possible advantage, for the gruelling task ahead.
Scott’s Southern Party at One Ton Depot.
November 16th, 1911
The Terra Nova Expedition.
Extracts from Robert Falcon Scott’s Diary.
Wednesday, November 15. – Camp 12.
“Found our One Ton Camp without any difficulty [130 geographical miles from Cape Evans].”
Robert Falcon Scott, on reaching One Ton Depot.
“After a discussion we had decided to give the animals a day’s rest here, and then to push forward at the rate of 13 geographical miles a day.”
“A note from Evans dated the 9th, stating his party has gone on to 80° 30′, carrying four boxes of biscuit. He has done something over 30 miles (geo.) in 2½ days – exceedingly good going. I only hope he has built lots of good cairns.
“Most of us are using goggles with glass of light green tint. We find this colour very grateful to the eyes, and as a rule it is possible to see everything through them even more clearly than with naked vision.”
Thursday. November 16. – Camp 12.
“Resting. A stiff little southerly breeze all day, dropping towards evening. The temperature -15°. Ponies pretty comfortable in rugs and behind good walls. Continue Reading →
Extract From Scott’s Diary
Saturday November 4th 1911.
“Just after starting picked up cheerful note and saw cheerful notices saying all well with motors, both going excellently. Day wrote ‘Hope to meet in 80° 30′ (Lat.).’ Poor chap, within 2 miles he must have had to sing a different tale. It appears they had a bad ground on the morning of the 29th. I suppose the surface was bad and everything seemed to be going wrong. They ‘dumped’ a good deal of petrol and lubricant. Worse was to follow.
Some 4 miles out we met a tin pathetically inscribed, ‘Big end Day’s motor No. 2 cylinder broken.’ Half a mile beyond, as I expected, we found the motor, its tracking sledges and all. Notes from E. Evans and Day told the tale. The only spare had been used for Lashly’s machine, and it would have taken a long time to strip Day’s engine so that it could run on three cylinders. They had decided to abandon it and push on with the other alone. They had taken the six bags of forage and some odds and ends, besides their petrol and lubricant. So the dream of great help from the machines is at an end! The track of the remaining motor goes steadily forward, but now, of course, I shall expect to see it every hour of the march.”