The Nimrod Expedition (1907 – 1909).
How the loss of Shackleton’s Socks changed the course of Antarctic History
On December 6th, 1908, as Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams scaled Antarctica’s Beardmore Glacier; Socks plummeted to his death, lost to one of the many crevasses that fractured the pathway to the polar plateau. He was the last to die, of the four ponies that had started the southern journey. Many of the unfortunate beasts had perished in Antarctica prior to the loss of Socks, and many more would die on subsequent expeditions, but the death of this particular pony would have ramifications that reverberate to this very day.
With each step, each mile and each expedition, the explorers of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, gradually unravelled the enigmas, of the mysterious white continent. Between the years 1902 and 1911, Antarctica was considered the last great prize in exploration worth striving for. To garner support, and more importantly funding, each expedition sailed with the promise of scientific discovery, but at the heart of all quests was the ambition to be first to stand at the South Pole.
In 1901, Robert Falcon Scott’s DiscoveryExpedition, was the first to set off for Antarctica, with the intention of a ‘southern journey’. This was the term the explorers had coined for an assault on the South Pole. Scott’s effort commenced on November 2nd, 1902 and he took with him Third Officer, Ernest Shackleton, the expedition’s junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson, and a party of sled dogs.
The course of their intended route to the pole can be broken down into three basic sections. A journey of roughly 450 miles, across the Great Ice Barrier was the first obstacle, and though they knew not what lay beyond, once completed, the explorers would find themselves at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. The crevasse ridden glacier was a 120 mile expanse that rose 7,200 feet, to the polar plateau, which was the last section of the journey. From here, a trek of over 300 miles separated the men from their goal. Continue Reading →
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 →
Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition 1910 – 1913.
A Photograph Gallery.
A collection of some of the lesser seen images captured on Robert Falcon Scott’s, ill fated Terra Nova Expedition.
Demetri Gerof with a dog team at Cape Evans photographed during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, circa October 1911. Scott was tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled Scott to take his own memorable pictures before perishing on his return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Captain Robert Falcon Scott/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
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 →
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 →
Scott’s Discovery Hut – Hut Point Antarctica.
Discovery Hut was built by Robert Falcon Scott during the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904 in 1902 and is located at Hut Point on Ross Island by McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Visitors to Antarctica, arriving at either the US Base at McMurdo or New Zealand’s Scott Base are likely to encounter Discovery Hut as both are located on Hut Point. Discovery Hut is just 300m from McMurdo Base. The hut has been designated a Historic Site or Monument (HSM 18), following a proposal by New Zealand and the United Kingdom to the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Some confusion arises because Discovery Hut can correctly be referred to as Scott’s Hut, in that his expedition built it, and it was his base ‘ashore’ during the 1901–1904 expedition. But the title ‘Scott’s Hut’ correctly belongs to the building erected in 1911 at Cape Evans. Wikipedia. Continue Reading →
Scott’s Ponies and Amundsen’s Dogs Immortalized.
Southern Aeronautical Waypoints named in their honour.
The names of the many great Antarctic explorers of the Heroic Age, are well known, widely documented and duly remembered. The feats of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, Worsley, Crean and Wild, to mention but a few, still evoke passion, admiration, pride and indeed much discussion and debate.
The map of Antarctica is very much comprised of landmarks and features named by, or in honour of these great pioneers. As was the wont of the great explorers who first tread unseen lands, they named every natural anomaly they discovered, as they so wished. The names chosen tended to stem from the royalty of the day, expedition sponsors, previous expeditions, explorers and crew, and of course those near and dear to them.
But nowhere, or no place on the vast white continent was named after the animals that played such a crucial role in each and every southern expedition.
Nowhere that is, until one man decided to address the issue, and have the contributions of the canine and equine contingents remembered. Because international rules prohibits the naming of Antarctic landmarks after animals, Col. Ronnie Smith of the US Air Force, turned to an area of Antarctica that he was very familiar with – the skies above.
Ronnie J. Smith was born of U.S. Air Force parents in Udine, Italy, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Loyola College (B.A.) and the University of Maryland. Ron entered the U.S. Air Force in 1983 to fly C-130 aircraft and has traveled the world as a professional aviator. After many years flying in the polar regions, he was selected to be the in-theater commander of Operation DEEP FREEZE, the DoD logistics support to the U.S. Antarctic Program from 2005-2008.
“I can tell you that these men were quite an inspiration to me and many others who lived and worked in both north and south polar climes. We walk on their shoulders.” That was Ronnie’s thought on the men of the heroic age, in a correspondence, earlier this year. Of the animals that toiled alongside these men, Ronnie said in an article for Equus Magazine, “The animals never got their due credit. There’s a statue around here and there. And as a poet, I saw this as not just a heroic/romantic period of history, but one of neglect for the animals who made it possible for the success of the brave men. They literally could not have done it without the animals. They did not have the technology.” Continue Reading →
February 4th 1902
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climbed aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable, even at that height was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
Scott, Shackleton and Wilson return to Discovery
Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904
On February 3rd 1903, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson made it back to their ship Discovery, after their arduous Southern march, which had commenced on November 2nd 1902. The objective had been, according to Wilson’s Diary “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”, but it is safe to suggest it was never really likely that the Pole would be attained on this particular excursion. The men lacked the skill and experience required with dogs, and indeed the ice, and from the offset progress was slow, and planning poor.