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’ frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered a 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 no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul the 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.
Memorial Cross Raised On Observation Hill.
Terra Nova Expedition.
On January 22nd 1913 Tom Crean, and the Terra Nova expedition team, raised a memorial cross in honour of the Polar Party, all of whom had died on their return march from the South Pole. The cross was placed on the summit of Observation Hill, which is 754 ft high and looks out across the Ross Ice Shelf where the men tragically perished.
Prior to this Tom Crean was also part of the search party that had located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent on November 12, 1912. The Relief Expedition had discovered the top of the tent protruding from the snow, at first thinking the mound was merely an old supply cache. History owes these men a huge debt of gratitude, for without their discovery, the fate of the Polar Party, would never be known. Their journeying, after January 4th 1912, when the last support team of Crean, Lashly and Evans, parted company with them, on the polar plateau, would be merely a subject of speculation and counter theory.
For those that discovered the frozen bodies of their three former comrades, and close friends, it was a truly horrific experience. Having identified the tent, it had to be excavated from the snow, before anyone could enter, with enough light to determine the gruesome scene within. Tom Crean wept bitterly, cradling Scott in his arms. It appeared that Scott was last to die. Bowers and Wilson looked at peace in their sleeping bags, perhaps as though Scott had tended to them, when they had passed.
Strewn about the tent were their belongings, journals, letters, and the paraphernalia of their efforts to survive there.
The equally grim fates of Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates, were learned from Scott’s journal. So too, the fact that they had successfully reached the South Pole, as had Amundsen, a month prior to them; knowledge of which mattered little at that moment of intense grief.
“Then Atkinson read the lesson from the Burial Service from Corinthians. Perhaps it has never been read in a more magnificent cathedral and under more impressive circumstances—for it is a grave which kings must envy. Then some prayers from the Burial Service: and there with the floor-cloth under them and the tent above we buried them in their sleeping-bags—and surely their work has not been in vain.”
from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Scott’s Polar Party Reach The South Pole.
Terra Nova Expedition.
“Great God! This is an awful place …..”
Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans and Lawrence Oates arrived at the South Pole on January 17th 1912. It was an enormous achievement, but this fact was all but lost on the Polar Party, as they realised they had been beaten to the accolade of ‘First to the Pole’, by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team. As they had approached the Pole they had spotted a black flag, dog tracks and footprints. The sickening realisation that they had lost the race, dawned upon them.
For Scott, reaching the South Pole had been eleven years and two expeditions in the making. For the achievement to be shrouded in such disappointment, was a cruel blow to the great Antarctic pioneer.
Scott summed up their despair in a particularly poignant journal entry, where he wrote – “The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected … Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here.”
No solace could have assuaged their disappointment, and tragically the men would not survive to pluck eventual satisfaction from the enormity of their feat.
The Terra Nova Expedition.
Journal Entry – December 25th 1910.
“An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit. She gave birth to 17, it is said, and Crean has given away 22! I don’t know what will become of the parent or family; at present they are warm and snug enough , tucked away in the fodder under the forecastle.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
The expedition ship Terra Nova left New Zealand in November 1910, and headed for the ice of Antarctica. On board were 65 men, 34 dogs, 19 Siberian ponies and one concealed rabbit. Whilst all of the men and animals were officially accounted for in the ships inventory, it seems no-one knew of the rabbits presence, save for the man who had smuggled it on board.
Tom Crean was an animal lover, and he found a comfortable berth for his rabbit, among the horse fodder, aboard the heavily laden Terra Nova. This leads to the suspicion that perhaps Lawrence Oates was also aware of the animals presence, as his was the task of tending to the ponies.
On Christmas Day, 1910, while the ship was still at sea, the rabbit surprised all by producing 17 offspring, as rabbits do. Continue Reading →