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 →
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.”
Scott’s Southern Journey.
A Quotation by Thomas Griffith Taylor.
NOVEMBER 1st 1911
“Cherry had Michael, a steady goer, and Wilson led Nobby — the pony rescued from the killer whales in March…. Christopher, as usual, behaved like a demon. First they had to trice his front leg up tight under his shoulder, then it took five minutes to throw him. The sledge was brought up and he was harnessed in while his head was held down on the floe. Finally he rose up, still on three legs, and started off galloping as well as he was able. After several violent kicks his foreleg was released, and after more watch-spring flicks with his hind legs he set off fairly steadily. Titus can’t stop him when once he has started, and will have to do the fifteen miles in one lap probably!
Dear old Titus — that was my last memory of him. Imperturbable as ever; never hasty, never angry, but soothing that vicious animal, and determined to get the best out of most unpromising material in his endeavour to do his simple duty. Continue Reading →
Scott’s Southern Journey.
On This Day – November 1st 1911.
A collection of photographs taken on November 1st 1911, as Captain Robert Falcon Scott embarked upon his quest to be first to reach the South Pole. Prior to his departure, Scott had been tutored in the techniques of photography by the expedition’s photographer Herbert Ponting, as Ponting himself would not be part of the group that would venture southwards.
This enabled Scott to keep a visual record of the journey, and all of the images below, were captured on the very first day of the outward journey, and show the establishment of the first pony camp, along the route.
On This Day – November 1st 1911 – The Push For The Pole
The Terra Nova Expedition
On November 1st 1911, Captain Robert Falcon Scott departed the base camp hut at Cape Evans, for the last time. The Pony Party consisted of Scott and nine other men, each tasked with leading a pony along the route. It was the second phase of the disjointed exodus south, the men and ponies following in the wake of the Motor Party, which had forged ahead on October 24th. Cecil Meares and Demitri Gerov would complete the number of the sixteen man team, by following Scott’s group with a dog team.
Those remaining behind at Cape Evans, gave the departing group a cheering send off, and watched on, as they gradually disappeared south into the vast Antarctic whiteness, some never to return. Even by the time they had vanished from the view of those at the hut, the problems facing Scott’s group were patently evident, as each man battled with the particular temperament of the ponies they were handling.
Some of the beasts galloped uncontrollably while others had to be coaxed and almost dragged forward. Tom Crean led one of the calmer ponies named Bones, as did Cherry Garrard, who guided Michael, a pony Taylor had noted as “a steady goer”.
Many of Scott’s men had deep rooted misgivings about their Captain’s decision to use ponies to haul supplies across the ice, and none more so than the chief pony handler, Lawrence Oates. Nicknamed ‘The Soldier’ by his Terra Nova fellows, the popular Oates was an English cavalry officer, who had served with honour in the Boer War. He had applied to join the expedition, having become somewhat disillusioned with life in the army, and Scott had taken him on board, mainly because of his vast knowledge and experience with horses.
“Bones ambled off gently with Crean and I led Snippers in his wake.”
Robert Scott Diary – 1st November 1911