Discovery Arrives at Plymouth.
British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04.
Generally known as the Discovery Expedition, The British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04, was Britain’s first official foray into Antarctic climes since the 1839-1843 voyage of James Clark Ross, with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
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 climb 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 noted that he thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
The Discovery Expedition succeeded in its quest to undertake scientific studies in Antarctica, in fields as diverse as biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism. On the Western Journey, Antarctica’s only snow free valleys were discovered, in the western mountains of Victoria Land, and became known as The Dry Valleys.
The Death Of The Polar Party
Terra Nova Expedition
On the 29th of March 1912, in a blizzard battered tent on Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, Robert Falcon Scott’s trembling frozen hand scribed his final words – “Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.”*
Scott, Bowers and Wilson had been trapped in their tent for nine days, unable to strike for One Ton Depot, which as Scott had stated lay a mere 11 miles away. It must surely have haunted Scott, to know that his decision not to establish the depot where initially intended, in February of 1911, would now definitively decide the mens fate.
Had he done so, the starving, scurvy stricken men would have reached the potentially life saving cache, approximately twenty miles south of where they currently lay dying. Ironically Lawrence Oates, who had protested in vain to Scott, during that depot laying excursion, that they should forge ahead and lay the supplies at the predetermined point, walked to his death in the vicinity of the intended depot on March 17th 1912.
Prior to Oates’ tragic demise the Polar Party had lost Edgar Evans on February 17th, through a combination of scurvy and a serious concussion he had suffered when falling into a crevasse on February 4th. The three remaining men made scant progress after the disappearance of Oates, perhaps covering a further 20 agonising miles, before the adverse weather trapped them in their tent, and slowly wrought their doom.
The Race To The South Pole.
The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration is probably best remembered and recounted for its gruesome tragedies and not its glorious triumphs. The public outpouring of grief that followed the news of the deaths of Scott and his Polar Party, eclipsed the acclaim that Roald Amundsen had earned by not just becoming the first human to reach the South Pole, but to also survive and complete the effort, with an efficiency that has forever rendered the forlorn efforts of his rival, to be the subject of intense scrutiny. Scott and his four companions had also gallantly attained the Pole, but did so around 34 days after Amundsen, and all five men would die in wretched circumstances on their return journey.
Amundsen would later convey the details of his successful quest in his book The South Pole, but it was the contents of Scott’s expedition journal that had captured the publics imagination. In defeat, failure and death, Scott’s memory and acclaim was better served than those of the victorious Amundsen.
Amundsen first Antarctic venture was as first mate to Adrien de Gerlache, aboard the RV Belgica, on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–99), where he was among the first group ever to winter on the continent. In 1903 Amundsen led an expedition that would become the first to traverse the long sought after and fabled Northwest Passage, finally proving its existance, in the wake of countless failed and tragic crusades to do so.
The expedition spent two winters on the ice of northern Canada, where they acquired invaluable skills in Arctic survival from Inuit tribes, most notably the wearing of animal skins and the use of sled dogs.*
After this success Amundsen made plans to take an expedition to the North Pole, and borrowed the ship Fram, from Fridtjof Nansen. But in 1909, both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook made separate claims to have reached the North Pole, neither of which have ever been fully vindicated, but Amundsen, deeming the Pole conquered, set his sights on a new target – the South Pole.
He did so in the utmost of secrecy, and even Nansen knew nothing of his intentions when Amundsen set sail from Oslo on June 3rd 1910. It was only when the Fram arrived at Madeira, that Amundsen told his crew of their destination, and he sent a telegram to Scott, informing him that the Fram was proceeding south. The race had begun.
The Race For The North & South Poles
Excellent documentary about the race for both the North and South Poles.
See playlist in top left of viewer for part 2 of this documentary, and Shackleton’s Voyage Of Endurance, Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
Calculate Your Distance From The South Pole
Simply enter the name of your county, or nearest large town or city, to calculate how far away the South Pole is from you.
Tom Crean & The South Pole
Despite his heroics in Antarctic climes, Tom Crean never actually made it to the South Pole. On January 3rd 1912, Tom was only 150 miles from the Pole, when Captain Robert Falcon Scott opted to send him back to base as part of the last support party. Scott’s Polar Party did succeed in reaching The South Pole, but tragically all five men would perish on the gruelling return journey.
As perhaps the fittest and strongest of the eight men who stood within 150 miles of The Pole on the morning of January 4th, before the parties went their separate ways, it is a certainty that Tom Crean would also have made it to the Pole.
The questions are, could he have survived the trek back to base, that claimed the lives of his five comrades, and whether or not he could have done anything to save them? Bearing in mind that the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found in their tent, only around 11 miles from a huge, and potentially life saving supply cache, the question is a justified one.
Roald Amundsen had of course beaten Scott and his Polar Party to the South Pole, arriving there on December 14th 1911, around five weeks before Scott. Amundsen and his men were the first humans to stand at The South Pole.