Terra Nova Expedition – Timeline
British Antarctic Expedition
December 1910 / January 1911
The Terra Nova Breaks Through The Pack Ice And Reach Antarctic Shores
Terra Nova picked up the last of its supplies in New Zealand and headed for the ice of Antarctica in late November 1910. After its first encounter with the ice fields it took about three weeks to traverse the pack ice blockading the path into the Ross Sea. The boat burned a lot of extra coal in an effort to slam through the ice floes, raising Scott’s worry as to whether the lessening supply of coal would be sufficient for their winter needs.
They at last broke through to open water on December 30, 1910, and finally on January 2, 1911, they spotted Mount Erebus, the large volcano on Ross Island. Scott’s initial hope was to establish their cabin on the shoreline beneath Cape Crozier. Be that as it may, the swell off the cape was hazardously high, and the towering ice approaching alongside it much too unsafe.
Scott opted instead to go west and enter McMurdo Sound, and opted for Cape Evans as the best place for the base camp, which was completed and ready for occupation by January 18 1911.
January, February 1911
Laying the supply route for the assault on the Pole
After work on the hut had been completed, Scott’s next goal was to establish supply depots along the initial stage of the route to the South Pole. These drops would be a crucial element of the journey, the return leg in particular, as it was impossible for the team to haul all the provisions required, for the duration of the round trip. The mission began on January 25 1911, with Scott an his team setting off with dogs, ponies and motorised sledges, to lay the caches across the Barrier all the way to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. Unlike the wily Amundsen, Scott had little faith in using the dogs on ice.
The tractor sledges failed miserably, the weather was particularly bad, and the ponies also struggled in the conditions.
The last and largest of these caches was named One Ton Depot, because of the large amount of supplies it contained, but it was situated over 30 miles short of its intended position of 80ºS.
Scott opted to lay the depot short of its target rather than place the ponies under any more duress. It would prove to be a fatal decision. When the 11 man search team, including Tom Crean, located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers on November 12 they were 11 miles short of the potentially life saving One Ton Depot.
The four men pulling the sledge are from left to right – Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959) Henry Bowers (1883–1912) Patrick Keohane (1879–1950) Tom Crean (1877–1938), and Edward Wilson (1872–1912) is at the rear.
June, July 1911
Scientific Winter Journey
The Terra Nova sailed not only under the banner of an exploration force, but also as an expedition with scientific quests to fulfil. One such quest was to located eggs from the Emperor Penguin, which seems a reasonable enough task, save for the fact that the penguins only lay their eggs in the depths of the Antarctic winter.
And so it was, in June of 1911 that Wilson, Cherry, and Bowers set off on what was called the Winter Journey, heading for Cape Crozier . Conditions for the three man sledging team were appalling and they constantly battled temperatures as low as -51 C, blinding blizzards and the constant dangers of crevasses and deep snowfalls. But ultimately the men would prevail, acquiring the eggs they had set off in search of.
Cherry would later say of the ordeal:
“For we are a nation of shopkeepers, and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year…If you march your Winter Journey you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin’s egg.”
October 24th 1911
A four man team with motorised sledges heads out ahead of the main Polar team, with supplies, but the machines again proved ineffectual, and broke down, resulting in the men having to haul the sledges.
November 1st 1911 to Jan 1912
The Quest For The Pole Begins
On the first of November 1911 Scott and his team embarked on their quest to be first to reach the South Pole. Their ponies numbered ten, as seven of the beasts had died while laying the supply route in January. By early December the weather conditions had deteriorated badly, and very heavy snowfalls, followed by thaw, made the trek a very difficult and arduous one. On Dec. 10th, just before reaching the Beardmore Glacier, Scott sent back his dog teams, leaving the 12 remaining men to haul the sledges, as all the ponies were dead at this stage. Scaling the 190 KM glacier was simply an agonising ordeal, as the men laboured to drag their sledges whilst navigating the perils of numerous crevasses and drifts.
As they toiled to reach the Polar Plateau, Roald Amundsen was already on his way across it, pulled along by his dog teams, after his party had successfully scaled the Axel Heiberg Glacier. The race was as good as over, but Scott and his team weren’t to know this.
Scott had underestimated how effective dog teams could be on the ice, and his belief that ponies and man hauling were his best chance of reaching the Pole now appears to have been a very naive decision.
However the Beardmore Glacier was eventually conquered, and Scott and his team slogged onwards across the Plateau. Some 400 miles from the Pole, Scott sent home his first supporting party, a sledging team of four, and the remaining eight men continued forward.
December 14th 1911
The Race Is Over
On the 14th of December Roald Admunsen, Olav Bjaaland, Sverre Hassel, Helmer Hanssen and Oscar Wisting planted the Norwegian flag at the South Pole, and won the Race To The End Of The Earth. At this time Scott’s Polar team were approximately 400 miles away and completely oblivious to the fact.
January 3rd 1912
Scott had always intended that his Polar Party that would make the trek on final stage of the journey, would consist of 4 men, himself among this number. What was unusual about Scott’s leadership was the fact that none of the men knew whether or not they would be selected for the honour of standing with their Captain at the Pole.
Then on January 3rd 1912 Scott made his announcement, deciding that he would in fact be taking four men with him to the Pole, which now lay 150 miles away, and sending the last supporting party home.
Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Taff Evans and Oates would be the Polar Party, whilst Tom Crean, Lieutenant Teddy Evans and Bill Lashly would return to Cape Evans.
Scott’s decision making at this point, and indeed from the offset, was not what one would expect from the leader of a Polar Expedition. It would surely have been wiser had he decided, and informed the men, exactly who would be among the Polar Party before departure, and these men should have been spared as much hauling as possible, along the route, in an effort to preserve strength for the final stage, and the subsequent return trip. Instead Scott chose his Polar Party with little examination, or regard for the condition of the men.
Tom Crean was the strongest and fittest of the eight men, and yet Scott opted to send him back, selecting instead men who had been severely weakened by the journey thus far. Oates for example was suffering from frostbite, and Edgar Evans had picked up a knife wound.
Scott’s reasoning for increasing the Polar Party to 5 was probably to have extra manpower for the final push, but with supplies running low, it was not a very astute move, and this scenario also left the returning party a man short. What should have been a 4 man sledging team, was now down to three, and they faced a journey of almost 750 miles. Scott appears to have shown callous disregard for the three men’s lives, as he had greatly diminished their chances of surviving the return journey.
Perhaps the reason he decided to send the fresher and stronger Tom Crean with Lashly and Evans, was because he felt Crean would have the stamina to get them to Cape Evans despite the handicap of the reduced number.
January 16th 1912
Scott and his team discover dog and ski tracks as well as a black flag, as they near the Pole, and they realise they have lost the race to their Norwegian counterparts. Up to this point with no evident signs of the Norwegian team, Scott and his party felt they may even have been ahead of them. It was a crushing disappointment .
January 17th 1912
Scott’s Polar Party arrive at 90ºS – The South Pole. Despite the enormity of their achievement the men are deflated in defeat. They discovered a tent nearby, left by the Amundsen team, with a letter inside, addressed to the King of Norway and a note asking Scott if he would be kind enough to deliver it. There was also details of Amundsen’s arrival at the pole, some 34 days prior to the Polar Party.
January 19th 1912
The Polar Party depart the Pole and begin the 900 mile return journey.
February 17th 1912
Edgar Evans Dies
The return trip for Scott and his Polar Party was a tortuous affair, and by February 17th the situation was a desperate one. Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans, was suffering badly from frostbite to his fingers, nose and cheeks, and a knife wound he had picked up before they had reached the Pole, had failed to heal.
He had twice fallen into crevasses and on the second occasion was badly concussed, causing rapid deterioration in both his mental and physical condition. As they descended the Beardmore Glacier Evans’ condition was hindering progress. He had left the sledge harness and tried to stumble alongside, but even this proved futile as he still could not keep pace and fell behind the team, who had to retrace their steps to fetch him.
When they located him, he was in an almost delirious state and they made camp, placing the now unconscious Evans in the tent. He would die later that night. Scott did not make a record of what was done with the body of Edgar Evans.
February 18th 1912
Tom Crean’s Solo March
Over 350 miles ahead of Scott’s Polar Party, Crean, Evans and Lashly had somehow made it to within 35 miles of Hut Point. Teddy Evans, near death from scurvy, was being heroically hauled along the Barrier, on the sledge, by Crean and Lashly, who had disobeyed his order to leave him behind and save themselves. It became obvious to Crean and Lashly that Evans would certainly die before they reached the hut. At their current pace it would take them four or five days to complete the journey and that was time Lieutenant Evans did not have.
A tent was pitched and Tom Crean volunteered to complete the journey alone, leaving Lashly to care for Evans. Crean’s solo march took him just 18 hours to complete, an incredible feat coming at the end of an arduous 1,500 mile round trip. The alarm was raised and a rescue party found the two men, and Evans would survive the ordeal. Both Tom Crean and Bill Lashly would later receive the Albert Medal for their heroic actions.
February 27th 1912
Scott, Oates, Wilson and Bowers are still struggling across the Ross Ice Shelf.
By February 27th the temperature had dropped alarmingly, and that night it had reached -40º C.
March 17th 1912
Oates Walks Into The Whiteness
By mid March Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates’ was weakening rapidly. Like the other three men he was suffering from the effects of frostbite and scurvy, but he had deteriorated much quicker than the others, and Scott would note in his diary on March 5th – “Oates’ feet are in a wretched condition… The poor soldier is very nearly done.”
Oates was aware that his condition was slowing down the team, and they weren’t reaching the crucial supply depots in time. The daily distance the men needed to cover in order to reach the depots was not being achieved, and although none of the party were in good shape, Oates was delaying them.
On March 16th, as they camped, Oates feeling he could go no further, asked the others to leave him behind in his sleeping bag, which they refused to do. Oates awoke the following morning, perhaps somewhat surprised, and maybe even disappointed, not to have died in his sleep. It was March 17th, his 32nd birthday, and he left the tent, saying to his comrades “I am just going outside, and may be some time.” Those words uttered, he disappeared into the whiteness, forever.
With a blizzard howling outside and temperatures as low as -40 C, death would have come quickly for Oates, and his immense sufferings were over. It was a gallant sacrifice by Oates and all the men there, knowing his intention, tried to dissuade him, but alas his selfless action would have little bearing on the fate of his three companions.
March 29th 1912
Scott’s Last Journal Entry
After Oates had died, the three remaining men made very slow progress, only managing to travel a further 20 miles before they holed up in their tent, 11 miles short of One Ton Depot. 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.
As their supplies began to dwindle, Bowers and Wilson decided to strike for the depot, and return to Scott with supplies, but the extreme weather did not allow any window of opportunity to do this. Resigned to their impending doom the men penned final letters, and Scott wrote his famous Message To The Public.
Their demise was a slow one, and from Scott’s journal entries we know they spent nine days in their tent, waiting for a suitable break in the weather, so the could attempt to reach the supply cache. It never came, or if it did, it came too late, and they were simply too weak to make the trek, by that time. They shared what little food they had left, but one by one they died, and on the 29th of March, Scott’s final journal entry read: “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.”
It is thought that Scott was the last of the three to die, and probably perished on March 29th.
October 29th 1912
The Search Begins
The remaining members of the Terra Nova expedition had spent their second Antarctic winter at Cape Evans, and had long since accepted that calamity had befallen the Polar Party, and that they would most likely not be returning. The only slight glimmer of hope that some of the men clung to was that Scott and his team had made it to One Ton Depot, and had camped there for the winter.
A search party, including Tom Crean set off on the 29th of October and reached the depot about two weeks later, to find it undisturbed.
November 12th 1912
On November 12th the search party spotted a cairn like mound, and soon realised it was Scott’s tent. Inside they discovered the frozen bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers. The search party removed personal artefacts, letters and journals, and through Scotts journal they learned of the circumstances of Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates’ deaths. The men left the bodies of their comrades where they lay and collapsed the tent on top of them.
They built a cairn of snow over the tent and fashioned a cross which they placed on top. The search party then trekked to the point where Oates had walked to his death, but no trace of him could be found, and they decided to head back to Cape Evans and await the return of the Terra Nova. They departed Antarctica in February 1913, and upon arriving in New Zealand the world would learn of the tragic story of Scott’s Polar Party.
Map of ‘The Race To The Pole’
Scott’s route is green while Amundsen’s is red.
Tom Crean – An Illustrated Life by Michael Smith – Tom Crean – An Illustrated Life by Michael Smith on Amazon
American Museum Of Natural History
Rare Pictures: Scott’s South Pole Expedition, 100 Years Later