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.
Edgar Evans Dies On Scott’s Return March
Terra Nova Expedition
On February 17th 1912, Edgar Evans died near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, as he returned from the South Pole with Scott, Oates, Wilson and Bowers.
The Welshman who Scott had described as “…a giant worker”, was 35 years old, and tragically, left behind a widow, Lois, and three young children.
The five men had arrived at the Pole a month earlier on January 17th, only to discover that Roald Amundsen had beaten them there, having arrived at 90º South, on the 15th of December.
The arduous return journey, soon became a desperate struggle for the Polar Party, and as they descended the Beardmore Glacier, both the physical and mental condition of Edgar “Taff” Evans were in steady decline.
As Scott’s party made their weary return from the pole, Evans was suffering badly from frostbite to his fingers, nose and cheeks. He had also fallen into crevasses on two occasions. The second of these falls on February 4th, when both he and Scott fell, prompted a rapid decline in Evans’ condition. He suffered a serious concussion from which he would never recover, and Scott described him afterwards as being “broken down in the brain”.
Evans did struggle onwards though, but dropped out of the harness, and no doubt his condition delayed the progress of the team. Considering the fine margins of the return plan, and the harshness of the theatre it was being played out in, it can be suggested that the decline of Edgar Evans between the 4th and 17th of February, would subsequently contribute to the deaths of the rest of the team. Surplus rations were used up as depots were not reached on schedule, and the consequent shortfall of distance covered, could perhaps be equated to the 11 mile expanse, between One Ton Depot, and the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson.
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