The Nimrod Expedition (1907 – 1909).
How the loss of Shackleton’s Socks changed the course of Antarctic History
On December 6th, 1908, as Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams scaled Antarctica’s Beardmore Glacier; Socks plummeted to his death, lost to one of the many crevasses that fractured the pathway to the polar plateau. He was the last to die, of the four ponies that had started the southern journey. Many of the unfortunate beasts had perished in Antarctica prior to the loss of Socks, and many more would die on subsequent expeditions, but the death of this particular pony would have ramifications that reverberate to this very day.
With each step, each mile and each expedition, the explorers of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, gradually unravelled the enigmas, of the mysterious white continent. Between the years 1902 and 1911, Antarctica was considered the last great prize in exploration worth striving for. To garner support, and more importantly funding, each expedition sailed with the promise of scientific discovery, but at the heart of all quests was the ambition to be first to stand at the South Pole.
In 1901, Robert Falcon Scott’s DiscoveryExpedition, was the first to set off for Antarctica, with the intention of a ‘southern journey’. This was the term the explorers had coined for an assault on the South Pole. Scott’s effort commenced on November 2nd, 1902 and he took with him Third Officer, Ernest Shackleton, the expedition’s junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson, and a party of sled dogs.
The course of their intended route to the pole can be broken down into three basic sections. A journey of roughly 450 miles, across the Great Ice Barrier was the first obstacle, and though they knew not what lay beyond, once completed, the explorers would find themselves at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. The crevasse ridden glacier was a 120 mile expanse that rose 7,200 feet, to the polar plateau, which was the last section of the journey. From here, a trek of over 300 miles separated the men from their goal. Continue Reading →
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 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..
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’s frostbite, and upon reaching their depots, they discovered an alarming 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 little or no benefit to them. Not only that, but the frozen surface had become almost impossible to haul their 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 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 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.
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 This Day – December 25th 1902.
A First Christmas On The Ice Of Antarctica.
The Discovery Expedition (1901 – 1904).
Relatively speaking, Antarctica has only two seasons – Winter and Summer, and they occur contrary to the seasons in the northern hemisphere. The austral summer peaks in the months of January and February, and because of this, most of the endeavours of Antarctic explorers are plotted around a November to March timeframe.
This was no different in 1902, by which stage Tom Crean was well into his first venture to Antarctic climes, with Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition. In November of that year he was part of a 12 man team selected to lay a supply route for what would be Scott’s first tentative attempt to reach the South Pole, with Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, accompanying him.
On November 11 1902, Crean and a number of the depot laying team, under the command of Michael Barne, had achieved the honour of establishing a new farthest south record, when they passed the 78°50’S spot reached by Carsten Borchgrevink, on 16th February 1900.
When their mission was successfully completed they returned to Hut Point, having spent 35 difficult and labourious days on the ice. They would however, not rest for long, as a pre-planned exploration of the continents southwest, was next on their agenda. As Scott, Shackleton and Wilson laboured vainly towards the pole, Barne led out his six man team, including Tom Crean, on December 20th 1902.
They hauled well in excess of 1,000 lbs of supplies and equipment with them, on two sledges, but despite the immense physical demands of dragging five weeks supplies in their wake they nonetheless made good progress. Meanwhile, Scott’s southern party were relaying their supplies, dragging half their load forward, one mile at a time, then plodding back a mile, before hauling the remainder forward again. In short, for every geographical mile they had covered, the weary men had walked a distance of three miles.
Scott’s sledge party, which reached the furthest southern latitude on his national Antarctic expedition, celebrating Christmas. Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton, left, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, centre, and Dr Edward Adrian Wilson, right. Original Publication: Illustrated London News – pub. 1903
On December 25th 1902, Crean and his five companions crammed into one of the three-man tents they shared, to celebrate Christmas Day, on Antarctica’s great Ice Barrier. Dinner had been eaten and spirits were high as cards, which had been written by their Discovery shipmates were read aloud.
Barne noted that each man did a ‘turn’ during what he described as a ‘concert.’ It was without doubt the most unique white Christmas to date. Their tent, a tiny speck on the vast, unforgiving ice plains, emanating the alien sounds of songs stories and laughter, to blend with the eerie silence, or bewailing winds – the only other sources of sound, in the dominion of their splendid isolation.
In his excellent biography of Tom Crean, Michael Smith notes – “Crean was well known for breaking into song even under normal circumstances and now his voice was lubricated by a special gift which had been smuggled onto one of the sledges.”
“Our efforts were simulated by a bottle of port which had been brought for the purpose”
So wherever you celebrate Christmas, this year, spare a thought for the brave and bold pioneers of Antarctic exploration, who, on this day, 115 years ago, despite being enveloped by the harshest continent on the planet, somewhere deep within it’s icy interior, still took time to pause in their efforts and salute this most very special of occasions.
It was a bleak and dangerous place. They were at the foot of the world, in the midst of the last great unknown, but it was white and it was Christmas.
Source – An Unsung Hero – Michael Smith
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 →
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
On This Day – October 24th 1911.
The Terra Nova Expedition.Captain Robert Falcon 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, including fuel, food and vital equipment.
Scott’s order, issued to Lt. Edward Evans was that the motors should proceed to Corner Camp, then onward beyond One Ton Depot, hauling the cargo to latitude 80° 30′ S, where they would wait for the rest of the party to catch up with them at that point.
The entire Southern Party consisted of a total of 16 men. Lieutenant Evans, William (Bill) Lashly, Bernard Day and F.J. Hooper comprised the Motor Party, which took the first tentative trundles towards the South Pole, on that October 24th.
Scott and nine of the other men selected, followed in the wake of the motor tracks on November 1st 1911, with each man tasked with navigating a pony and sledge through the icy, inhospitable landscape. The complement of 16 would be completed by Meares and Demetri, who would follow them, with 23 dogs pulling two sledge loads of supplies.
For a brief while the Southern Party gained a 17th member, when Demetri took the expedition’s photographer Herbert Ponting, to the Barrier’s edge, to enable him to capture cinematograph film of the group as they ventured south with the ponies.
Unbeknownst to Scott, Roald Amundsen’s team had been to, and passed their own supply cache at 81º S on the very same day, having begun their outward quest on October 19th. Amundsen had every confidence in his planning, his dog teams and his ability to beat Scott to the accolade of being first to stand at the South Pole. He was perplexed by Scott’s insistence on using ponies to haul supplies, instead of more efficient dog teams. Amundsen had set off with over 50 dogs, the weakest of which would be fed to the other beasts, to sustain them along the route. Continue Reading →
The Last Place On Earth
A Central Television Production, 1985
The story itself is long over a century old, and this television production has notched three decades since its first airing. This is the story of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, which was well under way, and southward bound, before Roald Amundsen announced his intention to beat them to the prize, and Scott suddenly found himself a contender, as well as an expedition leader. But most of all it is the tale of two groups of brave men who had ventured into the realm of the unknown, to claim the last place unknown to man – the South Pole.
The Last Place on Earth is a 1985 Central Television seven part serial, written by Trevor Griffiths based on the book Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford. The book is an exploration of the expeditions of Captain Robert F. Scott (played by Martin Shaw) and his Norwegian rival in polar exploration, Roald Amundsen (played by Sverre Anker Ousdal) in their attempts to reach the South Pole.
The series ran for seven episodes and starred a wide range of UK and Norwegian character actors as well as featuring some famous names, such as Max von Sydow, Richard Wilson, Sylvester McCoy, Brian Dennehy, and Pat Roach. It also featured performances early in their careers by Bill Nighy and Hugh Grant.
Subsequently Huntford’s book was republished under the same name. The book put forth the point of view that Amundsen’s success in reaching the South Pole was abetted by much superior planning, whereas errors by Scott (notably including the reliance on man-hauling instead of sled dogs) ultimately resulted in the death of him and his companions.