New Farthest South Record Set.
Discovery Expedition – 30th December 1902.
On this day in 1902, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson established a new ‘Farthest South’ record, on the Discovery expedition. They had trekked hundreds of miles across Antarctica, reaching latitude 82º 17’S. It had been a tentative, yet truly pioneering effort, and there was little hope of the quest ever achieving its goal, of actually reaching the South Pole. It is safe to assume that in all probability, it was not deemed possible, even by the participants themselves. Wilson had noted in his diary, that their aim 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.” The three men were relaying their supplies, dragging half their load forward, one mile at a time, then plodding back that 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. The physical demands of this system were simply not sustainable.
As it transpired, the only reward their efforts yielded was in achieving the new record, without ever leaving the Barrier, on December 30th, 1902. It was the second time within the space of a couple of months that the ‘farthest south’ measurement had been surpassed. On November 11 1902, Tom 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. They had been a support party, for Scott’s southern journey, and had been tasked with laying a supply route for the three men.
On December 25th 1902, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson had taken time out from their gruelling man hauling efforts to celebrate Christmas Day. It was far from elaborate, but their double rations were supplemented with a Christmas pudding, which Shackleton had secretly brought with him, for the occasion.
Dr Wilson (left) and Captain Scott at the furthest point South – they planted the British flag in latitude 82.17 on December 30th, 1902, 270 miles from the ship and 420 from the pole. The third member of the party was Lieutenant Shackleton. They were absent from the ship for three months from November 1902 to February 1903. Original Publication: Illustrated London News – pub. 1903
On December 30th, the group, having reached 82º 17’S, correctly opted to turn back. All three, but Shackleton in particular, would suffer greatly on the return journey, from frostbite and scurvy. As their journey progressed, Shackleton was unable to haul the sledge and stumbled alongside, and on occasions, he had to be placed upon the sled, such was his condition. The last of the dogs which had accompanied the men, also died on the return trip. Scott and Wilson worked tirelessly to ensure that Shackleton would survive the ordeal, and deserve great credit for their efforts. They eventually returned to the ice-bound Discovery on 3rd February 1903 after a round trip of almost 1,000 miles.
Somewhat against his will, Shackleton was sent home on the relief ship Morning, on Scott’s orders. Scott wrote, that at this point he felt Shackleton “ought not to risk further hardships in his present state of health”.
It is often speculated that this was to cause a rift between Scott and Shackleton. What is certain though, is that Shackleton was spurred on to launch his own assault on the South Pole, which he duly did aboard the Nimrod in 1907. He would not achieve the Pole on this expedition, but he did set, yet another Farthest South record of 88º 23’S, along with Wild, Marshall and Adams, when they stood less than 100 miles from the South Pole, before they were compelled to abandon their effort.
It is also worth noting that Scott abandoned the notion of using dog teams to haul provision sledges, after their poor performance on this venture. Both he and Shackleton opted to use ponies instead, on their subsequent expeditions – The Nimrod (Shackleton), and the Terra Nova (Scott). Whilst the dogs hadn’t performed well on the Discovery’s southern journey, not enough emphasis was given to the facts that none of the men were trained to use the animals on ice, and mistakes had been made when calculating food rations for the animals.
Amundsen would later demonstrate just how efficiently dog teams could perform, with trained handlers and proper food.