On This Day – January 17th 1912

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.

Scott and his team stand defeated at Amundsen's Polar camp

Scott and his team stand defeated at Amundsen’s Polar camp

Scott briefly found hope in the notion that perhaps they could break the news of their arrival at the Pole, to the world before Amundsen – “Now for a desperate struggle to get the news through first. I wonder if we can do it.”*

However Scott soon discovered Amundsen’s tent, and within it was a letter addressed to the King of Norway, with a note asking Scott if he would be kind enough to deliver it, in the event that Amundsen should perish on his return journey. Most damning of all, were the details of Amundsen’s party having arrived some 34 days prior to them. Scott had lost another race, before it had even begun.

After planting their flag and taking some readings and observations, the Southern Party now faced the daunting prospect of a 900 mile return march. Despite initial good progress, both the condition of the men, and the weather deteriorated rapidly. Edgar Evans was first to die, on February 17th, near the base of the Beardmore Glacier, then on March 17th, a severely weakened Lawrence Oates sacrificed himself, by walking from his tent into a blinding blizzard, never to be seen again. It was the day of his 32nd birthday.

On This Day – March 17th 1912 – Tom Crean

Scott, Wilson and Bowers struggled onwards across the Barrier, but on March 20th they were held up by a severe blizzard, 11 miles short of the well stocked One Ton Depot. The violent weather did not abate, and the three men were stranded in their tent, their supplies now exhausted, and one by one they died.

Scott’s final journal entry was dated March 29th 1912 – “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.”**

It is believed Scott was the last to perish and did so on March 29th 1912.

Scott’s party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing) Wilson, Scott, Oates; (seated) Bowers, Edgar Evans

More on the tragedy of  the Scott’s Polar Party return march here.

On This Day – March 29th 1912 – Tom Crean

Source & References


*Huxley, Leonard, ed. (1913). Scott’s Last Expedition, Volume I: Being the Journals of Captain R.F. Scott, R.N., C.V.O. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

**Huxley, Leonard, ed. (1913). Scott’s Last Expedition, Volume I: Being the Journals of Captain R.F. Scott, R.N., C.V.O. London: Smith, Elder & Co.


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