February 4th 1902
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climb aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable, even at that height was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
Scott, Shackleton and Wilson return to Discovery
Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904
On February 3rd 1903, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson made it back to their ship Discovery, after their arduous Southern march, which had commenced on November 2nd 1902. The objective had been, according to Wilson’s Diary “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”, but it is safe to suggest it was never really likely that the Pole would be attained on this particular excursion. The men lacked the skill and experience required with dogs, and indeed the ice, and from the offset progress was slow, and planning poor.
Memorial Cross Raised On Observation Hill.
Terra Nova Expedition.
On January 22nd 1913 Tom Crean, and the Terra Nova expedition team, raised a memorial cross in honour of the Polar Party, all of whom had died on their return march from the South Pole. The cross was placed on the summit of Observation Hill, which is 754 ft high and looks out across the Ross Ice Shelf, where the men tragically perished.
Prior to this Tom Crean was also part of the search party that had located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent on November 12, 1912. The Relief Expedition had discovered the top of the tent protruding from the snow, at first thinking the mound was merely an old supply cache. History owes these men a huge debt of gratitude, for without their discovery, the fate of the Polar Party, would never be known. Their journeying, after January 4th 1912, when the last support team of Crean, Lashly and Evans, parted company with them, on the polar plateau, would be merely a subject of speculation and counter theory.
For those that discovered the frozen bodies of their three former comrades, and close friends, it was a truly horrific experience. Having identified the tent, it had to be excavated from the snow, before anyone could enter, with enough light to determine the gruesome scene within. Tom Crean wept bitterly, cradling Scott in his arms. It appeared that Scott was last to die. Bowers and Wilson looked at peace in their sleeping bags, perhaps as though Scott had tended to them, when they had passed.
Strewn about the tent were their belongings, journals, letters, and the paraphernalia of their efforts to survive there.
The equally grim fates of Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates, were learned from Scott’s journal. So too, the fact that they had successfully reached the South Pole, as had Amundsen, a month prior to them; knowledge of which mattered little at that moment of intense grief.
“Then Atkinson read the lesson from the Burial Service from Corinthians. Perhaps it has never been read in a more magnificent cathedral and under more impressive circumstances—for it is a grave which kings must envy. Then some prayers from the Burial Service: and there with the floor-cloth under them and the tent above we buried them in their sleeping-bags—and surely their work has not been in vain.”
from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
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.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913
A wonderful collection of photographs of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, from the lens of Herbert Ponting.
Scott arrives at Mount Hooper Depot
Terra Nova Expedition
Scott’s Journal – March 8th, 1912.
“The great question is, What shall we find at the depôt? If the dogs have visited it we may get along a good distance, but if there is another short allowance of fuel, God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
On the 9th of March 1912, Scott, Oates, Bowers and Wilson arrived at the Mount Hooper Depot, on their homeward march from the South Pole. At this point in their journey, Edgar Evans had died near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on February 17th, and as the four remaining men had continued their struggle across the Barrier, they were subject to some of coldest and most severe weather conditions ever recorded in the area.
Scott had outlined in his journal, the difficulties they had encountered trying to haul the sledge across the ice shelf, and compared it to dragging over desert sands. The normally icy surface had become covered in crystallised snow, which caused friction beneath the sledges runners, and this had seriously slowed their progression.
To add to the mens woes, the Mount Hooper depot had not been restocked, and they discovered that there was a serious shortage of oil, as had been the case when they had reached the Mid-Barrier Depot on March 1st, as most of the supply had evaporated. It was a crushing blow to the men. With unseasonably low temperatures plummeting to as low as -40º C, the shortfall in oil was critical. It would deny the men the ability to prepare the necessary hot meals that their situation demanded, and left them with no means to melt ice for drinking water.
The party had also held out hope that they would encounter the dog teams, which would have been their salvation, but due to a prior order from Scott, not to risk the dogs unnecessarily, no relief team had ventured past One Ton Depot. Scott had initially hoped to spare the dogs for further sledging expeditions the following season, but had changed his mind when sending back Crean, Evans and Lashly as the last supporting team, 150 miles from Pole.
He had then issued Edward Evans with the instruction that Meares and the dog teams were to meet the returning Polar Party between latitude 82º S and 83º S, which was farther south than previously arranged.
Joins HMS Essex under Captain Scott.
On January 29th 1908, Tom Crean joined the HMS Essex, which was under the command of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
Having returned with Scott from the Discovery’s Antarctic expedition in 1904, Crean had reverted back to normal Navy duties, and served at Portsmouth’s torpedo school.
In September of 1906 Scott invited Crean to join him on HMS Victorious, and the Irishman duly accepted the offer. Victorious would be the first of four different ships, after the Discovery Expedition, that the Polar veterans would serve on together, before departing for Antarctica again in 1910, aboard the Terra Nova.
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The Terra Nova Expedition 1910 – 1913
The Terra Nova expedition was both Captain Scott’s and Tom Crean’s second journey to Antarctica, as both men had been part of the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904.
The aims of the British Antarctic Expedition ( official name of the Terra Nova expedition ) was chiefly to reach the South Pole, but also there was the important objectives of scientific research – meteorological, geological, geographical and zoological.
While many of the scientific aspects of the excursion were successful, and indeed Scott and his team did reach the Pole on January 17th 1912, the expedition ultimately ended in tragedy with the deaths of all five men of the Polar Party, on their return journey.
Despite the fact that this expedition took place over 100 years ago, the photographs of Herbert Ponting affords us an excellent visual backdrop to the fascinating stories of endeavour, bravery and tragedy, that unfolded on the harsh frozen continent of Antarctica.
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Tragedy At The Pole
Secrets of the Dead is an ongoing PBS television series produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, which began in 2000. The show generally follows an investigator or team of investigators exploring what modern science can tell us about some of the great mysteries of history. Most programs incorporate primary source material, first hand accounts, dramatic reenactments, and computer-generated imagery (CGI) to tell the story.*
This episode entitled Tragedy At The Pole was first aired in the USA on 15th January 2003. It was Episode 5 in Season 3 (2002-2003) of the series.
Tom Crean – On The Polar Plateau
Scott decides his Polar Party
Ten years to the day, after first crossing the Antarctic Circle, aboard the Discovery with Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Tom Crean was deep in Antarctic territory, on the Polar Plateau, around 150 miles from the South Pole. He was again in the company of Scott, this time on the Terra Nova Expedition. Two of the supporting teams, for the assault on the Pole, had returned to base at various stages along the trek, and now two, four-man teams remained.
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. None of the men knew whether or not they would be selected for the honour of standing with their Captain at the Pole, for it was a decision Scott had not announced prior to their departure.
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. Continue Reading →