Robert Falcon Scott, South Pole, the Terra Nova expedition, 1910-1913

A picture of Scott taken in the hut in 1911 juxtaposed with a picture of the same place taken in 2005

The Cape Crozier party Left to right, Bowers, Henry Robertson, 1883-1912. Wilson, Edward A. (Edward Adrian), 1872-1912. Cherry-Garrard, Apsley, 1886-1959. This journey was what Cherry-Garrard would later write about in his book “The Worst Journey in the World”.

William Lashley, the chief stoker with one of the motor sleds. These began promisingly (apart from the largest one which was lost when it broke through the ice while being pulled ashore) but were soon abandoned as being far too unreliable, at the time they were cutting edge technology.

The “Tenaments” members of the expedition with the only “private” space they had in their bunk beds. Note all the clothes and equipment hanging from the ceiling to thaw out and dry. All of the cold weather clothing the expeditioners had would soak up sweat during heavy exertions (and manhauling is certainly a heavy exertion!) which would then freeze within the clothing.

Ponies hauling sledges , while ponies were of some use for depot laying, they would sink too far into soft snow, so like the motor sledges were soon abandoned for travel purposes.

The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13

Scott wanted to use the
Discovery

again for this second expedition, but the admiralty
had sold it to the Hudson’s Bay Company some years before,
and they refused to sell her back. After considering
several others, Scott purchased the
Terra Nova,
which had been used for whaling
and sealing since her return from the Discovery
expedition.

Raising money for the expedition was a slow
and difficult task,
volunteer crew by contrast
were applying from all over the world. More than 8,000
men volunteered to join the expedition. One man who
didn’t go, though Scott wanted him was a young lecturer
from the University of Adelaide,

The choices for land transportation made by
Scott were to have profound effects on the final results
of the expedition.
He didn’t take dogs, perhaps
influenced by his experiences on the Discovery
expedition. Instead he had motor sledges which were
experimental, since none had ever been used before,
(motor transport technology was still in its infancy
in 1910), and ponies. Ponies had been used before by
Shackleton, but not successfully.

volunteer crew by contrast were applying from all over the world. More than 8,000 men volunteered to join the expedition. One man who didn’t go, though Scott wanted him was a young lecturer from the University of Adelaide, Douglas Mawson . Mawson was making his own plans, like many others. He intended to explore an unmapped stretch of coast and country west of Victoria Land.He didn’t take dogs, perhaps influenced by his experiences on theexpedition. Instead he had motor sledges which were experimental, since none had ever been used before, (motor transport technology was still in its infancy in 1910), and ponies. Ponies had been used before by Shackleton, but not successfully.

Scott planned to use the motor sledges as far as
possible, establishing depots along the way, the ponies
would then take over, between them these two methods
would haul the sledges across the low level relatively
flat Great Ice Barrier (now the Ross Ice Shelf) to the
foot of the Beardmore Glacier. This is the next major
obstacle and where the south pole party would begin
to manhaul their sledges gaining height climbing up
on to the Polar Plateau.

The journey to Antarctica on the Terra Nova
was eventful and losses of ponies, a dog, coal and other
stores occurred during a storm, a dog called Osman was
washed overboard by one giant wave that broke his chain,
only to be washed back onboard again with the next wave.
On December 8th 1910 the first iceberg was spotted and
on the following day, in latitude 65°8’S, the Terra
Nova
entered the pack ice. The ship continued to
encounter heavy pack ice for the next three weeks, consuming
a great deal of precious coal in the process.

It is thought by many that had Scott taken
a dog team and men trained properly in driving a
dog team, he would have had a much easier time of
it getting to the pole and back.

Scott wrote: “In my mind no journey ever made
with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception
which is realised when a party of men go forth to
face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their
own unaided efforts, and by days and weeks of hard
physical labour succeed in solving some problem
of the great unknown. Surely in this case the conquest
is more nobly and splendidly won”.

On December 30th 1910 Scott wrote, “We are out of
the pack at length and at last one breathes again”.
On New Year’s Day, 1911, Mount Erebus came into view.
They attempted to land at Cape Crozier, where they had
planned on setting up winter quarters, but the seas
were too rough, McMurdo Sound was their next option.
On January 4th 1911, the Terra Nova anchored
to the ice and the unloading began. The ponies were
especially happy to finally be on firm ground as they
rolled and kicked in the snow.

The motor sledges began well, they were unloaded
and immediately put to work hauling stores to the new
camp. The third and largest sledge however broke through
the ice to the sea and sank in sixty fathoms of water
as it was being hauled by twenty men towards the shore.

The hut was erected quickly, it measured fifty feet
by twenty-five and was nine feet to the eaves. It was
insulated with quilted seaweed, lined with matchboard,
lit by acetylene gas, provided with a stove and cooking
range and divided into two by a partition made of crates
(including the wine) to separate the men’s from the
officers’ quarters. Within two weeks the hut was built
and occupied.

“He (Scott) cried more easily than any man
I have ever known. What pulled Scott through was
character, sheer good grain which ran over and under
and through his weaker self and clamped it all together.”

 Apsley Cherry-Garrard. From the
Introduction to The Worst Journey in the World.

Like the Discovery expedition, again the centrepiece
of the expedition was to be to reach the South Pole,
and again this was but one of several projects and exploratory
trips from the base camp. Depot laying parties set out
shortly after arrival to leave stores and provisions.
Doubts set in early on about the usefulness of the ponies,
as they had problems with sinking into soft snow.

It was only after arriving at their winter camp and
erecting the hut that Scott found out that the Norwegian
Roald Amundsen had
arrived at the Bay of Whales, some 400 miles away and
70 miles further south, he too was planning to reach
the South Pole the following summer. Amundsen had more
dogs and better trained dogs, what was more, he and
his men were experienced in using them efficiently.
Many of Scott’s party were unhappy at the arrival of
Amundsen, his arrival was previously unannounced and
thought to be an unsporting attempt at beating Scott
and his team to the pole.

The ponies continued to fare badly, two were lost
in the sea when they broke through ice. When they were
unable to be retrieved and fell victim to killer whales.
Before the sun went down for the winter, only 10 ponies
were left out of an original 19.

One sledging journey was undertaken in the winter
by a small team of men led by Wilson the biologist and
including the young Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Famously
this gave rise to the acknowledged greatest of all Antarctic
adventure and travel books “The Worst Journey in the
World”. It was a trip to Cape Crozier in search of eggs
from Emperor penguins that were known to lay and incubate
their eggs in the Antarctic winter though none had ever
been returned intact to science. Indeed they had only
first been discovered a few years beforehand, they were
thought to be a kind of evolutionary missing-link. something
that could be determined by examining their enmbryos.

The winter was a very active time for the expedition
and a large quantity of scientific data never before
collected was gathered. Though Scott spent much time
engaged in science his thoughts were inevitably also
always on the attempt to reach the pole to be carried
out when the weather allowed after the sun had returned.

He decided during the winter on who his companions
were to be for the polar journey. The chosen team was:

    Dr. E. A. Wilson
    known as “Uncle Bill”,
    chief scientist
    and doctor of the expedition.

     

    Captain L. E. G. Oates, a career
    soldier and in charge of the Siberian ponies.

    Petty officer Edgar
    “Taff” Evans
    the strongman of the party,
    in charge of sledging equipment.

At the last minute, just before the pole party left
the last of the men who would turn back to Hut Point
rather than continue to the Pole, Scott chose an extra
man to be a part of the polar party.

    Lieutenant Henry
    “Birdie” Bowers
    originally a storekeeper
    on the ship, but who proved himself to be far more
    capable.

“I don’t know what to think of Amundsen’s
chances. If he gets to the Pole it must be before
we do, as he is bound to travel fast with dogs,
and pretty certain to start early. On this account
I decided at a very early date to act exactly as
I should have done had he not existed. Any attempt
to race must have wrecked my plan, besides which
it doesn’t appear the sort of thing one is out for…You
can rely on my not saying or doing anything foolish,
only I’m afraid you must be prepared for finding
our venture much belittled. After all, it is the
work that counts, not the applause that follows”

Letter from Scott to his wife Kathleen.

The story continues,
the journey to the pole

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