Robert Falcon Scott
gigatos | March 18, 2022
Robert Falcon Scott (June 6, 1868, Plymouth – c. March 29, 1912, Antarctica) – British Royal Navy captain, polar explorer, one of the discoverers of the South Pole, who led two expeditions to Antarctica: the Discovery (1901-1904) and Terra Nova (1912-1913). During the second expedition, Scott, along with four other members of the campaign reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912, but found that they were several weeks ahead of the Norwegian expedition of Roald Amundsen. Robert Scott and his comrades died on the way back from cold, hunger and physical exhaustion.
Prior to his appointment as leader of the Discovery, Scott pursued an ordinary career as a peacetime naval officer in Victorian England, when opportunities for advancement were very limited and ambitious officers sought every opportunity to distinguish themselves. As leader of the expedition, Scott had a chance to build a distinguished career, although he had no particular passion for polar exploration. In taking this step he inextricably linked his name with Antarctica, to which he remained steadfastly devoted during the last twelve years of his life.
After his death, Scott became a national hero of Britain. This status was retained for more than 50 years and has been witnessed in numerous memorials across the country. In the last decades of the twentieth century, the story of the Terra Nova expedition has undergone some reassessment, with researchers focusing on the causes of the disastrous ending that cut short the lives of Scott and his comrades. In the eyes of the public, he went from being an unshakable hero to an object of much controversy, which raised sharp questions about his personal qualities and competence. At the same time, modern researchers assess Scott”s figure in general positively, emphasizing his personal courage and fortitude, acknowledging his miscalculations, but attributing the final expedition mainly to an unfortunate set of circumstances, in particular, to unfavorable weather conditions.
Robert Falcon Scott was born June 6, 1868. He was the third of six children in the family and was the eldest son of John Edward (née Cuming) Scott of Stoke-Damerel, a suburb of Devonport, Plymouth, County Devon.
There was a strong military and naval tradition in the family. Robert”s grandfather was a ship”s treasurer who retired in 1826. He acquired the Outlands estate and a small Plymouth brewery. Three of his sons served in the British Indian Army, the fourth became a ship”s doctor in the Navy. Only John, the fifth son, because of poor health, did not start a military career and remained to help his father. When John was 37 years old, he had his third child, Robert Falcon Scott. Two years later another boy, Archibald, was born, followed by two girls.
John Scott at the time derived income from the Plymouth brewery, which he had inherited from his father. Years later, when Robert began his career as a naval officer, the family suffered a serious financial setback and John was forced to sell the brewery. Robert, however, spent his early years in perfect prosperity.
As some scholars have noted, “Scott was not in good health, was lazy and careless, never missed a chance to play a merry prank with his pals,” but was “polite, affable and of an easygoing nature. In keeping with family tradition, Robert and his younger brother Archibald were destined for a career in the armed forces. Robert was home schooled until the age of nine, after which he was sent to Hampshire Stubbington House School for Boys. After some time he was transferred to the Forster Preparatory School so that young Cohn could prepare for the Naval War College entrance examinations. It was housed aboard the old sailing ship HMS Britannia, moored at Dartmouth. In 1881, having passed these examinations at the age of 13 and becoming a cadet, Scott began his naval career.
The beginning of a naval career
In July 1883 Scott left the training ship Britannia with the rank of midshipman, seventh out of 26 students overall. In October he was on his way to South Africa to continue service on the flagship of the Cape Squadron, HMS Boadicea, the first of several ships on which Scott served at the rank of midshipman. While serving on HMS Rover, while stationed on the West Indies” St. Kitts Islands, Scott first met Clement Markham, then secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, who was at the time searching for potentially talented young officers to conduct future research polar work. Scott was invited as a guest to sail on the flagship of the training squadron, and on the morning of March 1, 1887, while watching the dinghy race, Markham noticed a young 18-year-old midshipman winning the race. Robert Scott was invited to dinner with the squadron commander on this occasion. Markham later recalled that he was impressed by the young man”s intelligence, enthusiasm, and charm.
In March 1888 at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, Scott passed the examination for junior lieutenant, with four first class certificates out of five. His career moved smoothly, and, after serving on several more ships, Scott was promoted to lieutenant in 1889. In 1891, after a long voyage in foreign waters, Scott completed a two-year minesweeper training course on the HMS Vernon, a major step in his career. He received first class certificates in both theory and practice. Soon, however, a small dark spot appeared on Robert”s reputation: in the summer of 1893, while operating a torpedo boat, Scott ran aground, for which he received a series of mild rebukes from his superiors.
While researching and comparing the biographies of Scott and Roald Amundsen, polar historian and journalist Roland Huntford investigated a possible scandal in Scott”s early naval career related to the period 1889-1890, when he was a lieutenant on HMS Amphion. According to Huntford, Scott disappears from naval reports for eight months, from mid-August 1889 to March 26, 1890. Huntford alludes to Scott”s affair with the married daughter of the American ambassador and the subsequent cover-up of this fact by high-ranking officers in order to preserve the honor of the Royal Navy. Biographer David Crane reduces the missing period to eleven weeks, but is also unable to clarify anything more. He refutes the suggestion that Scott was covered up by higher officers on the grounds that Scott did not then have enough authority and connections to make it happen. There are no documents in the Admiralty reports that would provide an explanation.
In 1894, while serving as a torpedo officer on the HMS Vulcan, Scott learned of the financial ruin that had befallen his family. John Scott, having sold the brewery, had unwisely invested the proceeds and thus lost all his capital, becoming effectively bankrupt. At the age of 63, in failing health, he was forced to take a job as a brewery manager and move with his family to Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Three years later, while Robert was serving on the flagship of the Channel squadron HMS Majestic, John Scott died of heart disease, plunging his family into a new financial crisis. Hannah Scott and her two unmarried daughters now relied entirely on Scott”s salary and that of his younger brother Archie, who had left the Army for a better-paying position in the Colonial Service. In the fall of 1898, however, Archibald himself died of typhoid fever, which meant that all financial responsibility fell on the shoulders of the young officer Robert Scott.
A promotion and the extra income it would bring were now of paramount importance to Robert. As early as 1896, while the ships of the English Channel Squadron were calling at Vigo Bay in Spain, Scott met Clement Markham for the second time and learned that he was hatching plans for a British Antarctic expedition. In early June 1899, on his way home on leave, Robert happened to run into Markham (now knighted and president of the Royal Geographical Society) for the third time on a London street and learned that he was already looking for a leader for his expedition, which would be held under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society. An opportunity to distinguish himself in the service and earn the money Robert so desperately needed was looming. What conversation took place between them that day remains unclear, but a few days later, on June 11, Scott appeared at Markham”s residence and volunteered to lead the Antarctic expedition.
The British National Antarctic Expedition, which later became known as Discovery, was a joint venture between the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of London. It took all of Markham”s skills and cunning to realize his cherished dream, which eventually paid off: the expedition was under the command of the Royal Navy and was staffed in significant part by naval personnel. Scott may not have been the first candidate to lead the expedition, but after his election, Markham”s support remained intact. Fierce battles played out within the organizing committee over Scott”s area of responsibility. The Royal Society insisted that a scholar should be chosen as the leader of the expedition, while Scott, according to their plan, was only to command the ship. However, Markham”s firm position eventually prevailed; Scott was promoted to the rank of commander and given full authority to lead the expedition. In August 1900, having been relieved of his duties as chief mate of the HMS Majestic, he assumed his new position.
As the head of the polar expedition Scott had to start from scratch, and he himself had not the slightest idea about the polar conditions had only the experience of the young Norwegian naturalist Karsten Borchgrevink, who spent the winter in Antarctica in 1899-1900, and the expedition of Adrien de Gerlache, who was also forced to winter in Antarctica, when her ship was caught in the ice. Scott and Markham sought the advice of the Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, the most respected polar explorer of the time, who soon gave the British a great deal of sound advice on clothing and foodstuffs for the expedition. However, Nansen had absolutely no knowledge of the peculiarities of Antarctic conditions. Later, Fridtjof described Scott in his memoirs as follows:
He”s standing in front of me, strong and muscular. I can see his intelligent, handsome face, that serious, fixed gaze, those tightly pressed lips that gave him a determined expression that did not prevent Scott from smiling often. His appearance reflected his gentle and noble character and, at the same time, his seriousness and penchant for humor…
The expedition vessel was named Discovery after the Cook ship. It was the last wooden three-mast barque in the history of British shipbuilding and the first British ship specially designed for scientific research. She was launched on March 21, 1901, with Lady Markham conducting the dedication ceremony. The hull was of wood, capable of withstanding the pressure of ice, the side was 66 centimeters thick, the ramming bow several feet thick, and it was shackled with steel plates. The propeller and rudder could be lifted out of the water if they hit the ice.
Dogs and skis were taken aboard the ship, but hardly anyone knew how to handle them. Markham believed that experience and professionalism were less important in sea exploration than “innate ability,” and perhaps Markham”s conviction influenced Scott. In the first year of his two years in Antarctica, such nonchalance was severely tested as the expedition struggled to cope with the challenges of an unfamiliar landscape. It cost the life of George Vince, who slipped and fell into a chasm on February 4, 1902:
At that time we were terribly ignorant: we did not know how much or what kind of food to take with us, how to cook on our stoves, how to pitch our tents, or even how to dress. Our equipment was completely untested, and in the midst of general ignorance, the lack of a system for everything was especially felt.
The expedition had big research plans. In Antarctica it was to make the long journey south toward the South Pole. This trek, undertaken by Scott, Ernest Shackleton, and Edward Wilson, brought them to 82°11” S., a distance of about 850 kilometers from the pole. The exhausting trek and the equally arduous return trip completely exhausted Shackleton”s physical strength. A little later Scott sent him home, along with nine other sailors who did not wish to continue the expedition, on an auxiliary ship that had brought the Discovery”s mail and additional equipment to the main ship.
In the second year the members of the expedition demonstrated significant skills and improved techniques, which allowed them to make many more trips deep into the continent. In one of these raids, the expeditioners walked more than 400 kilometers westward and explored the Polar Plateau. It was one of the longest treks ever undertaken:
I have to admit that I”m a little proud of this journey. We encountered tremendous difficulties, and a year ago we certainly would not have been able to overcome them, but now, having become veterans, we have succeeded. And if you take into account all the circumstances of the case, the extreme severity of the climate, and other difficulties, it is impossible not to conclude: we have practically reached the maximum possible.
Scott”s insistence on complying with Royal Navy regulations strained relations with the merchant fleet contingent, many of whom had gone home with the first auxiliary in March 1903. Deputy Commander Albert Hermitage, a merchant officer, was asked to go home with them for health reasons, but he interpreted the offer as a personal insult and refused. Hermitage also believed that the decision to send Shackleton away was the result of Scott”s hostility rather than the former”s physical exhaustion. Although relations between Scott and Shackleton deteriorated considerably when their polar aspirations directly intersected, in public they always continued to extend each other mutual courtesies. Scott attended the official receptions that marked Shackleton”s return in 1909 after the Nimrod expedition, both exchanging polite letters about their Antarctic plans in 1909-1910.
Subsequently, until the very end of his life, Scott was not convinced that the use of sled dogs and skis determined the success of inland Antarctic expeditions. In his opinion, dogs could not compete with the traditional movement of goods using human muscular power.
The scientific results of the expedition included important biological, zoological, and geological information. However, some meteorological and magnetic readings were later criticized as amateurish and inaccurate. On the whole, it is difficult to overestimate the achievements of Scott”s expedition: a part of the Antarctic landmass – the Edward VII Peninsula was discovered, the nature of the Ross Barrier was studied, the world”s first reconnaissance survey of the coastal mountain range, which is part of the Transantarctic Mountains, was carried out.
At the conclusion of the expedition, the assistance of two auxiliary ships, the barque Morning and the whaling ship Terra Nova, as well as some explosives were needed to free Discovery from the ice that had bound her.
On March 5, 1904, Discovery crossed the South Polar Circle in the opposite direction and on April 1 entered Littleton Harbor. On June 8, she headed for home via the Pacific Ocean and the Falkland Islands. On September 10, 1904, the expedition returned to Portsmouth.
Back in New Zealand, the explorers received a rapturous welcome: they were not charged for clubs, rail fare, or hotel accommodations. Scott sent a telegram to London informing them of their safe return. In response, the king sent Scott two congratulations, and the Royal Geographical Society awarded him the Royal Medal, which was presented to the explorer”s mother.
On the arrival of the expeditionary vessel in Portsmouth on September 10, 1904, Scott was promoted to captain of the 1st rank. At a banquet hosted by the city government, he emphasized the services of all his subordinates and added: “We have made many discoveries, but compared with what remains to be done, it is nothing more than a scratch on the ice.”
However, when the Discovery arrived in London at the East India Docks on September 15, the crew was given a very modest reception: the welcome banquet was not held until the next day in the storehouse, where none of the Lords of the Admiralty were present, although the vast majority of the expeditioners were naval officers. The Lord Mayor sent a sheriff in his stead. The banquet was presided over by Sir Clement Markham. The Daily Express published a reaction to such a reception full of indignation.
Meanwhile, all the hardships of the expedition struck a chord with the public, and Scott became a folk hero. He was awarded the Gold Medals of the Geographical Societies of England, Scotland, Philadelphia, Denmark, Sweden, the United States, and was awarded the Polar Medal with a buckle. Scott was invited to Balmoral Castle and elevated by King Edward VII to the rank of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, of which he had been a Knight since 1901. The Imperial Russian Geographical Society elected Scott an honorary member, and in early 1905 he was elected an honorary doctor of the University of Cambridge. All of the expedition”s scientists, without exception, received the Antarctic Medal, cast by personal order of King Edward VII.
For the next few years Scott was constantly busy attending all sorts of receptions, lecturing, and writing expeditionary accounts of the Discovery voyage. He visited Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Hoole, Eastbourne, and people who met him at railroad stations were surprised to note that Robert Falcon always left the third-class carriage. In addition to his innate modesty, Scott was haunted all his life by financial poverty. In January 1906, after finishing his book Voyage of Discovery, he resumed his naval career, first as assistant commander of naval intelligence under the Admiralty, and in August as flag captain of Sir George Edgerton”s Admiralty battleship HMS Victorious. Scott was now part of the highest social circles: a telegram to Markham in February 1907 mentions a meeting with the Queen and Crown Prince of Portugal, and a later letter home reports a breakfast with the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy and Prince Henry of Prussia.
Dispute with Shackleton
In early 1906 Scott began negotiations with the Royal Geographical Society for possible financing of his future Antarctic expeditions. In this connection, the news that Ernest Shackleton had announced through the press his plans to go to the old Discovery base and from there to move as part of his expedition to the South Pole, greatly angered Robert and, especially, Sir Markham. In the first of a series of letters, Scott argued that the entire area around McMurdo was his own “field of activity” and that Shackleton should work elsewhere. That same year, Scott was strongly supported by former Discovery zoologist Edward Wilson, who argued that Scott”s rights extended to the entire Ross Sea sector. Shackleton refused to yield, but later, to break the impasse, agreed and in a letter to Scott dated May 17, 1907, promised to work east of the 170 meridian. The agreement was confirmed in writing at a personal meeting between Scott and Shackleton in London, but its existence was never advertised. However, it was a promise that Shackleton could not keep: all alternative locations for camping proved unsuitable. He established his base at Cape Royds in McMurdo Strait, 25 km from Discovery Base. Such a breach of agreement caused a serious change in relations between Scott and Shackleton.
Biographer and historian B. Riffenburg suggests that “ethically, Scott should not have demanded such a promise,” and as a counterargument to Scott”s intransigence he cites Fridtjof Nansen”s attitude toward all who sought his advice. Whether or not they were competitors for him, Nansen supplied everyone with valuable information and advice free of charge.
The Discovery expedition brought Scott great fame. He became a member of King Edward VII”s high society, and at an informal matinee in 1907 he had his first meeting with Kathleen Bruce, a socialite with a cosmopolitan outlook. Kathleen was also a sculptor, trained by Auguste Rodin. Among her close acquaintances were Isadora Duncan, Picasso and Aleister Crowley. Of that day, Kathleen would later recall, “He was not very young, probably in his forties, and not very handsome. But he looked full of strength and energy, and I blushed like a fool when I noticed that he asked his neighbor about me. The first meeting with Kathleen Scott was very brief, but when they met a second time that year, the mutual attraction was obvious. A torrid courtship ensued; Scott was not Kathleen”s only suitor – his chief rival was the writer Gilbert Kennan. Nor did Robert”s prolonged absences at sea help to win Kathleen”s heart. Twice she wanted to break off the relationship, but Scott only replied, “Take your time, girl. On September 2, 1908, Robert”s perseverance and patience were rewarded. The wedding took place in the royal chapel of Hampton Court Palace. Their only child, Peter Markham Scott, was born on September 14, 1909, and was named after Peter Pan, the main character in James Matthew Barry”s fairy tale of the same name, a close friend of Scott”s, and a middle name after Sir Clement Markham.
By that time Scott had announced his plans for a second Antarctic expedition. Shackleton returned without reaching the Pole. This gave Scott the impetus to continue his work. On March 24, 1909, he was appointed assistant naval officer to the Second Lord of the Admiralty and was allowed to move to London. In December Scott was relieved of his post with half pay so that he could assemble a team for the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910. The expedition was subsequently named Terra Nova, after the expedition ship of the same name, which means “New Land” in Latin.
The Royal Geographical Society hoped that the planned expedition would be “scientific in the first place, with exploration and reaching the Pole in the second,” but unlike the Discovery expedition, neither the Geographical Society nor the Royal Society was responsible for organizing it this time. In his address to the public, Scott stated that his main aim would be “to reach the South Pole, and to ensure for the British Empire the honor of this achievement.
Funding came mostly from private funds and donations. Having raised the necessary amount for the first season, Scott decided to start the expedition, entrusting all further fundraising duties to Clement Markham. However, during the winter, Scott was forced to ask the expeditioners to give up their salary for the second year. He himself handed over to the expedition”s fund both his own salary and any remuneration that would be due him. Fundraising in Britain has been extremely slow, despite the best efforts of the former president of the Geographical Society and Scott”s wife. An appeal to the public was commissioned from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but by December 1911 no more than £5,000 had been raised, while Finance Minister Lloyd George flatly refused an additional grant.
Horses, motor sleds, and dogs were chosen as vehicles for the expedition. Scott knew little about the peculiarities of working with horses, but since they had apparently served Shackleton well, he thought he should use them as well. When dog expert Cecil Mears went to Siberia to select and purchase them, Scott ordered Manchurian horses there as well. Mears did not have enough experience in this business, so mostly poor quality animals were purchased that were ill-suited for long-term work in Antarctic conditions. At this time Scott was testing motor sleds in France and Norway. He also recruited Bernard Day, an engine expert who had participated in the Shackleton expedition.
On November 26, 1910, the Terra Nova sailed from the coast of New Zealand. At the very beginning the expedition suffered a number of failures, which prevented it from working fully in the first season and preparing for the main polar voyage. On the way from New Zealand to Antarctica the Terra Nova was caught in a severe storm; to save her it was decided to throw overboard ten sacks of coal which tore the naitovs. When the pumps clogged and the water level began to rise sharply, the officers and sailors scooped out water all night long with buckets, passing them along the chain. By morning, two horses were dead, one dog was washed overboard, and 65 gallons of gasoline and a case of liquor were lost. Soon the ship was trapped in ice for a full 20 days, which meant arriving near the end of the season, reduced time to prepare for wintering, and additional consumption of valuable coal. One motor sled had fallen through the ice while unloading from the ship and was lost. Having gone to the old Discovery base, Scott found the hut stuffed to the top with snow as hard as ice: Shackleton, leaving it, did not consider it necessary to fasten the window properly. The next day the Terra Nova, turning around, ran into an underwater rock, but a few hours later it was still able to get it off the shoal.
Poor weather conditions and the grave condition of the horses, which in no way could get used to the Antarctic climate, forced the One Ton Depot 35 miles from its planned location at 80°. Lawrence Ots, in charge of the horses, advised Scott to kill them to increase the stock of horsemeat and move the depot closer to 80°; Scott rejected Ots” advice, determined to keep the horses, to which he replied, “Sir, I am afraid you will regret not heeding my advice. Six horses died on this trek. On the way back, the dog sled, on which Scott and Cecil Mears were riding, fell into a crevasse: the dogs hung from the harness, and the sled with the men, by some miracle, did not follow them. The dogs were soon rescued, and Robert roped down after the last two. On their return to camp, the expeditioners received some startling news: Amundsen, with his group and a large number of dogs, was stationed in Whale Bay, just 200 miles to the east.
Scott refused to change his plans and wrote in his diary:
The right and prudent thing for us to do would be to act as if nothing had happened. Go forward and try to do what we can for the honor of our homeland–without fear or panic.
Recognizing that the Norwegian base was closer to the pole and that Amundsen had considerable sledding experience, Scott believed he had the advantage of traveling a familiar route that Shackleton had previously explored.
Hiking to the South Pole
The Terra Nova expedition consisted of two parties: Northern and Southern. The objectives of the Northern Party were solely scientific research, while the Southern Party was to conquer the Pole.
The march southward began on November 1, 1911, when three groups, using motor sledges, horses, and dogs as means of transportation and moving at different speeds, were sent to stockpile food supplies. Subsequently, two auxiliary groups were to turn back and the main group was to make a dash to the pole.
However, partly due to miscalculations in the planning of the expedition, partly due to the coincidence of circumstances, the sledges soon went out of order, and the few surviving horses had to be shot while organizing one of the camps, then called “Camp Slaughterhouse”. The heavy sledges had to be dragged across the crevices in the ice glaciers.
On January 3, Scott made a decision about who would go directly to the pole (Scott, Edward Wilson, Lawrence Ots, Edgar Evans) and parted with the others, but took a fifth member of the expedition, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, although the amount of food was calculated for a group of four. Edward Evans, who led the auxiliary on the return trip, recalled later that day:
We looked back often, until Captain Scott and his four companions were a black dot on the horizon. We had no idea then that we would be the last to see them alive, that our threefold “Hooray!” on that bleak desert plateau would be the last greeting they would hear.
On January 4 Scott”s group reached the 88th parallel, but there was still no sign of the Norwegians. On January 10 at 88°29” the “One and a Half Degree Depot” was laid, and on January 15, after covering more than 47 miles, the “Last Depot” was set up. It was 27 miles to the pole.
On January 16, after walking just over seven miles, Bowers was the first to spot a dot on the horizon, which later turned out to be a black flag tied to a sled runner. Nearby were the remains of a camp, many dog tracks. Scott wrote in his diary, “That”s when we realized everything. The Norwegians were ahead of us and the first to reach the pole.
On January 17, Scott and his companions reached their destination, where they found Amundsen”s tent and a plaque with the date of the Pole conquest – more than a month before that day. In the tent was a note addressed by Amundsen to Scott, asking him to pass on the news of the conquest of the Pole to the King of Norway in case the Norwegians were killed on the way back. Scott”s group took some pictures and sketches, erected a guria and planted an English flag:
Great God! This is a frightful place, and it is already terrible for us to know that our labors have not succeeded in winning the first place. Of course, coming here means something, too, and the wind may be our friend tomorrow! Now it”s a rush home and a desperate fight for the right to be the first to deliver the news. I don”t know if we can make it.
The End of the Campaign and Death
On January 18 the members of the expedition set out on their return journey. Scott wrote: “So we turned our backs on our desired goal, stood facing 800 miles of hard travel – and goodbye, our dreams!” By January 31, the group had reached the Three Degrees Depot, picking up food and increasing the daily ration. On February 2, Scott slipped and injured his shoulder; even earlier, Wilson had sprained ligaments, and Evans had injured hands and a frostbite on his nose. On February 4, Scott and Evans fell into a crevasse – the former was only scratched, while Evans hit his head hard, and much later Wilson would conclude that there had been brain damage during the fall. But Evans kept going and tried to keep up, though Scott noted that “Evans was somehow becoming dumber and incapable of doing anything. The day of February 17 was his last. Once again he fell behind the group, and when his comrades returned and pulled him up, Evans could walk only a few steps before collapsing again. He soon lost consciousness, and when he was carried to his tent, the agony began. A little after midnight Petty Officer Edgar Evans died. At that time, the remaining members of the trek were already suffering severely from cold, hunger, frostbite, snow blindness, and physical exhaustion.
On March 9, upon reaching the Mount Hooper depot, Scott found confirmation of his worst fears: “The dog sleds that might have saved us were apparently not here,” he recorded in his diary. On March 11, Scott ordered Wilson to give everyone thirty tablets of opium from the camp medicine cabinet as a last resort, while Wilson kept only one ampule of morphine. On March 15, Lawrence Ots, who could no longer walk because his legs were badly frostbitten, asked to be left on the glacier to give his comrades a chance to escape. But no one could do that, and so the next morning, on the eve of his birthday, Ots told his companions, crawling out of the tent barefoot: “I”ll just go out for air and I”ll be back for a while.” The members of the expedition understood what these words meant and tried to dissuade their comrade, but at the same time realized that Ots was acting as “a noble man and an English gentleman. Lawrence Ots”s body was never found.
On March 21, Scott and the remaining members of the expedition were forced to halt 11 miles from Camp One Ton. Further advance became impossible because of a severe blizzard. On 23 March they remained in the same place. By March 29 the situation had not changed, and Scott made his last entry in his diary:
Every day we were going to head for the depot, which was 11 miles away, but a snowstorm wouldn”t let up behind the tent. I don”t think we can hope for the best now. We”ll endure to the end, but we”re getting weaker, and death is certainly near. It”s a pity, but I don”t think I”ll be able to write any more.
Robert Falcon Scott died on March 29 or 30. Judging by the fact that he was lying in an unzipped sleeping bag and had taken the journals of both comrades, he was the last to part with his life. On November 12, 1912, the Terra Nova search party found the bodies of Scott and his comrades, the expedition diaries and farewell letters. Their last camp became their grave, and the lowered tent became their burial shroud. A high pyramid of snow was erected over the place of their death, its top topped with a semblance of a cross made of skis.
Decades of storms and snowstorms have encased in an ice shell the pyramid standing on the Ross Ice Shelf, which moves steadily toward the sea of the same name. In 2001, explorer Charles Bentley opined that the tent with the bodies is buried under about 23 meters of ice and is about 48 kilometers from where the last members of Scott”s trek to the South Pole parted with their lives. According to Bentley, in about 275 years this glacier will reach the Ross Sea and, possibly turning into an iceberg, will leave Antarctica forever.
In January 1913, the ship Terra Nova began its return voyage. Another large cross was made by the ship”s carpenters of mahogany on which was engraved a quote from the poem “Ulysses” by Alfred Tennyson: “Fight, seek, find and do not give up. The cross was erected on Observer Hill, overlooking Scott”s first base, as a permanent memorial to the fallen.
The world was informed of the tragedy when the Terra Nova reached the port of Oamaru in New Zealand, February 10, 1913. Within days Scott had become a national hero, his story contributing to the rise of national morale. James Barry wrote: “There is not a Briton who does not feel a flush of pride these days, learning from a message written in a tent what his tribe is capable of.” The Evening London Newspaper urged that a story about Robert Falcon Scott be read to schoolchildren around the world and that the reading take place during the memorial service at St. Paul”s Cathedral. On the day of the memorial service, many private businesses lowered their state flags, and carriage drivers attached crepe ribbons to their whips. The cathedral accommodated more than eight thousand people, with another ten thousand or so remaining at its doors. This ceremony was attended by practically all the high ranks of Great Britain, headed by King George V, who was in the hall in the uniform of a common sailor. At the same time a prayer service was held in many British cities, Sydney and Cape Town.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Association, asked: “Do the British give up? No!… There is courage and fortitude in the British. Captain Scott and Captain Oates showed us that.” Eleven-year-old Mary Steele wrote a poem that ended with the lines:
The surviving members of the expedition were given appropriate honors. Welcoming events were organized by the Navy, and the expeditioners were awarded Polar Medals. Instead of the knighthood that Scott would have received upon his return, his widow Kathleen Scott received the rank and status of a Knight of the Order of the Bath. Scott was posthumously awarded the Antarctica 1910-1913 buckle to the Polar Medal. In 1922 Kathleen Scott married Edward Hilton Young, who later became Lord Kenneth (she herself became Lady Kathleen Kenneth), and remained a valiant, dedicated defender of Scott”s reputation until her death at age 69 in 1947.
An article in The Times, paying tribute to Robert in the New York press, stated that both Amundsen and Shackleton were astonished that “such a disaster could have befallen such a well-organized expedition. When the details of Scott”s death became known, Amundsen stated, “I would gladly give up any fame or money if in this way I could save Scott from his terrible death. My triumph is marred by the thought of his tragedy, it haunts me.” This speech was largely not so much a tribute to Scott as a response to Amundsen”s many accusations of “unsportsmanlike cunning. Even before the news of Scott”s death, Amundsen was offended by a “mocking toast”: the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Lord Curzon, at a banquet held in honor of the polar triumphant, toasted “three cheers for Amundsen”s dogs!” According to Huntford, this is what led Amundsen to the decision to leave honorary membership in the Geographical Society.
Robert”s fortune after his death was estimated at 5,067 pounds 11 shillings and 7 pence (about 389,000 pounds by 2010 standards). However, after the publication of Scott”s last request to take care of the families of the deceased, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith stated, “The call will be heard!” The widows of Scott and Evans were immediately established a pension of 200 pounds. Numerous funds were established to help the bereaved and funds to perpetuate Scott”s memory, which were later merged into a single fund. Scott”s Memorial Found, for example, had more than £75,000 (about 5.5 million) at the time of its liquidation. The money was not divided equally: Scott”s widow, son, mother and sisters received a total of £18,000 (£1.3 million). Wilson”s widow received £8,500 (£600,000) and Bowers” mother £4,500 (£330,000). Edgar Evans” widow, his children and mother received £1,500 (£109,000). Lawrence Ots came from a wealthy family with no need for help.
In the ten years following the tragedy, more than 30 monuments and memorials were erected throughout Great Britain. The memory of the dead was commemorated in various forms, from the preservation of simple relics (the flag of Scott”s sleigh in Exeter Cathedral) to the founding of the Robert Falcon Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. Many other memorials have been erected in various parts of the world, including a statue created by his widow in Christchurch, New Zealand, where Scott left on his last expedition, and a memorial high in the Alps, where Scott tested a motorized sled. In 1948 the feature film Scott of the Antarctic was based on the Terra Nova expedition, starring John Mills and presenting a model of the classic British hero. In 1985, the television mini-series “The Last Place on Earth,” based on Scott”s scandalous biography from Roland Huntford, was released. In 2013, the film Race to the South Pole, starring actor Casey Affleck as Scott, was planned for release, but the project was put on hold. In 1980, the play Terra Nova by playwright Ted Tully was staged, with Scott”s imagined dialogues with his wife taking one of its central roles. The U.S. science base, established at the South Pole in 1957, is named Amundsen-Scott in memory of both discoverers. Space asteroid number 876 was named after Scott. Two glaciers, mountains on Enderby Earth and an island in the Southern Ocean are also named after him.
There is also a reference to Scott”s last expedition in music – the English indie and post-rock band iLiKETRAiNS recorded a song called “Terra Nova” and an animated clip of the same name, which recreates the events of the expedition. In this musical work, the British rock singers laid the blame for the death of the expedition on Robert Scott.
In July 1923, Vladimir Nabokov, under the impression of Scott”s diary, wrote a one-act drama in verse, “The Pole,” in which he presented the day of the expedition”s deaths. In this play, Scott is named Captain Scat, and the group of the last survivors consists of four men. Although the writer deliberately does not follow the course of actual events with documentary precision, there is a great deal of factual evidence in the drama that took place in reality. Scott (along with Georgy Sedov and others) served as one of the prototypes of Captain Tatarinov in Veniamin Kaverin”s novel The Two Captains; in particular, Tatarinov, like Scott, begins his farewell letter to his wife with the words “To my widow. In addition, the motto of the novel”s characters, “To fight and to seek, to find and not to give up,” is a repetition of the epitaph on the memorial cross erected in honor of Robert Scott and his comrades.
On March 29, 2012, the centennial of Scott”s death, along with a large number of events and exhibitions, a memorial service was held at St. Paul”s Cathedral, attended by Princess Anne, Foreign Secretary William Hague, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Sir David Attenborough and more than 2,000 other admirers of Robert Scott”s memory. Also in attendance were descendants of members of the expedition: artist Dafila Scott (Robert”s granddaughter), polar historian David Wilson (grandnephew of Edward Wilson), and artist Julian Brock-Evans (granddaughter of Edgar Evans). Princess Anne, David Attenborough and Bishop Richard Chartres of London read to the audience selected lines from Scott”s diary. Prime Minister David Cameron said that “these men have helped to alert the world to the global importance of Antarctica. Richard Chartres said in his sermon that the world-famous phrase in Scott”s “unforgettable diary” “ended it, but it was the beginning of what we celebrate today. A century ago Antarctica was the last great unexplored wilderness, but now it is the world”s largest laboratory.” Chartres also expressed the view that the Antarctic Treaty that was adopted was partly influenced by Scott and his fallen comrades. As intended by the organizers of the ceremony, the whistle of the wind should have been heard in the cathedral hall, and viewers would have seen the landscape of the Norwegian Arctic by video link. However, the broadcast was replaced by a recording, and the microphones recorded only the sound of dripping water: the icy landscape suddenly melted and turned to mud, exposing the rocks. Stephen Moss, a columnist for The Guardian, concluded: “A century later, this story still retains an amazing resonance.”
In 1964, the International Astronomical Union gave Scott”s name to a crater in the south pole region of the visible side of the Moon.
In 1948 Charles Friend directed the film Scott Antarctica, starring John Mills.
Scott”s reputation remained intact after World War II and for many years after the fiftieth anniversary of his death. In 1966 Reginald Pundt, the first biographer to have access to Scott”s original marching journal, pointed out flaws that shed new light on his character, though Pundt still pointed to personal heroism and wrote of a “splendid sanity that will never be surpassed. Over the next decade more and more books came out of print, each challenging, to a greater or lesser degree, the public perception of Robert Scott. The most critical of these was David Thompson”s Scott”s Men (describing the planning of the expedition as “haphazard” and “flawed,” describing his leadership of the expedition as insufficiently visionary. Thus, by the late 1970s, in the words of Jones”s biographer, “the ambiguity of Scott”s personality had been shown and his methods questioned.
In 1979 the largest denunciation, a double biography of Scott and Amundsen by Roland Huntford, came out of print. It portrays Scott as a “heroic misfit”: “weak, incompetent, stupid” and “unbalanced. Huntford”s work had a profound effect on society, changing public opinion. Even Scott”s heroism in the face of death was challenged by Huntford; he viewed his appeal to the public as deceptive self-justification from a man who had led his comrades to their doom. After Huntford, books exposing Captain Scott became commonplace; Francis Spafford wrote in 1996 of “striking displays of carelessness” and continued: “Scott brought his companions to ruin and then covered himself in rhetoric.” Travel author Paul Theroux described Scott as “disorderly and demoralized … mysterious to his men, unprepared and careless.” This fading of Scott”s fame was accompanied by an increase in the popularity of his former rival, Ernest Shackleton, first in the United States and later in Britain itself. In 2002, in a national survey in the United Kingdom of the “100 Greatest Britons,” Shackleton was ranked eleventh, while Scott was only 54th.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, however, the situation changed in Scott”s favor; historian Stephanie Barczewski calls this a “revisionist revisionist view. Meteorologist Susan Solomon in 2001 opined that the cause of Scott”s death was extremely low temperatures in March of that year, as well as abnormally unfavorable weather conditions of the Ross barrier in February – March 1912, and not the personal qualities of the expedition leader at all. At the same time, Solomon did not deny the validity of some of the criticisms of Scott. In 2004, the polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes published a biography that exonerated Scott and at the same time refuted Huntford”s work. The book focused on “the families of the denigrated dead.” Fiennes was later criticized by some reviewers for his personal and highly unethical attacks on Huntford and his judgment that Fiennes” personal polar experience gave him alone the right to judge Scott”s successes and failures.
In 2005 David Crane published a new biography of Robert Scott which, according to Barczewski, is “free of the burden of earlier interpretations. Crane shows how people”s worldview has changed since the heroic myth was created: “We see him as they saw him, but we instinctively censure him. Crane”s chief achievement, according to Barczewski, is to restore Scott”s human face, “far more effective than Fiennes” incisiveness, or than Solomon”s scientific information.” Daily Telegraph columnist Jasper Reece, describing the changing attitude of biographers toward Robert”s personality, observes that “in the current Antarctic weather report Scott is enjoying his first sunny days in a quarter of a century.”