Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition

With renewed, detailed preparations and excellent financial support, Scott felt justifiably confident when he set sail for the south in 1910, on his Terra Nova expedition, his second to the Pole. Unfortunately, as had Shackleton, Scott concluded from his earlier ill-fated attempts at dog sledging that he should investigate another way to travel.

While laying depots he tried several methods, including motor-sledges, ponies and dogs, but he eventually selected manhauling. This brutal exercise – walking or skiing while pulling sledges heavily laden with supplies – is among the most strenuous human activities.

For the final push to the Pole, Scott chose a companion from his previous journey furthest south, Edward Wilson, along with Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. Henry Bowers was added only the night before – a tactical error, since the food, tent and skis had been planned for a four-man team.

What ensued is, perhaps, the most famous Antarctic story of all. The five exhausted men arrived at the Pole on January 17, 1912, to find that Amundsen had beaten them by 35 days. Amundsen’s dark-green tent, topped with the Norwegian flag, made that painfully clear. The grim photo Scott’s party snapped of themselves tells it all: hollow-eyed despair darkens their faces.

Their return home was a haunting, desperate run of barely sighted depots, slow starvation, willing annihilation and incredible cold. A delirious Evans died on February 17. A month later, just before his 32nd birthday, his feet badly frostbitten and slowing the group’s progress, Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates was in such bad shape that he prayed not to wake. The next morning, deeply disappointed to find himself among the living, Oates walked out of the tent into a raging blizzard, telling his companions, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ They never saw him again.

Just two days later, from March 21 onwards, another blizzard pinned the survivors down – just 18km from a major cache of provisions they called One Ton Depot. They remained in their tent for 10 days, their supplies gradually dwindling to a single sputtering lamp. By its light, Scott scrawled his immortal words: ‘It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more… For God’s sake, look after our people.’ Scott’s last entry was dated March 29. It is not known who was the last to die.

A search party sent out the following spring found them on November 12, 1912. Among the effects found in the tent with the men’s bodies was Amundsen’s letter to the King of Norway, which Scott had brought with him from the Pole, as Amundsen had requested. Scott thus confirmed Amundsen’s attainment of the Pole.

Despite being beaten to S 90°, Scott’s last expedition accomplished a great deal of important science. In fact, the push to accomplish research had itself contributed to the polar party’s destruction: the men dragged a sledge carrying, among other items, 16kg of geological samples (ie rocks).

The search party buried the tent beneath a snow cairn. Because of the accumulating snowfall on the ice cap as it advances toward the sea, the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers and their tent will eventually reach the sea through the bottom of the Ross Ice Shelf, making it extremely unlikely that they will be seen again by anyone.