An Antarctic search and rescue party discovered the tent of Captain Robert Scott and his two companions on November 12, 1912. They found the body of Scott wedged between those of his team members with the flaps of his sleeping bag and his coat open. Lt. Henry Bowers and Dr. Edward Wilson lay covered in their sleeping bags as though they were dozing, yet they had been dead for eight months. They were part of the Terra Nova (latin: new land or new earth) team of 5 men on the return journey after having reached the South Pole. Upon arrival at the Pole on January 17, 1912, Scott and his men discovered that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had arrived first more than a month earlier.
It all began when the London, England, Sixth International Geographic Congress declared in 1895 that “the exploration of the Antarctic Regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken.” It started a flurry of activity as many countries competed to explore Antarctica. The goal of reaching the South Pole actually became a worldwide fixation and wound up with two separate expeditions from Britain and Norway.
The two teams used entirely different strategies with Amundsen deciding to use dogs to haul his men and supplies over the frozen continent. Scott’s British team preferred to use horses. Now that we know so much more about conditions in Antarctica today it would be easy to say the use of horses was a bad decision.
They were very brave men. The distance they endured this is often forgotten: 1,766 miles. Progress was agonizingly slow. It took ten days to cover the last 97 miles because of the dreadful conditions of snow and ice.
A word about sponsorship: Scott and his Terra Nova team struggled to raise money for their expedition and managed to persuade Britain’s Fry’s chocolate, and biscuit business Huntly and Palmer and Heinz beans to sponsor their ill-fated journey.
To mark the centennial of the Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica is being featured at the National Library of Scotland (NLS).
On view are the diary entries, newspaper cuttings and books written by expedition members telling of the hardships and the final tragic end. Also on display are memorial postcards of the dead explorers which expressed the nation’s grief over what had happened.
Here’s a quote from the last entry in Captain Robert Scott’s diary and a graphic image of the actual diary is on the upper left of this article:
“Thursday, March 29 - Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. 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.
Click on The National Library of Scotland (NLS) to learn more about the exhibition.
For people unable to attend the NLS, click on Eye Witness to History for an to read a more robust entry about the Terra Nova expedition.