Friday, 30 March 2012

Captain Scott - March 30th 1912, Possibly The Day That He Died

According to Steve Parker in Scott's Last Expedition  
March 30th 1912 was probably the date that Scott, Wilson and Bowers died on their return from the South Pole, only eleven miles from salvation. However, as the last entry in his diary was on March 29th, that has been taken as the date that is considered to be correct. Therefore, a memorial service was held in St Paul's Cathedral yesterday, but it wasn't considered important enough to be on the six o'clock news.  Why was this?
The reason is probably that although Scott reached the Pole, he and his men perished on the way home. Much has been written about the mistakes that were made: unsuitable horses, experimental motor sledges, lack of food for the dogs and taking five men on the last push to the Pole, when there was only food and rations for four.
Nevertheless, I feel that Scott should be celebrated. No, they didn't return home, but the expedition was as risky as the Apollo missions over fifty years later: out of touch with civilization, like the astronauts, with no way of rescuing them. Today, there is a large scientific community at the South Pole with studies started by Scott and his expeditions, and  helicopters and snowmobiles to rescue any injured scientists or adventurers at the ready.
Today, I celebrated Scott, Oates and the rest of the polar expedition by visiting The Oates Collection at Gilbert White's House in Selborne, Hampshire, which tells the story of his tragic life and death. The highlights for me were the letters that he wrote to his mother, and the only book he took to read, a biography of Napoleon, his hero.
Also today, I finished Death On The Ice by Robert Ryan. This is a novel about Captain Scott, which also tells of the life of Captain Oates, and Tryggve Gran, the Norwegian skiing advisor in Scott's team. It was a great read, and I learned a lot about the expedition which helped me to understand the exhibition today. Some of the passages are as vivid as a Hollywood film, for example when they have to rescue the horses from the pack ice where they are being attacked by killer whales.
The search team erected a wooden cross in 1913 to Scott and his men, with an inscription from Tennyson's Ulysses:
'To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.'
I think that Captain Scott and his polar expedition did that, don't you?


  1. Mar. 29 is the official date of their deaths. But I think they lasted for a few days longer. The 29th entry is the last dated entry of Scott's diary. It's written with rather a steady hand, though not exactly powerful. But there is another, undated entry, which only says "Last entry - For God's sake look after our people", and is more unsteady. When he wrote his 29th entry, he signed it with his name. The last one comes after the signature. I think it's at least one day afterwards.

    They had been without food for a week, but as long as they had the strength to take in snow from the outside, they could get water, if only in solid form. I think they would have lived at least 5 days into April, possibly a week or more, but 5 days would be my bet. Of course, no-one will ever know.

  2. Thank you, Lars. No we will never know. Here's to all the brave men who made it to the South Pole, and those who came back!

  3. I agree with you that these brave men should be celebrated.

  4. I agree with you too. The book you read sounds really good.

  5. Well done for bringing this to wider attention, Jean.

  6. Thanks Debs, Rebecca and Rosemary.