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. R. Scott. Last entry. For God’s sake look after our people.
Thus reads the last journal entry by Captain Robert Falcon Scott from March 29th, 1912 while he and his team mates were on the return journey of their Antarctic expedition. They had tried to be the first human beings to reach the South Pole, had arrived at their destination on January 17th, 1912 after first setting off from Wales on June 10th, 1910 and 11 weeks after leaving their expedition’s base camp, only to find that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team had beaten them by 33 days, having reached the South Pole on December 14th, 1911. The Terra Nova Expedition, named after the ship Scott and his team left Wales in, covered 1842 miles of Antarctica and was the longest continuous sledge journey ever made in the polar regions.
Sadly, not only were Scott and his team not the first to reach the South Pole, but also all 5 of them died on the return journey due to frostbite, malnutrition, dehydration and injury. In an attempt to save his comrades, Captain Lawrence Oates, who was suffering from a foot injury and felt he was holding his team mates back, walked out of their tent on March 17th into the freezing weather and was never seen again. The search party that set off in October 1912 to find out what had become of the expedition only ever found his sleeping bag a few miles south of the tent that contained the frozen bodies of Scott and his two companions Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers (another team mate, Edgar Evans, having died on February 17th already at a different location). They are believed to have died sometime around the date of Scott’s last journal entry from March 29th, 1912.
What I find the most interesting about this expedition and its fate are little tidbits about the characteristics of some of the team members and how they came to be on this ill-fated endeavour. First, there’s Edgar Evans, who was chosen by Scott to be among the 5-men-team to attempt the final leg of the journey towards the South Pole even though he is described as having been something of a “beery womanizer” who even fell into the water upon boarding the ship once because he was drunk. Henry Robertson Bowers was originally only the storekeeper aboard the Terra Nova but due to his organisational skills and his bright and cheerful nature and dauntless spirit he became a valuable member of Scott’s team. Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1898 (who would have thought he’d partake in an Antarctic expedition just 12 years later?) and had just married his wife only three weeks prior to setting of on Terra Nova. Talk about bad luck, eh?
Over the years there have been varying theories about who is to blame for Scott’s expedition failing in this tragic manner but I’m not going to comment on those simply because I know too little about what is important for such an endeavour to be successful. I’ll just go with the “bad luck”-theory because in my view we’ll never know for sure what really happened on that journey and blaming the adverse weather conditions – that even scientists have judged to have been unusually bad – is the safest option here (and a typically British one at that ;-)).