Robert Falcon Scott

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Geographers and explorers

Robert Falcon Scott

Born June 6, 1868 (1868-06-06)
Stoke Damerel, England
Died March 29, 1912 (aged 43)
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Occupation explorer
Spouse Kathleen Bruce
Children Sir Peter Scott
Parents John Scott and Hannah Scott

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO, RN, ( 6 June 1868, "Outlands" – 29 March 1912) was a British Royal Navy officer and Antarctic explorer. In the so-called "Race to the South Pole" Scott was second, behind the winning Norwegian Roald Amundsen; he and his four companions died whilst trying to return to their base. Scott has become one of the most famous, and tragic, personalities of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Early life

Scott was the third eldest son of a large family at "Outlands", Stoke Damerel, in Devonport, England, to John Edward Scott, a brewer and magistrate, and Hannah ( née Cuming). He had two elder sisters and a younger brother named Archibald. In 1881, Scott briefly attended Stubbington House School, in Hampshire, before he left home at the age of 13 to join the naval training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth and began his training.

There was a significant naval tradition in Scott's family and Scott joined the Navy as a midshipman in 1882, aged 13 years. He first sailed on HMS Boadicea, the flagship of the English Channel Fleet at that time. He transferred to HMS Rover in 1887. He was promoted to sub-lieutenant on his transfer to HMS Spider. Scott rose to become an engineering lieutenant in 1891 on HMS Amphion, specialising in torpedoes. He became a First Lieutenant in 1892 aboard HMS Majestic, at the time the flagship of the Channel fleet.

In 1893, his father was forced to sell the brewery in Plymouth and, in 1895, relocate the family to Somerset where he managed a brewery until his death in 1897.

Discovery expedition 1901-1904

At the request of Sir Clements Markham, the former polar explorer and then President Royal Geographical Society, Scott commanded the National Antarctic Expedition, which began in 1901, in Discovery. The major achievements of the expedition were an exploration of the Ross Sea; the land to the east of the ice sea being sighted for the first time and named "King Edward VII Land" in honour of the then British monarch; the Polar Plateau was discovered; and a new "furthest south" was achieved. Scott and Dr Edward Wilson reached 82°17′ S on December 31, 1902. Ernest Shackleton did not reach this far south, having been ordered to stay behind with the dogs at 82°15 ′ S. Shackleton was Scott's third lieutenant on the expedition.

Many biographers of both men have written of an intense personal animosity and rivalry between the two. However, Ranulph Fiennes, in his 2003 biography of Scott, writes that there was little evidence of this and that the two were friendly on the man-hauling expedition. Fiennes dismisses the autobiography of Albert Armitage, Scott's navigator and second-in-command, whose account provides most of the primary source data of the split between Scott and Shackleton, because Armitage, Fiennes says, felt slighted by Scott. Fiennes wrote that Shackleton was sent home early, on the first relief ship, from the Discovery expedition because he was ill, as Scott claimed, rather than because of a strained relationship between the two, as others have suggested. Scott and Shackleton both organised and led further expeditions, and found themselves in competition for experienced personnel and financial support.

The Chief Engineer, Reginald Skelton, who was in charge of photography, was the first person to discover an Emperor Penguin breeding colony and to photograph Emperor Penguins.

Terra Nova expedition 1910-1913

Scott was keen to return to Antarctica, and it was evident that he had enjoyed the command and the involvement with scientific endeavour, and had a strong personal desire to be the first to the South Pole. It took nearly eight years for him to mount a second expedition because of problems raising public interest when the North Pole was a much more immediate challenge, and in handling financial difficulties in his family.


He married Kathleen Bruce on September 14, 1908. Following the birth of his only son, Peter, in September 1909, he embarked on his second polar expedition. His ship, Terra Nova, left London on June 1, 1910, sailing via Cardiff, which it left on June 15. Scott sailed with the ship only as far as Rotherhithe and then returned to London to continue raising money for the expedition, and departed a month later to join the ship in South Africa.

11 O'Clock Oxo on board the Terra Nova, advert published some 9 months after Scott's death which was still unknown back in England
11 O'Clock Oxo on board the Terra Nova, advert published some 9 months after Scott's death which was still unknown back in England

Scott was informed en route that Roald Amundsen, who had appeared to have been preparing an expedition to the North Pole, was instead heading south. It has been suggested that Amundsen did not mean to deceive Scott, but that Nansen had lent him the unique ship Fram specifically for the Arctic journey. Like Scott, Amundsen had borrowed heavily to fund his expedition, and finding his financing threatened by the 1909 North Pole claims of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary, turned to the South Pole in an attempt to recoup his costs. Amundsen sent word to Scott, and hosted a party of Scott's men at his camp in Antarctica, offering them a site next to his as a base. This amity aside, in the public mind there was certainly now a 'race to the Pole'. Scott could not have avoided it: a large part of the interest and funding for the expedition was based on priority, and Scott could not have been unaffected personally by a desire to be first.

Scott's expedition had a very large scientific component that went well beyond the observations (primarily geographical and meteorological) that were expected of exploration parties at the time. Scott carried equipment and had a programme of work for extensive geological and zoological study. Partly for this reason, and also because Terra Nova did not have the strength of the Fram to withstand the ice further south, he elected to set up his base camp on Ross Island, some 100 km north of Amundsen's, who had set up base on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, called the Ice Barrier at the time, hundreds of miles from the nearest land.

South Pole and return

Scott's Expedition at the South Pole, January 18, 1912 L to R: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, Robert Scott, Lawrence Oates
Scott's Expedition at the South Pole, January 18, 1912 L to R: Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans, Robert Scott, Lawrence Oates

After a year spent undertaking science work, and laying provisions along the route of the party who were to make the journey to the South Pole, a five-man party (Scott, Lieutenant Henry Bowers, Dr Edward Wilson, Petty Officer Edgar Evans and army Captain Lawrence Oates) was selected for the final stretch to the pole itself. On arriving at the South Pole on January 17- January 18, 1912, Scott found that Amundsen had been there a month earlier - Scott had predicted some months before this would probably be the case. Amundsen had planted a Norwegian flag along with letters for Scott and his king. Although the letters showed that Amundsen respected Scott's ability to get there and back Scott wrote in his diary that it did not conceal his disappointment.

Amundsen returned to his base in good order, while Scott's entire party perished on the return journey. Scott acknowledged that there had been no margin for error or delay in his calculations and his party succumbed to injury, frostbite, malnutrition and exhaustion. As their progress slowed the worsening and unusually cold weather further reduced their pace.

Two members of Scott's party, unbeknownst to him, were already carrying injuries - Evans and Oates. The first to die was Evans, who suffered a swift mental and physical breakdown near the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. The reasons for this and actual cause of death shortly afterwards remain uncertain although the following theories have been advanced:
- A head injury that may have gone unnoticed during a minor fall.
- Secondary effects from a deep cut sustained to his hand whilst repairing a sledge on the thirty-first day, where lack of vitamin C and reduced blood flow to the hand due to the extreme cold would have prevented the injury from healing properly.
- Scurvy owing to vitamin deficiency.
- Effects of starvation and weight loss.
- Hypoglycaemia and hypothermia.
Oates, already suffering from a strained tendon which he mentioned in his diary at the time, was afflicted by frostbite and lost the use of one foot which made it very hard for him to keep up. Because the party would not abandon him to die, their progress was critically slowed. Oates' condition deteriorated, until at a point some 30 miles short of the One Ton supply depot he came to the view that he could not go on and his disability was endangering the remainder of the party. Waking on the morning of March 17, 1912, Oates left the tent, stepping out into the blizzard with the memorable words "I am just going outside and may be some time." It was his 32nd birthday. His body has never been found.

Final words

The tent containing the bodies of the remaining three members of the South Pole party was found six months later by a search party led by Atkinson, which included amongst others Apsley Cherry-Garrard - the last camp was only 11 miles (20 km) from the One Ton supply depot. With them were found their diaries, letters to family and friends and a "Message to the Public" written by Scott. In January 2007, Scott's family released the content of his final letter to his wife, entitled, To my widow. Their sled was still loaded with rock samples from the Queen Alexandra Range. Scott's journal said:

Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale...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. For God's sake, look after our people.

Scott's journal

Cherry-Garrard records that after retrieving the diaries and the rock samples, the tent was collapsed over the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers and a cairn of ice and snow erected to mark the place. Atkinson knew that the place they made this burial was part of the Ross Ice Shelf, moving north towards the open sea at 500 metres a year, and that effectively they were committing the bodies to the sea. The search party also looked further south for Oates' body, but found only his sleeping bag. They erected a cairn near the spot in memory of "a very gallant gentleman".

Scott famously left instructions to his wife, regarding their son, to "try and make the boy interested in natural history if you can". Peter Scott went on to found the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Posthumous "Scott of the Antarctic" legend

Scott's Memorial near St James's Park, London
Scott's Memorial near St James's Park, London

News of Amundsen's success reached Europe before Scott's fate was known. When the deaths of Scott and his companions became known grief was expressed throughout the British Empire. Cherry-Garrard described the sombre mood as the Terra Nova returned to New Zealand with the remaining expeditioners. Scott's eloquent diary became a best-seller, and through it the public became acquainted with the story of Oates and Scott. Books, art, sculpture, film and poetry subsequently developed the tragic and heroic aspects of the story. Streets, churches and towns throughout the British Empire were named after Scott and his companions.

Amundsen's achievement was eclipsed in the British Empire by Scott's reputation. There were accusations that Amundsen had breached convention by intruding into the Ross Sea, which had since James Clark Ross's discovery in 1841 been - in the public mind - an area of exclusively British endeavour. Conventions in exploration of that time gave subsequent exploration rights to the nation that had discovered an area. The public (but not Scott) was unaware that Norway had undertaken significant exploration work at the invitation of the British in the Ross Sea in 1893 and 1898, and on the later expedition discovered the Bay of Whales that Amundsen used as his base in 1911.

The mythologising of Scott, particularly after Cherry-Garrard's publication of The Worst Journey in the World took on an extra dimension - that of Scott as the flawed but very human character compared with Amundsen. Amundsen was portrayed in the British press as a professional explorer in an age where the amateur was seen as morally superior, and as a man pursuing personal ambition rather than national glory or the advancement of science. In fact, Amundsen was not unlike Scott, a highly-driven amateur who had at times difficult relations with his men and was uncomfortable in the public spotlight.

Scott's widow Kathleen Scott (later Baroness Kennet) was granted the rank (but not the style) of a widow of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath, but Scott was not knighted posthumously, there being no such provision in English law. Kathleen Scott had a reputation for being independent and strong willed, and never more formidable than when defending the reputations of Robert Scott and their child, Peter.


The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) was founded in 1920 as the UK national memorial to Scott and his companions. A centre for research into the Polar regions and glaciology, it is part of the University of Cambridge.

Scott's brother-in-law, the Reverend Lloyd Harvey Bruce, was the rector of the Warwickshire village of Binton, and he commissioned a large stained glass memorial window, showing scenes from Scott's expedition, which still exists.

A large and recently refurbished memorial to Scott can be found in Plymouth, England overlooking the harbour. It is engraved with words from Scott's journal.

Other notable memorials are in Christchurch and Port Chalmers, New Zealand, the Terra Nova's last two ports of call before sailing for Antarctica. The New Zealand permanent research base on Ross Island and the US permanent research base at the Pole are named Scott Base and Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station respectively.

In 1915 the people of Cardiff, Wales, raised a monument to Scott in Roath Park lake, in the form of a lighthouse with a small replica of his ship. The plaque reads, "Sailed in the Terra Nova from the port of Cardiff June 15 locate the South Pole, and in the pursuit of that great and successful scientific task, laid down their lives in Antarctic Regions. March 1912. Britons All, And very Gallant Gentlemen." Cardiff's affinity with Scott continues and in 2003 at Cardiff Bay near the site where Terra Nova and its crew left on her fateful trip, "The Captain Scott Memorial", a sculpture by Jonathan Williams, was unveiled.

In 1912 The Explorers Club in New York elected Scott posthumously (a rarity for the Club) to its highest category of membership, Honorary Member.

The debate

Criticism of Scott, and particularly of his planning for and conduct of the expedition was naturally muted at the time of his death, and in the First World War that followed. In addition to the pressure brought by the public and institutions, and by Scott's widow, Kathleen, to preserve Scott's memory unsullied, there was a natural reluctance by those who had direct knowledge of the circumstances of that expedition to speak ill of the dead, or enter the public fray.


Nevertheless, there was sufficient dissent from the view of Scott as 'faultless hero' for Apsley Cherry-Garrard (A. C-G.) in his 1922 classic The Worst Journey in the World to address questions regarding Scott's competence. In doing so he opened the public debate on Scott, and the view that Scott was in some ways a flawed man whose character and errors of judgement contributed to the failure of the expedition. Cherry-Garrard, with the benefit of having been there, observed that the expedition was a success from the scientific viewpoint. He had no illusions that the scientific achievement was anything but modest, but saw that it was part of a process of building knowledge of Antarctica. As a biologist he believed that a better understanding of the wildlife of Antarctica (particularly penguins) was a worthwhile endeavour. He indicated that there was nothing to be learnt from these early explorers in regard to travel across Antarctica, predicting the future lay in air travel.

Cherry-Garrard's defence of the scientific achievement of the expedition did not extend without qualification to Scott's planning and management. Cherry-Garrard had lost his closest friends, Wilson and Bowers, and he held Scott responsible to some degree. Cherry-Garrard clashed with Kathleen on what was appropriate to say publicly, with the result that his criticism in his book was muted, and the full story remained in his private papers. Cherry-Garrard was also troubled by his own role in resupplying by not continuing beyond One Ton Depot in March 1912 while Scott was only 55 miles further south. Although in this regard Cherry-Garrard was following explicit orders.

Scott's expedition's nutritional requirements were calculated prior to departure according to the knowledge available at the time. However, as Cherry-Garrard comments his book (Worst Journey in the World pp 573-576) the true value of all vitamins in promoting adequate nutrition was not known to Scott when he went South in 1910.

Some years later, the surgeon with Scott's expedition Edward L Atkinson RN, was able to research the nutritional value of the Expedition's rations using the then latest knowledge and standards. In 1922 Cherry-Garrard summarised these findings as showing that laborious work at a temperature of zero Fahrenheit [-17° Celsius](which A. C-G. describes as "a fair Barrier average temperature to take") requires 7700 Calories. The actual "Barrier ration" used would generate 4003 Calories. Similar nutritional requirements for laborious work at -10° Fahrenheit [-23° Celsius] (which A. C-G. describes as "an average high-plateau temperature") would require an average of 8500 Calories. The actual "Summit ration" would have generated 4889 Calories. These values were calculated for total absorption of all food-stuffs. However, in practice the total absorption of all ingested food did not take place [because of the vitamin imbalance in the rations]. Cherry-Garrard adds that this was especially noticeable on the expedition in the case of fats: visually confirmed by the presence of undigested fat in the faeces of men, ponies and dogs alike.

Cherry-Garrard concludes "There is no censure attached to this criticism. Our ration was probably the best which has been used: but more is known now than was known then. We are all out to try and get these things right for the future" (Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, p575)

Huntford and Fiennes

Others have also weighed into this debate, notably Roland Huntford (The Last Place on Earth, 1979) and Ranulph Fiennes (Captain Scott, 2003). Not just the elevation of Scott's reputation but also the diminishment of Amundsen's achievement deserved 'correction', and the public seemed to gain an appetite for this by the 1970s. At that stage, looking back over 50 years, with nearly all of the participants dead, there was not much opportunity to discover new facts about the case, and the discussion has turned largely on analysis of diaries of other participants, the extent of pre-expedition Arctic research and its impact on preparations, and the motives of and decisions made by Scott, frequently with reference to Amundsen as a model of what Scott should have done and could have achieved. This comparison is unfair to both as the motives of the two men were different and they had different experience. Scott at the time was the most experienced Antarctic expedition leader whereas Amundsen's experience had been in the Arctic.

A television series called Blizzard: Race to the Pole was aired in August 2006, following a Norwegian and a British group recreating the Scott and Amundsen expeditions using the same equipment as would have been available to the original teams. However, because the use of dogs is not permitted in Antarctica, the series was filmed on Greenland.

Orders relating to the dogs

Huntford and Fiennes have both weighed into the debate concerning Scott's various orders about how the expedition's dogs were to be used after their return from the Barrier stage of the polar journey. These orders may be summarised:-

  • Standing Order: The dogs were "not to be risked" since they would be required for scientific journeys during the next season
  • Orders to Meares, repeated to Simpson (i/c Cape Evans base), October 1911: Dogs to be used to transport 5 Excess Summit rations, or at all hazards 3, and as much dog food as they could carry, to One Ton Depot by 10th January 1912
  • Message to Simpson via Bernard Day, November 1911: In the event of the dog teams not returning from the Barrier in time to fulfil the above order, make sure that at least the minimum requested XS rations were deposited, by manhauling
  • Verbal order to Atkinson at Beardmore summit, 22nd December 1911 (Atkinson would be i/c Cape Evans on his return there): Ensure that the depot is laid, and bring the dogs southward to meet the polar party
  • Final order Jan 1912, delivered to Atkinson via Lt Evans around 22nd February 1912: Bring the dogs down to 82 or 83 degrees S, to meet the polar party. (This order was impractical by the time it was received)

Fiennes argues that these orders were not contradictory but were sensible and clear updatings as circumstances changed, while Huntford accuses Scott of muddle and confusion. One difficulty is that some of the orders were verbal and therefore liable to possible misinterpretation. Another is that Scott did not see fit to clarify his intentions when changing the orders. For example, was he signalling by his later orders that the dogs might, after all, be needed to see the polar party home safely, or did the "not to be risked" framework still apply? Whether it was ultimately Scott's fault, or that of his subordinates in not carrying them out fully (e.g. the requested dog food depot was never laid and was vital for any journey with dogs south of One Ton), it appears that the resulting confusion over the orders may have helped prevent the mounting of any meaningful attempt to relieve Scott. But other factors, such as shortage of experienced manpower, the poor physical condition of Scott's party by mid-March and the adverse weather that finally overwhelmed it, might have rendered any such attempt futile.

Some grounds for a comparison

The existing record shows that Scott and Cherry-Garrard were unstinting in praise for Amundsen's methods and abilities as an explorer, and that Scott particularly foresaw that Amundsen would reach the Pole first because he used dogs rather than ponies and so would be able to start earlier in the season than Scott with his ponies. Amundsen had camped on the Ross Ice Shelf 60 miles (96 km) closer to the Pole but there was no known route up to the polar plateau near there. Amundsen was fortunate in finding a route closer to his base. In that sense they agree with modern interpreters of Amundsen's achievement. Neither Scott nor his financial backers saw the expedition as having as its sole purpose simply getting to the South Pole and it was necessary to stress this aspect to gain funding and public support. The scientific aspect was important in selling the expedition to institutions and business, who might see little commercial benefit in journeying to the frozen pole, but who could see profit in the advancement of knowledge of animal and mineral resources on the reasonably accessible coast. This was of course long before the concept of a non-commercial Antarctica, where no country had claim to any part of the continent.

The dual nature of Scott's expedition, incorporating both scientific and exploratory endeavour, needs to be taken into account by anyone making a comparison with Amundsen's, which was focused on the single task of reaching the pole. This is important not just in trying to weigh up the 'real' achievement of each, but in understanding some of the compromises that Scott made to accommodate science. This is not to say that any comparison of Scott's and Amundsen's methods is invalid, or that Scott did not clearly make mistakes. However, the tendency in the literature is to characterize Scott either as a faultless hero struggling against impossible conditions or a bumbling oaf who lead his men to certain and foreseeable death. Neither characterization is accurate, and the historical record needs to be interpreted with care. Some of the key considerations are:

  • Scott did not have a ship to equal the immensely strong purpose-built Arctic exploration ship Fram, and had no funds to build one. Nor was the Fram available for hire - it had been contracted by Amundsen in order to make an attempt on the North Pole in 1909-1910. Knowing that the Terra Nova was not as strong a ship as the Fram, or even his previous ship Discovery, Scott did not wish to risk taking it into seas further south than Ross Island where it might be trapped in sea ice for the duration of the Antarctic winter, as Discovery had been. Scott instead had plans for the Terra Nova to run resupply missions between Ross Island and New Zealand. Amundsen on the other hand, having diverted his efforts from the North to the South Pole, had an ideal ship in the Fram for penetrating to the Bay of Whales on the southernmost shore of the Ross Sea, closer to the South Pole, and for over-wintering there on board.
  • Scott and his financial backers had made geological exploration a significant component of the expedition's work. The Bay of Whales, a small notch in the immense Ross Ice Shelf, hundreds of miles from land, was unsuitable as a base for geological work, even if it was an ideal base for launching a 'dash' to the South Pole. Scott's base at Cape Evans on Ross Island, with access to the Trans-Antarctic mountain range to the west was a better base for geological exploration.
  • Scott had made a trial expedition south across the Ice Shelf during his Discovery Expedition, learning much about the difficulties of Antarctic travel. It was Shackleton in his 1908 attempt who pioneered the route up the Beardmore Glacier to the central plateau and the Pole. Scott followed in Shackleton's footsteps and learned from his expedition. Amundsen took a chance that there was another way up to the plateau, in a direct line between his base on the Bay of Whales and the South Pole. Amundsen's gamble paid off. Scott believed from his and Shackleton's previous experiences that it would not be possible to get dogs up the Beardmore, and so laid all of his plans around man-hauling sleds above the Beardmore. Though man-hauling would inevitably mean slower progress, during the many months of planning his assault on the Pole, Scott never would have appreciated that he would become involved in a 'race', and therefore would be choosing as sure a method of reaching his goal as possible. He would have felt confident man-hauling would achieve that goal, but with his lack of experience of dog-handling he would have considered this as a risk.
  • Scott did not have Amundsen's experience of the Arctic and particularly lacked Amundsen's intimate knowledge of the Inuit and their way of life, which included an understanding of the proper selection and management of dog teams. Amundsen had also ensured that he would have the first choice of any available sled dogs if Scott should try to obtain them, Scott however did not and was barely convinced to take any dogs at all. Scott did not have Amundsen's supreme confidence in the ability of dogs, and used them only as part of his strategy below the Beardmore Glacier. He took two motorised sled/tractors and Siberian ponies as well, the advantage the motorised sleds provided was swiftly nullified however, when one of the sleds fell through thin ice into the sea. Scott did consult Nansen, who had Arctic experience, and on Nansen's recommendation took with him Tryggve Gran, an expert Norwegian skier who had been planning his own expedition to the North Pole. Scott's growing confidence in the dog teams was evidenced by the vital role he gave them in the follow-on depot resupply that he would need on his return journey. However, Scott had castigated Meares, the dog driver, to the point to where Meares left the expedition at first chance, leaving only Dmitri, a young Russian dog handler, as the only one left who understood dog driving. Scott had left four orders concerning the resupply effort, the last of which was given verbally to Lt. Evans, who succumbed to scurvy, failing to pass along the most urgent request. Dr Atkinson assigned Apsley-Garrard to take Dmitri and two dog teams to resupply the One Ton Depot and to go as far beyond as he saw fit. Apsley-Garrard was pinned down at the depot for several days by a blizzard, and could not go farther due to the limited amount of dog food that remained. Turning around at that point, he and Dmitri barely survived the return trip.
  • Criticism of Scott based upon his lack of knowledge of the practices of Arctic natives needs to be considered in light of the fact that a) many Arctic natives have died while on long voyages despite their intimate knowledge of the environment; b) considerable loss of life was a common feature of polar expeditions in the Heroic and pre-Heroic age, with many expeditions coming off far worse than Scott's; and c) that quite a few explorers, Shackleton in particular, used practically the same methods and equipment without coming to disaster.
  • Oates noted that the dogs and ponies were both affected by parasites picked up in Siberia, and that the feeding regimes for both were unsatisfactory. It has been suggested that Scott was unduly sentimental about the dogs and ponies, but his decisions about their deployment was largely dictated by his desire to conserve them for further scientific exploration intended to go ahead in 1912, and by his conviction that neither ponies nor dogs would be able to get up the Beardmore Glacier onto the central plateau and the final route to the South Pole. Scott relied on Shackleton's experience with ponies in Antarctica, and knew that they would not be able to start working until later in the spring than the more hardy dogs. He knew that his strategy of using ponies meant that the time available to make the dash to the Pole and return safely was reduced. In 1911 when he heard that Amundsen was at the Bay of Whales with nearly 100 dogs Scott stated that Amundsen's ability to get away earlier with his dogs-only hauling strategy meant that - barring misadventure - Amundsen would get to the South Pole first.
  • Some commentators have suggested that Scott underestimated the effect of changing his original plan to take only four men to the South Pole in terms of food consumption. However, Scott's diary records that the party ran short of food only when beset by blizzards, well after they had descended the plateau and had replenished their supplies at several of the depots. As Scott approached the South Pole he would have been increasingly aware - because of their rate of travel during the earlier part of the expedition climbing the Beardmore glacier - that they had little margin for error on their return journey. However, by the end they did get to within eleven miles of a food depot which would have meant safety, only failing having been forced to remain in their tents by blizzards for seven or eight days. By comparison with the previous Shackleton expedition this margin is comfortable.
  • Scott's record shows that apparently sealed cans of fuel from the depots were completely or partially empty, possibly due to the failure of the leather seals in the cold. This shortage of fuel for cooking, melting ice for water and heating the tent made the return journey more debilitating. The leakage from these cans is however a well known fact, and was experienced by both Amundsen and Scott in earlier expeditions, Amundsen however acted on the problem and had soldered the cans to prevent leakage.
  • Numerous accounts portray Scott's dedication to proper British behaviour as a foolish affectation without attempting to understand its cultural significance to a man of his time and place.
  • More recent weather records have shown that March 1912 was particularly cold being 15 - 20°F below the average for the time of year . It is clear that Scott encountered bad weather towards the end of his journey in March (a time at which the weather is always unsettled on the Ross Ice Shelf, it had been similarly cold the previous year when Lt. Evans made a one week expedition to resupply several depots). It is now known that the route up the west side of the Ross Ice Shelf that Scott used is subject to worse weather than Amundsen's easterly route. However, Scott endured weather conditions that may occur only once every 16 years, on average 20°F colder with blizzards for long periods. The low temperatures they encountered on the Ross Ice Barrier meant that their sledge would not slide easily over the snow in the familiar way. Their task can be better compared to pulling a full bathtub across the Sahara. Scott and his meteorologist, Simpson, had estimated that the temperatures would be high enough to allow the sledge to slide more easily. The bottom line, however, is that Scott acknowledged his margin of safety in respect of the weather was very narrow. It has also been observed that the conditions on the Ross Ice Shelf encountered by Scott were not much different from those encountered by Shackleton, and detailed in his published diary.
  • Scott's polar party was not fully aware of the nutrition requirements of the task they were undertaking. In 1910 the precise role of vitamin c in the aetiology of the disease scurvy was unclear but was surmised by some, including Scott, as was the likely presence of the vitamin in fresh meat. On numerous occasions, over the course of the expedition as a whole, Scott ordered those seen to be suffering from scurvy to increase their intake of fresh meat, which did result in the recovery of the sufferer. Similarly, Scott's Polar Party often ate lightly cooked horse and seal meat which would have provided enough vitamin c to ward off scurvy in most cases. Scott took large quantities of dried meat ( pemmican) which was not high in fat although he did add extra fat to the rations used on the high polar plateau. The massive loss of body weight caused by the physical effort reduced the insulation from their own fat and made them more susceptible to cold. Although the precise cause of the deterioration of health and ultimate death of Scott and his companions is not known, Scott certainly noted that he felt they were getting insufficient nutrition. In Blizzard:Race to the Pole it was shown that body weight lost by the man-hauling team was split between fat and muscle.
  • Scott made a virtue of his dedication to science. Amundsen set out only to reach the Pole and get back alive, however Scott had a supposedly scientific goal. Even as they were dying, Scott and Wilson continued to haul over 14 kg of rock samples. Scott could have left the samples at one of the cairns along the way to be picked up later, or not taken them at all, accepting that his mission was not primarily scientific, and his failure to do so might have been due to his desire to salvage some 'immediate result' to show for his otherwise failed journey to the South Pole - or simply due to lack of clear thinking brought on by exhaustion. The present-day Antarctic explorer Ranulph Fiennes has suggested that the extra weight would not have been a major handicap, even when they were short of food at the end of the trek.
  • Scott was continuously concerned about raising sufficient money to equip the expedition adequately. A considerable amount had been borrowed, and the ability to repay it (through further donations and product endorsements) in large part depended upon the expedition being successful in their attempt to be the first to the South Pole. As it was, neither Scott nor Cherry-Garrard noted deficiencies in the equipment due to lack of funds, but they did note that the need for Scott to spend time raising funds took him away from day to day planning and management of the expedition at critical junctures. Scott's last entry in his diary, reflecting his concern at the fate of 'our people' back home, was written with a mind to the financial burden that they bore, and which he thought they would not be able to meet following the failure of the expedition. It should be noted that Amundsen, in turning at the last moment to an attempt on the South Pole, was said to be mindful of his debts incurred in hiring the Fram. When Robert Peary claimed to have beaten him to the North Pole in 1909, Amundsen had to quickly look elsewhere for some significant 'exploration achievement' that would enable him to raise funds to cover his debts.
  • Many commentators point to Scott's death, juxtaposed to Amundsen's survival, as prima facie evidence of Scott's incompetence, rather than a simple matter of bad luck. It is true that if Scott had had a larger safety margin he could have survived the final storms and made the One-Ton Depot once they cleared. But it is also true that had there been no storms he almost certainly would have made it to the depot and survived his great South Pole expedition.

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