Thursday 27 March 2014

Was Scott's expedition ill equipped ? Or there was "something" else ? Was Captain Scott: an "amateur", a "second-rate" hero?

Captain Scott's Lost Photos From South Pole Expedition Unveiled
The Huffington Post UK  |  By Alice E. Vincent / 18/10/2012 /

Previously unseen photographs from Captain Scott's doomed 1911 expedition to the South Pole have been discovered, some of which were taken by the ill-fated explorer himself.
The photos, which depict scenes from the Terra Nova Expedition as it travelled the Antarctic, were acquired by the Scott Polar Research Institute in spring this year. People have known of the existence of Scott's photographs, but they've been thought to be missing for nearly 100 years.
They have gone on display this week at the University of Cambridge's Polar Museum, alongside poignant images of Scott taken by Herbert George Ponting, the professional photographer who went along to capture the expedition.

"I am just going outside and may be some time."
Captain Oates

Snow goggles, clothing, and equipment

Snow goggles were essential equipment for polar explorers. These goggles belonged to explorer William Laird McKinlay, one of the scientific staff on the disastrous Canadian National Arctic Expedition 1913-1918.

McKinlay told the story of the expedition and his survival for over a year on Wrangel Island in 'The last voyage of the Karluk' published in 1976 when he was 87.

McKinlay's goggles were presented to the National Library of Scotland along with his papers by his family.

Types of snow goggles

Snow goggles were used to protect the eyes and to prevent snow blindness. This was a painful eye condition caused by exposure to sunlight reflected from snow and ice.

Goggles were worn almost constantly by Captain Scott's expedition team. Scott described the variety of goggles available:

'A few men preferred the ordinary wire-gauze type with smoked glass but the drawback to these was their liability to become frosted over. The alternatives were to have a piece of leather with a slit in place of the glass or to have goggles cut from a piece of wood. Personally, I much preferred the latter and in the end invariably used them; mine were very carefully shaped to fit over the nose and eyes, had a considerable cross-shaped aperture, and were blackened outside and in.'

Weather conditions in Antarctica are the harshest in the world. Early Antarctic explorers wore clothing made of natural materials, such as wool and fur. Before the British Antarctic Expedition took place, Scott organised for some tests to be carried out on different types of material. This was to find out which were most suitable in terms of insulation, waterproofing, and durability.

The Norwegian expedition team wore more fur clothing than the British team. The Norwegians relied heavily on dog sledges, and the fur helped to protect the men from cold whilst sitting on the sledges. Scott however was more reliant on man-hauling. The men would have been too hot whilst undertaking this strenuous physical activity in fur clothing.

The reindeer fur boots made by the Lapps for the British expedition team were called 'finnesko'. They were lined with felt and insulated with hay called 'seannegrass'.

Each member of the expedition team was responsible for caring for and repairing their own items of clothing. They were able to adapt their kit to suit their own individual preferences and needs. The kit would have included:

Windproof outer layers, such as canvas trousers and hooded smocks
Reindeer fur gloves
Strong boots with canvas wrappings to keep out the wind
Woollen undergarments.
Modern day explorers and travellers have the benefit of lightweight, synthetic, breathable material. You can find out more about modern Antarctic clothing on the Cool Antarctica website.

Sleeping bags and sledges

Scott and his team used sleeping bags made of reindeer fur. This worked well when the men were at base camp and conditions were dry. However, if the sleeping bags got wet or iced up, they soon became stiff and heavy to carry.

Apsley Cherry-Garrad described the sleeping bags in his book 'The worst journey in the world', first published in 1922:

'When we got into our sleeping-bags, if we were fortunate, we became warm enough during the night to thaw the ice: part remained in our clothes, part passed into the skins of the bags … and soon both were sheets of armour-plate'.

The sledges were made of wood, leather, and rope. The conservation team at the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge is currently conserving some of the sledges and other equipment used on the British Antarctic Expedition. You can find out more about this process on the Scott Polar Institute blog.

Pony snow shoes

Special snow shoes were made for Scott's team of Siberian ponies. Using a circle of wire for the base, the shoes were created from bamboo, and were fitted to the ponies with leather straps. Enough shoes were transported for all of the ponies. However, before the initial depot laying expedition in 1911, there was not enough time to train the ponies in their use. Scott was not convinced that they would be effective, and only one pair was taken on the journey.

The ponies had great difficulty walking in the snow, and the one available pair of snow shoes proved to be invaluable when tried out on one pony, Weary Willie. Scott regretted having left the other pairs at Cape Evans, as the slow progress of the ponies had an adverse impact on the success of the depot laying expedition. Meares and Wilson were sent back to the base to collect more of the pony snow shoes. Unfortunately by that time, the ice had broken up and it was impossible to retrieve the shoes.

Suggested discussion points

Find out the average summer and winter temperature where you live, and compare these with the average temperatures at Scott Base in Antarctica.

Think about the clothes that you wear, and the fabrics that they're made of. Check the labels and list some of the materials. Which of these fabrics help to keep you dry, cool, or warm? Are these materials natural or synthetic?

Find out more about the weather conditions and terrain in Antarctica. What are some of the challenges of living or visiting the continent? What type of clothing and equipment are essential for survival in this type of climate and environment?

Discuss the potential psychological impact of living in or visiting Antarctica. Consider the climate, and also the amount of daylight during the two seasons — summer and winter.

What animals are indigenous to the region, and how have they adapted to living in such harsh conditions?

 Photograph of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's team finding Amundsen's tent at the South Pole
 Captain Scott’s party suffered terribly, while the Norwegian group led by Amundsen mastered the elements

A farewell letter from polar explorer Captain Scott in which he pledged that his team would "die like gentlemen" is expected to sell for £150,000 at auction. The letter, which was found on Scott's body in November 1912, was written on March 16 of that year to financier Sir Edgar Speyer, honorary treasurer of the fund-raising committee for the ill-fated trip. Scott wrote, "We have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen."
Picture: Kirsty Wigglesworth

Farewell letter from Captain Scott pledged Antarctic team would 'die like gentlemen'
A farewell letter from polar explorer Captain Scott in which he pledged that his team would "die like gentlemen" is expected to sell for £150,000 at auction.

The letter, which was found on Scott's body in November 1912, was written on March 16 of that year to financier Sir Edgar Speyer, honorary treasurer of the fund-raising committee for the ill-fated trip.
In it, Scott expresses his great concerns for his family and the families of his companions and asks that the nation provide for their future.
Sensing that the position was hopeless, Scott wrote, "I fear we must go...but we have been to the Pole and we shall die like gentlemen - I regret only for the women we leave behind. If this diary is found it will show how we stuck by our dying companions and fought this thing out to the end.
"We very nearly came through and it's a pity to have missed it but lately I have felt that we have overshot our mark - no-one is to blame and I hope no attempt will be made to suggest that we lacked support."
The letter was at one time owned by the famous American polar explorer, Rear Admiral Richard E Byrd, and was presented to him at a dinner in his honour in 1935 by Sir Edgar Speyer's widow.
The recipient of the letter, Edgar Speyer, was a well known business, political and philanthropic figure before the First World War. He had played a major role in raising funds for Scott's expedition and Mount Speyer in the Arctic was named in his honour by Scott.
American born to a wealthy German family, Speyer became a British national at the age of 30 in 1892. A great patron of the arts, particularly music, he personally funded the Proms for many years and single- handedly secured their long tem future. Richard Strauss dedicated his opera Salome to him.
Scott need not have worried about the future of the team's widows and orphans. Once the contents of his final letters became known, there was a huge outpouring of public sympathy resulting in enough money not only to pay off the expedition's debts but also to settle annuities on the families of those who died and to endow the Scott Polar Research Institute.

The letter, which has an estimate of £100,000 -£150,000 is for sale at Bonhams Polar Sale in London on 30 March 2012.

“Gieves, the naval taillor, had been the main supplier of Royal Navy officers' uniforms since the late 18th Century and Scott was just one of its customers, who wore the then-standard "Reefer No. 5," a high-buttoning, close-fitting, double-breasted jacket worn by all ranks from lieutenant up. It is this garment that is largely considered the original pattern for the classic navy blazer.” (…)
Scott outlined his plans for the southern journey to the entire shore party, but left open who would form the final polar team. Eleven days before Scott's teams set off towards the pole, Scott gave the dog driver Meares the following written orders at Cape Evans dated 20 October 1911 to secure Scott's speedy return from the pole using dogs:
About the first week of February I should like you to start your third journey to the South, the object being to hasten the return of the third Southern unit [the polar party] and give it a chance to catch the ship. The date of your departure must depend on news received from returning units, the extent of the depot of dog food you have been able to leave at One Ton Camp, the state of the dogs, etc ... It looks at present as though you should aim at meeting the returning party about March 1 in Latitude 82 or 82.30
The march south began on 1 November 1911, a caravan of mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, travelling at different rates, all designed to support a final group of four men who would make a dash for the Pole. The southbound party steadily reduced in size as successive support teams turned back. Scott reminded the returning Atkinson of the order "to take the two dog-teams south in the event of Meares having to return home, as seemed likely". By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87° 34′ S. Scott announced his decision: five men (Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) would go forward, the other three (Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean) would return. The chosen group marched on, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott's anguish is indicated in his diary: "The worst has happened"; "All the day dreams must go"; "Great God! This is an awful place".
The deflated party began the 800-mile (1,300 km) return journey on 19 January. "I'm afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous", wrote Scott on the next day.  However, the party made good progress despite poor weather, and had completed the Polar Plateau stage of their journey, approximately 300 miles (500 km), by 7 February. In the following days, as the party made the 100-mile (160 km) descent of the Beardmore Glacier, the physical condition of Edgar Evans, which Scott had noted with concern as early as 23 January, declined sharply. A fall on 4 February had left Evans "dull and incapable", and on 17 February, after a further fall, he died near the glacier foot.
Meanwhile back at Cape Evans, the Terra Nova arrived at the beginning of February, and Atkinson decided to unload the supplies from the ship with his own men rather than set out south with the dogs to meet Scott as ordered. When Atkinson finally did leave south for the planned rendezvous with Scott, he encountered the scurvy-ridden Edward ("Teddy") Evans who needed his urgent medical attention. Atkinson therefore tried to send the experienced navigator Wright south to meet Scott, but chief meteorologist Simpson declared he needed Wright for scientific work. Atkinson then decided to send the short-sighted Cherry-Garrard on 25 February, who was not able to navigate, only as far as One Ton depot (which is within sight of Mount Erebus), effectively cancelling Scott's orders for meeting him at latitude 82 or 82.30 on 1 March.
With 400 miles (670 km) still to travel across the Ross Ice Shelf, Scott's party's prospects steadily worsened as, with deteriorating weather, frostbite, snow blindness, hunger and exhaustion, and no sign of the dog-teams, they struggled northward. On 16 March, Oates, whose condition was aggravated by an old war-wound to the extent that he was barely able to walk, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. Scott wrote that Oates' last words were "I am just going outside and may be some time".
After walking a further 20 miles, the three remaining men made their final camp on 19 March, 11 miles (18 km) short of One Ton Depot, but 24 miles (38 km) beyond the original intended location of the depot. The next day a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress. During the next nine days, as their supplies ran out, with frozen fingers, little light, and storms still raging outside the tent, Scott wrote his final words, although he gave up his diary after 23 March, save for a final entry on 29 March, with its concluding words: "Last entry. For God's sake look after our people". He left letters to Wilson's mother, Bowers' mother, a string of notables including his former commander Sir George Egerton, his own mother and his wife. He also wrote his "Message To The Public", primarily a defence of the expedition's organisation and conduct in which the party's failure is attributed to weather and other misfortunes, but ending on an inspirational note, with these words:
We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last ... 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, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.

Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, possibly a day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent when it was discovered eight months later suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die

Captain Scott: a second-rate hero?
After a lifetime's research, Roland Huntford thinks he has finally nailed the myth of Scott of the Antarctic: far from being a national hero, the explorer was an amateur whose incompetence condemned his men to death
John Crace
The Guardian, Monday 27 September 2010 /
It was hard to escape Captain Scott if you were a child growing up in Britain any time between the 1920s and the 1970s. He was the man who made the ultimate sacrifice on his return from the south pole; the man who achieved a greater nobility in coming second than his rival did in coming first; the man who embodied the noblest qualities of stoicism and suffering. In short, he was the quintessential British hero, the venerated subject of school assemblies everywhere.

And then – almost overnight – the Scott myth ended in 1979 with the publication of Roland Huntford's book, Scott and Amundsen. For the first time, the British and Norwegian expeditions to the south pole were forensically examined side by side and Scott was found seriously wanting.

The undisputed facts remained the same – that Amundsen and his team reached the south pole on 15 December 1911 using skis, dogs and sledges, before returning safely to their base camp just over a month later. And that, after Scott's polar party reached the south pole on 17 January 1912 using skis, dogs, sledges and man-hauling, the team died one by one: Edgar Evans died of exhaustion, frostbite and starvation on or around 16 February; Captain Oates, his leg frost-bitten and gangrenous, walked to his death on or around 17 March; and Scott, Wilson and Bowers, too tired to go on, died in their tent out on the Ross Ice Shelf on or around 21 March.

Everything else in the story, however, was up for grabs. Where Amundsen's attention to detail made his expedition seem no more demanding than a skiing trip in the Norwegian outdoors, Scott's appeared a disaster almost from the off. According to Huntford's account, he ignored the basic lessons of previous polar expeditions by failing to either take enough dogs or learn how to drive them properly; he took men who barely knew how to ski; he came unprepared for extreme temperatures; he was indecisive, taking an extra person with him to the pole when his supplies had been based on a team of four. Worst was the veiled accusation that because of all this, which had reduced his frost-bitten men to man-hauling in a blizzard, Scott had effectively condemned his team to death.

It was a damning indictment: one from which rehabilitation seemed impossible. And yet, within 25 years or so, serious writers and academics began to rewrite history in Scott's favour again. First came Ranulph Fiennes in 2003, dismissing Huntford for not being an explorer himself; in the same year, Susan Solomon suggested Scott had just been unusually unlucky with the weather.

Huntford, though, has never been one to duck a fight. He has devoted the last 35 years of his academic career to the study of polar exploration – and in particular to the Scott and Amundsen story. Indeed, his own reputation is now inextricably linked to both men. Two years ago he wrote Two Planks and a Passion and this week he publishes Race for the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen. The first of these was a history of skiing, the second the unedited diaries, but the subtext of both was the same: to nail the Scott myth once and for all.

The Expedition Diaries breaks new ground by letting both men live and die side by side in their own words. And so, on the very day Scott is complaining about unexpectedly cold conditions, Amundsen writes that the temperatures are about what he expected and he is making good progress. And on days when Scott is tent-bound in a blizzard, Amundsen is again achieving his expected daily distance, because he has brought proper sledge compasses. This is a story of amateurs and professionals, heightened by entries from the diaries of Olav Bjaaland, Amundsen's lead skier, who makes the whole thing sound like a day in the Norwegian mountains.

Even more damning for Scott's reputation, Huntford has restored all the cuts that Scott's family and literary executors had made to his published diaries. Here we find a man given to blaming his colleagues for his own failings; a man with a strong sense – quite early in the expedition – that his preparations have been inadequate; a man who describes one of his dying colleagues as stupid; a man who, on realising he has missed out on being the first to the pole, writes that he can still salvage his reputation if he can get the news to the outside world before Amundsen. A man eager to mask his failure by playing up his mission's scientific endeavour. A man who at one point writes his expedition is a shambles.

"Before Scott left for the Antarctic, the British public had little interest in him," says Huntford. "He was considered an inferior version of Shackleton [who then held the record for the going the furthest south] and polar exploration wasn't big in the public imagination, being considered the preserve of the Royal Geographical Society and the navy and therefore a hive of mediocrity. Those with the real ability in extreme conditions went into mountaineering; the unwritten story of British polar exploration is the men who didn't go."

Amundsen's success in reaching the south pole was broadcast almost a year before news of Scott's fate reached the outside world. In that time, while some of the British newspapers were a little huffy about Amundsen having concealed from Scott his intention of heading south, the British public were fairly sanguine. Amundsen's UK lecture tour in the autumn of 1912 was a success and there was feeling that the best man had won.

All that changed in 1913 when news came through that Scott and his men had died. "There was a public outpouring of grief almost on a par with what we later saw with the death of Princess Diana," says Huntford. "The British have frequently made a virtue of disaster, and have a perverse attraction to romantic heroes who fail rather than to Homeric ones who succeed. Most important of all was that Scott was dead; had he come home alive, he would have been soon forgotten."
Yet even this Diana moment was comparatively short-lived. When Scott's expedition diaries came out towards the end of 1913, the reviews were mixed at best – as if the critics suspected the edited diaries were covering up a truth altogether more uncomfortably prosaic than the legend they had been sold. By the time the first world war started, Scott's memory had been half eclipsed; by the end it had been almost totally so.

It was the aftermath of the first world war that was largely responsible for Scott's revival. "The war was the first fought on an epic scale and it left the country with a vacuum of heroes," says Huntford. "There were no Wellingtons or Nelsons for the country to unite around. The generals were discredited and the footsoldiers largely anonymous and forgotten. So there was a real national desire for a modern hero."

The publication in 1922 of The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the expedition member who had discovered the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers, put Scott back on a national pedestal, and with the release of the 1947 film Scott of the Antarctic, with its Vaughan Williams soundtrack , his heroic status remained almost untouched for more than 50 years.

By the time Huntford began his research in the mid-70s, the Scott family and the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge happily opened up their archives to him, confident that nothing critical would ever be written. Huntford got an early indication of what was in store, however, after a run-in with a senior academic at the SPRI, who warned him of the dangers of damaging Scott's reputation. When his original book was published in 1979, he had to fight off an injunction taken out by Peter Carter-Ruck on behalf of the Scott family for libel by implication.

The Scott family were right to be concerned. Huntford had been ruthless in his research, and though Scott did not go undefended, Huntford's version rapidly became widely accepted. And yet the Scott legend refuses to die to this day.

"It's strange," says Huntford. "Shackleton, who didn't lose a man when the Endurance was crushed in the Antarctic ice, remains a footnote in the national psyche, while Scott still has an iconic status. Only in Britain do we revere the man who died in failure above the survivor. Elsewhere in the world, Scott is seen as rather second-rate – an incompetent loser who battled nature rather than tried to understand it."

The Race for the South Pole represents Huntford's final attempt to get Scott and Amundsen's legacies restored to what he believes should be their proper balance. There is simply no more evidence left to find. Will it be enough? Possibly not.

Scott will always have his supporters – and maybe that is as it should be. After all, decline and fall is a paradigm of British life over much of the last hundred years. Perhaps we get the national heroes we deserve.

Celebrating 100 years: Roald Amundsen’s South Pole Expedition 1911 from Viking Cruises on Vimeo.