Robert Falcon Scott’s final letters

Many of you know of Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s final entry in his diary, written as he lay freezing to death in his tent on his return from the South Pole. He had made it to the Pole with five companions, only to find that Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team had beaten him to the prize by about a month.

Here’s the famous picture of Scott’s team at the Pole, presumably taken with a self timer. The caption: “Party at the South Pole, 18 January 1912. L to R: (standing) WilsonScottOates; (seated) BowersEdgar Evans“.  They certainly don’t look happy.

On the return, one of Scott’s men, Edgar Evans, died of a concussion. Another, Titus Oates, frostbitten and near death, walked out of their tent into a blizzard to his demise after famously remarking, “I am going outside. I may be some time.” Oates had hoped that his suicide by freezing would prolong his companions’ lives by removing himself from their care and leaving more food.

Oates’s departure didn’t help the team. Scott and the remaining two men, Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson froze to death, confined to their tent by a severe storm. They were only 11 miles from a food depot that could have saved them, but they couldn’t move in the blizzard.

Scott spent his last days writing in his diary and composing letters to his family, friends, and associates. The most famous thing he wrote at this time was the final entry in his diary, expressing the stoicism of a true Brit. It was presumably written on the day he died: March 29, 1912. The diary and his letters were found eight months later when a search team spotted a mound that was Scott’s snow-covered tent, a tent enclosing three frozen bodies. The bodies were left in place and covered with a snow cairn, but the papers, diaries, and fossils (yes, the team was dragging fossils right up to the end), were brought back and sent to England.

I saw this diary entry in the British Museum years ago, and you can see the full diary online courtesy of the British Library, where it now resides. There are 165 pages, and the final entry, written in pencil, reads:

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.

R. SCOTT.

For God’s sake look after our people.

Here’s the last page:

Greg Mayer and I have both wondered whom “our people” refers to? The British public? The remaining expedition team? Or Scott’s family?

I suspect the last answer is the correct one, at least as judging from Scott’s “message to the public“, detailing why he thought the mission had come a cropper and ending with two tacit appeals for the British public to look after Scott’s family:

“For four days we have been unable to leave the tent – the gale howling about us. We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. 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. But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.

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.”

But the most poignant message was Scott’s final letter to his wife, found in his pocket. It was made public only in 2007, nearly a century after he died. Here’s the text (the bit in bold is mine). The “to my widow” salutation is heartbreaking.

“To my widow,

Dearest Darling – we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through – In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end – the first is naturally to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping – if anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart.

I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also – I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour – this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot.

Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy — we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but in splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.

We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone — he was in a bad state — the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn’t let up at all – we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.

Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will — the boy will be your comfort. I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example — I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?

I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up — dearest that you know I cherish no sentimental rubbish about re marriage — when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again.

I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud. Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold — 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent.

You know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again. The inevitable must be faced — you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous — I’ve taken my place throughout, haven’t I?

God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later — I go on across the back pages. Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days’ cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm — I think the best chance has gone. We have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don’t worry.

I have written letters on odd pages of this book — will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting.

Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically — your portrait and the boy’s will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter. There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen’s black flag and other trifles — give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you!

What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home — what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay — to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face.

Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others — oh but you’ll put on a strong face for the world — only don’t be too proud to accept help for the boy’s sake — he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world.

I haven’t time to write to Sir Clements — tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery.”

Well, somehow Scott’s son, only a few months old when his dad left on the fatal expedition, did get interested in natural history. For that “boy” became  Sir Peter Scott (1909-1989), a conservationist, artist, ornithologist, and science popularizer—the David Attenborough of his day. After I gave my lecture on the science of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, several older Brits came up to me and said they were avid listeners to Peter Scott’s radio broadcasts—in the days before every home had a television.

As for the “try to make [Peter] believe in a god” advice, well, I’ll just ignore that.

Oh, and Scott is a bit infamous for naming the Loch Ness Monster (Greg Mayer reminded me of that). Wikipedia says this:

In 1962, [Peter Scott] co-founded the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau with the then Conservative MP David James, who had previously been Polar Adviser on the 1948 film based on his late father’s polar expedition Scott of the Antarctic. In 1975 Scott proposed the scientific name of Nessiteras rhombopteryx for the Loch Ness Monster (based on a blurred underwater photograph of a supposed fin) so that it could be registered as an endangered species. The name was based on the Ancient Greek for “the monster of Ness with the diamond shaped fin”, but it was later pointed out by The Daily Telegraph to be an anagram of “Monster hoax by Sir Peter S”. Nessie researcher Robert H. Rines, who took two supposed pictures of the monster in the 1970s, responded by pointing out that the letters could also be read as an anagram for, “Yes, both pix are monsters, R.”

Greg adds this:

Sir Peter Scott was also the describer, along with Robert Rines, of the Loch Ness Monster, giving it the name Nessiteras rhombopteryx in a paper published in Nature (although, notably, in the “News” section, not in “Articles” or “Letters”, the sections where ‘regular’ scientific papers appear). The stated intent was to secure legal protection for the Monster, which can only be extended to a described taxon.

The Scott expedition did an enormous amount of scientific research, but I talk about that in my shipboard lecture and won’t bore you with it today. However, I do mention in Why Evolution is True the expedition’s discovery of Antarctic Glossopteris fossils, which helped document that the continents were once united in a single supercontinent.

49 Comments

  1. Posted November 11, 2019 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    “Greg Mayer and I have both wondered whom “our people” refers to? […] Scott’s family?”

    And, given the “our”, the families of the others of the five?

    • Posted November 11, 2019 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

      Could be, could be. . .. . I included those with all the members of the expedition team.

  2. David Coxill
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    He final words should have been “For Gods sake ,don’t let them make a film about me starring Sir John Mills ”

    I have read Sir Peter Scott’s Autobiography ,a bit of a understatement to say he had a very interesting life ,among other things he was a very good glider pilot .

    Can’t remember the exact words ,but in his autobiography he said something along the lines of “Early on I decided to make my home within the sight and sound of wildfowl “.

    • Posted November 12, 2019 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      He was a fine artist, but he later blamed himself for introducing the Ruddy Duck to Britain – recently eradicated as an invasive.

      • David Coxill
        Posted November 12, 2019 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Didn’t know he was did that or that they have all been eradicated .

        Not all introduced things become a problem ,someone introduced the Little Owl to GB .

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I have not, yet, decided whether it would be better to know that the end were coming or not. Interesting that they considered, and decided against, suicide, or perhaps interesting that he would be so frank about it.

    • Posted November 11, 2019 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I expect it was understood that the death awaiting them would be a quiet and easy one. No motivation to change that course of events for a possibly more painful one.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 11, 2019 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

        Quite right, if freezing to death is correct as to how it happened. The brain usually goes first, and apparently often irrationality in the form of unawareness of what’s happening. One can hope.

        Starving to death, not so ‘nice’ I think.

  4. W.T. Effingham
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    “—try and make him believe in {a} God, for it is comforting.” At least he didn’t say, “try and make him believe in the One and Only True God according to our Great Kingdom’s mandate.”

    • phoffman56
      Posted November 11, 2019 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

      Another British Navy man from about 50 years earlier was Fitzroy, the captain of Darwin’s Beagle, and the man for whom Darwin went as companion (as a landed gentry, sufficient despite Fitzroy being an aristocrat). Fitzroy remained a staunch high church Anglican. A very good relationship with Darwin therefore deteriorated with Origin of Species, and much more with Descent of Man. But Fitzroy, up till nearly then, perhaps even then, was the one who committed suicide, not Darwin of course, by then atheist, though he preferred the word agnostic.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 11, 2019 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        Sorry badly written last sentence–Fitzroy remained a bible-believing Christian, before joining Adam and Eve in heaven, or purgatory perhaps, surely not Limbo nor Hell. (The last intended as sarcasm, just in case …)

  5. rickflick
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The letters are very poignant.
    Looking forward to a report on Scott’s science.

  6. Mike Mayer
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    The photo was taken with an air-bulb remote. I think Bowers has it in his hand and you can see the tubing coming away from him.

    The air pressure set off the shutter.

    I remember reading that somewhere…

  7. Posted November 11, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin and commented:
    Here is a good blog on Robert Falcon Scott’s farewell letters to his wife while dying in Antactica in 1912.

    My parents read this part to me at the age of about 13

    “I have written letters on odd pages of this book — will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future — make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games — they encourage it at some schools — I know you will keep him out in the open air — try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting.”

    they were laughing about it as they read it to me as I loathed games – rugby, football Cricket etc and always skived off them.

    However I loved the outdoors and at about this time I took up serious cycling and was wanting to climb mountains as we had pictures of Khanchenjunga in our dining room. We also had Peter Scott prints in the house.

    Thus RF Scott’s last words meant much to me and helped as my school didn’t like non-games players.

    I have never been very good at natural history but love it as an ancillary to exploring the countryside, (wilder the better) on foot and bike

  8. Posted November 11, 2019 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    These words kept me going in a typical English which expected you to love games !!

  9. Mark R.
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Great post. Thanks.

  10. Randall Schenck
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    If I recall, it was many years ago when I read the story of Scott vs Amundsen, there was quite a contrast between the preparations between the two expeditions. Even the clothing worn and the methods of movement were much different.

    • Posted November 11, 2019 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Rather boiling down to dogs being better than ponies.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 11, 2019 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

        And skiing better than trudging; and marking your caches carefully with a perpendicular line of black flags by the guy who could outski just about everybody in the world better than slipshod marking; and being willing to learn from the aboriginals of the Canadian north what was the right clothing; and learning that northern Greenland huskies were the best; and knowing the negative effect of the cold on causing fuel leakage, so doing it correctly to avoid dehydration and needing to gnaw on frozen food; and knowing enough to provide sufficient food for both man and dog, in particular vitamins B and C, the British Navy being infamous for ignoring science for a time after scurvy had become understood.

        One may add, from wiki (and probably Huntford):
        “Unfortunately, Scott decided to leave behind the engineer, Lieutenant Commander Reginald William Skelton who had created and trialled the motor sledges. This was due to the selection of Lieutenant E.R.G.R. “Teddy” Evans as the expedition’s second in command. As Evans was junior in rank to Skelton, he insisted that Skelton could not come on the expedition. Scott agreed to this request and Skelton’s experience and knowledge were lost. One of the original three motor sledges was a failure even before the expedition set out; the heavy sledge was lost through thin ice on unloading it from the ship. The two remaining motor sledges failed relatively early in the main expedition because of repeated faults. Skelton’s experience might have been valuable in overcoming the failures.”

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted November 12, 2019 at 8:10 am | Permalink

          “the British Navy being infamous for ignoring science for a time after scurvy had become understood.”

          I always understood that the Royal Navy pioneered the provision of citrus fruit to sailors as a means of preventing scurvy and that this is the reason why Brits came to be known as Limeys in North America. According to Wikipedia the Royal Navy began the practice of issuing citrus fruit in 1795. Admittedly this was 43 years after it had been shown that eating citrus could prevent and treat scurvy but did anyone else introduce the practice sooner?

          • phoffman56
            Posted November 12, 2019 at 9:45 am | Permalink

            Thanks for noting that my “for a time” was 43 years.

            I’m glad the preventives for smallpox and diabetes weren’t kept waiting for 43 years, though scurvy likely did get so bad in an occasional case as to cause death during those years.

            And I imagine some sailors elsewhere were adequately provided for then. But with the hegemony of the British empire, and a main factor being naval dominance, one might hope for less delay; and also maybe that ‘upper crusters’ like Scott, and even aristocrats in many cases, captaining British navy ships, might have been less slipshod in caring for the men they commanded. I believe that Fitzroy, of Darwin fame, was actually very good that way.

            But not slave ship captains of course, reminding one of much worse behaviour on the seas, as usual, even happening in a sense today.

          • Posted November 12, 2019 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            Apparently there was a lot of disagreement for a long time about the causes of scurvy. If they had listened to the Inuit they wouldn’t even have had to bring citrus – just eat raw meat. (Of course, one has to aclimatize, and know how to thaw without cooking.)

    • Posted November 11, 2019 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      Also, the Norwegians had pancakes for breakfast and Sauna Night every Friday in their hut.

    • Posted November 11, 2019 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I’ll say. Amundsen practically glided to the Pole on skis pulled by dogs. Scott’s use of ponies and man-hauling was a disaster. Scott started later than Amundsen because he needed warmer weather for the ponies, and then he traveled fewer miles per day man-hauling so Amundsen beat him there by a whole five weeks. And the one-ton depot, which Scott almost reached returning, was 35 miles farther north than originally planned because the ponies pooped out. Scott had some bad luck, but his failure was poor preparation and his aversion to using dogs.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 11, 2019 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        “Amundsen practically glided to the Pole..”

        Yes, but he did make one major mistake. They left a few weeks too early in the Antarctic Spring, and needed to retreat and regroup.

        It should also be noted that Amundsen picked a brand new route, much to the east of Scott, also on the Ross Ice Shelf, an advantage being shorter (by 5 or 10% I think). But they knew how to pick their way up not yet known glaciers (this one called the Axel Heiberg Glacier, but there is a later discovered Amundsen Glacier in the region) to get to the roughly 10,000 foot altitude of inner Antarctica. I think it was at the top there that many of the weaker dogs were humanely slaughtered for food.

        Scott’s five followed a known route across the Ross Ice Shelf (but unfortunately only half of it on the way back), and then up through the mountains (Beardmore Glacier). This had been pioneered (I think) by him and Shackleton and a 3rd person several years earlier when they got pretty close to the pole.
        So it was more of an exploring excitement for Amundsen than for Scott, who had made a kind of proprietary claim to his start point and route.

        • Posted November 11, 2019 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

          Amundsen made a false start (as soon as the sun was above the horizon) because he was single-minded. He had a singular objective—to get to the Pole first. And he knew how to achieve it.

          Scott is a bit of a mystery to me. Why drag rocks when your life is in jeopardy? I might be willing to forgive Scott except that he fatally involved four other men in his misbegotten mission.

          • Jonathan Wallace
            Posted November 12, 2019 at 7:50 am | Permalink

            Why drag rocks? Because they believed they would make it to the food depot. Had the blizzard not come in when it did or persisted so long they would have made it. And the expedition did yield scientifically valuable data including those fossils. I may be wrong but I believe that Amundsen did not collect scientific information (or at least much less) and focused more single-mindedly on the prize of priority at the Pole.

            • phoffman56
              Posted November 12, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

              I think you are right about Amundsen, as I’d noted earlier.

              One could however add that the long list of blunders and slipshod methods by Scott was the real reason they were out there so late, after the Antarctic summer was finished. The terrible weather, which is said to have killed the last three of the five, was maybe not too surprising.

              Many, not on the expedition, and on the expedition, and even some among those five, thought Scott was a poor choice to lead this.
              (Read Huntford.)

              I really wonder whether all the five, then four, then three, really thought they’d make it that last 18 km. to One Ton Depot, and then actually manage to find the cache, and finally manage to struggle the remaining distance, which was more than 150 km., to Camp Evans, as it (statistically) was getting colder and colder, with less and less light. There was surely no way to survive 8 or 9 more months at One Ton Depot, all through the winter and spring.

              • Posted November 12, 2019 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

                In Scott’s diary he notes the deteriorating condition of the team even before they descended the Beardmore. Any leader who did not know he was in trouble after losing two of his men is no leader.

            • Posted November 12, 2019 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

              One potentially exculpatory “fact” is that Scott apparently gave orders for dog teams to meet him on his return trip. Orders that were never executed. The main culprit is Cecil Meares who supposedly received the order but quit the expedition because he thought Scott was an idiot.

              https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/antarctica/robert-falcon-scott/9770678/Scott-of-the-Antarctic-could-have-been-saved-if-his-orders-had-been-followed-say-scientists.html

              • phoffman56
                Posted November 13, 2019 at 8:37 am | Permalink

                That’s an interesting story, though from a source likely not entirely objective in their historical research.

                The main thrust seems to be that the dog team relievers should have continued beyond the few hundred kilometres to One Ton Depot, and if so would therefore have rescued 4 of the 5. That sounds much more likely to have increased the death toll from 5 to 6 or more. (I can’t remember how many went with Cherry-Gerrard.)

                How likely is it that they would see each other going in opposite directions at that time of year down there? How far south ought the rescuing team to have gone before giving up?

                It seems ironic how the British press at the time, intent on canonizing Scott, liked to imply that Amundsen had somehow broken the so-called ‘rules’ of the competition. Or would those hacks have criticized Scott of the same supposed ‘rule-breaking’ if he had been rescued halfway down the Beardmore Glacier? Of course he’d already lost the so-called competition by then anyway—but not before issuing some (perhaps confusing, perhaps not) orders to be rescued at some point or other.

        • phoffman56
          Posted November 12, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

          Forgetting what I once knew, I got one thing very wrong above, and earlier once as well.

          The route used by Scott had been pioneered by Shackleton without Scott, not by Scott as leader with Shackleton.

          The latter was ‘way back’ in the first few years of the 1900s; they made it to about 900 kms. from the South Pole, entirely on the Ross Ice Shelf; and Scott perhaps mistreated Shackleton when it ended.

          Shackleton as leader without Scott had pioneered the later Scott route up the Beardmore Glacier a few years before the 1911 Amundsen/Scott ‘race’. Shackleton’s party had to turn back within about 20 km. of the Pole.

          • phoffman56
            Posted November 12, 2019 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

            Typo–about 220, not 20, kilometres from the Pole.

            I take it as 110 km. per degree because
            110 x 90 deg = 9,900, pretty close to Napoleon’s 10,000 km. for equator to Pole, and
            they got to roughly 88 degrees south.

    • Posted November 12, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I seem to remember that even at that stage the Brits had not learned from the Inuit and other arctic people on how to build the right clothing, whereas courtesy of particularly Danish anthropologists (like Knud Rasmusssen) the Scandinavians had better stuff.

      • phoffman56
        Posted November 12, 2019 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Yes, Keith, as I mentioned above but in extra detail, wool and leather is just not very good compared to the aboriginals of northern Canada’s animal skins and fur, with mukluks for boots. I think Amundsen learned these and other things (e.g. handling dog teams) from the Inuit in northwest Greenland and northern Canada.

        Also, I tend to misuse the all-purpose ‘aboriginals’ which in this case is a bit questionable, since the Inuit only appeared on this side of the Pacific about 3,000 years ago, displacing the earlier Asiatic people already here (e.g. Dorset people, who maybe are closer to what ‘aboriginal’ is supposed to mean). And Inuit arrived in northwest Greenland about 1,000 years ago, around the time Vikings started living in southwest Greenland.

        Anyway, despite ‘us Canucks better stick together’, I’ll sort of disagree with you in that the non-academic Amundsen, especially after his winter-summer-winter at what is now called Gjoa Haven, ‘Gjoa’ being his Northwest passage conquering boat, surely knew more than any of the Scandinavian anthropologists, about actually using Inuit clothing.

        But I’m going to get out Huntford’s book for the first time in years just to make sure some of the above really is factually correct.

  11. merilee
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  12. phoffman56
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    “The Scott expedition did an enormous amount of scientific research, …. the expedition’s discovery of Antarctic Glossopteris fossils, which helped document that the continents were once united in a single supercontinent.”

    It was a very big expedition, especially compared to Amundsen’s. I’m wondering whether the rocks from the Scott Five were particularly important, given that some feel they might have ‘made it’, had the rocks been cached for some others to later recover. I imagine quite a lot of the scientific stuff was done by the large remainder of the expedition, but cannot remember from Roland Huntford’s book, or even whether that part of that book is considered accurate.

    It is interesting that, with the exception of Wegener and a very few others, continental drift was rejected by geophysicists until about 50 years later, and only accepted when it was realized that magnetic pole reversals revealed the spreading of the ocean floor on either side of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted November 11, 2019 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      Alexander Du Toit’s work in the 20’s already showed in detail that Africa and South America were once one.
      Geologist should have accepted his extensive evidence, but indeed it was the magnetic reversal dating of the Ocean floor that clinched it by providing the mechanism.

  13. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful post. Most interesting and enjoyable.

  14. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  15. max blancke
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I have a pretty good collection of original exploration-themed books. I wish that I had the knowledge and forethought to ask if you would have been interested in taking some of the Antarctic themed books with you.
    I am very keen on reading such books in the places that they were written about. I have engraved editions of books on the subject by Shackleton and Amundsen, and an early edition of Scott’s 1905 book.
    I have seen Antarctica from a ship, but have not yet had the opportunity to set foot there. I think it is great that you were able to do so.

  16. openidname
    Posted November 11, 2019 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    As we have only Scott’s account of how Oates died, I will always wonder how truthful and complete it is.

  17. uhoh
    Posted November 12, 2019 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Your hunch about what “our people” refers to does seem right to me. I’ve heard Bertrand Russell, who was born right about the same time, refer to his family as “my people” or “our people”. It could well have been a commmon way of speaking at the time.

  18. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 12, 2019 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    Peter Scott also founded the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, which now owns and preserves wetland areas all over the UK that are important staging posts or breeding grounds for migrating birds. I live near the one at Welney, in Norfolk. The sight of line after line of swans flying in from Russia at dawn on a chilly morning is something I’ll never forget. Thanks Peter.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 12, 2019 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is also involved in wetland bird conservation internationally. For example they are a lead partner in the efforts to save the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pymaea(https://www.saving-spoon-billed-sandpiper.com/) and also heavily involved in wetland conservation projects, including the attempt to save the World’s rarest duck, the Madagascar Pochard, Aythya innotata(https://www.wwt.org.uk/our-work/projects/madagascar).

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted November 12, 2019 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        Typing fail. Should read “also heavily involved in wetland conservation projects IN MADAGASCAR,…”

  19. phoffman56
    Posted November 12, 2019 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    Referring to 1., 16. and 17., on the questions of “our people” when written by Scott, and of the truthfulness of Scott in referring to the heroic sacrificial death of Oates in wandering off to die in the snow, one certainly would like them to be noble and inspiring.

    I did refer elsewhere to the feeling by many that death by freezing is likely often much less gruesome than many other kinds of lonely or drawn-out but accidental deaths. In particular, the tales of people close to being overcome by cold having it badly affect their brains are common, as I said. Examples include attempting to tear off protective clothing and running around outside, rolling oneself in the snow.

    So it is clearly not out of the question that something approaching this had begun to affect Oates, though one maybe hopes not. Or not, for Oates’ sake??

    And clearly Scott was able to write, formulating sentences expressing his emotions. But conjecturing what was actually going through his mind when writing “our people” seems, under those circumstances, not really all that interesting to me. He also may have begun to have terribly low body temperature begin to affect his brain, before becoming totally incapable of writing. So, a day earlier, ‘our people’ might normally have meant something different to him than it did when he famously wrote it.

    It is the freezing of extremities that people really hate when they get stuck with lack of enough protection, but are nowhere near body temperature plunging. Even worse is when it is thawing–personal experience playing outdoor hockey 60 years ago without the right protection leads me to think that for a male, the worst place is a certain 5th (central) appendage other than the ends of the arms and legs. And I realize that such a comment should not be taken as humorous, given the seriousness referred to in the first paragraphs above.
    And I don’t regard ‘penis’, or any other single word, as anything but stupid to regard as being taboo, as you know.

  20. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 13, 2019 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Yes, “our people” definitely means “our families”, i.e. the families of the five men who died. It was an old phrase that in previous centuries would have meant something closer to “our households”, when that would have included extended family and servants as well as the nuclear family, and you can see something of this in Scott’s concern in the letter to his wife that his mother also be looked after.


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  1. […] the Terra Nova expedition is online -all 165 pages- when you have time to read it, but first read excerpts of his goodbye entries, inclusing the full letter to his widow, at Why Evolution is True. -via Nag on the […]

  2. […] the Terra Nova expedition is online -all 165 pages- when you have time to read it, but first read excerpts of his goodbye entries, inclusing the full letter to his widow, at Why Evolution is True. -via Nag on the […]

  3. […] the Terra Nova expedition is online -all 165 pages- when you have time to read it, but first read excerpts of his goodbye entries, inclusing the full letter to his widow, at Why Evolution is True. -via Nag on the […]

  4. […] the Terra Nova expedition is online -all 165 pages- when you have time to read it, but first read excerpts of his goodbye entries, inclusing the full letter to his widow, at Why Evolution is True. -via Nag on the […]

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