Robert Falcon Scott was an officer in the Royal Navy. In 1899 he happened to meet Sir Clements Markham, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, and came to know of a planned Antarctic expedition, which he volunteered to lead. Soon his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed for the next 12 years of his life.
The Discovery Expedition, 1901-1904
The British National Antarctic Expedition, later known as the Discovery Expedition, was a joint enterprise of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society. This was Markham’s long cherished dream and he put in great efforts to launch the expedition under naval command and largely manned by naval personnel. Scott was probably not his first choice as leader, but having decided on him, Markham remained a constant supporter. There were several disagreements within the committee, the Royal Society pressing for a scientist to be put in charge of the expedition with Scott merely commanding the ship. Eventually, however, Scott was given overall command, and was promoted to the rank of commander before Discovery sailed for the Antarctic on 6th August 1901. King Edward VII, who showed a keen interest in the expedition, appointed Scott a Member of the Royal Victorian Order.
Experience of Antarctic or Arctic waters was almost entirely lacking within the party. There was very little special training in equipment or techniques before the ship set sail.
The Discovery set sail from the Isle of Wight on the 6th August 1901 and reached Antarctica five months later on the 8th January 1902. As they arrived during the summer, the ship spent its first few months in relatively ice- free conditions charting the coastline and making various other observations. As the winter set in, Scott anchored at the McMurdo Sound to prepare the expedition for its main objective, two years of scientific study and more importantly, to make the first attempt to the South Pole.
The expedition had both scientific and exploration objectives. The scientific results covered extensive ground in biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism. The expedition discovered the existence of the only snow- free Antarctic valleys, which contain Antarctica’s longest river. Other achievements included the discoveries of the Cape Crozier emperor penguin colony, King Edward VII Land, and the Polar Plateau on which the South Pole is located.
The attempt to the South Pole was to be made by Scott, doctor and zoologist Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton, the third in command. The three men and their dogs left their ship on the 2nd of November 1902. Very soon they realized there were problems, the food for the dogs had gone bad and their lack of experience with sledge dogs forced them to turn back on the 31st of December 1902. The journey had not been a complete failure as they reached further south than anyone before them. On the way back to base camp Skackleton was afflicted with scurvy and had to be supported back by the other two. Tired and weary they covered the 960 mile journey through grit and determination, finally reaching their ship on the 3rd February, 1903. The Discovery remained in the Antarctic for another year and returned to UK on the 10th September 1904. Scott was a national hero. He had caught the exploring bug and began to plan an expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole. He spent years trying to raise funds for the trip, dedicating the final years of his life to this.
The Terra Nova Expedition
In June 1910 Scott embarked on a second Antarctic Expedition. Its purpose was to study the Ross Sea area and reach the South Pole. On October 24, 1911 equipped with motor sledges, ponies and dogs, Scott and 11 others left Cape Evans to travel overland to the pole. The motors soon broke down, the ponies had to be shot and the dog teams were sent back. The men began to haul the sledges themselves. By December 31 seven men had been returned to base. The remaining polar party-Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans-reached the Pole on January 17,1912. They found evidence that Roald Amundsen had reached the Pole about a month earlier.
They set out in exceptionally bad weather on their return journey. Evans died at Beardmore. Food and fuel were dwindling. Oates, suffering from severe frostbite, walked away into the snow never to return. The three remaining team members struggled on for 10 miles but another blizzard bound them to their tent for nine days. They knew death was inevitable. They were just 11 miles from their destination. Eight months later, their frozen bodies were found along with geological samples from Beardmore, and Scott’s records and diaries. Scott was regarded as a national hero for his courage and patriotism and the knighthood that would have been conferred on him, was given to his widow.
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