On This Day

Robert Falcon Scott, Robert Falcon Scott south pole
Henry Bowers
Robert F. Scott’s expedition team pictured at the South Pole, Jan. 17, 1912. Left to right: Lawrence Oates, Henry Bowers, Scott, Edward Wilson, Edgar Evans.

On This Day: Robert Falcon Scott Reaches South Pole

January 17, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 17, 1912, English explorer Robert F. Scott and his expedition reached the South Pole, five weeks after Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s expedition became the first to reach the pole. Scott and his four men died on their journey back to their base.

Robert Falcon Scott’s Doomed Expedition

Robert Falcon Scott was an officer in the British Royal Navy who led an Antarctic scientific expedition in 1901-4. He attempted a trek toward the South Pole in the Antarctic spring of 1902 along with Dr. Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton, reaching farther south than any previous expedition.

Shackleton made his own attempt at the pole in 1908-9, making it to just 97 miles from the pole. Scott then organized another expedition for 1911-2, hoping to become the first man to reach the pole. In October 1910, before Scott reached Antarctica, he received word from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen that he would be making his own expedition to the pole, creating something of a race.

Scott’s team arrived in January 1911 and spent the year preparing for their trek by establishing food depots along the route to the pole; unfortunately, Scott’s team fell short of its goal of placing its last depot at latitude 80° South, instead building it more than 20 miles to the north.

Scott began his journey to the pole in November 1911. Having struggled to manage his dog teams in 1902, Scott decided to rely on motorized tractors and Siberian ponies for transport. This proved to be a mistake, as the sledges and ponies were ill equipped for the conditions, forcing the men to abandon the sledges and kill the ponies for food. As a result, the men had to carry most of their supplies and often had to carry half their load and then travel back for the other half.

On Jan. 3, 1912, less than 150 miles from the pole, Scott reduced his eight-man team to five (instead of four as previously planned) to make the final push to the pole. The other others members were Dr. Wilson, Capt. Lawrence “Titus” Oates, Edgar Evans and Henry Bowers.

The five men neared the pole on Jan. 16, when they discovered the remains of Amundsen’s camp, revealing to them that they had been beaten to the pole. Scott wrote in his journal, “The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first to the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very much sorry for my loyal companions. … All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return.”
The following day, they reached the pole. Scott wrote, ““The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. We have had a horrible day … Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. … Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.”

Scott’s men, exhausted, malnourished, frostbitten and likely suffering from scurvy, began their return journey on Jan. 19. Evans was the first to die on Feb. 17. Oates, frostbitten and barely able to walk, decided that he couldn’t continue on March 17. His famous last words were recorded in Scott’s journal: “He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning—yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard and we not seen him since. … We knew that Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.”

The three remaining men died at the end of March together in a tent just 11 miles from their food depot. Scott was likely the last to die.

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