“The eternal silence of the great white desert. Cloudy columns of snow drift advancing from the south, pale yellow wraiths, heralding the coming storm, blotting out one by one the sharp-cut lines of the land.”
Scott describing the landscape of his final expedition in his journal, published as
The 6th of June 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, explorer and naval officer who died in March 1912 in his attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. This ill fated expedition has since become synonymous with Scott’s death, and ever since he has been the focus of both criticism and celebration.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott (oil on canvas) by Lawrence, J. Cousins (19th century), Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/ Bridgeman Images
Before his career as an explorer, Scott joined the Royal Navy, succeeding in the regimented environment due to a strict upbringing. He quickly impressed his superiors, who considered him to be an officer with much potential. Scott took advantage of his leadership skills developed in the Navy, and in 1899 applied to lead an expedition to the Antarctic organised by the Royal Geographical Society.
The ‘Terra Nova’ ship stuck in the ice during the British Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott. Photograph by Herbert Ponting, 1910-11, Photo © Granger/ Bridgeman Images
It was this first successful expedition between 1901-04 that led him to plan his own adventure – a journey we know now had a tragic end for all involved. The infamous expedition ship set off from Cardiff in 1910, and after much hard going and perilous travel, finally reached the South Pole on January 17th 1911.
Scott’s compass, thermometer, sundial, barometer and altitude scale used on Antarctic expedition, 1910-12; Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, UK/ Bridgeman Images
Unfortunately a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen – who had been their competition – beat them to it. It was upon their return that Scott’s group of 5 explorers all died from exposure to the elements and starvation. It was not until 8 months later that the bodies were found; amongst Scott’s possessions was his journal chronicling their experiences and tragedies in grave detail.
When the sad news broke, it was met with grief and sorrow across the globe. As the British Empire gradually lost power, there was an great sense of a need for modern heroes in Britain, and King George V was amongst many who publicly expressed condolences for the individuals and failed expedition.