During peacetime, ambitious officers would pursue almost any mission — no matter how dangerous — to advance in rank. One could presume that British Naval officer Robert Falcon Scott’s mission to the South Pole in the early 1900s could be classified under recognition-seeking endeavors, but there is no discounting the fact they were some of the most heroic adventures man has ever attempted.
A century ago Scott led the Terra Nova expedition, his second such attempt to be the first man to set foot on the geographical South Pole, but he was thwarted by rival Norwegian Roald Amundsen who literally made it five weeks ahead of Scott. Ultimately, Robert Falcon Scott – along with the rest of his polar party — perished on March 29th, 1912, nearly a hundred years ago to the day. These expeditions to the South Pole and the ones that followed have since become known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which was likely a time much more punishing than it sounds.
With the centennial of Scott’s journey upon us, Esquire’s Nick Sullivan recently extolled the virtues of Scott and his Royal Navy officer’s uniform, the inspiration for the iconic American Navy Blazer. The jacket, which was originally called “Reefer No. 5” was made by tailor Gieves & Hawkes, who supplied the Royal Navy with nearly all of their uniforms during that period. Interestingly enough the Savile Row maker still produces the classic jacket today, should you want a modern original.
The story of Robert Falcon Scott is one of great interest to me — not only because he wore classic clothing that is still used 100 years later — but because of the detailed journal that he kept throughout the Terra Nova expedition. It’s a gripping account of a the doomed expedition, some excerpts below:
Wednesday, January 17, 1912.
Camp 69. T. -22°F at start. Night -21°F. The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected….
We started at 7:30, none of us having slept much after the shock of our discovery….; the wind is blowing hard, T. -21°F, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time…. Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend tomorrow. We have had a fat Polar hoosh [food in liquid form, typically made of lard, oatmeal, beef protein, vegetable protein, salt, and sugar] in spite of our chagrin, and feel comfortable inside—added a small stick of chocolate and the queer taste of a cigarette brought by Wilson. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.
Sunday, February 4, 1912.
R.18. 8620 feet. Temp. Lunch -22°F; Supper -23°F….
Just before lunch unexpectedly fell into crevasses, Evans and I together—a second fall for Evans, and I camped…. Half way in the march the land showed up splendidly, and I decided to make straight for Mt. Darwin, which we are rounding. Every sign points to getting away off this plateau.
Thursday, March 29, 1912. . . .
Every day we have been ready to start for our depot eleven miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. 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.
Last entry. For God’s sake look after our People.
Interestingly enough the drama and desperation of Scott’s last days has been playing out in a very modern way, via journal entries as updates via Twitter. Or you can read the journal in its entirety. Sadly, the outcome is the same.