Robert Falcon Scott’s Journey to the South Pole

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.

Robert Falcon Scott

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.

Robert Falcon Scott
Robert Falcon Scott

Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates

Comments on “Robert Falcon Scott’s Journey to the South Pole

    caleb on March 26, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Inspired by this. I should keep a journal. Although I need to take more interesting adventures to reflect back on. ahhhh I see…its all making more sense now.

    regsf on March 26, 2012 6:34 PM:

    My father was a US Navy pilot that was stationed at McMurdo Sound in Antartica in the early sixties. They took time to visit the site of Robert Scott’s last camp. Thanks.

    Tommy_C on March 26, 2012 7:54 PM:

    Oates was injured and slowing the others down. He sacrificed himself by walking out of the tent into a blizzard. His last words: “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

    Tim on March 26, 2012 9:45 PM:

    Amazing, inspiring post. Great people from great times.

    Lisa on March 27, 2012 5:01 PM:

    I saw a programme on this recently too, most inspiring and incredible the camp is still intact. Like a moment in history was frozen – amazing.

    Makaga on March 27, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Great entry! Thanks, Michael!

    Bebe on March 27, 2012 6:23 PM:

    A good jacket from Gieves & Hawkes is certainly a reason to celebrate, though I feel the eight buttons of the new jacket is a bit much. The photos show some great anoraks and sweaters. In the dining table picture, I particularly like the overcoat with the two-buttoned collar on the man at the second right place.

    Sartorial splendor aside, I would not speak of Scott’s South Pole trip as “some of the most heroic adventures man has ever attempted….” Since I’m American, and not British, I don’t see his travails as laudatory and gallant. Americans keep their finer derision for those whose inability to surmount their personal flaws cause their own demise. One name says it all: George Armstrong Custer. We do not admire the nobility of failure (the foolish attempt under Pres. Carter to rescue the Iranian hostages in 1980). If Scott were motivated to reverse his family’s unfortunate financial situation through a scientific expedition and a subsequent book-and-lecture series, he would have been an admirable man. Yet his stated aim was to trek for the imperial benefit of all Britons. His adventurous try was a last gasp of the European conquest mentality that vaingloriously explores and exploits the world. I shudder to think Americans today might admire anything like that.

    David Himel on March 28, 2012 1:14 PM:

    Boy Bebe you sure are a cynic…have you got any hero’s in your life?

    jiheison on March 28, 2012 4:51 PM:

    So, who was Roald Amundsen wearing?

    Forelyse on March 28, 2012 5:26 PM:

    So bad ass, These guys don’t even look cold!

    Patrick on March 29, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Nice photo spread

    John on March 29, 2012 7:14 PM:

    It’s all great gear–well made, good looking, etc.–and surely it’s suitable for almost all temps on the other six continents. Gotta be the smart ass to point it out though…Amundsen (who was certainly more prepared for the conditions) wore skins that he found suitable, while Scott’s men routinely complained of the cold. Thanks for the heads up on the journal entries…both expeditions are certainly worth reading about.

    Noble County Gold on March 30, 2012 7:59 AM:

    Have been following the Twitter entries for the past few months, they are great. Sadly, if I kept a journal, it would not be this badass.

    Andrea on March 30, 2012 10:16 PM:

    Amundsen describes his embarrassment at seeing his sea boots displayed in the window of the shop where he’d had them made to order. Apparently, he was mortified at how large the boots were.

    Adam in Texas on March 31, 2012 10:21 AM:

    Great post – amazing adventure and they did it in such style. Some photos of Scott’s hut as it stands today: [news_nationalgeographic_com]
    Thanks for sharing!

    oscar udeshi on April 1, 2012 4:04 PM:

    Saw the exhibition this morning. If this is your sort of thing, you will love it.

    oscar udeshi on April 1, 2012 4:06 PM:

    sorry there is an exhibition at Buckingham Palace running until the 15th of this month.

    Rhon on April 9, 2012 8:15 PM:

    Really cool trip. Thanks for highlighting.

Comments are closed.