All pictures are from Wikipedia or The Telegraph, I do not have any copyrights on them nor do I claim too.
Throughout History, man has sought to be the first to discover, invent and find, it is something that we as humans have been fascinated with since the beginning of time and this case is no different at all, it is one of hardship, loss and abandonment that could have gone so differently for one team. One place that had alluded man for a very long time was the South Pole and The North Pole (Unless your Santa) and in the year 1911, you had two contenders racing to the South Pole, the first one there would have their names written down in the History Books forever, getting their first mattered! I mean, who wouldn’t want to be remembered forever, right?
- Roald Amundsen (Norwegian)
- Robert Falcon Scott (British)
Not only immortality was only the line but nations pride as well. To begin with, Scott had a team consisting of twelve men in three groups. The first team would start of from Cape Evans, with two motored sledges, ponies and dogs that would be for the barrier stage of the journey which would then get them to the glacier, the dogs would return at this stage and the ponies would have been shot for food. Then the three groups would climb the glacier and then a team of five would continue on to the South Pole whereas the other two would go back. His final team consisted of (Himself, Lawrence Oates, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans and Edward Wilson) leaving Britain far behind in 1910 Robert’s team headed for the continent of Antarctica, setting up base and preparations for the 1800 mile round trek to the South Pole. The British Team raced as best they could up glaciers, ice and snow but alas, they were beaten to the South Pole by at least 4 weeks by Roald’s Amundsen, Norway had beaten Britain. Now I’m not going to pretend that I wouldn’t have been disappointing if I was alive during this time (If I was able to read or write, that is) However, this isn’t the part of the story that was always be remembered in the eyes of the public, it’s what happened next that is still debated to this day, what choices Robert Scott had made prior to the journey that ultimately led to his downfall and eventual demise.
Turning back later on the same day, feeling utterly gutted that they had traveled such a vast distance, to only finish second after finding Roald’s tent set up at the South Pole, The British team made their way back in a well manner for the first three weeks, as is recorded in Robert’s diary they made good progress. However it was here that things went downhill for his team, that tends to happen in frozen conditions. Certain members would succumb to the harsh territory of the South Pole, particularly Edgar Evans who’s health deteriorated who had bad frost bite and from what is known, suffered a head injury from slips on the ice. Near the bottom of the glacier that they had climbed up before the return journey, Evans collapsed and died. Now I’m no expert on being in the South Pole but I can only imagine what seeing a man die like that would do to the others, it must have cast a shadow of doubt on them all.
This would only be the first of many deaths during this expedition. Arriving at a meeting point where they were meant to meet up with a group with dog sleds to get them back at a much faster speed, failed to arrive at the meeting point 10 days after the scheduled meet up, the team continued when they realized that no one was coming and their were no phones or computers to message anyone, it was all pre planned before the expedition. Robert would have just trusted that the dog team would have come for them which nowadays might be unthinkable since we have so many ways of contacting a person, yet here you only had someone’s word. I feel a bit for the men here as Robert began to feel that he had missed the rendezvous point, that he may have overshot but regardless, the choice to continue on was made, their was still a long way to go to the next big depot with plenty of food that would save the team, 400 miles to go in fact, imagine being told that you had 400 miles to walk in blistering cold terrain and you had frostbite and a small supply of food! their were a couple of small one food depots along the way but had a lack of what they needed, to the teams surprise. The weather during the month of March actually was getting colder and the snow felt more like desert sand which would have made pulling unbearably difficult. but frostbite amongst other issues slowed the team down dramatically. progress was agonizingly slow which may have made Lawrence Oates come to his decision that made him enter the history books, by making the ultimate sacrifice of giving up his life so the others might have a chance to live on! His hands were pretty much beyond useless now, victims of frostbite, he left the tent, despite attempts to be stopped by Robert and the team as he had asked them to leave him in his sleeping bag to freeze to death. However, he knew he would not last much longer, his feet were frozen and an old war injury made him be in extreme pain all the time.
‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ – Lawrence Oates recorded last words
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to decide to end your life so everyone else might have a chance to make it, it seems like such a brave act, one that is romantic and one of a gentleman to walk out into a blizzard and succumb to it all, fall down and await your death. for me it’s unheard off yet noble, I feel sad that the decision had to come about,a life giving itself up for others
His death did speed up the group however, it was all for naught as 11 miles south of a depot, full of supplies and warmth, the group was halted by a series of horrendous Blizzards. They were stuck and grew weaker with each passing day, all hope looked lost. The last entry of Robert’s Scott’s Diary is on the 29th of March 1912 which means that they were stuck in the middle of a blizzard for more than a week, their supplies had ran out so no food and multiple injuries caused by the cold, abandoned by the world they must have felt, just waiting for either a miracle or death but perhaps the team eventually thought that death would be the miracle.
”Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. 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.” Robert Scott’s last recorded message
The team would be finally found on the 12th of November 1912, frozen to death inside a tent, 11 miles south of the One Ton Depot, victims of the frozen pole weather where Scott’s diary was found and the events of what happened were now known however the world would not learn of the teams fate until February 1913 and Britain went into mourning over the loss of heroes. The tent was brought down on top of the bodies and a cairn of snow erected with a cross on it, in memory of the fallen explorers. As for Oates’s body, it has never been found to this day, only his sleeping bag was ever recovered. I had read somewhere that Oates could have possibly been murdered and eaten by the group to survive but I think that’s just pure nonsense, none of the group were like that although the North and South Pole’s can affect the mind as can starvation and the freezing temperatures…were the men desperate for food and ate the slowest comrade? I don’t know but I highly doubt it, I can’t see a hint of this in Robert’s diary like remorse, why would he lie if they had killed him? I guess one argument that can support this was that they did not find Oates body but how did his sleeping bag get out their then? their was a blizzard going on so I doubt one of the men went out to dump the sleeping bag somewhere to cover their tracks…the sleeping bag was a few miles away from their tent when it was found so for me that definitely rules out foul play, it was a gentleman’s noble sacrifice to help out his team, nothing more but believe what you will because unless the body is ever found, you can’t prove or disprove anything!
What was it that went wrong for the British Team, why did they all die when everything was so well planned out? Well, to put it simply…it wasn’t well planned out. The Norwegians were more prepared for the harsh terrains than the British were.
However let’s have a quick look at how both men were preparing for such a journey, what tools would they use to combat the freezing temperatures of the South Pole?
- Well trained dogs used to the conditions and were much quicker at pulling than humans or ponies would have been, also Amundsen was more experienced with this kind of expedition, he had all of the advantages here.
- Now this one might not sound as clever as Roald’s strategy as Robert didn’t use dog sleds as a main transport system, rather he used ponies that were not well suited to the terrain as well as manpower, I think only two out of eight survived the ordeal. Woolly Jumpers and caps, sleds that stuck to the ice and not a great food supply, although many depots were prepared by other teams that had gone ahead.
Not only this but both teams had different goals in all of this, which may have been the main reason as to why one team made it through with little to no issues and the other perished and that reason is as follows.
Robert’s expedition team was on a scientific expedition whereas Roald’s was not, now let me explain why their goals ultimately led to Robert’s demise and Roald’s success. Their is a reason why at the meeting point, Robert’s dog team never met him their. It is said that back at Cape Evans, a man called Atkinson was in command and he was due to travel to the meeting point but this did not happen, and it’s all down to him returning earlier on at the end of January and discovering that some requested dog food rations had not being delivered to the one ton depot as per Scott’s instructions which were as follows
About the first week of February I should like you to start your third journey to the South, the object being to hasten the return of the third Southern unit and give it a chance to catch the ship. The date of your departure must depend on news received from returning units, the extent of the depot of dog food you have been able to leave at One Ton Camp, the state of the dogs, etc. . ..It looks at present as though you should aim at meeting the returning party about March 1 in Latitude 82 or 82.30- Robert Scott
Atkinson did set off, even though his main priority was to look after Evans and make sure the ship, The Terra Nova was stocked up, however came across a man from one of the teams out on the barrier Teddy Evans who had scurvy and this is likely one of the main reasons that Atkinson abandoned his orders and did not proceed to the meeting point, perhaps he thought the team was doomed and he would only end up dying if he went out to the meeting point and no one ever turned up, after all this was only one of the first times that a team had ever attempted to do something like this and the weather was beyond unbearable! thinking that the team may have frozen to death due to lack of rations would not have been surprising so that may have stopped him and that’s perhaps why he returned to Cape Evans to attend to Teddy Evans, he may have also assumed that the others had perished or were close to.
Instead, he sent a short sighted man called Cherry-Garrard to find Scott and his team and he set off to the One Ton Depot, only to discover that Scott was not there. This was a few days after the arranged meet up so Atkinson may have assumed that Scott would have kept on going to the Depot if no one had turned up but this was not the case but why did Cherry not carry on south to look for Robert’s team, did he think it was too risky? Well the truth was that he was not the greatest person for the job, it was a mistake to ask him as he decided that the dogs he had taken were not worth the risk, even though they were to be Scott’s only realistic chance of getting back alive. Atkinson had told Cherry to not risk the dogs so any hope of travelling South wouldn’t have been an option for Cherry. He waited for 6 days for Scott to arrive but that did not happen so he reluctantly returned back to Atkinson, it must have been a very tough decision for him to make to possibly abandon comrades but he was just following orders . The team up at the meeting point waited, wondering why no one was coming for them, did they ever think they had been left for dead? after all the main goal of the British Expedition was Scientific.
Roald’s goal was to reach the South Pole, just that.
So to conclude this blog, one team had the proper equipment and only had one goal, to get to the South Pole first and they achieved this goal and the other, wanted to study and learn, priorities were different and it led to only one team returning alive whereas the other perished due to disobedience and putting science ahead of life. It’s easy to think that Robert Falcon Scott was not a good leader but remember, if his orders had been followed through, he may have still come 2nd in the race but he may have also lived to tell the tale.
Mysteries in tales like this are always fascinating as it leaves you scratching your head asking, how and why? How Did Oates Die? Would have the British Team lived if the orders were followed by the others? Was Robert Falcon Scott a bumbling leader or was he just let down by others?
Have a watch of a documentary about the Expedition, if you have time and learn something new about two teams, one race, one conclusion.
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See you all next time for more Mysterious Happenings, murders and disappearances