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Notes and Reflections on Books and Media

by Hannah Leitheiser

Book

The Journals of Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon SCOTT, Leonard HUXLEY

2016-09-05

Finished a book on Robert Scott's expedition to the South Pole. In the 1910's there was a kind of race to the pole. Scott and the British were robbed of the honor by Norwegian explorers who had made it just a month earlier.

The Norwegian had a smaller, more focused team, and I see various people trying to draw moralistic lessons about focusing on singular goals and making your own luck. Scott's group was also trying to do science along the way, and had rather bad luck at the end. The pole was left alone for about 40 years after the race, only visited again when air travel made the journey easier, so it was a rare opportunity to piggy back science on the ultimate goal of feeding national pride, much as with the moon landing some decades later.

After the disappointment at the pole, more would follow for Scott and company. Lt. Evans injured his hand, probably hit his head on the ice, and in failing health died early on the return journey. Then, surfaces made pulling the sleds hard, and in blizzard conditions, what would normally be a 15 mile per day march went down to 2 or 3. Fuel canisters were cached during the trip going out, when dogs and ponies were used to help pull equipment. The fuel was necessary to melt snow for water, but over time the canisters leaked or allowed evaporation in ways Scott had not planed for. With badly frostbitten feet, poor health, and days of blizzard, an Army captain, Oates, stepped out for a bit in self sacrifice. And finally, about 11 miles from a depot that may have saved them and not far from the end of their trip had things been better, the remainder of the returning party, exhausted, out of fuel, and succumbing to exposure, died in their sleeping bags.

Scott writes "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," and bequeathes the journals to his widow, having replaced the word wife. Their remains were found eight months later.