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Robert Falcon Scott
Man with receding hairline, looking left, wearing naval uniform with medals, polished buttons and heavy shoulder decorations
Born 6 June 1868(1868-06-06)
Plymouth, England
Died 29 March 1912 (aged 43)
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Education Naval cadet programme, HMS Britannia
Occupation Royal Navy officer and Antarctic explorer
Spouse(s) Kathleen Bruce
Children Peter Markham Scott, later Sir Peter Scott
Parents John Edward and Hannah Scott

Robert Falcon Scott CVO (6 June 1868 – 29 March 1912) was an English Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, hunger and extreme cold.

Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the conventional career of a naval officer in peacetime Victorian Britain, where opportunities for career advancement were both limited and keenly sought after by ambitious officers. It was the chance for personal distinction that led Scott to apply for the Discovery command, rather than any predilection for polar exploration.[1] However, having taken this step, his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed during the final twelve years of his life.

Following the news of his death, Scott became an iconic British hero, a status maintained for more than 50 years and reflected by the many permanent memorials erected across the nation. In the closing decades of the twentieth century, however, in a more sceptical age, the legend was reassessed as attention focussed on the causes of the disaster and the extent of Scott's personal culpability. From a previously unassailable position, Scott became a figure of controversy, with questions raised about his competence and character. Twenty-first century commentators have on the whole regarded Scott more positively, emphasising his personal bravery and stoicism while acknowledging his errors, but ascribing his expedition's fate primarily to misfortune.


Early life


Family background

Scott was born on 6 June 1868, the third child of five and elder son of [John Edward] and Hannah (née Cuming) Scott of Stoke Damerel, near Devonport, Devon. Although his father was a brewer and magistrate, there were naval and military traditions in the family, Scott's grandfather and four uncles all having served in the army or navy.[2] John Scott's prosperity came from the ownership of a small brewery in Plymouth, inherited from his father, Robert, which he subsequently sold.[3] In later years, when Scott was establishing his naval career, the family would suffer serious financial misfortune, but his early childhood years were spent in comfort.

In accordance with the family's tradition, the two boys, Robert and Archibald, were predestined for careers in the armed services. Robert was educated first in the nursery at home, then for four years at a local day school before being sent to Stubbington House School, Hampshire, a cramming establishment preparing candidates for the entrance examinations to the naval training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth. Having passed these exams Scott, aged 13, began his naval career in 1881, as a cadet.[4]

Early naval career

 Rear view of large wooden ship, tall-masted and in full sail. Smaller vessels are in attendance.
The first of the two HMS Britannias which served as naval training ships between 1859 and 1909. Scott trained on the second, which came into service in 1869.

In July 1883, Scott passed out of Britannia as a midshipman, seventh overall in a class of 26.[5] By October, he was en route to South Africa to join HMS Boadicea, the flagship of the Cape squadron, the first of several ships on which he served during his midshipman years. While stationed in St Kitts, West Indies, on HMS Rover, he had his first encounter with Clements Markham, then Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), who would loom large in Scott's later career. On this occasion, 1 March 1887, Markham observed Midshipman Scott's cutter winning that morning's race across the bay. Markham's habit was to "collect" likely young naval officers with a view to their undertaking polar exploration work in the future. He was impressed by Scott's intelligence, enthusiasm and charm, and the 18-year-old midshipman was duly noted.[6]

Later that year, Scott attended the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and in March 1888 passed his examinations for Sub-Lieutenant, with four First Class certificates out of five.[7] His career progressed smoothly, with service on various ships and promotion to Lieutenant in 1889. In 1891, after a long spell in foreign waters, he applied for the two-year torpedo training course on HMS Vernon, an important career step. He graduated with First Class certificates in both the theory and practical examinations. A small blot occurred in the summer of 1893 when, while commanding a torpedo boat, Scott managed to run it aground, which earned him a mild rebuke.[8]

During the research for his dual biography of Scott and Roald Amundsen,[9] Roland Huntford got wind of a possible scandal in Scott's early naval career, but was unable to pin it down. He focuses on the period 1889–90 when Scott was a lieutenant on HMS Amphion. According to him, Scott "disappears from naval records" for eight months, from mid-August 1889 until 24 March 1890. Huntford hints at involvement with a married American woman, of cover-up, and protection from senior officers. David Crane reduces the missing period to eleven weeks, but is unable to throw much more light other than scorning the notion of protection by senior officers, on the grounds that Scott was not important or well-connected enough to warrant this. Documents that may have offered explanations are missing from Admiralty records.[10]

In 1894, while serving as Torpedo Officer on the depot ship HMS Vulcan, Scott learned of the financial calamity that had overtaken his family. John Scott, having sold the brewery and invested the proceeds unwisely, had lost all his capital and was now virtually bankrupt.[11] At the age of 63, and in poor health, he was forced to take a job as a brewery manager and move his family to Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Just three years later, while son Robert was serving as torpedo lieutenant aboard the Channel squadron flagship HMS Majestic, John Scott died of heart disease, creating a fresh family crisis.[11] The family – mother and two unmarried daughters – now relied entirely on the service pay of Scott and the salary of younger brother Archie, who had left the army for a post in the colonial service in order to increase his income. Archie's own death in the autumn of 1898, after contracting typhoid fever, thrust the whole financial responsibility for the family onto Scott.[11]

An ambitious officer, Scott now had an additional heavy responsibility. Promotion, and the extra income this would bring, became a matter of considerable concern.[12] Early in June 1899, while home on leave, he had a chance encounter in a London street with Markham (now Sir Clements and RGS President), and learned for the first time of a impending Antarctic expedition. It was an opportunity for early command and a chance to distinguish himself. What passed between them on this occasion is not recorded, but a few days later, on 11 June, Scott appeared at the Markham residence and volunteered to lead the expedition.[6]

Discovery Expedition 1901-1904

 Partial view of a ship moored to a quayside. Prominent visible features are a mast with three crossbeams, two smaller masts, a funnel, a lifeboat and rigging. Packing cases are lined up on the quay, and a gangplank with "RRS Discovery" on it leads to the ship.
Discovery in 2005 at its home port of Dundee

The British National Antarctic Expedition, later known as the Discovery Expedition, was a joint enterprise of the RGS and the Royal Society. It represented a long-cherished dream of Markham's, and it required the deployment of all of his considerable skills and cunning to bring it to fruition under naval command and largely staffed by naval personnel. Scott may not have been Markham's first choice as leader but, having decided on him, the older man's support remained constant.[13] There were committee battles over the scope of Scott's responsibilities, with the Royal Society pressing to put a scientist in charge of the expedition's programme while Scott merely commanded the ship. Eventually, however, Markham's view prevailed;[14] Scott was given overall command, and was promoted to the rank of Commander[15] before Discovery sailed for the Antarctic on 31 July 1901.

Despite an almost total lack of Antarctic or Arctic experience within the 50-strong party, there was very little special training in equipment or techniques before the ship set sail.[16] Dogs were taken, as were skis, but hardly anyone knew how to use them. Professionalism was considered less praiseworthy, in Markham's view, than "unforced aptitude",[17] and possibly Scott was influenced by Markham's belief. In the first of the two full years which Discovery spent in the ice, this insouciance was severely tested, as the expedition struggled to meet the challenges of the unfamiliar terrain. An ill-prepared party's attempt to travel to Cape Crozier resulted in the death of one of its members, George Vince on 4 February 1902.[18] The expedition was not merely a quest for the South Pole, although a long march south was a major objective. This march, undertaken by Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, was a physical ordeal which took them to a latitude of 82°17'S, about 460 nautical miles (850 km; 530 mi) from the pole, followed by a harrowing journey home which brought about Shackleton's physical collapse.[19]

 Wooden structure with door and two small windows. To the left is an open lean-to. In the background are partly snow-covered mountains.
The Discovery hut at Hut Point

The second year showed improvements in technique and achievement, culminating in Scott's western journey which led to the discovery of the Polar Plateau. This has been described by one writer as "one of the great polar journeys".[20] The scientific results of the expedition included important biological, zoological and geological findings.[21] Some of the meteorological and magnetic readings, however, were later criticised as amateurish and inaccurate.[22]

At the end of the expedition it took the combined efforts of two relief ships and the use of explosives to free Discovery from the ice.[23] Afterwards, Scott remained unconvinced that dogs and ski were the keys to efficient ice travel, and in the following years continued to express the British preference for man-hauling (the practice of propelling sledges by manpower, unassisted by animals),[24] a view he maintained until very late in his Antarctic career. His insistence on Royal Navy formalities had made for uneasy relations with the merchant navy members of the expedition, many of whom departed with the first relief ship in March 1903. Second-in-command Albert Armitage, a merchant officer, was also offered the chance to go home on compassionate grounds, but chose to interpret the offer as a personal slight, and refused.[25] The claim that it was personal animosity on Scott's part, rather than Shackleton's physical breakdown, that resulted in the latter being sent home on the supply ship in January 1903, was an idea promoted by Armitage.[26] Although there would be later tensions between Scott and Shackleton when their polar ambitions clashed, mutual civilities were usually preserved.[27] Scott joined in the official receptions that greeted Shackleton on his return in 1909 after the Nimrod Expedition,[28] and the two were exchanging polite letters about their respective ambitions in 1909–10.[29]

Between expeditions

Popular hero

Discovery returned to Britain in September 1904. The expedition had caught the public imagination, and Scott became a popular hero, awarded with a cluster of honours and medals (including the Officer of the Legion of Honour), promoted to the rank of Captain,[30] and invited to Balmoral for investiture by King Edward VII as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).[31]

Scott's next few years were crowded. For more than a year he was occupied with post-expedition duties – public receptions, lectures and the writing of the expedition record The Voyage of the Discovery. In January 1906, he resumed his full-time naval career, first as assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the Admiralty and, in August, as Flag-Captain to Rear-Admiral Sir George Egerton on HMS Victorious.[32] He was now moving in ever more exalted social circles – a telegram to Markham in February 1907 refers to meetings with the Queen and Crown Prince of Portugal, and a later letter home reports lunch with the Commander-in-Chief and Prince Heinrich of Prussia.[33]

Dispute with Shackleton

By early 1906, Scott had sounded out the RGS about the possible funding of a future Antarctic expedition.[34] It was therefore unwelcome news to him that Ernest Shackleton had announced his own plans to travel to Discovery's old McMurdo Sound base and launch a bid for the South Pole from there.[35] Scott claimed, in the first of a series of letters to Shackleton, that the area around McMurdo was his own "field of work" to which he had prior rights until he chose to give them up, and that Shackleton should therefore work from an entirely different area.[36] In this, he was strongly supported by Discovery's former zoologist, Edward Wilson, who asserted that Scott's rights extended to the entire Ross Sea sector.[37] This Shackleton refused to concede. Finally, to end the impasse, Shackleton agreed, in a letter to Scott dated 17 May 1907, to work to the east of the 170°W meridian and therefore to avoid all the familiar Discovery ground.[36] It was a promise that, in the event, he was unable to keep after his search for alternative landing grounds proved fruitless. He based his expedition at Cape Royds in McMurdo Sound, and this breach of agreement caused a profound shift in the Scott-Shackleton relationship.[38] Historian Beau Riffenburgh states that the promise to Scott "should never ethically have been demanded", and compares Scott's intransigence on this matter unfavourably with the generous attitudes of the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who gave freely of his advice and expertise to all, whether they were potential rivals or not.[39]


 Woman seated on left, wearing hat and long dress, hands in lap, unsmiling but serene expression. Man standing right, receding hair and dark suit, unsmiling.
Kathleen and Robert Scott, circa 1908

Scott, who because of his Discovery fame had entered Edwardian society, first met Kathleen Bruce early in 1907, at a private luncheon party.[40] She was a sculptor, socialite and cosmopolitan who had studied under Auguste Rodin[41] and whose circle included Isadora Duncan, Picasso and Aleister Crowley.[42] Her initial meeting with Scott was brief, but when they met again later that year, the mutual attraction was obvious. A stormy courtship followed; Scott was not her only suitor – his main rival was would-be novelist Gilbert Cannan – and his absences at sea did not assist his cause.[43] However, Scott's persistence was rewarded and, on 2 September 1908, at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, the wedding took place.[44] Their only child, Peter Markham Scott, was born on 14 September 1909.[45]

By this time, Scott had announced his plans for his second Antarctic expedition. Shackleton had returned, having narrowly failed to reach the Pole, and this gave Scott the impetus to proceed.[46] On 24 March 1909, he had taken the Admiralty-based appointment of Naval Assistant to the Second Sea Lord which placed him handily in London. In December, he was released on half-pay, to take up the full-time command of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910, to be known as the Terra Nova Expedition from its ship, Terra Nova.[47]

Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913

 Map of a segment of Antarctica, identifying the polar marches of Scott and Amundsen. The track of Scott's journey shows the approximate locations of the deaths of the members of his polar party.
The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.


It was the expressed hope of the RGS that this expedition would be "scientific primarily, with exploration and the Pole as secondary objects"[48] but, unlike the Discovery Expedition, neither they nor the Royal Society were in charge this time. In his expedition prospectus, Scott stated that its main objective was "to reach the South Pole, and to secure for the British Empire the honour of this achievement".[48] Scott had, as Markham observed, been "bitten by the Pole mania".[48]

Scott did not know that he would be in a race until he received Amundsen's telegram in Melbourne, in October 1910.[49] Before this, he had set about fashioning the expedition according to his own preferences, without the restraints of a joint committee. So far as transport was concerned, he decided that dogs would be one element in a complex strategy that also involved horses and motor sledges, and much man-hauling. Scott knew nothing of horses, but felt that as they had seemingly served Shackleton well, he ought to use them.[50] Dog expert Cecil Meares was going to Siberia to select the dogs, and Scott ordered that, while he was there, he should deal with the purchase of Manchurian ponies. Meares was not an experienced horse-dealer, and the ponies he chose proved mostly of poor quality, and ill-suited to prolonged Antarctic work.[29] Meanwhile, Scott spent time in France and Norway, testing motor-sledges, and recruited Bernard Day, from Shackleton's expedition, as his motor expert.[51]

First season

 Man sitting cross-legged at table, pipe in hand, apparently writing. Much clutter of clothing, books and equipment is in the background.
Scott, writing his journal in the Cape Evans hut, winter 1911

The expedition itself suffered a series of early misfortunes, which hampered the first season's work and impaired preparations for the main polar march. On its journey from New Zealand to the Antarctic, Terra Nova was trapped in pack ice for 20 days,[52] far longer than other ships had experienced, which meant a late-season arrival and less time for preparatory work before the Antarctic winter. One of the motor sledges was lost during its unloading from the ship, disappearing through the sea ice.[53] Deteriorating weather conditions and weak, unacclimatised ponies affected the initial depot-laying journey, so that the expedition's main supply point, One Ton Depot, was laid 35 miles (56 km) north of its planned location at 80°S. Laurence Oates, in charge of the ponies, advised Scott to kill ponies for food and advance the depot to 80°S, which Scott refused to do. Oates is reported as saying to Scott, "Sir, I’m afraid you’ll come to regret not taking my advice."[54] Six ponies died during this journey. On its return to base, the expedition learned of the presence of Amundsen, camped with his crew and a large contingent of dogs in the Bay of Whales, 200 miles (320 km) to their east.[55]

Scott refused to amend his schedule to deal with the Amundsen threat, writing, "The proper, as well as the wiser course, is for us to proceed exactly as though this had not happened".[56] While acknowledging that the Norwegian's base was closer to the pole and that his experience as a dog driver was formidable, Scott had the advantage of travelling over a known route, that pioneered by Shackleton. During the 1911 winter, his confidence increased; after the return of the Cape Crozier party from their winter journey in July–August, he wrote, "I feel sure we are as near perfection as experience can direct".[57]

Journey to the Pole

The march south began on 1 November 1911, a caravan of mixed transport groups (motors, dogs, horses), with loaded sledges, travelling at different rates, all designed to support a final group of four men who would make a dash for the Pole. Scott had earlier outlined his plans for the southern journey to the entire shore party,[58] without being specific about precise roles – no one knew who would form the final polar team. During the journey, Scott sent a series of conflicting orders back to base concerning the future use of the expedition's dogs, leaving it unclear whether they were to be saved for future scientific journeys or were to assist the polar party home.[59] Scott's subordinates back at base were unsure of Scott's intentions, and consequently failed to use the dogs in a concerted attempt to relieve the returning polar party when the need arose.[60]

The southbound party steadily reduced in size as successive support teams turned back. By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87°34'S.[61] Scott announced his decision: five men (Scott, Edward Wilson, H. R. Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) would go forward, the other three (Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean) would return. The chosen group marched on, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Amundsen had preceded them by five weeks. Scott's anguish is indicated in his diary: "The worst has happened"; "All the day dreams must go"; "Great God! This is an awful place".[62]

Last march

Five men(three standing, two sitting on the icy ground) in heavy polar clothing. All look exhausted and unhappy. The standing men are carrying flagstaffs and a Union flag flies from a mast in the background. Scott's party at the South Pole. Left to right: Wilson; Bowers; Evans; Scott; Oates
Scott's group took this photograph of themselves using a string to operate the shutter on 17 January 1912, the day after they discovered Amundsen had reached the pole first.

The deflated party began the 800-mile (1,300 km) return journey on 19 January. "I'm afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous", wrote Scott on the next day.[63] However, the party made good progress despite poor weather, and had completed the Polar Plateau stage of their journey, approximately 300 miles (500 km), by 7 February. In the following days, as the party made the 100-mile (160 km) descent of the Beardmore Glacier, the physical condition of Edgar Evans, which Scott had noted with concern as early as 23 January, declined sharply.[64] A fall on 4 February had left Evans "dull and incapable",[65] and on 17 February, after a further fall, he died near the glacier foot.[66]

With 400 miles (670 km) still to travel across the Ross Ice Shelf, the party's prospects steadily worsened as, with deteriorating weather, frostbite, snow blindness, hunger and exhaustion, they struggled northward.[67] On 16 March, Oates, whose condition was aggravated by an old war-wound to the extent that he was barely able to walk,[68] voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death.[69] Scott wrote that Oates' last words were, "I am just going outside and may be some time."[70]

After walking a further 20 miles, the three remaining men made their final camp on 19 March, 11 miles (18 km) short of One Ton Depot, but 24 miles (38 km) beyond the original intended location of the depot. The next day a fierce blizzard prevented their making any progress.[71] During the next nine days, as their supplies ran out, with frozen fingers, little light, and storms still raging outside the tent, Scott wrote his final words, although he gave up his diary after 23 March, save for a final entry on 29 March, with its concluding words: "Last entry. For God's sake look after our people".[72] He left letters to Wilson's mother, Bowers' mother, a string of notables including his former commander Sir George Egerton, his own mother and his wife.[73] He also wrote his "Message To The Public", primarily a defence of the expedition's organisation and conduct in which the party's failure is adduced to weather and other misfortunes, but ending on an inspirational note, with these words:

We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last [...] Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.[74]

Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, possibly a day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent, when it was discovered eight months later, suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die.[75]



 Flat-topped hill with snow on lower slopes and sea in the foreground, and a solitary bird in flight
Observation Hill, McMurdo Sound, site of the Terra Nova memorial cross

The bodies of Scott and his companions were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912 and their records retrieved. Their final camp became their tomb; a high cairn of snow was erected over it, topped by a roughly fashioned cross.[76] In January 1913, before Terra Nova left for home, a large wooden cross was made by the ship's carpenters, inscribed with the names of the lost party and Tennyson's line from his poem Ulysses: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield", and was erected on Observation Hill overlooking Hut Point.[77]

The world was informed of the tragedy when Terra Nova reached Oamaru, New Zealand, on 10 February 1913.[78] Within days, Scott became a national icon.[79] A fierce nationalistic spirit was aroused; the London Evening News called for the story to be read to schoolchildren throughout the land,[80] to coincide with the memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral on 14 February. Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts Association, asked: "Are Britons going downhill? No!...There is plenty of pluck and spirit left in the British after all. Captain Scott and Captain Oates have shown us that".[81] Eleven-year-old Mary Steel wrote a poem which ended:

Though naught but a simple cross
Now marks those heroes’ grave,
Their names will live forever!
Oh England, Land of the Brave![82]

The survivors of the expedition were suitably honoured on their return, with polar medals and promotions for the naval personnel. In place of the knighthood that might have been her husband's had he survived, Kathleen Scott was granted the rank and precedence of a widow of a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.[83][84] In 1922, she married Edward Hilton Young, later Lord Kennet (she becoming Lady Kennet), and remained a doughty defender of Scott's reputation until her death, aged 69, in 1947.[85]

Gilt-framed portrait of a uniformed man wearing many decorations and medals. This image is enclosed in a wreath, with small-scale illustrations of tents, sledges and ships around it. To the left of the picture a sword is hanging, and medals with ribbons are shown on the right.
Scott's sword, hat and medals are displayed in the Christchurch Museum

Amundsen was lecturing in the United States in 1913. An article in The Times, reporting on the glowing tributes paid to Scott in the New York press, claimed that both Amundsen and Shackleton were "[amazed] to hear that such a disaster could overtake a well-organized expedition".[86] On learning the details of Scott's death, Amundsen is reported as saying, "I would gladly forgo any honour or money if thereby I could have saved Scott his terrible death".[87] Scott was much the better wordsmith of the two, and the story that spread throughout the world was largely that told by him, with Amundsen's victory reduced in the eyes of many to an unsporting stratagem.[88] Even before Scott's death was known, Amundsen had been offended by what he felt was a "sneering toast"' from RGS President Lord Curzon, at a meeting held supposedly to honour the polar victor. Curzon had called for "three cheers for the dogs". According to Huntford's account, this slight caused Amundsen to resign his honorary RGS fellowship.[89][90]

The response to Scott's final plea on behalf of the dependents of the dead was enormous by the standards of the day. The Mansion House Scott Memorial Fund closed at £75,000 (2008 approximation £3.5 million). This was not equally distributed; Scott's widow, son, mother and sisters received a total of £18,000. Wilson's widow got £8,500 and Bowers's mother £4,500. Edgar Evans's widow, children and mother received £1,500 between them.[91]

In the dozen years following the disaster, more than 30 monuments and memorials were set up in Britain alone. These ranged from simple relics (Scott's sledging flag in Exeter Cathedral) to the foundation of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge. Many more were established in other parts of the world.[92] The US scientific base at the South Pole, founded in 1957, is called the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, to honour the memories of both polar conquerors.

Modern reaction

Scott's reputation survived the period after World War II, beyond the 50th anniversary of the disaster in 1962.[93] A few years after that, Reginald Pound, the first biographer given access to Scott's original sledging journal, revealed personal failings which cast a new light on Scott,[93] although Pound continued to endorse his heroism, writing of "a splendid sanity that would not be subdued".[94] Within the following decade, further books appeared, each of which to some degree challenged the prevailing public perception. The most critical of these was David Thomson's Scott's Men (1977); in Thomson's view, Scott was not a great man, "at least, not until near the end";[95] his planning is described as "haphazard" and "flawed",[96] his leadership characterized by lack of foresight.[97] Thus by the late 1970s, in Jones's words, "Scott's complex personality had been revealed and his methods questioned."[93]

Three figures are depicted in coloured glass, standing by a cairn of snow topped by a large cross. The scene is framed by a decorative arch.
Memorial window in Binton Church, Warwickshire, one of four panels. This one depicts the cairn erected over the site of Scott's last tent.

Scott was undoubtedly capable of commanding great personal loyalty. Some were prepared to follow him anywhere and did so.[98] "He wouldn’t ask you to do anything he wasn’t prepared to do himself", said Terra Nova stoker William Burton. Tom Crean, the Irishman who accompanied Scott on both the Discovery and Terra Nova Expeditions, was more effusive: "I loved every hair of his head".[99] But his relations with others, including Ernest Shackleton, Lawrence Oates, and his expedition seconds-in-command, were less easy.[100] Despite his considerable exploration experience, something of the resourceful amateur remained with him until the end. For example, his reluctance to rely on dogs, despite the advice of expert ice travellers such as Nansen, has been cited as a critical factor that lost him the race to the pole and, ultimately, the lives of all his party.[101]

In 1979 came the most sustained attack on Scott, from Roland Huntford's dual biography Scott and Amundsen in which Scott is depicted as a "heroic bungler".[102] Huntford's thesis had an immediate impact, becoming the new orthodoxy.[103] Even Scott's heroism in the face of death is challenged; Huntford sees Scott's Message to the Public as a deceitful self-justification from a man who had led his comrades to their deaths.[93] After Huntford's book, debunking Captain Scott became commonplace; Francis Spufford, in a 1996 history not wholly antagonistic to Scott, refers to "devastating evidence of bungling",[104] concluding that "Scott doomed his companions, then covered his tracks with rhetoric".[105] Travel writer Paul Theroux summarised Scott as "confused and demoralised ... an enigma to his men, unprepared and a bungler".[106] This decline in Scott's reputation was accompanied by a corresponding rise in that of his erstwhile rival Shackleton, at first in the United States but eventually in Britain as well.[107] A 2002 nationwide poll in the United Kingdom to discover the "100 Greatest Britons" showed Shackleton in eleventh place, Scott well down the list at 54th.[107]

However, the early years of the 21st century have seen a shift of opinion in Scott's favour, in what cultural historian Stephanie Barczewski calls "a revision of the revisionist view."[108] Meteorologist Susan Solomon's 2001 account The Coldest March ties the fate of Scott's party to the extraordinarily adverse Barrier weather conditions of February and March 1912 rather than to personal or organizational failings, although Solomon accepts the validity of some of the criticisms of Scott.[109] In 2004 polar explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes published a biography which was a strong defence of Scott and an equally forthright rebuttal of Huntford; the book is dedicated "To the Families of the Defamed Dead".[108][110] Fiennes was later criticised for the personal nature of his attacks on Huntford, and for his apparent assumption that his own experiences as a polar explorer gave him unique authority.[111]

In 2005, David Crane published a new Scott biography which, according to Barczewski, goes some way towards an assessment of Scott "free from the baggage of earlier interpretations."[108] What has happened to Scott's reputation, Crane argues, derives from the way the world has changed since the heroic myth was formed: "It is not that we see him differently from the way they [his contemporaries] did, but that we see him the same, and instinctively do not like it."[112] Crane's main achievement, according to Barczewski, is the restoration of Scott's humanity, "far more effectively than either Fiennes's stridency or Solomon's scientific data."[108] Daily Telegraph columnist Jasper Rees, likening the changes in explorers' reputations to climatic variations, suggests that "in the current Antarctic weather report, Scott is enjoying his first spell in the sun for twenty-five years."[113]

List of honours

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Crane, p. 84
  2. ^ Crane, p. 14–15
  3. ^ Crane, p. 22
  4. ^ Fiennes, p. 17
  5. ^ Crane, p. 23
  6. ^ a b Crane, p. 82
  7. ^ Crane, p. 34
  8. ^ Crane, p.50
  9. ^ Scott and Amundsen, later republished as The Last Place On Earth. See Sources section.
  10. ^ Huntford, pp. 121–23, and Crane, footnote pp. 39–40
  11. ^ a b c Fiennes, p. 21
  12. ^ Crane, p. 59
  13. ^ Crane, p. 90
  14. ^ Preston. pp. 28-29
  15. ^ Crane, p. 63
  16. ^ Scott, Voyage of the Discovery Vol I p. 170: "Our ignorance was deplorable"
  17. ^ Huntford, Shackleton biography, p. 134
  18. ^ Crane, pp. 161–167
  19. ^ Preston, p. 60–67
  20. ^ Crane, p. 270
  21. ^ Fiennes, p. 148
  22. ^ Huntford, pp. 229–30, Crane, pp. 392–93
  23. ^ Preston, pp. 78–79
  24. ^ Jones, p. 71, quoting from The Voyage of the Discovery
  25. ^ Preston, pp. 67–68
  26. ^ See Crane, pp. 240–41.
  27. ^ Crane, p. 310
  28. ^ Crane, p. 396–97)
  29. ^ a b Preston, p. 113
  30. ^ According to Scott's Navy record facsimile included in the Crane biography, Scott was promoted Captain on 10 September 1904, the day of his return England.
  31. ^ Preston, pp. 83–84
  32. ^ Preston, p. 86
  33. ^ Crane, p. 334. The telegram related to a collision involving Scott's ship, HMS Albemarle. Scott was cleared of blame.
  34. ^ Preston, p. 87
  35. ^ Shackleton publicly announced his plans to the RGS on 7 February 1907. Scott had enjoined RGS Secretary Keltie to secrecy about his own intentions. Crane, p. 335
  36. ^ a b Crane, p. 335
  37. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 113–14
  38. ^ Preston, p. 89
  39. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 118
  40. ^ Crane, p. 344
  41. ^ Preston, p. 94
  42. ^ Crane, p. 350
  43. ^ Crane, pp. 362–66
  44. ^ Crane, pp. 373–74
  45. ^ Crane, p. 387
  46. ^ Preston, pp. 100–01
  47. ^ Fiennes, p. 161
  48. ^ a b c Crane, pp. 397–99
  49. ^ Crane, pp. 425–28
  50. ^ Preston, p. 107. Also Crane, pp. 432–33
  51. ^ Preston, p. 112
  52. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 30–71
  53. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 106–07
  54. ^ Crane, p.466.
  55. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 187–88
  56. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, pp. 187–88
  57. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 369
  58. ^ Huxley, Vol I, p. 407
  59. ^ Cherry-Garrard, pp. 30–32
  60. ^ See Atkinson's account in L. Huxley, Vol II, pp. 298–306
  61. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 528
  62. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, pp. 543–44
  63. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 548
  64. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 551
  65. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 560
  66. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, pp. 572–73
  67. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 574–80
  68. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, p. 589: "Titus Oates is very near the end" – Scott diary entry, 11 March 1912
  69. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I, pp. 591–92
  70. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I p. 592
  71. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I p. 594
  72. ^ L. Huxley, p. 595
  73. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 597–604
  74. ^ From Scott's Message to the Public, L. Huxley, Vol I pp. 605–07
  75. ^ L. Huxley, Vol I p. 596, Jones, p. 126. Huntford says (p. 509) that Bowers was probably the last to die, citing evidence on p. 528.
  76. ^ L. Huxley, Vol II, pp. 345–47
  77. ^ L. Huxley, Vol II, p. 398
  78. ^ Crane, pp. 1–2
  79. ^ Preston, p. 230
  80. ^ Max Jones, pp. 199–201
  81. ^ Jones, p. 204
  82. ^ Jones, p. 205–06
  83. ^ Preston, p. 231
  84. ^ This honour did not entitle Kathleen Scott to call herself "Lady Scott". Although both Fiennes, p. 383, and Huntford, p. 523, refer to her as "Lady Scott", this is not in accordance with The Times announcement, 22 February 1913
  85. ^ Preston, p. 232
  86. ^ Unattributed (1913-02-11). "The Polar Disaster. Captain Scott's Career., Naval Officer And Explorer.". The Times: p. 10. 
  87. ^ Huntford, p. 525
  88. ^ Amundsen, The South Pole publisher's note, 1976 edition.
  89. ^ Huntford, p. 538
  90. ^ Jones, p. 90
  91. ^ Jones, pp. 106–108. £34,000 (£1.6m) in total went to relatives, £17,500 to the publication of the scientific results, £5,100 to meet expedition debts, and the balance to the creation of suitable monuments and memorials
  92. ^ See Jones, p. 295–96 for a full listing of British memorials.
  93. ^ a b c d Jones, pp. 287–89
  94. ^ Pound, pp. 285–86
  95. ^ Thomson, Preface, p. xiii
  96. ^ Thomson, p. 153 and p. 218
  97. ^ Thomson, p. 233
  98. ^ Preston, p. 222 (Wilson's comment to Markham)
  99. ^ Fiennes, p. 435
  100. ^ Crane, p. 101 re Armitage, and Max Jones, p. 128 re Evans.
  101. ^ This view was first stated explicitly by James Gordon Hayes in Antarctica, A Treatise on the Southern Continent, published in 1928, and has been repeated in most later Scott biographies. Hayes's book, however, had little impact compared with Stephen Gwynn's officially sanctioned hagiography published in the following year. Max Jones, pp. 265–66
  102. ^ Huntford, p. 527
  103. ^ Jones, p. 8
  104. ^ Spufford, p. 5
  105. ^ Spufford, pp. 104–05
  106. ^ Quoted in Barczewski, p. 260
  107. ^ a b Barczewski, p. 283
  108. ^ a b c d Barczewski, pp. 305–311
  109. ^ Solomon, pp. 309–327; see also Barczewski, p. 306
  110. ^ Fiennes's book was published in the United States as Race to the Pole: Tragedy, Heroism and Scott's Antarctic Quest. Barczewski, p. 378.
  111. ^ Dore, Jonathan. "Crucible of Ice". New York Times. Retrieved 14 April 2009. 
  112. ^ Crane, p. 11
  113. ^ Rees, Jasper (format- dmy). "Ice in our Hearts". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 April 200. 



  • Amundsen, Roald: The South Pole C. Hurst & Company, London, 1976 ISBN 0-903-98347-8
  • Barczewski, Stephanie: Antarctic Destinies: Scott, Shackleton and the Changing Face of Heroism Hembledon Continuum, London, 2007 ISBN 976 1 84725 192 3
  • Caesar, Adrian:The White: Last Days in the Antarctic Journeys of Scott and Mawson 1911-1913 Pan MacMillan, Sydney, 1999, ISBN 0 330 36157 0
  • Cherry-Garrard, Apsley:The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-13 1965 edition, pub. Penguin Travel Library, Harmondsworth, Middlesex (UK), 1970, ISBN 0 14 009501 2 OCLC 16589938
  • Crane, David: Scott of the Antarctic: A Life of Courage, and Tragedy in the Extreme South HarperCollins, London, 2005 ISBN 978 0 00 715068 7 OCLC 60793758
  • Fiennes, Ranulph: Captain Scott Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2003 ISBN 0 340 82697 5 OCLC 52695234
  • Huntford, Roland: The Last Place on Earth Pan Books edition, London, 1985 ISBN 0 330 82697 5 OCLC 12976972
  • Huntford, Roland: Shackleton Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1985 ISBN 0 340 25007 0 OCLC 13108800
  • Huxley, Leonard (ed.): Scott's Last Expedition Vols I and II Smith, Elder & Co, London, 1913 OCLC 1522514
  • Jones, Max: The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott's Antarctic Sacrifice Oxford University Press, Oxford (UK), 2003 ISBN 0 19 280483 9 OCLC 59303598
  • Pound, Reginald: Scott of the Antarctic Cassell & Company, London, 1966
  • Preston, Diana: A First Rate Tragedy: Captain Scott's Antarctic Expeditions Constable (pb edition), London, 1999 ISBN 0 09 479530 4 OCLC 59395617
  • Riffenburgh, Beau: Nimrod: Ernest Shackleton and the Extraordinary Story of the 1907-09 British Antarctic Expedition Bloomsbury Publishing (pb edition), London, 2005 ISBN 0 7475 7553 4 OCLC 56659120
  • Solomon, Susan: The Coldest March: Scott's Fatal Antarctic Expedition Yale University Press, London, 2001 ISBN 0300089678 OCLC 45661501
  • Spufford, Francis: I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination Faber & Faber (pb edition), London, 1997 ISBN 0 571 17951 7 OCLC 41314703
  • Thomson, David: Scott's Men Allen Lane, London 1977 ISBN 0 7139 1034 8



Further reading

  • Huxley, Elspeth: Scott of the Antarctic Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1977 ISBN 0297774376 OCLC 3618208

External links

Simple English

Robert Falcon Scott
Born 6 June 1868(1868-06-06)
Plymouth, England
Died 29 March 1912 (aged 43)
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Education Naval cadet programme, HMS Britannia
Occupation Royal Navy officer and Antarctic explorer
Spouse Kathleen Bruce
Children Peter Markham Scott, later Sir Peter Scott
Parents John Edward and Hannah Scott

, identifying the polar marches of Scott and Amundsen. The track of Scott's journey shows the approximate locations of the deaths of the members of his polar party.|The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.]]

File:Robert Falcon Scott by Herbert
Scott, writing his journal in the Cape Evans hut, winter 1911

Captain Robert Falcon Scott CVO (6 June 1868 – 29 March 1912) was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who died on an expedition to the South Pole. He is widely known as Scott of the Antarctic, the title of a 1948 film.

Scott led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13. Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the conventional career of a naval officer in peacetime Victorian Britain, where opportunities for career advancement were keenly sought after by ambitious officers.

It was the chance for personal distinction that led Scott to apply for command of the Discovery.[1] His name became associated with the Antarctic, his field of work for the final twelve years of his life.

Terra Nova Expedition 1910–1913

During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition had got there first. On the return journey, Scott and his four comrades died from exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

After his death, Scott became a British hero, a status he kept for more than 50 years. In a more sceptical age at the end of the 20th century, the legend was reassessed. Attention focused on the causes of the disaster, and whether Scott was responsible. Scott became a figure of controversy, with questions raised about his competence and character.

In particular, Scott's decision to take ponies and motorised sleds, as well as dogs, was a disaster. The ponies proved almost useless, and the sleds (which worked well at the start) eventually froze up. The dogs, of which there were far too few, were left behind on the final attempt on the Pole. Scott's instructions to the men he left at the base camp were unclear. They did not know whether they should use the dogs to rescue Scott's party when they were overdue.[2] The final group of four died on the way back, after running into a blizzard which stopped their progress.

A widespread view is that his reluctance to rely on dogs, despite the advice of expert ice travellers, was a critical factor. It lost him the race to the pole and, ultimately, the lives of his party.[2][3] Amundsen, on the other hand, had plenty of dogs. When food ran short, he was able to kill a couple of dogs to feed the men and the rest of the pack.

One author thought there was "devastating evidence of bungling", and that "Scott doomed his companions, then covered his tracks with rhetoric" (in his diaries and letters).[4] Commentators in the 21st century have, so far, regarded Scott more positively.


  1. Crane, David 2005. Scott of the Antarctic: a life of courage, and tragedy in the extreme south HarperCollins, London. ISBN 978 0 00 715068 7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jones, Max: The last great quest: Captain Scott's Antarctic sacrifice. 2003. Oxford University Press, Oxford. ISBN 0 19 280483 9
  3. Huntford, Roland 1979 (1985). Scott and Amundsen. [later titled The last place on Earth.] Modern Library Exploration, ISBN 978-0375754746 ISBN 0 330 82697 5
  4. Spufford, Francis 1997. I may be some time: Ice and the English imagination. Faber & Faber London. ISBN 0 571 17951 7


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