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24 September 2014

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You are in: Devon > Features > Feature Articles > South Pole tragedy

Captain Scott

Captain Scott

South Pole tragedy

Plymouth-born explorer Captain Scott perished on his expedition to the South Pole in 1911-12.

Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) was born in Plymouth and is nowadays referred to simply as "Scott of the Antarctic."

Born in 1868, the former Royal Navy captain became a national hero when he set the new "furthest south" record with his expedition to Antarctica on Discovery in 1901-1904.

He came within 410 miles of the South Pole with his colleagues Dr Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton - the latter eventually launched his own expeditions after differences with Scott.

Scott tried again to reach the South Pole, and left the UK in 1910 on board the Terra Nova.

Among those with him were paying guests - including army officer, Captain Lawrence Oates.

They arrived in Antarctica on 11 January 1911. But their mechanical sledges failed due to the cold, and the ponies had to be shot because they could not survive the weather.

In the meantime, Norwegian explorer Raold Amundsen was also on his way to the South Pole.

With his dogs pulling the sledges, he made rapid progress. His party reached the Pole in December 1911.

Scott's five man team were oblivious to what had happened - and they were running short of essential supplies.

They reached the Pole on 17 January 1912 - only to find that they had been beaten to it by a month.

The question now was: could the men get back to their base? They were suffering from starvation, hypothermia and other illnesses.

One by one, they started to succumb to their ailments. Petty Officer Evans was the first to die.

Then Captain Oates walked out of the party's tent on his 32nd birthday in March 1912 - and delivered one of the most famous parting lines in history.

Captain Scott made a note in his diary of Oates' last words: "I am just going outside and may be some time." He never came back.

With a blizzard raging outside, the remaining three men could do nothing but wait for the inevitable - yet they were only 11 miles away from a fuel and food depot.

Scott wrote in his diary: "We shall stick it out till 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."

Scott's reputation has taken a battering in recent times, with some historians labelling him foolhardy and a bungler.

Others though have been more kind, saying Scott suffered the worst possible luck throughout, and had to put up with unpredictably bad weather conditions. The temperatures went down to minus 40ºC - far colder than usual.

last updated: 30/01/2008 at 12:09
created: 30/01/2008

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