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Captain Scott and the Cardiff connection

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:00 UK time, Monday, 14 June 2010

Nearly everybody knows the name of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the story of his doomed attempt to reach the South Pole.

Scott may not have been the best of organisers - or always the most understanding of leaders - but there is no denying the heroism of the man and of his team of explorers and adventurers. And when he and his ship Terra Nova left Britain for Antarctica they did so from the port of Cardiff. It was June 15, 1910.


The Cardiff connection with the expedition owes much to the efforts of Scott's deputy or second in command, Lieutenant Teddy Evans. He had been to Antarctica with Scott and Shackleton on a previously unsuccessful attempt on the Pole and, like the other two, was determined to try again.

Evans had distant and somewhat tentative connections with Wales, his grandfather probably having been born in Cardiff, and decided that Wales could play a valuable fund-raising role for a proposed expedition.

He was nothing if not energetic and managed to convince the Editor of the Western Mail to give him publicity and back him in a bid to raise the huge sum of money that would be needed. Scott, meanwhile, was also attempting to gather together resources and money for his own second attempt.

Despite some scepticism on the part of Scott, the President of the Royal Geographical Society managed to persuade the two men to join forces and unite in the forthcoming expedition.

It was estimated that about £50,000 to £60,000 would be needed to make the attempt viable and there was no central or government funding. The money would all have to be raised by public donation.

Teddy Evans spent much of 1909 in a never-ending round of lectures and speaking engagements in Cardiff and the surrounding area and by December of that year Cardiff ship owners and industrialists had pledged nearly £1500. Just as important was the offer of free towage and docking facilities for the Terra Nova, the ship that had been bought to transport the expedition members to Antarctica.

The Terra Nova left London on June 1, 1910, Teddy Evans in command, and managed to arrive in Cardiff 12 hours early. Despite this embarrassment for Cardiff's civil dignitaries, she tied up in Roath Dock on June 10, and immediately attracted thousands of eager well-wishers and sightseers.

On the evening of June 13, Scott and his officers were given a spectacular farewell dinner at the Royal Hotel in St Mary's Street, the rest of the crew having to make do with dinner in the less ostentatious Barry Hotel. Further fund raising that night brought the total raised by the city of Cardiff to a staggering £2500, more than any other city in Britain.

At one o'clock the next day, June 15 1910, the Terra Nova was towed out of Roath Dock by the tugs Bantam Cock and Falcon.

A huge crowd gathered on the dock and on nearby Penarth Head to watch her go while the paddle steamers Ravenswood and Devonia and a flotilla of small vessels accompanied her part of the way down the Bristol Channel. At her mast head the Terra Nova flew the flag and coat of arms of Cardiff and the Welsh dragon.

Very few of the excited spectators knew that the Terra Nova was already leaking like a sieve and serious flaws, even at this early stage, were beginning to emerge in Scott's organisation.

They were faults that, two years later, were to lead Scott, Oates, Wilson Bowers and Petty Officer Evans to disaster on the Polar icecap.

Interestingly, considering the pomp and ceremony of the departure, Scott left the Terra Nova almost immediately after she sailed from Cardiff, disembarking with the Lord Mayor and other dignitaries who were on board, at the Breaksea Light. Scott returned to London for more fund raising and expedition business and did not rejoin the ship until it reached New Zealand.

Captain Scott had promised that the Terra Nova would return to Cardiff. She did, on June 14, 1913 - virtually three years to the day after she had sailed - under the command of Teddy Evans.

Lady Scott, the explorer's widow, and her son Peter were there to greet her. A memorial lighthouse, erected by public subscription in 1915, still exists on Roath Park Lake, as does another memorial, a tablet or plaque in City Hall, unveiled a year later.

Roath Park Lighthouse

The Welsh connections with the expedition of Captain Scott were significant. Not only did Cardiff play a major part in raising the necessary funds, Petty Officer Evans - who died alongside Scott in Antarctica - was a Welshman.

Considering the fact that Cardiff was then one of the most important ports in Britain, it seems an appropriate honour.

Read the BBC News article: Cardiff Bay service to mark Scott's polar expedition.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Cardiff's achievement in raising funds for the attempt was creditable, but perhaps Captain Scott is not the kind of man we should be commemorating in Wales. It is well known that his attempt on the South Pole was poorly planned and executed and, sadly, this was to some extent the result of his excessive confidence in his own Britishness as a guarantee of success. His worst leadership decision - or at least the one that contributed most significantly to his failure and death - was the selection of Lawrence Oates as one of the team to make the final attempt on the Pole. Oates was an old Etonian who owed his place on the expedition largely to his sizeable financial contributions. He lacked the experience and the sheer physical stamina required for the task. On the way back, his weakness held back the three other remaining men. If only his decision to sacrifice himself had been made a few days earlier, Scott, Bowers and Wilson might well have survived.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting what Deb says about Captain Oates. Long regarded as the epitome of courage, he was, to the end, something of a major snob - which was probably a typical attitude of British army officers in those days. He was scornful about the dignitaries and councillors, calling them "a socialist mob."

  • Comment number 3.

    Was Captain Scott really such a "bad" leader? I only know what I was taught in school, the last message and all that. But I wonder if we are in danger of building up our heroes and then taking pleasure in knocking them down - like we do with our sports stars.

  • Comment number 4.

    Fascinating to know about Petty Officer Evans and that he was going to mount his own expedition initially. Thank you for that.


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