SCOTT & The South-Pole

Robert Falcon Scott1

A Portrait Of Scott

Scott was the third child out of six, born near Devonport, Devon. Though his father was a brewer and magistrate, there was a family tradition of British military service in both the navy and army. As a child he lived in reasonably prosperous conditions, but, in later years, when Scott entered the navy, his father fell onto hard financial times.

Scott passed examinations and was accepted into the navy, at only aged 13, as a cadet. At age 15 he became a midshipman, it required a series of examinations and out of a class of 26, he was ranked 7th. Like most budding naval officers, Scott went from ship to ship and in the process saw a number of countries, including: South Africa and St Kitts in the Caribbean. A number of senior officers were impressed by Scott's "intelligence, enthusiasm and charm." At 18 years of age, and yet still a midshipman, he became a marked man, one who was cable of high adventure.

At 20, Scott became a sub-lieutenant, at 21 a lieutenant. Scott, it seems, always had an eye on promotion and is seen to have taken any course that came along that would advance his career, and usually he passed with first class grades. There was a very good reason for this. Earlier, we made reference to the financial hardships that his family went through, there were other difficulties, too, that led to Scott being, practically, the sole support for his mother and two of his sisters. The article in Wikipedia set out these difficulties, and, I can do no better than quote it:

"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. 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. Three years later, while Robert was serving with the Channel squadron flagship HMS Majestic, John Scott died of heart disease, creating a fresh family crisis. Hannah Scott and her 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 higher-paid post in the colonial service. Archie's own death in the autumn of 1898, after contracting typhoid fever, meant that the whole financial responsibility for the family rested on Scott."
In June of 1899, while home on leave at London, he had "a chance encounter" with a senior officer under which he had served earlier on in his career. It was from this officer, Clements Markham, who by then was a Knight of the Realm and the President of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), that Scott "learned for the first time of an impending Antarctic expedition under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society. 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 Scott appeared at the Markham residence and volunteered to lead the expedition." Though he was not a shoo-in, he eventually won the overall command of the the Discovery Expedition (1901–1904).

The Discovery returned to England during September 1904. Though this first expedition of Scott's ran into serious difficulties, it had caught the public imagination, and Scott became a popular hero. In the result, Scott received many honours and medals, including one received at Balmoral Castle while a guest of King Edward VII. After things settled down a bit, Scott "resumed his full-time naval career, first as an Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence at the Admiralty and, in August, as flag-captain to Rear-Admiral Sir George Egerton on HMS Victorious."

Marriage Picture

Scott was now in the highest of social circles, and, it was within this circle that he met his future wife. From Wikipedia's entry on Scott, we learn:

"Scott, who because of his Discovery fame had entered Edwardian society, first met Kathleen Bruce early in 1907 at a private luncheon party. She was a sculptor, socialite and cosmopolitan who had studied under Auguste Rodin and whose circle included Isadora Duncan, Pablo Picasso and Aleister Crowley. 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. However, Scott's persistence was rewarded and, on 2 September 1908, at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, the wedding took place. Their only child, Peter Markham Scott, was born on 14 September 1909."
As we know Scott lost his life in his second expediation to the Antarctic. He and his party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, but only to find that they had been bested by Norwegian Roald Amundsen by just 35 days. On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

The survivors of Scott's last expedition were honoured on their return, "with polar medals and promotions for the naval personnel." As for Scott's widow, Kathleen, she was granted certain honours. 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 1947.2

[1] To his wife and intimates, Scott was known as "Con"; the men of the ship referred to him as "The Owner."

[2] In a letter [undated] he received from his wife Kathleen, found on his frozen body, she cautioned him for his pipe-smoking and reminded him to brush his hair." ( ...
Mrs Scott's letter in Red Case

'Dear Con:
How can I guess how things will be with you when you get this -- ?.?.?. But oh dearie I am full of hope.
My brave man will win – with his own right hand and with his mighty arm hath he gathered himself the victory.'
She concluded: ‘When you come home, we’ll feel closer and closer together and the long time we’ve been apart will seem only a little hour. May all the good gods conspire to bring my Con through his great difficulties with a glad heart and a constant hope. Bless you dearest of men.
The letter was discovered in a red leather case on Capt Scott’s body when a rescue party found him and his dead companions eight months after they perished in a relentless snow storm in March of 1912.
Also in the case, which is embossed with Capt Scott’s initials in gold, were two pictures of Kathleen and their son Peter, who was nine months old when his father left for Antarctica and who went on to become the conservationist, Sir Peter Scott.
Before we leave the subject of Scott's wife, Kathleen, there are a couple of other bits of information we should give out: First, in 1910, she accompanied her husband to New Zealand to see him off on his journey. She and the wife of Commander Edward Evans, Hilda Beatrice Russell, also in New Zealand (likely a New Zealander) apparently could not abide one another and actually got into a physical fight. (Evans and Scott considered themselves competitors to one another.) Secondly, at least one of the members of the team, Bowers, who only rarely made critical comments, and was very loyal to Scott, wrote of the domineering Kathleen, in a letter home: "When with us, her presence casts a dark cloud over our group, which is only relieved by her departure." (

GO TO A List of Persons Involved with Scott at the South-Pole

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Peter Landry