SCOTT & The South-Pole

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2 - "The Discovery Expedition" (19011904)

After a near 60 year hiatus, official British interest in the Antarctic came back to centre stage.

The Discovery Expedition, which was more formally known as The British National Antarctic Expedition was sent out in 1901. The Discovery was a naval ship which was assigned to this expedition and bore the British explorers to and from Antarctica. This first expedition of the 20th century, was a joint enterprise of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and the Royal Society (RS).5 RGS' president during the planning stages of the Discovery Expedition was Clements Markham. Markham was a high ranking naval officer, who, in earlier times was one of Scott's supervising officers. Scott, as we can see from our short biographical sketch, had been a hard working junior officer who impressed most of his senior officers. The pulling together, however, of all the different aspects of this expedition, including the appointment of Scott as its leader, was not an easy matter.

"[It] required all of his [Markham's] skills and cunning to bring the expedition 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. 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; Scott was given overall command, and was promoted to the rank of commander before Discovery sailed for the Antarctic on 31 July 1901."6
So it was, that 50 explorers under Scott set out for the Antarctic. The expedition was under naval command and staffed by both naval and merchant-marine personnel. The more notable persons with him were: Ernest Shackleton, Edward Wilson, Frank Wild, Tom Crean and William Lashly. Unfortunately "there was very little special training in equipment or techniques before the ship set sail. Dogs were taken, as were skis, but hardly anyone knew how to use them.

Our objective in this work is to tell of The Terra Nova Expedition (19101912). But the seeds that led to the difficulties of it, indeed, his death, were planted in Scott's first exploratory trip to the Antarctic, The Discovery Expedition (19011904). It had both scientific and exploration objectives. I shall not go into the science studies that were carried out and ended in biological, zoological, geological and meteorological findings, some of which were "later criticised as amateurish and inaccurate."7

As far as exploration: Scott, Shackleton and Wilson did make a trek of approximately 400 miles and came to a point 500 miles north of the pole. I do not believe that the objective, in this particular trek, and I have no details of it, was to get to the South-Pole. I think they came to a point that they had to turn back in order to save themselves. Shackleton became quite sick and things grew progressively worse as they closed in on their home base. He coughed blood and when ever he made an effort to assist in pulling the sledge (dogs seemingly not to have been used) Shackleton would faint. It was therefore up to Scott and Wilson to get themselves and their sick companion home. It was close, but the three did manage to get back, covering, out and back, 900 plus miles, over a period of 93 days.

Shackleton's physical condition after his harrowing ordeal led him to take a relief ship back home to England, so he was not with Scott in the second year of this two year expedition. During the second year, Scott and certain of his fellow explorers traveled great distances but not towards the South-Pole.

"At the end of the expedition it took the combined efforts of two relief ships [Terra Nova and Morning] and the use of explosives to free Discovery from the ice. Afterwards, Scott remained unconvinced that dogs and ski were the keys to efficient ice travel. In the following years he continued to express the British preference for man-hauling (the practice of propelling sledges by manpower, unassisted by animals), a view he maintained until very late in his Antarctic career. His insistence during the expedition on Royal Navy formalities had made for uneasy relations with the merchant navy contingent, many of whom departed for home with the first relief ship in March 1903."8

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Peter Landry
2013