Scott's Last Expedition Critical Essays

Robert Falcon Scott


(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The complete isolation and inaccessibility of Antarctica mean that all the literature relating to it falls into an equally self-contained unit. No man is a native of Antarctica, and it is the one part of the globe Western man can truly be said to have discovered; only in 1895 did he land on its shore. Three years later the first men to live through an Antarctic winter led to the Discovery Expedition under Captain Robert Falcon Scott R.N., from 1901 to 1904. The expedition spent two successive winters there. Scott thus became the first name associated with Antarctic living, and he established the pattern of arriving in summer, wintering, and exploring the following summer. Eight years later his death showed the perils not only of cold and blizzards but also of altitude, starvation, and scurvy which met those in search of the main prize in the Antarctic, the South Pole.

The South Pole has continued to dominate polar exploration in this century but not to the extent that it did before December 14, 1911, when Amundsen first reached it. The deaths of Scott and his party in March, 1912, closed that chapter, leaving the way free for the main twentieth century activity of scientific exploration. Operation Deepfreeze took over after the Geophysical Year and its men now live the year round at the Pole, using as their main base in Antarctica the same McMurdo Sound from which Scott and Shackleton set out for the Pole in 1911 and 1908.

Scott’s second, and last, expedition began as scientific exploration which included the Pole as a bid for popular support; the size and achievements of the expeditions and the fatal ending of the polar party have produced a whole sub-literature by some of the thirty-three members of the expedition—officers, scientists, and “men”—of which the best-known are SOUTH WITH SCOTT, by E. R. G. R. Evans, and THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD, by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. The former, by the second in command of the expedition, was a result of hero worship of Scott; the latter serves as a corrective; written years later by a scientist, it is an attempt to place the whole expedition in context. This attempt was necessary because the primary source, SCOTT’S LAST EXPEDITION, was a two-volume assembly of records of which the first volume was rapidly separated from the second and reprinted alone many times. It contains “the personal journals of Captain R. F. Scott, R.N., C.V.O. on his journey to the South Pole.”

SCOTT’S LAST EXPEDITION has therefore two contexts: first, the two-volume work from which it comes, together with other books about the expedition. The second context is the record of Royal Navy exploration in the Antarctic, begun by Captain Cook in 1773 when he first penetrated the Antarctic Circle, and continued by Sir James Clark Ross in the nineteenth century when he discovered the Ross Sea and McMurdo Sound, and by Scott’s Discovery Expedition. From this last came Shackleton’s expedition 1901-1909, when he got to within two degrees latitude of the Pole and his colleagues discovered the South Magnetic Pole. But the book which gives the first volume of...

(The entire section is 1291 words.)