He was famous following the Discovery Expedition, but Robert Falcon Scott’s burning ambition – to be first at the South Pole – remained unfulfilled when the ambitious naval officer launched his second Antarctic foray in 1910. The Terra Nova Expedition was intended to expand scientific knowledge, but Scott had the Pole as his coveted objective – spurred on by learning that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had joined the race.
Ultimately, bad luck and misjudgments would have disastrous consequences for the British team. A delay when Terra Nova was trapped in pack ice for three weeks meant the main supply point for the polar assault – One-Ton Depot – was located further north than intended. Scott didn’t fully exploit the potential of husky dogs. Finally, he impulsively added an extra man for the final push.
The polar party consisted of Scott, Edward Wilson, H. R. Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. On January 17 1912 they reached their goal after much grueling sledge-hauling, only to find a Norwegian flag – using dogs, Amundsen had beaten them by five weeks. The 1,300 km (800 mi) return journey across hostile terrain was a nightmare. Evans died on the fearsome Beardmore Glacier and the others were handicapped by shortage of provisions caused by taking the fifth man, plus snow blindness and physical exhaustion.
On March 16 Oates sacrificed himself to try and save the others, leaving their tent with the immortal words ‘I’m going outside and may be some time…’. The survivors struggled on, but were caught in a blizzard that precluded further travel. They lived on for nine days, with Scott himself last to die on March 29. The final irony was that they were just 18 km (11 mi) short of salvation offered by One-Ton Depot – but 38 km (18 mi) beyond the point where it should have been located.
When: January to March 1912
Death toll: Five
You should know: Though Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole and the race ended disastrously for Scott’s polar party, the Terra Nova Expedition did do much valuable scientific work – and Captain Scott’s tragic death captured the public imagination and ensured that he became a national hero.