On this day in history : 29th March 1912 – Captain Robert Falcon Scott records the last entry in his diary before succumbing to the elements on the ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition….
“Last entry. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more – R.Scott – For God’s sake look after our people”….
The British Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Terra Nova Expedition, after the ship – an old converted whaler – that carried them there, was Scott’s second trip to the Antarctic…. The aim was to be the first team to reach the South Pole – his rival, Ernest Shackleton, had recently returned after narrowly failing to reach the Pole…. This would certainly have spurred Scott and his team on (which comprised of Scott himself, Lawrence Oates, Edward Adrian Wilson, Edgar Evans and Henry Robertson Bowers) making them even more determined…. Scott kept a detailed account of the expedition, enabling historians to gain an insight into this extraordinary two-year journey….
The team arrived at the South Pole on the 17th of January 1912 – only to be devastated to find that a Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen had reached the Pole 33 days before…. Scott’s diary entry for the day read : “The worst has happened”…. He described the Pole as : “Great God! This is an awful place”….
Two days later, on the 19th of January, the team began the return journey…. Scott wrote : “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous”…. At first the going was good, despite poor weather…. But the weather was to deteriorate even further and the team were suffering with exhaustion, hunger, snow blindness and frostbite….
Scott first noted in his diary on the 29th of January that the health of Edgar Evans was declining…. He had suffered a fall and then on the 17th of February, after a further fall, he died….
On March the 2nd Lawrence Oates began to suffer from the effects of frostbite…. He was only too aware that he was slowing the team up…. His toes became so frost bitten that he had to drag himself along…. On the 16th of March, whilst they were all huddled in their tents, he told the others “I am just going outside and maybe some time”…. He wandered off into the snow to his death….
The remaining three men carried on but on the 19th of March they were to make their final camp…. For 9 days they were forced to take refuge in their tents whilst a blizzard raged outside…. Their supplies were fast running out….and Scott recorded : “The end cannot be far”….
As well as his final pencil written entry into his diary Scott left letters for the mothers of Wilson and Bowers – and for his own mother and wife…. He also wrote to his former Royal Navy Commander Sir George Everton….and left a message to the public….
“We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last…. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for”….
It is thought Scott died later that day or the day after…. His body was discovered, along with those of his companions, eight months later by a search party…. Their camp became their tomb and permanent resting place….
Before the Terra Nova left for home in January 1913 a cross was made by the ship’s carpenters….a wooden cross with the names of the dead men and a line from Tennyson’s poem ‘Ulysees’ inscribed upon it…. It was erected as a memorial on Observation Hill….
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”….