Who was Captain Scott?

Posted on: December 13, 2011 in: Uncategorised

We asked our newest Marketing recruit, Alice, to help us discover who Captain Scott really was ahead of our Conquering the Antarctic concert tour in February.


Now remembered as a ‘race to the Pole,’ the tale of Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic from 1910-1912 has acquired the dimensions of a myth. But we are able to discover a good deal about what really happened on the expedition from Scott’s diaries, which give a vivid and moving depiction of the challenges the hard-working team faced.

Who was this man, whose personal qualities were so central to the expedition, and whose diaries, discovered by a rescue mission three months after his death, continue to provide a moving and emotive demonstration of his resolve and dignity in such unthinkable circumstances? What drove him to undertake this monumental challenge?

Born in 1868, Robert Falcon Scott joined a Royal Navy training ship at the age of thirteen. From 1900 to 1904, he commanded a British trip to the Antarctic, and from 1907-1909, Scott’s erstwhile companion Shackleton led a further British Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic, locating the South Pole high on the ice plateau. Scott planned to finish what Shackleton had begun, and a further privately-funded expedition was raised which led to the purchase of the expedition ship, the Terra Nova, for £12,500.

Although he declared that the “main object of the expedition is to reach the South Pole and secure for the British Empire the honour of that achievement,” Scott also had geological, biological and meteorological goals. The British team faced competition from the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who had abandoned earlier attempts to reach the North Pole in favour of being the first to get to the South. Despite this element of competition, Scott’s diaries reveal that he refused to abandon the pursuit of science, however difficult and unrelenting the freezing conditions.

When they reached the Pole in January 1912, the malnourished and frostbitten explorers found that the Norwegian team had got there first. Some believe that tragedy would have been prevented if the British team had ‘won’—they would have been in better spirits. As it was, they all met their deaths soon after. As Scott wrote in his journal, “These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”

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Image courtesy of SPRI, University of Cambridge

Conquering the Antarctic
2-8 Feb & 3 March 2012
Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Cheltenham, London