Robert Falcon Scott

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Robert Falcon Scott

The English naval officer and polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) made monumental scientific findings in Antarctica, and his geographical discoveries were extensive. He failed in his attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole.

Robert F. Scott was born on June 6, 1868, at Devonport. In 1880 he entered the naval college, H.M.S. Britannia, and 2 years later became a midshipman. He was promoted to first lieutenant in 1897. As early as 1887 Scott had come to the attention of Sir Clements Markham, the principal promoter of British exploration in the late 19th century. In 1899, after Markham had won partial government backing for the intended dash to the pole, Scott was chosen to head the National Antarctic Expedition.

Leaving England in August 1901, the Discovery, with Scott as commander, sailed south and reached the Ross Sea in January 1902. For 2 years the ship remained off Hut Point, Ross Island, in McMurdo Sound, and it was from here that many sledge journeys, including two led by Scott himself, began. On Dec. 30, 1902, Scott and two of his associates reached latitude 82°16'33"S over the Antarctic Plateau; this was then the southern record. A year later Scott reached latitude 77°59'S, longitude 146°33'E. A general reconnaissance of the area around South Victoria Land and the Ross Sea and Ross Shelf Ice was undertaken, and the findings added much to man's knowledge of Antarctica. The expedition ended when the Discovery, with the relief ships Morning and Terra Nova, reached New Zealand in April 1904. Promoted to captain on his return to England in 1904, Scott commanded, in turn, three warships and in 1909 became a naval assistant at the Admiralty. Scott recorded his impressions of his first expedition in The Voyage of the "Discovery" (1905).

Enthusiasm for Antarctic explorations had waned after 1904, but in 1909 Scott announced plans to reach the South Pole. British and Dominion governments gave financial support, and the Terra Nova sailed in June 1910. While at sea, Scott learned that Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian party were also attempting to reach the pole. The race was on. From winter headquarters at Cape Evans (latitude 77°38'24"S), Scott began his sledge journey on Nov. 1, 1911. He had placed much faith, too much as events were to prove, on motor sledges and ponies. The former broke down; the latter either died in crevasses or were shot for food. Consequently, the strength of Scott and his men was taxed even before they left the last supporting party at latitude 86°32'S on Jan. 4, 1912, for the attempt on the pole. On January 18 the party, composed of Scott and four others, reached the South Pole and found there the Norwegian flag, a tent, and a note left for Scott by Amundsen, who with his excellent knowledge and use of dogs, had reached the goal on December 14, 1911.

Heartbroken and weary, the party now turned for base camp. But weakened by the strain and lack of warm food, which brought on frostbite, the men became involved in a "race against time to reach one depot after another" before their strength gave out. At latitude 79°40'S, 11 miles from One Ton Depot, the remaining three members of the party made camp for the last time. On March 29 Scott made his last journal entry. Eight months later a relief expedition found the tent, bodies, journals, and records. In 1964 an account of this expedition was published as Scott's Last Expedition: From the Personal Journals of Captain R. F. Scott.

When news of the tragic and heroic end reached London and Europe, admiration was forthcoming from many quarters. A lasting action was the opening of a fund to commemorate the explorers which enabled publication of their scientific results and the opening of the great Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England.

Further Reading

Biographies of Scott are Stephen Gwynn, Captain Scott (1930);Martin Lindsay, The Epic of Captain Scott (1934); George Seaver, Scott of the Antarctic: A Study in Character (1940); and Maude Carter, Captain Scott: Explorer and Scientist (1950). Illuminating works on his second expedition are Leonard Huxley, Scott's Last Expedition (1913), and Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, South with Scott (1921). The scientific findings of this voyage were published in British Antarctic Expedition ("Terra Nova" ), 1910-13: Scientific Results (1914).

Additional Sources

Huntford, Roland, The last place on earth, New York: Atheneum, 1985.

Huntford, Roland, Scott and Amundsen, New York: Atheneum, 1984, 1983.

Huxley, Elspeth Joscelin Grant, Scott of the Antarctic, Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1990, 1977.

Johnson, Anthony M., Scott of the Antarctic and Cardiff, Cardiff, U.K.: University College Cardiff Press, 1984.

Sanderson, Marie, Griffith Taylor: Antarctic scientist and pioneer geographer, Ottawa: Carleton University Press, 1988. □

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Robert Falcon Scott, 1868–1912, British naval officer and antarctic explorer. He commanded two noted expeditions to Antarctica. The first expedition (1901–4), in the Discovery, organized jointly by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society and well equipped for scientific research, was concerned with exploration of the region around the Ross Sea. Scott's achievements included sounding the sea, discovering King Edward VII Land (now known as Edward VII Peninsula), surveying the coast of Victoria Land, and making a long, important exploring trip on the antarctic continent itself; he reached a new "farthest south" of 82°17′. On his return to England, Scott was promoted to captain in the navy and wrote an account of his expedition, The Voyage of the Discovery (1905).

In 1910 he again set forth for Antarctica, this time in search of the South Pole. His Terra Nova reached its base on the Ross Sea in 1911, and in November he started southward on foot toward the pole. Scott and his four companions pulled their heavy sledges by hand across the high polar plateau, proceeding in subzero weather the entire way. When they reached the South Pole on Jan. 18, 1912, they found that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, had preceded them by about one month. On their retreat the heroic party was beset by illness, lack of food, frostbite, blizzards, and autumn temperatures 10 to 20 degrees lower than Antarctica's bone-chilling average. All five members died, the last three overwhelmed by a blizzard when only a few miles from their depot. Their bodies were later recovered, together with Scott's diaries, the records, and the valuable scientific collections. Scott's journey has been considered by many one of the epic events of British exploration, but many modern biographers and scholars have accused him of a fatal inexperience in polar travel and a general incompetence that doomed him and his men. Scott's diaries and the scientific findings of the expedition are contained in Scott's Last Expedition (2 vol., 1913).

See A. Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1994); D. Preston, A First Rate Tragedy (1998); T. H. Baughman, Pilgrims on the Ice (1999); R. Huntford, The Last Place on Earth (1999); S. Solomon, The Coldest March (2001); R. Fiennes, Race to the Pole (2004); D. Crane, Scott of the Antarctic (2006); E. J. Larson, An Empire of Ice (2011).

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Scott, Robert Falcon (1868–1912) English Antarctic explorer. Scott's first expedition to the South Pole, in the Discovery, (1901–04) ended in failure. His second expedition (1910–12) reached the Pole, but found that Roald Amundsen had got there first. Beset by blizzards on their return journey, Scott and his party perished within 18km (11mi) of safety. His diaries were published as Scott's Last Expedition (1913).

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Robert Falcon Scott


English explorer and naval officer who made many attempts to be the first to the South Pole. He finally reached it on January 18, 1912, only to find a Norwegian flag and a tent with a note from explorer Roald Amundsen stating that he had reached the pole on December 14, 1911. In despair, the Scott party began their return trek but perished from exhaustion and lack of supplies.