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Scott's Last Expedition

Saturday, February 17th 1912

A very terrible day. Evans looked a little better after a good sleep, and declared, as he always did, that he was quite well. He started in his place on the traces, but half an hour later worked his ski shoes adrift, and had to leave the sledge. The surface was awful, the soft recently fallen snow clogging the ski and runners at every step, the sledge groaning, the sky overcast, and the land hazy. We stopped after about one hour, and Evans came up again, but very slowly. Half an hour later he dropped out again on the same plea. He asked Bowers to lend him a piece of string. I cautioned him to come on as quickly as he could, and he answered cheerfully as I thought. We had to push on, and the remainder of us were forced to pull very hard, sweating heavily. Abreast the Monument Rock we stopped, and seeing Evans a long way astern, I camped for lunch. There was no alarm at first, and we prepared tea and our own meal, consuming the latter. After lunch, and Evans still not appearing, we looked out, to see him still afar off. By this time we were alarmed, and all four started back on ski. I was first to reach the poor man and shocked at his appearance; he was on his knees with clothing disarranged, hands uncovered and frostbitten, and a wild look in his eyes. Asked what was the matter, he replied with a slow speech that he didn’t know, but thought he must have fainted. We got him on his feet, but after two or three steps he sank down again. He showed every sign of complete collapse. Wilson, Bowers, and I went back for the sledge, whilst Oates remained with him. When we returned he was practically unconscious, and when we got him into the tent quite comatose. He died quietly at 12.30 A.M. On discussing the symptoms we think he began to get weaker just before we reached the Pole, and that his downward path was accelerated first by the shock of his frostbitten fingers, and later by falls during rough travelling on the glacier, further by his loss of all confidence in himself. Wilson thinks it certain he must have injured his brain by a fall. It is a terrible thing to lose a companion in this way, but calm reflection shows that there could not have been a better ending to the terrible anxieties of the past week. Discussion of the situation at lunch yesterday shows us what a desperate pass we were in with a sick man on our hands at such a distance from home.

At 1 A.M. we packed up and came down over the pressure ridges, finding our depôt easily.

10 Responses to “Saturday, February 17th 1912”

  1. Piers Morgan says:

    I was very interested in reading the events that led up to the death of Evans. It is true that his condition has been deteriorating since before reaching the pole but the manner of his final demise and the speed with which it came, combined with the attitude of Scott which appears a little callous has left an empty and cold feeling in me. Scott is a big hero of mine but I can’t help feeling they turned their back on Evans because he became too much of a liability. Am I miss-interpreting this or do other people have the same opinion.

  2. Mark Reynier says:


    It is not our lives art risk here.

    Packing up 30 minutes after Evans died perhaps indicates a relief for the expedition leader: a growing problem that was already endangering their lives and could only get worse had now been removed.

    Clearly Evans had been heroically tough to drive himself this far – to death. Not that he had much option. Evans had been a liability for some time and with 800 miles or so to go it was clear that he was no more than a passenger by now, and as they say, not pulling his weight. What was Scott to do? Sit him on the sledge? Call in an airlift? He was a serious liability impacting on their own liklihood of survival.

    For sometime Evans would have known he was finished and I bet so did the rest of the team. It must have been a relief that it happened quickly, without trauma or fuss. When the horses collapased from exhaustion on the way out they shot them. Evidently Scott felt he couldn’t shoot Evans, and it’s not as if Evans was capable of shooting himself. Perhaps this influenced Oates…

    It must have been both relief to Scott, removing a vital liability and a moral dilema.

  3. Petra Müller says:

    Piers, I have mixed feelings about this because they all were on the verge of danger already and any hold-up would mean getting late to the next food and fuel depot, perhaps too late. In such a situation I believe that Scott who felt responsible for all of them can be understood to sum up the situation with “calm reflection” and even to feel some relief – for the others to have a chance of survival, and I am certain that they could do no more for Evans. We may think this heartless but what would we do in such cruel conditions?

  4. Piers says:

    It is true he was a liability and mostly on the mental state of the team i think. The original pole team was to be four people and they were only hauling supplies for four people they hadn’t left supplies at the depots for five. So the sledge was not any heavier and if evans wasn’t pulling then its only a case of what would have been expected anyway. i think what upsets me most about Evans is the contrast with the eventual demise of poor Oates. The biggest difference is the mental state of the injured parties, Evans had clearly suffered mentally to the point where he was incoherent whilst Oates was very much the opposite being discribed as apparently lucid. I think if Evans had just been suffering from physical injuries i believe they would have done more for him, maybe even put him on the sledge for a while who knows, when Oates began to suffer he was practically dragged behind the sledge as the rest of the team pushed onward, but i don’t think they felt they could do anything for Evans in his mental state and when they made camp and lunched and he still hadn’t caught up they must have all been hoping for and end to his suffering. I do not blame any of them for thier actions and like i said Scott his a big hero of mine but this does show a callous side to him i was not aware of before. Scott cried when he discovered Amundsen had beat him to the pole, he didn’t shed many tears for Evans and after the way he raved about Evans from day 1 i think he felt dissapointed with him in the end. But i don’t really know it is impossible to imagine what these men were going through and what private thoughts they had and all i can think about is going back to find Evans and Oates and bring them back from that cold unforgiving place a bury them under the warm summer sun in Englands country.

  5. Petra Müller says:

    I just want to correct a misunderstanding which also has appeared in several books: The Polar Party of five men took provisions for five people. When the last supporting party returned the provisions were just redistributed; see Ltd. Teddy Evans in his book “South with Scott”: ” On 4th January we took four days’ provision for three men and handed over the rest of our load to Scott.” Also at each depot Teddy Evans, Crean and Lashly only took their share for three men.
    This means that after P.O. Evans’ death Scott and his three companions on their way home found food for five when only four of them were left. Only soon they were short of fuel – but this is another story…

  6. Piers says:

    Obviously a logistical retard I would have been more hindrance than help to a polar expedition. Of course what you say makes complete sense and is pretty obvious when you consider it. I don’t know where I got the idea they were marching with a 20% reduction in supplies or why I believed it. Anyway, I made an important purchase today and am now the proud possessor of “best feet” sorry I mean Apsley Cherry-Garrard’ The Worst Journey in the World. I am also trying to find a copy of Wilson’s diaries and intend to read as many accounts of the Terra Nova expedition as I can so please if you can recommend further reading I would be very grateful.

  7. Petra Müller says:

    Piers, these are my recommendations:
    David Crane “Scott of the Antarctic”, Harper Perennial 2006: a balanced biography, beautifully written
    Edward R.G.R. Evans “South with Scott”, Collins 1921: memoirs written by one of the survivors (Lt. “Teddy” Evans)
    Ranulph Fiennes “Captain Scott”, Hodder & Stoughton 2004: the answer in defence to Huntford’s controversial book which painted Scott as foolish and incompetent
    “Captain Scott’s Last Expedition”, edited by Max Jones, Oxford’s World’s Classics 2006: the journals including a complete list of the changes made to Scott‘s original text; with comprehensive notes and explanations – not to be missed!
    Diana Preston “A First Rate Tragedy”, Constable 1997: fluently written, with great psychological insight
    Susan Solomon “The Coldest March”, Yale University Press 2001: meticulous research by an American scientist, showing that Scott indeed met the worst weather conditions on his return trip – invaluable
    These books I have read so far. Just this weekend I bought “The Longest Winter” by Meredith Hooper, telling the story of the Northern Party led by Lt. Victor Campbell who experienced their own unbelievably cruel suffering and “Cherry-A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard” by Sara Wheeler.
    I hope you can find something of interest for you, in the meantime enjoy Cherry!

  8. Scott Group says:

    …going back to find Evans and Oates and
    bring them back from that cold unforgiving place and
    bury them under the warm summer sun in Englands country?

    A.: …hardly possible, as they might have been cannibalized!

  9. Michele Paule says:

    I understood that it was not a reduction in food supplies but the difficulty of preparing extra batches which created unanticipated difficulty – it took more fuel to heat the addtional portions; this was exacerbated by what is now thought to have been leakage from the fuel containers left at the depots, rather than (Teddy) Evans leaving short measures, as Scott seemd to fear.

    Doesn’t answer the question of why he took 5 instead of 4, though the choice of Evans was not a bad one in itself as he was a) the only non-officer and b) very loyal to Scott. If I were Scott I’d have left Oates behind – although I’m a great fan, can his contempt for Scott have been completely concealed, especially in the close quarters they kept even before the final polar party was decided? Then again, his death is so core to the enduring fascination of the expedition that had he not gone it would have remained a far more obscure chapter…

  10. Brian N says:

    When Scott took 5 men on the last leg he had 4 weeks and 3 days rations for 5 men (South With Scott) This was on Jan 4th

    Evans Lashley and Crean had returned the day before with 3 days rations, so Scott had precisely 2 weeks to get to the pole and return to the same point.

    He reached the pole with 1 day to spare and gained 3 days on the return. Despite this and despite supplementing his rations with “pony hoosh” on many occasions his team were slowly starving to death. 2,000 calaries wasn’t enough, nor was 2,500 once Evans died and by the time Oats died 3,300 still would not have allowed them to regain any stregnth because they were still expending more energy than they consumed. They were manhauling on the same rations as they had when they were using ponies and they had been losing condition for over 4 months.

    Quite simply Scott’s rations were not sufficient and the longer his men were out on the ice the weaker they became day by day.
    In later years Atkinson calculated that they only supplied 50%-57% of the calories required depending on the workload.

    The worst effect of taking the 5th man was to reduce the last returning party to 3. Very quickly Evans realized that they would be involved in a race for life as the 3 men struggled to pull the weight. A little over 3 weeks later Evans began to suffer from scurvy but rather than abandon him, Lashly and Crean EVENTUALLY strapped him on the sled and pulled him from One Ton Depot to Hut Point, before Crean made an 18 hour lone dash for support, while Lashly resigned his fate to stay by Evans to the end.
    I think this is perhaps the greater story of heroism from the journey, the men who were willing to give up their lives to save the dying man, rather than the dying man who was willling to go quicker, but then Tom Crean wasn’t an Englishman and a Gentleman.

    Ironically or perhaps not, it was Atkinson who rescued Evans rather than attending to the support of the returning polar party.

    Scott had first put Mears life at risk by taking him all the way to the foot of the Beardmore glacier so he had to return on short rations, thus closing off one means of his own support.
    By sending the last support party back short-handed he conspired to create a crisis that clouded his own.

    The question remains though, if Evans was in such a bad way, why did Atkinson not priotritize Wright to meet the remaining men over his “Experiments”?

    It would seem that a traditional British cover up in the face of disaster was in order. Meares resigned and nobody took on the responsibility of his workload. Even when Cherry-Garrad arrived at one ton depot March 4th he (or Wright in his place) had enough dog food to travel to the next depot and meet Scott Wilson Bowers and Oates who reached it on March 9th, and be able to return safely to Hut point.

    Evans tellingly, devotes an entire chapture of South with Scott to recording Scotts orders without comment and without accentuating the vital instructions concerning the dogs.

    Briefly this was to:
    1: Transport emergeny stores from ape Evans to the Discovery Hut in case the Polar Party should have to Winter there.
    2: In DECEMBER or EARLY JANUARY transport 5 weeks of rations, biscuits, oil and AS MUCH DOG FOOD AS YOU CAN CARRY to One Ton Depot. (This was finally done, minus the dog food on March 4th)
    3: Meet the polar party “about March 1st at 82 or 82.30” carrying one weeks ration plus biscuit and petrol.

    Actually by 1st March Scott was already North of 82 and about one week ahead of his calculations but still starving and with Oates on the brink of collapse.

    Once his marches were reduced below 10 miles a day he could not replenish his rations.

    March 1st, 1912
    Very cold last night—minimum -41.5°. Cold start to march, too, as usual now. Got away at 8 and have marched within sight of depot; flag something under 3 miles away. We did 11 1/2 yesterday and marched 6 this morning. Heavy dragging yesterday and very heavy this morning. Apart from sledging considerations the weather is wonderful.
    March 2nd, 1912
    First we found a shortage of oil; with most rigid economy it can scarce carry us to the next depot on this surface (71 miles away). Second, Titus Oates disclosed his feet, the toes showing very bad indeed, evidently bitten by the late temperatures. The third blow came in the night, when the wind, which we had hailed with some joy, brought dark overcast weather. It fell below -40° in the night, Worse was to come—the surface is simply awful. In spite of strong wind and full sail we have only done 5 1/2 miles. We are in a very queer street since there is no doubt we cannot do the extra marches and feel the cold horribly.

    The same temperature in the night but 2 very different outlooks.

    March 3rd, 1912
    We picked up the track again yesterday, finding ourselves to the eastward. Did close on 10 miles and things looked a trifle better.
    After 4 1/4 hours things so bad that we camped, having covered 4 1/2 miles. (R. 46.) God help us, we can’t keep up this pulling, that is certain. Amongst ourselves we are unendingly cheerful, but what each man feels in his heart I can only guess. Pulling on foot gear in the morning is getter slower and slower, therefore every day more dangerous.
    March 4th, 1912
    Things looking very black indeed. All the morning we had to pull with all our strength, and in 4 1/2 hours we covered 3 1/2 miles. Last night it was overcast and thick, surface bad; this morning sun shining and surface as bad as ever. We are about 42 miles from the next depot and have a week’s food, but only about 3 to 4 days’ fuel—we are as economical of the latter as one can possibly be, and we cannot afford to save food and pull as we are pulling. We are in a very tight place indeed. For the moment the temperature is on the -20°—an improvement which makes us much more comfortable, but a colder snap is bound to come again soon. I fear that Oates at least will weather such an event very poorly.

    At this point Cherry-Garrad is sitting with the dogs at One Ton Depot with 18 days supply of dog food and 5 weeks of rations. 5 days would take Scott to the next depot and it would be inconcievable that the dogs couldn’t get there in the same time.

    March 5th, 1912
    Regret to say going from bad to worse. We got a slant of wind yesterday afternoon, and going on 5 hours we converted our wretched morning run of 3 1/2 miles into something over 9. We went to bed on a cup of cocoa and pemmican solid with the chill off. The result is telling on all, but mainly on Oates, whose feet are in a wretched condition. One swelled up tremendously last night and he is very lame this morning. We started march on tea and pemmican as last night— Sledge capsized twice; we pulled on foot, covering about 5 1/2 miles. We are two pony marches and 4 miles about from our depot. Our fuel dreadfully low and the poor Soldier nearly done.
    March 6th, 1912
    The result is something less than 3 1/2 miles for the forenoon. Poor Oates is unable to pull, sits on the sledge when we are track-searching. If we could have kept up our 9-mile days we might have got within reasonable distance of the depot before running out. If we were all fit I should have hopes of getting through, but the poor Soldier has become a terrible hindrance, though he does his utmost and suffers much I fear.

    March 7th, 1912
    A little worse I fear. We only made 6 1/2 miles yesterday. This morning in 4 1/2 hours we did just over 4 miles. We are 16 from our depot. If we only find the correct proportion of food there and this surface continues, we may get to the next depot [Mt. Hooper, 72 miles farther] but not to One Ton Camp. We hope against hope that the dogs have been to Mt. Hooper; then we might pull through. If there is a shortage of oil again we can have little hope.

    Scott is showing confusion here Mount Hooper, is only 16 miles away, not 72 miles beyond. The dogs are still sitting at One Ton Depot.

    March 8th, 1912
    Worse and worse in morning; poor Oates’ left foot can never last out. Wilson’s feet giving trouble now, but this mainly because he gives so much help to others. We did 4 1/2 miles this morning and are now 8 1/2 miles from the depot—a ridiculously small distance to feel in difficulties, yet on this surface we know we cannot equal half our old marches, and that for that effort we expend nearly double the energy. The great question is, What shall we find at the depot? If the dogs have visited it we may get along a good distance, but if there is another short allowance of fuel, God help us indeed. We are in a very bad way, I fear, in any case.

    Scott consistantly blames their lack of progress on the weather and the surface rather than on their loss of condition.

    March 10th, 1912
    Things steadily downhill. Oates’ foot worse. He has rare pluck and must know that he can never get through. He asked Wilson if he had a chance this morning, and of course Bill had to say he didn’t know. In point of fact he has none. Apart from him, if he went under now, I doubt whether we could get through. With great care we might have a dog’s chance, but no more. The weather conditions are awful, and our gear gets steadily more icy and difficult to manage. At the same time of course poor Titus is the greatest handicap. He keeps us waiting in the morning until we have partly lost the warming effect of our good breakfast, when the only wise policy is to be up and away at once; again at lunch. Poor chap! it is too pathetic to watch him; one cannot but try to cheer him up.

    Yesterday we marched up the depot, Mt. Hooper. Cold comfort. Shortage on our allowance all round. I don’t know that anyone is to blame. The dogs which would have been our salvation have evidently failed. Meares had a bad trip home I suppose.

    Well that’s about the end of it, the next day they shared out the Opium tablets between them. Cherry Garrad left One Ton Depot the next day headed for base, having fed the dogs there for seven days.

    If he had continued to Mount Hooper no doubt he would have brought in Oates after leaving the other three with extra foor and oil, even so, would they have been able to get back?

    Certainly there would be no question of another dog run. With extra food and without Oates they would have made One Ton Depot before the weather that stranded them set in. Here there was food and full fuel cans to last until the end of April.

    130 miles from Hut Point, 90 from Corner Camp They are still severely frost bitten and tent bound until 26th March. Would they have possibly beaten the closing in winter weather?

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