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South Pole anniversary final: March 29, 1912

Posted: Mar 29, 2012 02:07 pm EDT

(Correne Coetzer) Today hundred years ago Scott made his last diary entry, tent bounded with Wilson and Bowers in a storm and no provisions left for several days already.

They had been travelling on foot to the South Pole and back since November 1, 1911. Their bodies were weak and their minds shuttered by the discovery that they were not the first at the South Pole.

Scott wrote in one of the letters that was found eight months later with them in their tent, “We have decided not to kill ourselves, but to fight to the last for that depôt, but in the fighting there is a painless end.”

Robert Scott’s last diary entry

Thursday, March 29.— Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W.

We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot

11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift.

I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.


For God's sake look after our people.

Scott’s letters

Scott wrote several letters; to his mother, his wife and several other Brits. Also to Mrs. Wilson and Bowers’ mother; praising his two companions’ cheerfulness, energy and sacrifice to others.

In one of the letters he said, in his private kit bag there is a piece of the Union Jack he put up at the South Pole, together with Amundsen's black flag and “other trifles”. He requested, “Send a small piece of the Union Jack to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra.”

Scott also wrote a message to the public, summarizing their experience on the trail, the bad weather and the death of Evans and Oates. “We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past.”

The search team

Eleven men over-wintered a second time on Antarctica. On October 29th, 1912 Wright, Nelson, Gran, Lashly, Crean, Williamson, Keohane, and Hooper left in search of Scott and his men. They went with six mules, sledges, and an ample amount of food.

The next day Atkinson, Cherry-Garrard and Dimitri followed with two dog teams. On the morning of November 12th they found Scott's tent, covered with snow and appeared like a cairn.

Atkinson went in first and saw three men in their sleeping bags. He recognized Scott in the middle, but the other two had their faces covered with their sleeping bags. After taking the diaries, letters and other documents, Atkinson read through them and informed the men what had happened.

Gran and Atkinson’s accounts

Trygvy Gran, the Norwegian in the British team, wrote in his diary:

"It has happened—horrible, ugly fate, only 11 miles from One Ton Depot, Scott, Wilson, and Birdie. All ghastly. I will never forget it as long as I live: a terrible nightmare could not have shown more horror than this 'Campo Santo'.”

“In a tent, snow covered to above the door, we found the three bodies. Scott in the middle, half out of his bag, Birdie on his right, and Uncle Bill on the left, lying head towards the door... Bowers and Wilson seem to have passed away in a kind of sleep…”

Gran gave a short summary of what had happened to the five men and added, “All this only a day's march from plenty…. We buried them this morning, a solemn undertaking. How strange it was to see men bareheaded whilst the wind blew with the thermometer at -20 degrees. We are now going to look for 'Soldier' [Oates]."

He continued, “I must say our Expedition is not given much luck … the sun is shining beautifully in this place of death: over the Bluff this morning stood a distinct cross in clouds."

Gran later said, "When I saw those three poor souls the other day, I just felt that I envied them. They died having done something great. How hard death must be for those who meet it having done nothing."

Edward Atkinson reported, "We recovered all their gear and dug out the sledge with their belongings on it. Amongst these were 35 lb. of very important geological specimens which had been collected on the moraines of the Beardmore Glacier: at Doctor Wilson's request they had stuck to these up to the very end, even when disaster stared them in the face and they knew that the specimens were so much weight added to what they had to pull…."

Record left by the search team at burial site

"November 12, 1912, Latitude 79 degrees, 50 minutes, South. This cross and cairn are erected over the bodies of Captain Scott, C.V.O., R.N., Doctor E.A. Wilson, M.B., B.C., Cantab., and Lieutenant H.R. Bowers, Royal Indian Marine—a slight token to perpetuate their successful and gallant attempt to reach the Pole. This they did on January 17, 1912, after the Norwegian Expedition had already done so.

Inclement weather with lack of fuel was the cause of their death. Also to commemorate their two gallant comrades, Captain L.E.G. Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoons, who walked to his death in a blizzard to save his comrades, about eighteen miles south of this position; also of Seaman Edgar Evans, who died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. 'The Lord gave and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord."

Signed by all the men.

After the men searched for Oates’ body they turned around and passed the cairn again. Atkinson wrote, "On the second day we came again to the resting place of the three and bade them there a final farewell. There alone in their greatness they will lie without change or bodily decay, with the most fitting tomb in the world above them."

The British ‘Terra Nova’ polar team with Robert Falcon Scott as leader set off from Cape Evans on November 1, 1911 on their quest to discover the South Pole. The polar party who arrived at the already discovered South Pole on January 17, 1912 was Henry (Birdie) R. Bowers, Edward (Bill) A. Wilson, Lawrence E.G. (Titus) Oates and Edgar Evans (Petty Officer Evans died on the way back, February 17, 1912 and Oates a month later). The rest of the team will meet their end with the last word from them on March 29, 1912.

October 20, 1911 Roald Amundsen and his Norwegian team, Olav Bjaaland, Oscar Wisting, Helmer Hanssen and Sverre Hassel, set off from The Bay of Whales to discover the Geographic South Pole (90°S) on December 14, 1911. Kristian Prestrud, Jørgen Stubberud and Hjalmar Johansen stayed behind at Framheim (Bay of Whales) with the cook, Adolf Lindström.

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Wilson and Bowers had their sleeping-bags closed over their heads. Scott had thrown back the flaps of his sleeping-bag and opened his coat.
Image by Trygvy Gran
Scott's last diary entry.
Scott's route.
courtesy National Library of Scotland
Scott’s wallet with a photo of his son, Peter, and a letter of his wife, Kathleen.