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South Pole 100 years ago: The World learns about Scott's fate

Posted: Feb 12, 2013 09:07 pm EST

(Newsdesk) "If Captain Scott is not on the Terra Nova then the position is grave," speculated the 1913 media.

Robert Scott's ship, Terra Nova, arrived in New Zealand back from Antarctica on February 10th, 1913 and landed two men at Oamaru. A local newspaper, The Evening Post, reported "[two men] supposed to be Captain Scott and one of his officers" went ashore. Little did they know.

The two men were Edward Atkinson and Harry Pennell. They went ashore to send a coded message about the death of Scott and his men to the expedition's New Zealand agent, Joseph Kinsey. To the public the details of the death were covered in secrecy.

During the next two days the paper speculated. On February 12th, 1913 The Evening Post posted details of the death of Robert Falcon Scott and his men.

No bearers of good news

The newspaper reported on February 11th, "Disquieting rumours are circulating locally regarding the nature of the narrative brought back by the Terra Nova. Information is still denied to the New Zealand public by representatives of the expedition and Mr. Kinsey, though the embargo may be raised this afternoon."

"The men who have come back certainly have not the appearance of bearers of good news. It is pointed out locally that if Captain Scott has reached the Pole and returned to winter quarters last season, he would have spend the present summer in further exploration, and would not have been ready to come north so early. If he failed to get to the Pole and returned, he would have gone south again this summer, and would not have been ready to return to the Dominion before March."

"If Captain Scott is not on the Terra Nova then the position is grave."

"News will be awaited very anxiously."

Overtaken by a blizzard?

The Evening Post further reported on February 11th that more than one cable message from London announced, "directly or indirectly that Captain Scott, leader of the British expedition to the South Pole had met his death in the frozen Antarctic Circle."

The paper wrote that a message was send by Kinsey from Christchurch. "That message obviously led London to believe that Captain Scott and his companions were overtaken by a fatal blizzard on the return from the final dash. Why, then, would a definite date be given for the conquest of the Pole? Was there one survivor at least? Did the relief party find any of the bodies and gain evidence of the successful run to the Pole? The people suspense has to wait till further official news is available."

In the mean time, Scott's wife, Kathleen who was "on the high seas between San Francisco and Wellington," got the news and made her way to New Zealand.

Polar explorers react

Ernest Shackleton, who was with Scott on the Discovery Expedition (1901-04) and on his own Nimrod Expedition (1907-09) and turned around 97 nautical miles from the South Pole, said in an interview, he was amazed at the disaster. "It was inconceivable that an expedition so well equipped should perish in a blizzard. Sir Ernest said his party faced the severest blizzards without disaster."

Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who reached the South Pole before the Brits and announced his discovering of the South Pole also in New Zealand, was in Madison, Wisconsin, on a lecture tour. He exclaimed, "Horrible! Horrible! There must be some horrible mistake" He identified the spot mentioned in Captain Scott's records as the South Pole.

In Christiania (now Oslo) Fridtjof Nansen said, "Captain Scott's death is a terrible calamity - a los to England and the world. Our only consolation is that the shields of the men who so gloriously fought for the honour and benefit of the world are as bright and shining as the snow that covered their graves."

Details of the death

On February 12th, 1913, The Evening Post reported, "Today the civillised world mourns the tragic death of Captain Scott, commander of the British Polar Expedition, and four of his brave companions, who lost their lives when returning from the South Pole at the end of March last year."

They posted the details of the "awful tragedy" how the 5 men died, as well as Scott's Message to the Public.

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.

Previous/Related on ExplorersWeb:

South Pole anniversary 100 years ago: Three bodies in a snowed-up tent

South Pole anniversary final: March 29, 1912

Scott, Wilson and Bowers of the Antarctic: 11 miles, so near, yet so far

Hundred years ago: Amundsen breaking news; Scott in a very bad way

Scott’s lost ship, Terra Nova, discovered off the Greenland coast


The Evening Post, February, 12th 1913, Page 7. "Details of the awful tragedy are now available"
Image by The Evening Post courtesy Papers Past, SOURCE
This article about the return of the Terra Nova appeared in the Evening Post on 10 February 1913.
Image by The Evening Post courtesy Papers Past, SOURCE