November 15, 2007

November 1907


"The Gjoa, Roald Amundsen's ship, being dragged up a timbered slide to its resting place in Golden Gate Park, July 1909. Photo by Fernando Cortez Ruggles." [1]

Amundsen, on another lecture tour in America, wrote to his brother Leon back in Christiania, "On this side of Christmas I will have pocketed 1,000 dollars and that is at least something.... I intend to give Gjøa a thorough inspection to see if she might survive another trip.... Please keep quiet about all this." [2] It is not clear whether he had some other plan for the Gjøa or was simply hedging his bets in case he did not get the Fram.


[1] "The Roald Amundsen Monument, Or The Ship That Isn't There", Western Neighborhoods Project. See also "100 years since 'Gjøa' arrived in San Francisco" and "Gjøa" for the ship's fate.
[2] Roald Amundsen, letter to Leon Amundsen, [date not given], quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.66.

September 30, 2007

September 1907


The ground-floor living room at Polhøgda. Photo: Maryanne Rygg [1]

Towards the end of September, Amundsen went to Polhøgda ("The Polar Heights"), Nansen's home in Lysaker. Liv, Nansen's daughter, later wrote, "[Nansen] could not make up his mind and when the day came and Amundsen stood downstairs in the hall and waited, [mother] was unable to hide her distress either. She stood in the bedroom and heard Fridtjof's slow footsteps above her on the attic floor. With raised eyebrows she looked at him as he entered. 'I know what it's going to be,' was all she said. Without a word Fridtjof went out again and continued down the stairs to the hall. There he met another pair of tensed eyes. 'You shall have Fram,' said father." [2]


[1] "Polhøgda", Fridjof Nansens Institutt.
[2] Liv Nansen Høier, Eva og Fridtjof Nansen (Oslo : Cappelens, 1954), p.303, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.202.

August 11, 2007

Sunday, 11 August 1907

The Nimrod departing for the South. [1]

On 1th August, the Nimrod sailed for New Zealand and thence the Antarctic. Supported by private loans and individual contributions, the expedition was plagued by financial problems and preparations were rushed.

Their main goal, despite geographical and scientific work, was to reach the South Pole.


[1] Wikipedia.

June 4, 2007

Tuesday, 4 June 1907


Scott remained studiously quiet about his plans, and had no intention of being "pushed out of that position," he wrote to Shackleton, "by a windbag like Cook. My opinion of Cook is nil -- he is a needy adventurer -- seeking notoriety ... the man who gives money to Cook must be an ass." [1]

To Keltie, Scott wrote, "As regards the future, you saw Shackleton's article in the 'Tribune' prompted by Cook's essay -- he (Shackleton) wished me to make an announcement but I refused. I saw no reason -- as I presume it won't stop Cook if he means real mischief. This leads me to a real point. What is or has been the international position as regards exploring areas and how far do Geographical Societies regulate it? ... Is the Public Press the only means by which England can signalise her intention of going on in that area? if so what are international geographical congresses for? Will you tell me what are the Society's powers in this matter. Would it be listened to if it assured the American Societies that England was willing and able to go on wiht the work of exploration in that quarter."

"This is a matter of great importance to me. On these lines everything is going well. I have arranged for all the patient & exhaustive trials which I proposed to myself. I never talk idly -- so you will not think so when I tell you that I see my way ahead and a road to all the money I want.... When I go south it will be with something that promises a great reward by I cannot pretend that I do not wish to keep my field clear. It is not that I fear great things being done by others, but it's the occupation of the field of action by strangers which will render it impossible for me to go to the same field -- and possibly waste all my labours." [2]

A few days later, Scott wrote again to Keltie. "I should explain. I had no thought of an official letter being sent by the RGS to American societies. I presumed only that the RGS has sources of information with regard to what is happening in geographical matters which cannot be open to private individuals -- it being obviously absurd that two persons of different nationalities should start for the same place at the same time in ignorance of each other's intentions."

"Of course Cook may be and I think he is a mere adventurer, in that case official authority could do nothing. But it is scarcely right to assume that he cannot be genuine and if he is and continues preparation with the support of American Geographical Societies, both he & the authorities of the Society would be justifiably aggrieved if they were asked to change plans at the last moment.... I hope I have made the object of my last letter clear. i was not asking for the Society's support in any form -- I would not dream of doing so at such a time." [3]

Keltie replied, "Rupert England came to see me yesterday to tell me that he is engaged to go with Shackleton as Captain of the ship. He did not tell me that there was any secret about it, so I suppose there is no harm in my telling it to you. I understand Shackleton has practically bought his ship, I forget its name, I dare say you know it. For they are pushing on all they can to leave about the end of July or the beginning of August." [4]


[1] R.F. Scott to Ernest Shackleton, 23 May, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.337-338.
[2] R.F. Scott to Scott Keltie, 25 May, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.338.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 1 June, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.338-339.
[4] Scott Keltie, letter to R.F. Scott, 4 June, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.339.

May 30, 2007

Thursday, 30 May 1907


Nansen during his tenure as Norwegian ambassador to London from 1906 to 1908. [1]

Amundsen, perhaps suspecting that Nansen for whatever reasons of his own would not after all take the Fram south, wrote to him, "Forgive me that I already at this point approach you with a question. It may seem intrusive, but I hope that you will forgive me, as you know how great is my interest in this matter. Have you made a decision with respect to the journey we talked about when I was in London in February? I should prefer to be able to follow you and possibly be of some use; but should it be that this journey does not materialize, then I should very much like to have my plan -- or to use a more correct expression, your original plan -- of going through the Bering Strait and over the pole ready by autumn." [2]


[1] Nansen Electronic Photographic Archive, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[2] Roald Amundsen, letter to Fridtjof Nansen, 30 May 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.201.

May 27, 2007

Monday, 27 May 1907


Scott wrote somewhat more calmly to Keltie, "But indeed you mistake me altogether if you suppose that I have ever attributed any malicious motive to you -- in my angriest motive I never did that -- no the case was this, I cherished a warm feeling of friendship for you on account of many kind things you had done -- amongst them, most conspicuous, the care & attention you gave to my mother & sisters. Then the time came when it seemed to me you might have done something which a friend should have done and you didn't do it. -- That's the whole case. I've no claim that you should have treated me differently from a hundred others that came to your office -- it is only that I thought & expected that you would and therefore I was deeply disappointed & hurt when it seemed to me that you did not." [1]


[1] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 27 May, 1907,
quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.306.

May 25, 2007

Saturday, 25 May 1907


One of the prototype sledges being tested at Fefor in March, 1910. [1]

In order to interest potential backers, Scott had written a memorandum proposing the use of motor sledges in the Antarctic. "A glance at the figures ... for men haulage will show that it cannot be done in that way," he wrote, nor were dogs the answer. "It is only in considering the possibility of motor traction that the problem becomes practical.... I am of opinion that a very high Southern Latitude could be achieved and the possibility of the South Pole itself could be reached by the proper employment of vehicles capable of mechanical propulsion over the surface of the Great Southern Barrier." [2]

On Nansen's advice, Scott had taken 23 Siberian sled dogs with him on the Discovery, but had decided that their indifferent performance was due to their unsuitability for work in the Antarctic.

Barne had since found a backer for the motor sledges, Lord Howard de Walden, and begun developing a model; he also approached Reginald Skelton from the Discovery expedition.

"It took time," Barne wrote to Skelton, "but at length I have worked him [de Walden] up to something like enthusiasm on the subject and he has given his promise to help all he can ... he is only 27 and has rather a curious manner which may put you off at first but the manner hides great good nature.... You know his interest in motor boats -- this is his especial hobby and you will be wise to draw him out ... in other words as a matter of policy it will be expedient to let him imagine that his ideas are being worked out instead of yours -- But I can trust you to exercise tact." [3]

Scott wrote to Skelton, "Traction is the main thing and of course one turns to the motor; it matters not who first thought of it since it is so natural a thought to come to anyone." Skelton himself had made the suggestion on the Discovery in 1902. [4] "I have not told you of my scheme before," Scott went on, "because it seemed to me the moment had not come.... Now the moment has come -- There is only one person in the world that combines a knowledge of southern conditions with engineering skill and that is yourself."

Scott hoped that Skelton would come along as the expedition's second-in-command. "I have cherished the idea that if I went South again you would join -- what I want now is, not a promise that if all goes well you will come South, but your engineering skill and expert knowledge in designing and pushing forward the design of the ... motors Lord Howard will build.... I will only go South with a pretty good certainty of success and I believe that that can only be obtained by universal patience in getting the machine that is required." [5]

The sledge would be based on a caterpillar track, the first such designed specifically for use on snow; Skelton, in fact, had the idea of putting slats on the track to grip the surface.


[1] "How Scott's Motor Sledges Behaved", The New York Times, 16 February, 1913.
[2] R.F. Scott, "The Sledging Problem in the Antarctic: Men versus Motors," quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.232.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to R.W. Skelton, 25 May, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.337.
[4] Roland Huntford, Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.232 and 234.
[5] R.F. Scott, letter to R.W. Skelton, 25 May, 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.234.

May 17, 2007

Friday, 17 May 1907


Under pressure from both Scott and Wilson, Shackleton agreed to change his plans. "I am leaving the McMurdo Sound base to you," he wrote to Scott, "and will land either at the place known as Barrier Inlet or at King Edward VII Land, whichever is the most suitable. If I land at either of these places I will not work to the westward of the 170 Meridian W. and shall not make any sledge journey going W. of that meridian unless prevented when going to the South from keeping to the East of that meridian by the physical features of the country.... I shall not touch the coast of Victoria Land at all.... If I find it impracticable to land at King Edward VII Land or at Barrier Inlet or further to the N.E., I may possibly steam north and then to westward and try to land to the West of Kaiser Wilhelm II Land, going down to the meridian that the 'Challenger' made her furthest South." He concluded, "I think this outlines my plan, which I shall rightly adhere to, and I hope that this letter meets you on the points that you desire."[1]

"By doing so," Shackleton wrote bitterly to Keltie, "I much diminish any chance of success in the way of a long journey." [2]

"My dear Shackleton," Scott replied, "I return you this copy of your letter which is a very clear statement of the arrangement to which we came. If as you say you will rigidly adhere to it, I don't think our plans will clash and I will feel on sure ground in developing my own." [3]


[1] Ernest Shackleton, letter to R.F. Scott, 17 May, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.304.
[2] Ernest Shackleton, letter to Scott Keltie, [date not given], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.227.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, 17 May, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.304-305.

April 20, 2007

Saturday, 20 April 1907


Nansen persuaded the Norwegian government to grant Amundsen 40,000 kroner, at the time about £2,200, on condition that the ethnographical collection of Netsilik artifacts made on the Gjøa be given to the state. (Amundsen had in fact already offered to make such a gift.) The grant would clear most of Amundsen's debts from the Northwest Passage and allow funds collected on his forthcoming lecture tour in America to be used for a new expedition.

March 31, 2007

Sunday, 31 March 1907


Wilson, a photograph used as the frontispiece to v.2 of Scott's Last Expedition (1913). [1]

Scott asked "Bill" Wilson to accompany him as the new expedition's chief of scientific staff and official artist.

Edward Adrian Wilson was a naturalist, doctor, and gifted amateur painter who had accompanied Scott on the Discovery as zoologist, junior surgeon, and expedition artist. On the southern journey, during which they reached a then-record of 82° 17' S, he had become close to Scott, who was deeply impressed by Wilson's quiet optimism, serenity and sense of purpose, good temper, and faith.

"Can you really mean that you would like me to go south again with you?" Wilson wrote. "If you do I may tell you that nothing in the world would please me more, and my wife is entirely with me.... As for your good opinion of me I can only say that there is nothing I would not do to deserve it." [1]

Wilson, who was something of an ascetic, wrote privately to his wife, "I am getting more and more soft and dependent on comforts, and this I hate. I want to endure hardness and instead of that I enjoy hotel dinners and prefer hot water to cold and so on -- all bad signs and something must be done to stop it." He believed that he would survive to publish his work on ornithology. "This conviction makes me absolutely fearless as to another journey South, for whatever happened I know I should come back to you.... I should not feel it was right now to desert Scott if he goes." [2]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] E.A. Wilson, letter to R.F. Scott, 31 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.336-337.
[3] E.A. Wilson, letter to Oriana Wilson, [date not given], quoted by Diana Preston in A First Rate Tragedy (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998, c1997), p.103.

March 26, 2007

March 1907


Letters flew between Shackleton, Keltie, and Scott.

Shackleton had been bitterly offended by Scott's account of the southern journey in The Voyage of the 'Discovery' in October 1905, which Shackleton saw as implying weakness on his part, and that having to carry Shackleton on the sledge caused the distances to be shorter than they might have been. All three members of the southern party -- Scott, Wilson, and Shackleton -- had developed scurvy, but Shackleton was the only one who had been sent home early, which Shackleton saw not only as a personal criticism but as damaging to his reputation as an explorer and the possible leader of an expedition.

Shackleton said now that he had learned of Scott's plans only when he asked George Mulock, who had replaced him on the Discovery, to join him, and found that Mulock had already agreed to accompany Scott. "I took the letter to the Geographical Society and saw Kelty [sic]. I said 'What is the meaning of this?' Kelty said 'Oh! Mulock has let the cat out of the bag.' I said 'What do you mean?' I said 'Is Scott going to go?' He said 'Yes.'" [1]

Scott was furious and wrote to Keltie, "You do not say that you told him that I contemplated getting up an expedition, but it is impossible to imagine that you omitted to mention it when you saw him. That fact must therefore be that Shackleton deliberately worded his notice so as to forestall me -- I would have not believed it of any of my own people -- and since it is so I cannot express my condemnation of such an act too strongly." [2]

Keltie replied, "Your letter makes me feel very unhappy. I feel rather sorry now that when Shackleton spoke to me first about his expedition and told me that he was going to put it in the papers next day that I did not tell him what were your intentions.... But then I thought that you wanted to keep the whole matter absolutely secret.... Of course you will understand that my position here is a difficult one.... I think that you will admit that we could not ignore his expedition altogether."

"He has evidently been quite upset," Keltie went on, "by your letter and the letter he has had from Barne, he told me he has not slept for four nights. He has evidently been thinking over alternatives. He talked of the Weddell Sea, and landing there and trying to make his say to the Pole, then he thought of making King Edward VII Land his base of operations, and leaving the old Discovery quarters to you and even hinted that he might turn his expedition to the North Pole.... As to Shackleton's capacity as a leader and his staying powers, I think you and I take the same view. He looks strong enough, but it is clear that he is not absolutely sound, and Heaven knows what may happen if he starts on his journey Pole-wards." [3]

"As to his chance of success I do not like to express an opinion. On the one hand he has lots of energy & he may select his people well -- on the other I personally never expect much in this sort of work from a man who isn't straight -- it is the first essential for the co-operation necessary for such a venture -- of course also Shackleton is the least experienced of our travellers and he was never very thorough in anything -- one has but to consider his subsequent history to see that -- he has stuck to nothing & you know better than I the continual schemes which he has fathered." [4]

Shackleton, however, wrote to Barne, "I would rather lose the chance of making a record that do anything that might not be quite right," and a few days later that he could see that "as Britishers, the position is clear." [5]

Scott replied to Shackleton, "I am sorry to have done you this injustice and I think it right to tell you how it came about. I ... have the relief of knowing that you did not intentionally wreck my plans and the thought that you had done so was very distressing to me, for it seemed an action of which an old Discovery should have been incapable and one that surprised me beyond measure in you. I apologise for having thought you guilty of it. As to Keltie we must now draw our own conclusions -- His silence seems to have been deliberately calculated to make trouble -- he must have known that I should protest and think evil things of you and that you would be deeply troubled, as I gather you are ... neither of us I expect is likely to forget it." [6]

Scott wrote to Keltie a few days later, "I confess your silence appears to me inexplicable. Now that I know the facts I must of course acquit Shackleton of want of loyalty but I cannot think that you acted a friendly part.... It is beyond me to guess what was in your mind.... I confess I am at a loss to find your motive and being a plain dealing person I have been exceedingly hurt by your act." [7]

Wilson was already taking on the role of peace-maker between Scott and Shackleton, who wrote to him, "I do not agree with you, Billy, about holding up my plans until I hear what Scott considers his rights. There is no doubt in my mind that his rights end at the base he asked for, or within reasonable distance of that base. I will not consider that he has any right to King Edward the Seventh's Land, and only regard it as a direct attempt to keep me out of the Ross quarter if he should ever propose such a thing. I have given way to him in the greatest thing of all, and my limit has been reached.... [Just] as well might Borchgrevink have objected to Scott wintering anywhere within a radius of 500 miles of Cape Adare." [8]

"The question now," Scott wrote to Shackleton, "is what you intend to do? On the one hand I do not wish to stand in the way of any legitimate scheme of yours -- on the other it must be clear to you now that you have placed yourself directly in the way of my life's work -- a thing for which I have sacrificed much and worked with steady purpose -- Two expeditions cannot go to the same spot either together or within the compass of several years -- If you go to McMurdo Sound you go to winter quarters which are clearly mine.... I do not need to remind you that it was I who took you South or of the loyalty with which you all stuck to one another or of incidents on one voyage or of my readiness to do you justice on my return." [9]

There were in fact rumours that the Pole Henryk Arctowski, oceanographer from the Belgica expedition and shipmate of Amundsen's and Cook's, was planning to return to the Ross Sea.

Scott, still unwilling to show his hand publicly, wrote to Keltie, "If you in consultation with others think it wise to announce a change of Shackleton's plan and a hint as to my own I am willing that you should do so presuming it is solely to show the world that England intends to operate in the Ross Sea -- If you think no such statement is necessary but it will be sufficient to inform foreign rivals more privately it would be a course better suited to my views." [10]


[1] Ernest Shackleton, letter to R.F. Scott, 27 February, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.302.
[2] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, undated, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.302.
[3] Scott Keltie, letter to R.F. Scott, 1 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.301.
[4] R.F. Scott, letter, [addressee not given], 2 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.301-302.
[5] Ernest Shackleton, letters to Michael Barne, 5 March and 7 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.301.
[6] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, 7 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.302-303.
[7] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 11 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.303.
[8] Ernest Shackleton, letter to E.A. Wilson, 11 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.303-304.
[9] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, 26 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.303.
[10] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 26 March, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.304.

March 20, 2007

March 1907


Frederick Cook announced his plans to launch an attack on the South Pole from Ross Island.

Cook had been surgeon on Peary's third Greenland expedition in 1891-92, and on de Gerlache's 1897-99 Antarctic expedition in the Belgica, during which he had become close friends with Amundsen.

March 8, 2007

8 March 1907


Shackleton, while still going ahead with his own preparations, assured Markham that he would not impinge on Scott's. "I had always a wish to go to our old quarters thought it is only a short time ago since I saw a real chance. How even now things may be altered as I have heard from Captain Scott that he intends to go again.... I had not the remotest idea that he ever intended to go again: indeed he told us down South that he could not again go because of the Navy.... He has written me on the subject and so he really means to go. I have advised him that of course I will give up the McMurdo Sound Base.... I hope Scott will get a good fund and be able to do a really good show. I expect he really would like to do the Pole and I myself have not hidden that idea of mine; yet think that in doing that one can make sense of solving the secret of the Barrier."


[1] Ernest Shackleton, letter to Sir Clements Markham, 8 March, 1907, quoted by Ranulph Fiennes in Race to the Pole (New York : Hyperion, c2004), p.130.

March 4, 2007

Monday, 4 March 1907


Lt. E.RG.R. "Teddy" Evans, who had served as second-in-command of the Morning, one of the relief vessels on the Discovery expedition, had hoped to go with Barne to the Weddell Sea, but now wrote to Scott, "I am very disappointed that I shall not be Michael's navigator, but will you take me as yours? [If] you will only let me sail with you I promise that you will have no keener officer & no one shall work harder than I will.... I am tremendously enthusiastic about Antarctic exploration." [1]


[1] E.R.G.R. Evans, letter to R.F. Scott, 4 March 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.360-361.

February 28, 2007

February 1907


Amundsen received an offer of further lectures in England, although attendance, it was noted, would not be great. "Your spectacular expedition attracted attention among the scientific public, but has not caught the imagination of the general public sufficiently to make the lecture tour a financial success." [1]

It had been known for some time that the Northwest Passage would not after all be the navigable trade route hoped for since the days of Cabot, and interest had dwindled even in Britain, source of numerous expeditions even before that of Amundsen's hero Sir John Franklin. Still, the Norwegian Consulate in London wrote to Amundsen that they were "more than surprised by the way in which you and your expedition have been ignored by the British press," and his British press agent ventured that "the expedition had lacked grandeur despite achieving great things." [2]

"There is no doubt," wrote Scott Keltie, "that if you had returned home via Cape Horn with your ship, and thus circumnavigated America, before sailing up the Atlantic and along the Thames to London, it would have made a big impression on the British public and thereby you could possibly have got more money from papers and publishers." [3]


[1] Gerald Christy? quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.56-57.
[2] Both quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.57.
[3] Scott Keltie, letter to Roald Amundsen, [date not given], quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.57.

February 20, 2007

Wednesday, 20 February 1907


Ernest Shackleton [1]

Scott, perhaps still smarting from the announcement in the Times of Shackleton's expedition, in which it was noted "that the southern sledge party of the Discovery would have reached a much higher latitude if they had been more adequately equipped," [2] wrote to Scott Keltie, "I am astonished. I am in doubt as to the spirit in which Shackleton has acted -- of course it may be coincidence but it looks as though he has had an inkling of my intentions & has rushed to be first in the field.... Shackleton owes everything to me ... I got him into the Expedition -- I had him sent home for his health but I spared no pains to explain & publish reasons which should destroy any idea that reflected on his character -- First & last I did much for him." [3] "I believe," he added, "that every explorer looks upon certain regions as his own, Peary certainly does and I believe there are African precedents."

Amundsen certainly did not. He would write years later, "I do not belong to that class of explorer who believes that the Polar sea has been created for myself alone. My view is the diametric opposite. The more the merrier; simultaneously at the same place if you like. Nothing stimulates like competition. [That is] the sporting spirit that ought to reign in these regions. First come, first served is an old saying." [4]

Scott's own plans for an Antarctic expedition would not be made public until 1909.


[1] Wikimedia Commons.
[2] The Times, 12 February, 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.226.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 20 February 1907, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.225.
[4] Roald Amundsen, Gjennem Luften til 88° Nord, p.20, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.255.

February 18, 2007

Monday, 18 February 1907


To Scott, Shackleton's announcement seemed a breach of professional etiquette if not an act of outright treachery. Keltie, having been told Scott's intentions in confidence, could say nothing about them to Shackleton, and wrote to Scott, "He told me he had been planning something of the kind ever since he came back, probably to prove that though he had been sent home, he is quite as good as those who remained. He assured me that he had heard on the best authority that the Belgians had an expedition ready to send out to the Discovery quarters and make for the Pole, and that is the reason why he wished to rush out with his announcement.... The position is an awkward one, as you can understand."

"I suppose even if you had the necessary funds, you would not think of going down there as a rival to Shackleton? He is very confident of success, but I am doubtful of it myself, and it is just possible that he may have to return within 18 months after he set out without doing much. then of course it might be our opportunity." [1]

Scott was already writing to Shackleton. "The situation is awkward for me. As a matter of fact I have always intended to try again but as I am dependent on the Navy I was forced to reinstate myself & get some experience before I again asked for leave, meanwhile I thought it best to keep my plans in the dark.... You see therefore that your announcement cuts right across my plans but in a way I feel I have a sort of right to my own field of work in the same way as Peary claimed Smith's Sound and many African travellers their particular locality -- I am sure you will agree with me in this and I am equally sure that only your entire ignorance of my plan could have made you settle on the Discovery route without a word to me. As I say Michael Barne is now in town I wish you would meet him and discuss matters as he is in possession of my ideas."

Barne, who had been Scott's second lieutenant on the Discovery, had since tried to raise money for an expedition of his own to the Weddell Sea, but agreed in September 1906 to accompany Scott again instead.

"PS," Scott wrote, "I feel sure that with a little discussion we can work in accord rather than in opposition -- I don't believe the Foreigner will do much, the whole area is ours to attack." [2]

He was writing again almost immediately. "I ought perhaps to explain to you what has been my attitude with regard to the South a little more carefully as I wrote in haste.... Of course my intention was to go to McMurdo Sound our old winter quarters again! I cannot but look upon this as my area until I signify my intention to desert it -- I think this is not a dog in the manger attitude for after all I know the region better than anyone, everything concerning it was discovered by our expedition and it is a natural right of leadership to continue along the line which I made.... The foreigners always conceded this when I was abroad or rather they conceded that the sphere of the Ross Sea was English; indeed they did this in the case of 'Discovery' herself on account of Ross. Surely if a foreigner has the good taste to leave this to the country which has done the work there, the English must admit the same argument to apply amongst themselves." He added, somewhat disingenuously, "I would explain to you that the reason I did not write to you [earlier] was because it never entered my head that you had a wish to go on. I have imagined you as very busy.... I had naturally no object in keeping any of our old company in the dark, you know how attached I am to all and how gladly I would take anyone who cared come again." [3]


[1] Scott Keltie, letter to R.F. Scott, 18 February, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.299.
[2] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, 18 February, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.299-300.
[3] R.F. Scott, letter to Ernest Shackleton, undated, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.300.

February 11, 2007

Monday, 11 February 1907


Roald Amundsen and his crew aboard the Gjøa, upon arrival at Nome in 1906. In the back, from left, Godfred Hansen, Anton Lund, unknown, unknown; in front, Amundsen, Peder Ristvedt, Adolf Henrik Lindstrøm, Helmer Hanssen. Lindstrøm and Helmer Hanssen would later accompany Amundsen to the Antarctic. [1]

Amundsen lectured at the Royal Geographical Society in London, on his attainment of the Northwest Passage the year before. Admiral Sir Richard Vesey Hamilton said afterwards, "I do not think an Arctic expedition ever did so much with such small means.... I have had the experience of three Arctic winters and five Arctic summers, and I can say that nothing I have heard of surpasses the work of Captain Amundsen." [2]

Ernest Shackleton was also present at the lecture, having come to ask the support of the RGS for his planned expedition in the Nimrod to the Antarctic. [3]

At this time, and with a view towards achieving the North Pole, Amundsen asked Fridtjof Nansen if he could have the Fram, the ship that Nansen had commissioned for his exploration of the Arctic. Amundsen's plan was to repeat Nansen's 1893-1896 drift but to enter the Arctic ice pack further to the east, using wind and currents to reach a higher latitude than Nansen had, and thereby coming within range of a dash to the Pole with skis and dogs. Nansen, however, having long held a dream of being first at the South Pole, told Amundsen of his own plans for the Fram. [4]

The Fram was in fact State property, but such was Nansen's stature in Norway as not only an explorer but by now as a statesman and public figure that there was little question in Amundsen's mind who had the disposal of her.


[1] The two unidentified men are probably Ole Foss and an American called Beauvais, picked up late in the expedition as extra hands; see Amundsen's The North West Passage, v.2, ch.11.
[2] Geographical Journal
, vol.XXIX, no.5, p.485, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.199.
[3] "Ernest H. Shackleton".
[4] In Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), Tor Bomann-Larsen says that in March of 1906, the men on the Gjøa, in the accumulation of newspapers they received in Alaska after the Northwest Passage, first read of Nansen's tentative plans for the South Pole.

February 4, 2007

Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen, the photograph used as the frontispiece to The Northwest Passage. [1]

Born 16 July 1872, Roald Amundsen came from a family of shipowners and captains in southeastern Norway. His mother pressured him to become a doctor, but upon her death when he was 21, Amundsen left university for a life at sea. Inspired since boyhood by the crossing of Greenland by Nansen in 1888 and by the doomed Franklin expedition, Amundsen decided to become an explorer.

By 1907, Amundsen had accompanied the Belgian Antarctic Expedition, the first to winter in the Antarctic, and led his own expedition, the first to navigate the Northwest Passage and reach the North Magnetic Pole. He had learned much, and now set his sights on the North Pole itself.

The French ambassador to Norway, Louis Delavaud, wrote in 1912 of Amundsen at this time, "[This] man, whose energy and modesty I had often the occasion to admire, had never given me such an impression of power .... [That] he had an authority and charm, nobody denies, who has approached him.... Without chasing people, he does not flee them. [He possesses] simplicity ... and a charm of conversation enlivened by sharp remarks, but without malice. Far from seizing the occasion to shine, as he could easily do, he listens more than he speaks, quite happily keeping in the background, smiling a little vaguely, and always he avoids speaking of himself." [2]

Hugh Robert Mill, geographer and meteorologist, and librarian of the Royal Geographical Society, found Amundsen "of a reserved and very sensitive nature. Although brave, daring and self-reliant above most men, he shrank from criticism, and withered under any suspicion of ridicule. He was, I think, the most successful and the most unhappy of all the Polar explorers whom I have met." [2]


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] Louis Delavaud, L'Explorateur Roald Amundsen, pp.3-17, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.198.
[3] Hugh Robert Mill, An Autobiography, p.149, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.198.

January 29, 2007

Amundsen's route to the South Pole, 1910-1912

A map drawn from the first telegraphic account of Amundsen's route to the South Pole. Also shown is the route of Shackleton's Nimrod expedition in 1908-1909. No route is shown for Scott as it was not known at the time the map was drawn.

January 28, 2007

28 January 1907


In late January, Scott began to sound out the Royal Geographical Society about funding another Antarctic expedition. He spoke with Sir George Goldie, the Society's president, although his plans were still nebulous, and a few days later wrote to Scott Keltie, its secretary. "[You] must do the very best you can to enlist general sympathy. There cannot be a doubt that the thing ought to be done. There is the finest prospect of a big advance in latitude that has ever been before a polar explorer."

"Rub all this into Goldie -- it's essentially the thing for a Geographical Society and remember what a future generation will think if you lose the experience combined with the will to go when these are at your command. It will soon be on record of course that I want to go and only need funds. I am pretty certain that I could do the whole thing for £30,000. It won't look well for the Society if an inexperienced foreigner cuts in on the thing while we are wasting time. There really is a splendid chance." [1]


[1] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 28 January, 1907, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (
New York : Knopf, c2005), p.297.

January 6, 2007

Scott's route to the South Pole, 1910-1912

A map drawn by Apsley Cherry-Garrard for his book The Worst Journey in the World, of Scott's route to the South Pole, with depots shown.

January 4, 2007

Robert Falcon Scott

"Captain Robert Falcon Scott, R.N., C.V.O., F.R.G.S., Leader of the National Antarctic Expedition 1901–04 and 1910–12." [1]

Robert Falcon Scott was born 6th June, 1868, the son of a prosperous brewer and magistrate and his wife, in Stoke Damerel in Devon. Coming from a family with a strong naval tradition, young Scott entered the navy as a cadet at the age of thirteen, and in a fairly smooth progression was made lieutenant by 1889. Due to unwise investments and the unexpected deaths of his father and younger brother, Scott’s family found themselves in dire financial straits, with Scott the only means of support for his mother and two unmarried sisters.

In June of 1899, Scott volunteered to lead the expedition to the Antarctic then being put together under the auspices of Sir Clements Markham, then President of the Royal Geographical Society. The ambitious Scott regarded this as an excellent opportunity to both obtain an early command and to distinguish himself, not only advancing his career but providing support for his nearly-penniless family. Through the influence of Sir Clements, Scott was made leader of the expedition and promoted to the rank of commander. The Discovery sailed for the Antarctic on 31st July, 1901.

Amongst the fifty members of the expedition, there was little polar experience, and the expedition struggled in the Antarctic terrain. Skis and dogs were taken, but hardly any of the men knew how to use them. An ill-fated attempt to reach Cape Crozier on the easternmost part of Ross Island resulted in the death of one of the seamen in early 1902. A long march southwards taken by Scott with Ernest Shackleton, the expedition’s third officer, and Edward Wilson, its zoologist and junior doctor, got them as far as 82° 17' S, but led to Shackleton’s physical collapse from strain and scurvy on the return journey. Tensions between members of the expedition led to the departure of a number of them on the relief ships, including Shackleton himself, sent home on the grounds of ill-health. A second march in late 1903 led to the discovery of the Polar Plateau.

The Discovery returned to England in September 1904, and despite the expedition’s amateurism in many areas and the necessity for an expensive relief mission to free the ship from the ice, it received great public acclaim, and Scott was promoted to captain. Endless receptions and lectures and the writing of the expedition record, The Voyage of the Discovery (published in 1905), delayed Scott’s return to a full-time naval career until early 1906, when he became assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the Admiralty and later flag-captain to Rear-Admiral Sir George Egerton.


[1] National Maritime Museum.