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.

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