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.

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