The first sight of Oates at the Victoria Street offices gave the expedition members something of a surprise. "We had pictured a smartly-turned-out young cavalry officer with hair nicely brushed up and neat moustache," Teddy Evans wrote later. "Our future companion turned up with a bowler characteristically on the back of his head and a very worn Aquascutum buttoned up closely round his neck, hiding his collar, and showing a strong, clean-shaven, weather-beaten face with kindly brown eyes indicative of his fine personality. 'I'm Oates,' he said." 
At the West India Docks a few days later, it was the same story. "We could none of us make out who or what he was when he came on board," Tom Crean remembered, "we never for a moment thought he was an officer for they were usually so smart! We made up our minds he was a farmer, he was always so nice and friendly, just like one of ourselves, but oh! he was a gentleman, quite a gentleman, and always a gentleman!" 
Frank Debenham later said that Oates's appearance was generally that of "a stableman with unusual good manners". 
Oates proved to be so useful as the Terra Nova was being fitted out, that Evans and Campbell asked that he be enrolled as a midshipman and stay onboard rather than go to Siberia with Meares to select the dogs and ponies. Scott agreed.
 E.R.G.R. Evans, "My Recollections of a Gallant Comrade," The Strand Magazine, December 1913, quoted by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley in Captain Oates : Soldier and Explorer (London : Batsford, 1982), p.94-95.
 Tom Crean, quoted by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley in Captain Oates : Soldier and Explorer (London : Batsford, 1982), p.95.
 Frank Debenham, in The Quiet Land (1992), quoted by Diana Preston in A First Rate Tragedy (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998, c1997), p.108.