March 21, 2010

Monday, 21 March 1910


The officers of the 1901-1904 British Antarctic Expedition aboard the Discovery. From left: Edward Wilson, Ernest Shackleton, Albert Armitage, Michael Barne, Reginald Koettlitz, Reginald Skelton, Capt. Robert Scott, Charles Royds, Louis Bernacchi, Hartley Ferrar, Thomas V. Hodgson. [1]

Skelton had assumed that the rank of second-in-command would be his, but the hiring of Lt. Evans put paid to that, as, although Skelton himself was willing to go in any capacity, Evans was unable to accept the notion of a commander of senior rank serving under him.

"I should be delighted to have you on the Expedition," Scott wrote to Skelton, "but it would be folly for me to indulge in a personal predilection and this may lead to friction -- I hope you see my position -- Evans would of course assent if I put my foot down but I don't think I ought to do that, for yielding on his part should be voluntary." [2]

Skelton, not only having sailed with Scott on the Discovery, but having developed the motor sledges for the new expedition, was understandably bitter about being jettisoned in favour of the inexperienced Evans. "If the dispensing with my services is so easy, I think it might have been put so 3 years ago when you [first] wrote ... to me about the motor sledge." [3]

"My dear chap, you are bound to feel sore over this matter and I cannot expect you will quite appreciate my motives. I am very grieved that it should be so.... I have the highest regard for your capabilities, your integrity, & your loyalty to myself," Scott wrote, adding at last, "I'm sorry awfully sorry." [4]


[1] Wikimedia Commons.
[2] R.F. Scott, letter to Reginald Skelton, 21 March, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.361.
[3] Reginald Skelton, letter to R.F. Scott, 7 April, 1910, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.279.
[4] R.F. Scott, letter to Reginald Skelton, 3 April, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.362.

March 18, 2010

Friday, 18 March 1910


Earlier in the year Scott had hired Cecil Meares as dog expert. Meares, the son of a major in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, was a wanderer and adventurer, an expert on eastern Siberia and Manchuria who spoke Russian, Chinese, and Hindustani, had made a number of journeys by dog including one of some two thousand miles across Siberia to Cape Chelyuskin on the Arctic Ocean, and had been recommended to Scott by someone at the Admiralty.

From Nikolayevsk in Siberia, Meares wrote, "I have been kept very busy collecting dogs, trying teams & picking out one or two dogs and making up a team & trying it on a run of 100 miles & throwing out the dogs which do not come up to the mark.... I expect to be back in Vladivostock [sic] by the middle of June where I will collect the ponies.... It is a very long contract indeed to choose all these animals & carry them down to Australia single handed." [1]

Meares eventually collected thirty-four dogs there in Nikolayevsk, and persuaded a Russian dog-driver, Dimtri Gerov, to join the expedition as his assistant; they then travelled to Vladivostok, where they selected the ponies. Per Scott's instruction, Meares purchased only white ponies, as on the Nimrod expedition Shackleton had noted that the dark ponies succumbed first. As white ponies were only a small percentage of those available, Meares, who did not claim to be an expert on horses, was severely limited in choice. Anton Omelchenko, a Russian jockey Meares hired, reported afterwards that the horse dealer left "with a plenty big smile". [2]


[1] Cecil Meares, letter to his father, 18 March, 1910, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.387-388.
[2] Anton Omelchenko, in Frank Debenham, diary, 18 June, 1911, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.325.

March 5, 2010

March 1910

Tryggve Gran as a naval cadet. [1]

Inspired by the second Fram expedition to the Canadian Arctic and by Shackleton's travels, the twenty-year-old Norwegian Tryggve Gran was in fact planning an expedition of his own to the Antarctic, and had had a ship built for the purpose, to start from Norway the next summer. He had consulted Nansen, who was dismayed not so much by Gran's enthusiasm as by his youth and polar inexperience. Nansen did, however, see an opportunity to benefit both Gran and Scott, and arranged for the three of them to meet at Hagen's in Christiania, the ski and sporting-goods manufacturers famous for fitting out expeditions, where Nansen (very casually, one imagines) turned to Scott and remarked, as Gran recorded later, "Now you're going to take ski with you. Shackleton didn't take ski and told me when he had lunch with me if he had known how to use ski he would have reached the pole. He would have done!"

"But remember," Nansen went on, "it's no use having ski unless you know how to use them properly. You ought to [let] a Norwegian show [you]. Well, if you can point out a man who can show me, says Scott, I would be very thankful to you. So [Nansen] knocked me on the shoulder and said, well, Gran, can't you do it? And I said, with the greatest pleasure." [2]

Gran caught the train to Fefor with Scott to discuss the matter and, merely a day later, was presented with the opportunity to prove both himself and the noble art of skiing when an axle on the motor sledge broke, and the British were faced with a long journey to the workshop for repairs. Instead, Gran went off down the valley on skis with the broken pieces strapped to his back, and returned a mere five hours later with the repaired axle.

"Scott could scarcely believe his eyes," Gran later wrote. Scott had never seen two ski poles used, only the by-now obsolete single pole, and Gran's apparently-effortless gliding and climbing impressed Scott deeply. [3] "[He] suddenly stopped and asked me if I would consider postponing my own Antarctic plans and follow him South instead. I thought I had heard wrongly, and it was only when Scott explained that now, for the first time he realized what ski, properly used, would mean to him and his expedition, that I grasped that my ears had not been playing me tricks." [4]


[1] IFFHS.
[2] Tryggve Gran, in an interview with Roland Huntford, quoted by Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.275-276.

In this 1893 studio portrait, Amundsen (centre) and his friends Laurentius Urdahl and Vilhelm Holst recreate their crossing of the Hardanger plateau in December of that year. At that time, the use of a single long ski pole was still common, but the two-pole style was becoming popular due to the increased agility possible. Nansen himself used a single pole for part of his 1888 traverse of Greenland, with two poles for the inland ice. See, for example, "Ancient skis in Finland" and "Ski history timeline".
[4] Tryggve Gran, Fra Tjuagutt til Sydpolfarer (Oslo: Mortensen, 1974), quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.276-277.

March 3, 2010

March 1910


Scott wrote to an old Discovery, P.O. Edgar Evans, asking him to come on the expedition. "I expect you will be appointed in about a fortnight's time, and I shall want you at the ship to help fitting her out." [1] Scott had known Evans from their days together on the Majestic, and since the Discovery expedition had come to value Evans's "Herculean strength" and resourcefulness as well as his colourful personality. [2]

Also signed on were other old Discoverys Lashly, Crean, and Williamson.

William Lashly, a forty-three-year-old Hampshire man, was a teetotaller and non-smoker, dependable, hard-working, and good-natured, and was called by Skelton as "far and away the finest man in the ship". [3] He would be the Terra Nova's Chief Stoker, and part of the landing party.

Irishman Tom Crean had joined the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen, and volunteered for the Discovery expedition, where his service as able seaman had earned him a reputation as being tough and capable. Albert Armitage, Discovery's second-in-command, wrote of him, "Crean was an Irishman with a fund of wit and an even temper which nothing disturbed." [4] Now thirty-two, he was signed on as petty officer.

Thomas Williamson had volunteered for the Discovery expedition, where he took part in sledging journeys including the Cape Crozier emperor penguin rookery in September 1903. Like Crean, he was now thirty-two and signed on as one of Terra Nova's petty officers.


[1] R.F. Scott, letter to Edgar Evans, [March 1910], quoted by Diana Preston in A First Rate Tragedy (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1998, c1997), p.111.
[2] R.F. Scott, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.234.
[3] Reginald Skelton, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.234.
[4] Albert Armitage, quoted by Michael Smith in An Unsung Hero : Tom Crean, Antarctic Survivor (London : Headline, 2000), p.46.

March 1, 2010

March 1910


Fefor Høifjellshotell [1]

The motor-sledge trials at Fefor, March 1910. [2]

Scott travelled to Fefor, in the mountains of Gudbrandsdalen north of Oslo, to consult with Nansen and to test the motor sledges.


[2] "Norway: Tracing the tracks of Captain Scott and the South Pole Race",