January 16, 2012

Tuesday, 16 January 1912


Wilson's sketch of one of Amundsen's markers, 16th January, 1912. This is Flag 1, of the Norwegians' evening camp on 13th December, near Scott's Camp 68. [1]

"The worst has happened, or nearly the worst," wrote Scott. "We marched well in the morning and covered 7 1/2 miles.... [We] started off in high spirits in the afternoon, feeling that to-morrow would see us at our destination. About the second hour of the march Bowers' sharp eyes detected what he thought was a cairn; he was uneasy about it, but argued that it must be a sastrugus. Half an hour later he detected a black speck ahead." [2]

"The flag was of black bunting tied with string to a fore-and-after which had evidently been taken off a finished-up sledge," noted Wilson, who would sketch another of the Norwegians' markers a few days later. "The age of the tracks was hard to guess but probably a couple of weeks -- or three or more. The flag was fairly well frayed at the edges. We camped here and examined the tracks and discussed things." [3]

"We're not a very happy party tonight," Oates wrote. "Scott is taking his defeat much better than I expected.... Amundsen -- I must say that man must have his head screwed on right."[4]

"It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal companions," wrote Scott. "Many thoughts come and much discussion have we had. To-morrow we must march on to the Pole and then hasten home with all the speed we can compass. All the day dreams must go; it will be a wearisome return. We are descending in altitude -- certainly also the Norwegians found an easy way up."

"I am awfully sorry for Captain Scott," Bowers wrote, "who has taken the blow very well indeed." [5]

Two days out from the Upper Glacier Depot at Mt. Darwin, Lashly wrote, "We are under the impression we are slightly out of our proper course, but Mr. Evans thinks we cant be very far out either way, and Crean and I are of the same opinion according to the marks on the land. Anyhow we hope to get out of it in the morning and make the Cloudmaker Depôt [the Middle Glacier depot at 84°33'] by night. We shall then feel safe, but the weather dont look over promising again to-night, I am thinking. So far we have not had to stop for weather. We have wondered if the Pole Party have been as lucky with the weather as we have. They ought by now to be homeward bound." [6]


The Norwegians reached their depot at 82°, the southernmost of their depots laid the previous autumn. "We had a special meal," Amundsen wrote, "to celebrate our arrival at civilisation's furthermost outpost in the South. Wisting has to be cook on such occasions. He plied us with a mixture of pemmican and seal steak. For dessert: chocolate pudding." [7]

The weather continued poor, with snowstorms, gales, drift, and fog, but they were now on their line of flags home. They were moving easily, despite the weather, between cairns, whose original four days' distance from each other was now down to two or three. The dogs had been put on double rations of pemmican, seal meat, and biscuits, and even chocolate as well towards the end, to lighten the loads.

Three members of the Japanese Antarctic Expedition in the Bay of Whales, January 1912. [8]

That day, Nilsen wrote aboard the Fram, "we were a little surprised to see a vessel come in ... finally we saw the Japanese flag. I had no idea that the expedition was on the way again." [9]

This was the Japanese Antarctic Expedition under Nobu Shirase. The ship had not reached the ice pack until late February, too late in the season to make land, and had returned to Australia before making a second attempt.

Their aim, Nilsen wrote, "was not (?) the Pole. In all, they had 25 (27?) men on board, 2 Ainus to drive their dogs, of which they had 27. They mostly eat vegetables, as far as I understand.... Together with Prestrud, I went on board Kainan Maru. It is a small, extremely dirty vessel of about 200 tons. Everything seems to be very disorganized. A seal lay half-dead on the ice; they only stood around and laughed at it. If we had had some firearms with us, we could have put it out of its misery.... [They] are really quite wild. We spoke 'English' with them."

“With an invitation to come again next day," Prestrud wrote later, "and permission to take some photographs, we returned to the Fram; but nothing came of the projected second visit to our Japanese friends. Both ships put out to sea in a gale that sprang up during the night, and before we had another opportunity of going on board the Kainan Maru the southern party had returned.” [10]


[1] Hinks, Arthur R. "The Observations of Amundsen and Scott at the South Pole", The Geographical Journal, v.103, no.4 (April, 1944), between pp.170-171.
[2] R.F. Scott, diary, 16 January, 1912, quoted in Scott's Last Expedition, v.1.
[3] E.A. Wilson, diary, 16 January, 1912, quoted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, ch.13.
[4] L.E.G. Oates, diary, 16-18 January, 1912, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.513.
[5] H.R. Bowers, diary, 18 January, 1912, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.486.
[6] William Lashly, diary, 16 January, 1912, quoted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, ch.XII.
[7] Roald Amundsen, diary, 17 January, 1912, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.507.
[8] Roald Amundsen Bildearkiv, Nasjonalbiblioteket.
[9] Thorvald Nilsen, quoted by Roland Huntford in The Amundsen Photographs (London : Hodder & Stoughton, c1987), p.138.
[10] Kristian Prestrud, "The Eastern Sledge Journey", in Roald Amundsen's The South Pole, ch.15. Note that the date is given as 17th January; see Hinks' note on dates in "The Observations of Amundsen and Scott at the South Pole" (The Geographical Journal, April 1944, p.169).

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