November 12, 2012

Tuesday, 12 November 1912


The cairn, November 1912. [1]

Early in the morning, about ten miles south of One Ton Depot, they saw in the distance what they thought was a cairn. Wright, going over to investigate, saw that it was a tent that had been drifted up.

Wright later wrote, "I had been plugging away along my chosen course when I saw a small object projecting above the surface on the starboard bow, but carried on the chosen course until we were nearly abreast of this object.... I decided [it] had better be investigated more closely, but did not expect if was of great interest.... It was the 6 inches or so tip of a tent and was a great shock.... I tried to signal my party to stop and come up to me, but my alphabetical signals could not be read by the navy and I considered it would be a sort of sacrilege to make a noise. I felt much as if I were in a cathedral and found myself with my hat on." [2]

He went out to meet the rest of the advance party, waiting until Atkinson and Cherry could arrive.

"Wright came across to us," Cherry wrote afterwards. "'It is the tent.' I do not know how he knew. Just a waste of snow: to our right the remains of one of last year's cairns, a mere mound: and then three feet of bamboo sticking quite alone out of the snow: and then another mound, of snow, perhaps a trifle more pointed. We walked up to it. I do not think we quite realized -- not for very long -- but some one reached up to a projection of snow, and brushed it away. The green flap of the ventilator of the tent appeared, and we knew that the door was below." [3]

"I must own I shed a few tears," wrote Williamson, "and I know the others did the same, it came as a great shock to us all, although we knew full well for months past that we should meet with this sort of thing everyone seemed dumfounded [sic] we did not touch anything but just stood gazing and wondering what awful secrets the tent held for us." [4]

Two of the men went into the tent, but they could see little as the drift around it obscured the light, until they dug it out.

"Everything was tidy," wrote Cherry later. "The tent had been pitched as well as ever, with the door facing down the sastrugi, the bamboos with a good spread, the tent itself taut and shipshape. There was no snow inside the inner lining. There were some loose pannikins from the cooker, the ordinary tent gear, the personal belongings and a few more letters and records -- personal and scientific. Near Scott was a lamp formed from a tin and some lamp wick off a finnesko. It had been used to burn the little methylated spirit which remained. I think that Scott had used it to help him to write up to the end. I feel sure that he had died last -- and once I had thought that he would not go so far as some of the others. We never realized how strong that man was, mentally and physically, until now."

After ordering camp to be made a little ways off, Atkinson then opened the tent and, before anything was removed, insisted on each of them going in one by one, so that there could be no disagreement over what was found.

"Captain Scott lay in the middle, half out of his sleeping bag," Gran wrote, "Bowers on his right, and Wilson on his left but twisted round with his head and upper body up against the tent pole. Wilson and Bowers were right inside their sleeping bags. The cold had turned their skin yellow and glassy, and there were masses of marks of frost-bite. Scott seemed to have fought hard at the moment of death, but the others gave the impression of having passed away in their sleep." [5]

"I did not go over for quite a good time," Williamson wrote, "for fear I could not look on this most pityable [sic] scene, but when at last I made up my mind I saw a most ghastly sight, those sleeping bags with frozen bodies in them the one in the middle I recognized as Capt. Scott ... the other two bodies I did not see, nor did I care to see them poor fellows." [6]

When they had finished, Atkinson took out the watches and documents, and the tent was collapsed over the bodies and a cairn built, topped by Gran's skis tied into a cross. Atkinson read the burial service.

"We never moved them," wrote Cherry. "We took the bamboos of the tent away, and the tent itself covered them. And over them we built the cairn. I do not know how long we were there, but when all was finished, and the chapter of Corinthians had been read, it was midnight of some day. The sun was dipping low above the Pole, the Barrier was almost in shadow. And the sky was blazing -- sheets and sheets of iridescent clouds. The cairn and Cross stood dark against a glory of burnished gold."

"It was a truly solemn moment," Gran wrote. "It was moving to witness 11 weather-beaten men standing with bared heads singing. The sun flamed through threatening storm-clouds, and strange colours played over the icy desert. Driving snow whirled up around us and, when the hymns came to an end, a white mantle had already covered the dead." [7]


[1] Scott Polar Research Institute.
[2] Charles S. Wright, Silas : the Antarctic Diaries and Memoir of Charles S. Wright (Columbus : Ohio University, 1993), quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.509.
[3] Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, ch.14.
[4] Thomas Williamson, diary, 12 November, 1912, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.554.
[5] Tryggve Gran, diary, 12 November, 1912, quoted in The Norwegian With Scott : Tryggve Gran's Antarctic Diary 1910-1913 (National Maritime Museum, 1984), p.216.
[6] Thomas Williamson, diary, 12 November, 1912, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.554.
[7] Tryggve Gran, diary, 12 November, 1912, quoted in The Norwegian With Scott : Tryggve Gran's Antarctic Diary 1910-1913 (National Maritime Museum, 1984), p.217.

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