Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Smith was born in Devonport on 6 June 1868. At thirteen he became a navy cadet and served on a number of Royal Navy ships in the 1880s and 1890s. He was appointed by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in 1900 to command the National Antarctic Expedition aboard the purpose-built ship Discovery. Spending two winters in Antarctica, the expedition accomplished much scientific work, as well as setting a new southerly record of 82°16S during an attempt to reach the South Pole. Scott returned from this expedition a national hero, and was made a Captain in 1904. In 1908 he married Kathleen Bruce, and together they had one son, Peter, who was to become a famous naturalist. 

British Antarctic Expedition

Scott returned to Antarctica in 1910 aboard the Terra Nova, leading the British Antarctic Expedition with the aim of reaching the South Pole first alongside a programme of science. On 17 January 1912 Scott and four companions reached the South Pole, to find that the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it by thirty-five days. With diminishing supplies and declining health the party perished on the return trip, although their tent and the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were not discovered until November of that year. News of the expedition’s fate reached Britain in February 1913, and a memorial service led by King George V was held at St Pauls Cathedral.

National Antarctic ‘Discovery’ Expedition

With a range of scientific aims, the National Antarctic Expedition was to be the first time that land in Antarctica was explored extensively for zoological and geological purposes. Robert Falcon Scott was appointed as expedition leader in 1900 and, funded by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), British Government, and several donations, a specially designed ship Discovery was purpose built for the expedition.

Ross Island

Arriving in Antarctica in January 1902, the expedition set up their base on Ross Island, using a prefabricated hut collected from New Zealand as well as two smaller huts to be used for scientific observations. Main hut construction was completed by April, and although large enough to house many men, the size and concerns over rationing coal made it difficult to maintain a working temperature inside. Whilst the original plan had been for Discovery to leave the men to winter over, it was decided she should stay and so the men lived aboard Discovery, using the hut for scientific observations, drying furs and tents, skinning birds, repairs and as a venue for entertainment.

Scott & Shackleton

In February 1902 Scott and Ernest Shackleton, flew over the Great Barrier (Ross Ice Shelf) in a hydrogen balloon, with Shackleton taking the first Antarctic aerial picture. After a winter of research and planning they travelled to the other side of Ross Island, discovering an Emperor penguin rookery at Cape Crozier and taking the first photograph of an Emperor penguin chick. In December of that year a sledging trip led by Lieutenant Albert Armitage reached the Polar Plateau for the first time, whilst at the same time a sledging party of Scott, Edward Wilson and Shackleton attempted to explore as far south as possible. However, inexperience at using sledge dogs, lack of food and health problems meant that the party turned back.

Discovery returns to Britain

That same month the relief ship Morning arrived, taking nine members of the expedition home including Shackleton, who was still ill after the sledging trip south. The rest of the party remained. Sledging resumed the following spring, led by Scott ascending to the Polar Plateau and exceeding the previous year’s journey. As summer took hold efforts were made to free Discovery from the ice, but failed. On 5 January 1905 the relief ships Morning and Terra Nova were sighted, and attempts were made to free Discovery using explosives. With all attempts failing, plans were made to abandon the ship, but on 14 February the sea ice began to break up and Discovery was freed with the aid of more explosives, returning to Britain in September 1904.

Captain Scott
A National Hero

Scott returned home a national hero, with the expedition considered a resounding success. Scientific research and observations had been carried out in a range of fields including meteorology, geology, glaciology, botany and marine biology, and new geographical discoveries had been made. In addition, a furthest south record had been set, the first aerial photograph in Antarctica had been taken, an Emperor penguin colony had been discovered and the first ascent of the Polar Plateau had been made. Their legacy remains, with Discovery now restored and docked at Dundee, and Scott’s hut still standing at Hut Point on Ross Island.

British Antarctic Expedition

Captain Scott returned to Antarctica in what was to become one of the most famous Antarctic expeditions of all time.


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