British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13

After several years of fundraising, Captain Robert Falcon Scott returned to Antarctica in what was to become one of the most famous Antarctic expeditions of all time; the British Antarctic ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition of 1910-13. Although the expedition had an ambitious science programme planned, Scott’s main aim was to reach the South Pole first.

Arriving in Antarctica in January 1911, the expedition set up base at Skuary, which Scott renamed Cape Evans, on Ross Island, just twenty-five kilometres north of his previously established Discovery Hut. Thirty-one men were to winter over, with six making up the Northern party at Cape Adare and twenty-five the Shore party at Cape Evans, and buildings were constructed at both sites. Once the parties were established, the Terra Nova left for the winter and the men spent the time carrying out scientific work and preparing for the sledging expeditions ahead. One expedition was, however, undertaken that winter, to Cape Crozier to collect Emperor penguin eggs. With twenty-four hour darkness and temperatures as low as -59°C, the men’s teeth cracked in their mouths and despite losing their tent in a blizzard, the men made it back successfully.

George Murray Levick

At Cape Adare, George Murray Levick carried out the only study ever made of the Adelie rookery found there, observing their entire breeding cycle over 1911-12. Observing what he described as ‘depraved behaviour’, this research was only made available privately to other researchers in Greek, and was only rediscovered and published in 2012.

The South Pole

With the onset of spring preparations began for the expedition to the South Pole. Scott had been disappointed when, in 1911, he discovered Roald Amundsen’s expedition had also planned an attempt on the South Pole, but continued with his plans regardless. On 1 November 1911, the South Pole party set off. Support parties used motor sledges, ponies and dogs to haul sledges and set up supply caches; as each method failed they resorted to man-hauling. On 4 January 1912 the last support party turned back, leaving the five members of the South Pole party; Scott, Wilson, Lawrence Oates, Edgar Evans and Bowers, to continue on alone.

Oates & Evans

On 17 January 1912 the party reached the South Pole, only to discover that Amundsen had beaten them there by thirty-five days. Disheartened, the party turned back but faced awful weather conditions and failing health. Inadequate rations took their toll as well as frostbite, snow-blindness, and injuries from falls. On 4 February Evans was badly concussed in a fall and died days later. Oates suffered from severely frostbitten feet, suggesting to the party that they leave him and, the following day on 17 March, walked out of the tent in a blizzard. The frostbite on his feet was so bad that he couldn’t face the pain of putting on his boots, and walked out to his death in his socks.

The Final Camp

The last three men of the party made their final camp on 19 March and, pinned down by a blizzard, ran out of food and fuel just eleven miles from One Ton Depot. Scott’s last diary entry was made on 29 March 1912. With weather conditions hampering any search efforts, by April the rest of the expedition realised that some misfortune must have befallen the South Pole party. Search efforts resumed the following spring, and on 12 November the tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers was found. After collecting their letters and diaries, the tent was collapsed and a snow cairn built over it and marked with a cross fashioned from a ski. The body of Oates was never found.

Leaving Antarctica

Whilst Scott’s party struggled back from the South Pole, in February 1912 Terra Nova had returned and transported the Northern party at Cape Adare to Evans Cove for a month of geological work. Ice conditions prevented her return however, and the party were forced to spend the winter in a snow cave before managing to walk back. As Terra Nova left for the winter, the remaining men at Cape Evans spent the time unsure as to the fate of both Scott’s party and the Northern party. In January 1913, with the fate of Scott’s party now known and the Northern party having reached Cape Evans, Terra Nova returned and the expedition left Antarctica. Before leaving a cross was erected on Observation Hill in memory of the South Pole party.


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