Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias

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Author: Edward Evans  | Date: February 11, 1913

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The New York Times February 11, 1913

Triumph and Tragedy at the South Pole

[1911–12]

II. The Death of Captain Scott

By Lieut. E.R.G.R. Evans, R.N.

[The New York Times,February 11, 1913]

CHRIST CHURCH, NEW ZEALAND, February 10.—Capt. Robert F. Scott’s Antarctic ship, the Terra Nova, on January 18, this year, arrived at Cape Evans, the base on McMurdo Sound, where it was to meet the explorers on their return from the expedition in search of the South Pole and bring them back, if they were ready. It was learned from the shore party found at this base that Captain Scott and the four men with him had reached the Pole on January 18, 1912, but all had perished on the return journey, about the end of March. Their bodies were not found until a searching party discovered them on November 12, nearly eight months after the disaster.

Captain Scott, Dr. Edward A. Wilson, chief of the scientific staff, and Lieut. R. Bowers had made their way back to within 155 miles of Cape Evans, when they were caught in a blizzard and were overcome about March 29. They were then within eleven miles of One Ton Depot, where they would have found shelter and supplies.

The search party left Cape Evans after the winter on October 30 last. The party, which was organized by Surgeon Atkinson, consisted of two divisions, Atkinson taking the dog teams with Garrard and Demetri, and Mr. Wright being in charge of a party including Nelson, Gran, Lashley, Crean. Williamson, Keohane, and Hooper, with seven Indian mules. They were provisioned for three months, as they expected an extended search.

One Ton Camp was found in order, and all provisioned.

Proceeding along the old southern route, Wright’s party sighted Captain Scott’s tent on November 12. Within it were found the bodies of Captain Scott, Dr. Wilson, and Lieutenant Bowers. They had saved their records, hard pressed as they were.

From these papers the following information was gleaned:—

The first death was that of Seaman Edgar Evans, petty officer of the Royal Navy, official number 160,225, who died on February 17 at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. His death was accelerated by a concussion of the brain sustained while traveling over the rough ice some time before.

Capt. L.E.G. Dates of the Sixth Inniskillen Dragoons was the next lost. His feet and hands had been badly frostbitten from exposure on the march. Although he straggled on heroically, on March 16 his comrades knew that his end was approaching. He had borne his intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and he did not give up hope to the very end.

Captain Scott wrote in his diary this tribute to Captain Oates:

"He was a brave soul. He slept through the night, hoping not to wake, hut he awoke in the morning. It was blowing a blizzard. Oates said: ’I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard, and we have not seen him since."

Another passage read: "We knew that Oates was walking to his death, but, though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman."

On March 16 Oates was really unable to travel, but the others could not leave him and he would not hold them back. After his gallant death, Scott, Wilson, and Bowers pushed on northward when the abnormally bad weather would permit them to proceed. They were forced to camp on March 1, in latitude 79°40′ S., longitude 169°23′ E., eleven miles south of the big depot at One Ton Camp.

This refuge they never reached, owing to a blizzard, which is known from the records of the party at Cape Evans to have lasted nine days, overtaking them. Their food and fuel gave out and they succumbed to exposure.

In Captain Scott’s diary, Surgeon Atkinson found the following, which is quoted verbatim:

Message to the Public

The causes of the disaster are not due to faulty organization, but to misfortune in all risks which had to he undertaken.

1. The loss of the pony transport in March, 1911, obliged me to start later than I had intended, and obliged the limits of stuff transported to be narrowed.

2. The weather throughout the outward journey and especially the long gale in 83° S., stopped us.

3. The soft snow in lower reaches of glacier again reduced pace.

We fought these untoward events with a will and conquered, but it cut into our provision reserve.

Every detail of our food supplies, clothing, and depots made on the interior ice-sheet and over that long stretch of 700 miles to the Pole and back, worked out to perfection. The advance party would have returned to the glacier in fine form and with surplus of food, but for the astonishing failure of the man whom we had least expected to fail. Edgar Evans was thought the strongest man of the party.

The Beardmore Glacier is not difficult in fine weather, but on our return we did not get a single completely fine day; this with a sick companion enormously increased our anxieties.

As I have said elsewhere we got into frightfully rough ice and Edgar Evans received a concussion of the brain—he died a natural death, but left us a shaken party with the season unduly advanced.

But all the facts above enumerated were as nothing to the surprise which awaited us on the Barrier. I maintain that our arrangements for returning were quite adequate, and that no one in the world would have expected the temperatures and surfaces which we encountered at this time of the year. On the summit in lat. 85°, 86° we have —20°, —30°. On the Barrier in lat. 82°, 10,000 feet lower, we had —30° in the day, —47° at night pretty regularly, with continuous head wind during our day marches. It is clear that these circumstances come on very suddenly, and our wreck is certainly due to this sudden advent of severe weather, which does not seem to have any satisfactory cause.

I do not think human beings ever came through such a month as we have come through, and we should have got through in spite of the weather but for the sickening of a second companion, Captain Oates, and for a shortage of fuel in our depots for which I cannot account, and finally, but for the storm which has fallen on us within eleven miles of the depot at which we hoped to secure our final supplies. Surely misfortune could scarcely have exceeded this last blow. We arrived within eleven miles of our old One Ton Camp with fuel for one last meal and food for two days.

For four days we have been unable to leave the tent—the gale howling about us. We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishman can endurehardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks; we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honor of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.

Had we lived, I should have bad a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.2

(Signed) R. Scott

March 25, 1912.

Surgeon Atkinson and his party gathered the records and effects of the dead men and read the burial service over their bodies and erected a cairn and cross in their memory over the inner tent in which he buried them. A record of the finding of their bodies was left attached to the cross.

The party then searched for twenty miles south, endeavoring to discover the body of Captain Oates. It was not found, but another cairn and record were left in the vicinity to his memory.

It should here most certainly be noted that the southern party nobly stood by their sick companions to the end, and in spite of their distressing condition they had retained every record and thirty-five pounds of geological specimens which proved to be of the greatest scientific value. This emphasizes the nature of their journey.

1 Dr. Cook stuck to his guns for a year and a half. Then, with too much doubt present in the world, he made a public statement: "After mature thought, I confess that I do not know absolutely whether I reached the pole or not. This may come as an amazing statement, but I am willing to startle the world, if, by so doing, I can get an opportunity to state my case." The New York Times editorially branded his confession "a contribution to psychiatrical literature" and commented that it should be followed by an apology.

2 The British public responded to this moving plea with a fund of almost half a million dollars. Part of the money was used to finance the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, On the façade of the institute is a Latin inscription: "He sought the secrets of the Pole, he found the secrets of God."

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Chicago: Edward Evans, "Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—II. The Death of Captain Scott," Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed July 19, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P1L8TBGG3ZXLLG3.

MLA: Evans, Edward. "Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—II. The Death of Captain Scott." Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 19 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P1L8TBGG3ZXLLG3.

Harvard: Evans, E, 'Triumph and Tragedy At the South Pole—II. The Death of Captain Scott' in Bullets, Bottles, and Gardenias. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 19 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=P1L8TBGG3ZXLLG3.