Friday, 23 March 2012

Robert Falcon Scott

Scott and his companions at the South Pole, 
 the disappointment etched on their faces.

The next few days mark the hundredth anniversary of the tragic end of Captain Scott's attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole  in 1912. Scott, of course, was beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen. 
His own compelling account of the ill-fated epic journey, published as Scott's Last Expedition,  remains a classic of the literature of exploration and is a witness to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of death, disaster and near impossible odds and goes a long way to explain our enduring fascination with the story. While it is possible, with a considerable degree of hindsight, to identify some of the mistakes Scott made in his polar attempt, we have at least moved on from the gratuitous and somewhat adolescent debunking of our national heroes exemplified by Roland Huntford in his book, Scott & Amundsen . 

Probably the most readable account of the Discovery Expedition itself - as much a scientific venture as a mere race for the pole - is that of Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World. It contains a moving account of the finding of Scott's tent, as well as this arresting opening sentence, “Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised.”  

These are among Scott's his last words, written while a blizzard was raging outside the tent in which he and his companions died:

"...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 ... Had we lived, I should have had 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......"

The Epilogue from Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica. 

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