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Captain Scott's Diary

Image from Captain Scott's Diary

Captain Scott's Diary
British Library Add. MS 51035, f.39
Reproduced by kind permission of Lady Philippa Scott
A high-quality version of this image can be purchased from British Library Images Online. For more information email imagesonline@bl.uk

The diaries of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN (1868-1912), document the heroic attitude and scientific activities of polar explorers at the turn of the century. Scott led the Discovery (1901-1904) and Terra Nova (1910-1913) Antarctic expeditions. His diaries and sledging orders from the Terra Nova expedition, now held in the British Library, document all aspects of the expedition, including:

  • the voyage
  • establishment of the winter base
  • scientific work
  • sledging expeditions.

The page shown here is from Scott's last diary of the sledging journey to the South Pole between November 1911 and March 1912. This final entry was recorded on 29 March 1912.

New on Turning the PagesTM

A Virtual Book (Turning the Pages) version of Captain Scott's Terra Nova Diaries was published on 1 February 2010. Go to Virtual Books

The South Pole

On 18 January 1912 Scott became the first British expedition leader to reach the geographic South Pole. A few miles from the Pole, however, Scott's party found that a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen had got there first. Scott and his four men then faced a 700-mile trek back to the winter base. But they still found time for 'geologising'. On 8 February they came across an interesting moraine under Mount Buckley , and collected some important fossils. Yet the men grew weaker and unseasonably foul weather continued. Edgar Evans (Petty Officer, RN) suffered a fatal concussion on 17 February. Lawrence Oates (Captain, Sixth Iniskillin Dragoons), stricken with frostbite, walked to his death in the middle of March. Within two weeks Scott, zoologist Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers (Lieutenant, RIM) were caught in a blizzard 120 miles from the base. They perished in the tent only 11 miles from the next supply depot.

The last diary

Scott's last diary documents the most harrowing stage of his return journey from the Pole. By the end of March, Scott recognises that there is no hope of survival. He commends the spirit of the men. He also considers the legacy of the expedition, which maintained a scientific programme throughout. (Scott's party lugged 35 pounds of geological specimens until they died.) He writes letters to family and friends, and a message to the public on the planning and execution of the southern sledging journey. His final sentence, 'for God's sake look after our people' was reiterated in his message to the nation. Writing the diary remained one of Scott's priorities to the end.

Interpreting Scott's Antarctic diaries

The diaries have played an important role in shaping images of polar exploration. Scott's Last Expedition, edited by Leonard Huxley, appeared in 1913, and the account was popularised - not least to raise funds for the expedition that was in debt. A facsimile of the diaries produced in 1968 was introduced by Scott's son Peter, who drew parallels between his father's endeavours and modern space exploration. The diaries continue to inspire the rediscovery and invention of this pivotal moment in the history of British exploration and Antarctic science.

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