Digital Exploration from Pole to pixel

On 3 February, digital versions of legendary British polar explorer Captain Scott's last three diaries will be launched online by the British Library at: www.bl.uk/turningthepages.

Scott's last three diaries were kept on the sledging journey to the South Pole between November 1911 and March 1912. Extracts are shown from the first two of the diaries while the last diary is shown in its entirety. Turning the Pages uses threedimensional animation which allows the viewer to mimic the action of turning each page on a computer screen. This technology enables viewers to magnify parts of the diaries, rotate pages and read commentary about the expedition and the explorer.

 

Captain Scott's Diary

The diaries of Captain Robert Falcon Scott (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) British Antarctic expeditions. Scott's diaries and sledging orders from the Terra Nova expedition are held in the British Library and they document all aspects of the expedition, including the voyage, establishment of the winter base, scientific work and sledging expeditions.

The South Pole
On 18 January 1912, Scott was the first British expedition leader to reach the geographic South Pole. A few miles from the Pole, however, Scott's party found that they had been beaten by a rival Norwegian party, led by Roald Amundsen. Scott and his four men then faced a 700 mile trek back to their winter base. The men grew weaker and unseasonably foul weather continued. Edgar Evans suffered a fatal concussion on February 17. Lawrence Oates, stricken with frostbite, walked to his death in the middle of March. A few days later, Scott, zoologist Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers were caught in a blizzard 120 miles from the base. They perished in their tent only 11 miles from the next supply depot.

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 and considers the legacy of the expedition, which maintained a scientific program throughout (Scott's party lugged 35 pounds of geological specimens to their deaths). He writes letters to family, 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.

Katrina Dean, Curator of the History of Science at the British Library, said:

“Scott's Antarctic diaries have played an important role in shaping images of polar exploration so it's great that people all over the world can now explore the original diaries online. I hope they continue to inspire the rediscovery and reinvention of this pivotal moment in the history of British exploration and Antarctic science”

Two of the original diaries of Captain Scott can be seen on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library at St Pancras in a special display that includes:

  • A photograph of the Polar Party, taken by Lieut. Henry Bowers, which shows the other four members of the Polar party: Scott, Oates, Wilson and Evans. The camera, with its unexposed film, was found by the search party that discovered the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in November 1912.
  • An article from the expedition's inhouse magazine, The South Polar Times, that lightheartedly speculates on the possibility of a more temperate climate in the future, and predicts that one day it may be possible to bring tourist parties to the Pole by aeroplane - a prediction that came true in 1988 when the first tourist party visited the Pole.
  • An advertising leaflet produced before the news of Scott's death reached England, and optimistically looks forward to ‘definite news of Captain Scott's success' in March 1913.
  • The penultimate diary of Captain Scott. On 17 January 1912 Scott and his party arrived at the South Pole, only to discover that the rival expedition led by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them by more than a month. In his diary, Scott generously acknowledged Amundsen's success but did not disguise his own bitter disappointment, describing it as a ‘horrible day'. Later that day, in the same diary entry, he admitted for the first time that he and his companions might not survive the homeward journey.
  • The final diary of Captain Scott. By March 1912 Scott and his companions knew they had little hope of survival. Oates's feet were badly frostbitten, and on 16 March he left the tent and walked out to die in the blizzard. Scott's diary entry records his final words: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.' The other members of the party survived for another thirteen days before dying on 29 March, only eleven miles from their supply depot.
Events

90 Degrees South: With Scott to the Antarctic
16 March 18.30 - 20.00 (£6 / £4 concessions)

Antarctica and Great Britain. 1933. 72 Minutes. B&W. Produced, photographed and narrated by Herbert G. Ponting. With: Captain Robert F. Scott and the members of his expedition. A spellbinding chronicle, from original footage, of Robert Scott's heroic and ultimately tragic race for the South Pole in 191112. Ponting's hauntingly beautiful images of ice caves and Antarctic wildlife are timeless masterpieces of cinematography. The film, which quotes from Scott's diary, remains astonishingly moving. The film will be introduced by polar geographer and presenter Paul Rose.

The Future of Antarctica
Wednesday 7 April 18.30 - 20.30 (£7.50 / £5 concessions)

The last great unspoilt region on Earth faces an uncertain future in the face of climate change, tourism and pressure to exploit its resources. Despite the remoteness and extremes of Antarctica, this most fascinating continent is a key part of global dynamic systems. Its long term prospects are discussed by contrasting experts in their fields: Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics at RHUL and author of Pink Ice: Britain and the South Atlantic Empire; Chris Rapley, Former Director of the British Antarctic Survey and now Director of the Science Museum; science writer and regular polar visitor Gabrielle Walker and Sara Wheeler, author of Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, and most recently The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle. The discussion will be chaired by BBC Environment Correspondent David Shukman.

Tickets available at http://boxoffice.bl.uk, by calling +44(0)1937 546546 (9am5pm MonFri) or in person at The British Library. For more information please visit: www.bl.uk/whatson.

Notes to Editors

Acknowledgements
The British Library would like to thank the following for their support of Robert Falcon Scott's Diaries on Turning the Pages:

  • The Scott family for their kind permission to reproduce the diaries
  • The Nicholas Bacon Charitable Trust for their generous funding of this project
  • The transcription of the diaries is by permission of Oxford University Press with excerpts (c.15000 words) from Journals: Captain Scott's last expedition by Robert Falcon Scott, edited with an introduction and notes by Max Jones (2006). To reproduce or use this material in any way permission must be applied for by email academic.permissions@oup.com (please quote reference 20767).

Turning the Pages™ is an interactive program which gives gallery and website visitors access to our most precious books and manuscripts while keeping the originals safe. Features include expert commentary in both text and audio, and a highly detailed page magnification tool. Turning the Pages™ is developed in partnership with Armadillo Systems, a media communications agency based in London.

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The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.