Captain Scott

Captain Scott RN CVO on ‘Why I want to reach the South Pole’

From Whitefriars Journal, no. 5, May 1901, pp. 11-12.

On Friday, February 25th 1910, the Club Guest was Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN CVO. Friar Sir Robert A. Hudson was the Prior, and the topic of conversation was ‘Why I want to reach the South Pole.’

The Prior, in introducing the guest of the evening, said that he had read with very great interest everything that Captain Scott had written about his wish to reach that uncomfortable and inhospitable spot on the map, the South Pole, and was thoroughly convinced that it was a most undesirable place for a residence. It might be all very well for those who wanted quiet, but, on the whole, he preferred the society of men to that of penguins. He had given this reason to Captain Scott for his inability to accompany him, and the Captain had taken his explanation in the kindest spirit. If Captain Scott were going to call for volunteers, he would like to say there were many men whom it would afford him the greatest pleasure to send with him. Captain Scott’s scheme was to depend on bases, small parties which were to be left in complete isolation for long periods of time; and he would gladly give to Captain Scott a list of politicians, drawn from all parties, whom he would like to see deposited on an isolated floe for the next eighteen months or two years. There they could jaw to the penguins till all was blue, and, for all he knew, those interesting birds might like it.

The Prior had also inquired into Captain Scott’s reasons for wishing to get to the South Pole. One of them, he felt sure, was because there were no Eskimos there. The most ardent explorer could not expect to be believed if he had anything to do with a person bearing the name of Etukishook. He might be a very desirable person – a chairman of the Polar Parish Council – but it would be impossible to induce Fleet Street to take seriously anyone bearing that name. In the meantime, there was a race for the South Pole between the American and English expeditions, and he hoped that when Commander Peary arrived at the entrance, that the door would be opened to him by Captain Scott. The North Pole had already been ‘snatched’, and, as there was only a pair of these desirable articles, it was ‘up to us’ to take the other.

The Prior was sure that the White Friars greatly appreciated the honour Captain Scott had done the Club by coming to them, and that they were all like Miss Rosa Dartle, who was always asking for ‘information’, because ‘she wanted to know’. They also wanted to know the objects of his going. He wished Captain Scott every possible good fortune, and hoped that on his return he would dine again with the White Friars and tell them all about the South Pole.

Captain Scott said that he hoped to start in the Terra Nova in June. They would have twenty-five men in the crew, and when they left New Zealand, which was the final departing place, they would have [an]other twenty-eight men, who were to form the landing party.

They were going south to McMurdo Sound, the same quarters as used by Sir Ernest Shackleton, and would land twenty-two men there, and then he hoped to go to a part where no one had yet landed – King Edward’s Land – and in that place he would leave a small party of six. The object of that was to get comparative meteorological observations, and the party would also try to work out the geography of the region. He hoped to leave New Zealand in November and get down in December. In January, the huts should be erected and the party landed with their stores. That would be half-way through the summer.

In July and March he intended to do some laying out of depots, taking about twenty ponies, twenty-five dogs, and some motor sledges, which were being built in this country, and of which he hoped great things. With these various means of travelling he hoped to get a good deal of provisions 200 or 300 miles to the south that season before settling down for the winter, which started about May. The main journey for the Pole would probably start in October, 1911. They would have then to travel over 800 miles, and the probability was that they could not do more than ten or fifteen miles a day. That would bring them to the middle of December before they got to the South Pole – if they were going to get there at all.

The day on which he hoped to get to the Pole was Mid-summer Day down there – what would be mid-winter here – December 22nd, and he hoped to get back about the middle of March 1912.

With the various means of traction, they would, he thought, be able to carry a great quantity of food down south over the great ice barrier, and make a big depot there, and from that place he hoped not only to send or go with a party to the South Pole, but also to send other parties in various directions to do additional exploring work. If he could not get to the Pole at the first attempt he hoped to do it the next year, and if they failed then he trusted that the young men who were going with him would want to try a third time. He thought he was right in saying that when they got their base established, the party would not leave until the thing was done. He did not say it in any boastful spirit, he did not say he would do it, but the main thing was to lay down plans so that some British subject should be the first to reach the South Pole.

The Prior then called upon Admiral Sir William Acland to open the discussion. The Admiral was glad to have heard Captain Scott’s reasons for going to the South Pole, and hoped he would be the first to hoist the British flag there and that he would get 120 miles further on than Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Dr. Scott Keltie said that Captain Scott had a brilliant career before him. In his last expedition Captain Scott had made a further journey from his base than had ever been done before, and had brought back a mass of information about the South Polar continent which threw a flood of light upon it.

Friar Foster Fraser thought that there was an appalling amount of ignorance on the subject of the Poles. Dr. Nansen once told him that he went to a party where a lady said to him: ‘I hear that you are going to the South Pole. I hope you will be able to bear the heat as well as you bore the cold at the North Pole.’

Mr. Dodd, of New York, said that Peary had got to the North Pole, and he hoped with all his heart that Captain Scott would get to the South Pole and get there first.

Mr. Pett Ridge was greatly interested in the suggestion thrown out that undesirables should be deported to the South Pole. He was prepared to go with Captain Scott as far as the London Docks and wish him good luck with his expedition.

Friar Clodd called attention to the scientific aspects of the expedition, and the debate was continued by Mr. Steuart Cullen, Friars Hocking, Leader, and Spurgeon. Friar Hocking caused some amusement by requesting Captain Scott to keep an eye on plots for stories. Captain Scott had been always a man of deeds, not words, while the White Friars were men of words not deeds. Friar Spurgeon incidentally alluded to Captain Scott’s fidelity to his first publisher.

In his reply. Captain Scott went at some length into the objects of the expedition, and said that he was taking with him three geologists, two biologists, and two physicists. He thanked the White Friars very heartily for their welcome, and looked forward to meeting them again on his return.