Robert Falcon Scott

The Box

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Early Life

Robert Falcon Scott was born on 6 June 1868 at ‘Outlands’ – a small country estate in Stoke Damerel, Devonport (now the Milehouse area of Plymouth). ‘Con’ as his parents called him was the third of six children. He had two older sisters called Ettie and Rose, a younger brother called Archibald and two younger sisters called Grace and Katherine.

Scott’s grandfathers and uncles were in business together, financing a number of breweries and victualling houses (eating house), including the Castle Street, Hoegate and Vauxhall Street Breweries and the Pope’s Head Inn in Looe Street. Whilst his uncles also pursued a career in the armed forces, Robert’s father, John Edward Scott suffered poor health so occupied his time managing the Hoegate Brewery which he subsequently inherited along with the family home.

Scott was christened at Stoke Damerel Church on 30 June 1868. 

This christening cup was presented to Scott by his Godparents, M & S Falcon. It was purchased for The Box’s collections in 2013, with the support of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Heritage Lottery and donations from the Friends of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and the Devon and Cornwall Polar Society.

Scott was educated first in the nursery at home and then spent four years at a local day school in Stoke Damerel. Like his uncles, he was destined for a military career and was sent off to board at Stubbington House School, Hampshire where he was prepared for the entrance examinations for the Royal Navy.

Having passed his exams he returned to the Westcountry joining the Royal Naval training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth as a cadet aged just 13. Scott left HMS Britannia as a midshipman in July 1883, seventh overall in a class of 26 whereupon he joined his first ship HMS Boadicea.

Discovery Expedition 1901 to 1904

The British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901 to 1904, known as the Discovery Expedition, was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic region for over 60 years.

Scott led the expedition, at the order of Sir Clements Robert Markham, Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society. After raising the £90,000 (equivalent to £5.5 million today) needed to fund the project and the building of a specialist research vessel, the SS Discovery, the sailors and scientists finally left British waters on 6 August 1901.

By 8 January 1902, Discovery had crossed into the Antarctic circle. On 2 November 1902, Scott, assistant surgeon Edward Wilson and third officer Ernest Shackleton set off with supporting parties on a journey to get as far south as they could. They returned to the ship on 3 February 1903 having travelled 300 miles further south than anyone before them and within 480 miles of the South Pole itself.

Discovery was icebound at this point so the team spent a further year in the area undertaking various research and observation journeys. Eventually, Discovery was freed from the ice on 17 February 1904 and arrived in Portsmouth on 10 September 1904.

The expedition produced a great number of geographical and scientific results and was presented as a triumph. Scott took leave from the Royal Navy to write the official expedition account. He eventually resumed his naval career having become a national hero – but it wasn’t long before he was preparing to return to the Antarctic.

Terra Nova Expedition 1910 to 1913

After fellow explorer, Ernest Shackleton failed to reach the South Pole on his Nimrod expedition of 1909, Scott was determined to try and achieve the honour himself. By 1910 he had secured funding to purchase the vessel, Terra Nova, and was departing for the Antarctic as commander of a British Expeditionary Force.

Reaching the Pole

Early misfortunes and a difficult first season meant preparatory plans for the trek to the Pole were compromised. A team of 16 men eventually set off on 1 November 1911 on the 800 mile journey. Scott was accompanied only by Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans on the final 167 miles. They arrived at the South Pole on 17 January 1912 to find that Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen had beaten them by five weeks.

A tragic journey

The deflated party turned back and were almost half way back to base camp when Edgar Evans died near the foot of the Bearmore Glacier on 17 February. With 400 miles to go their prospects worsened with deteriorating weather, frostbite, snow blindness, hunger and exhaustion. On 16 March, a weak Oates left the tent and walked to his death rather than hinder the others.

On 19 March 1912, the three remaining men made camp just 11 miles short of a supply depot and safety. Fierce blizzards set in and after nine days their supplies ran out. With frozen fingers Scott wrote letters to family and friends along with a moving letter to the public. He was the last man to die on 29 March 1912. The bodies were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912. The world was informed of their tragic death when Terra Nova reached New Zealand on 10 February 1913. Within days, Scott became a national icon and is still named amongst the top 100 Britons today.

Legacy

Since 1912, peoples’ opinions of Scott have changed. At first he was viewed as a hero. In later years he was seen as someone who had been courageous but careless. Today we remember him more fondly – for leading the first British expedition to reach the South Pole and for the scientific results of his two expeditions, both of which laid the foundations for Antarctica’s environmental research and climate research studies.

Achievements

Scott’s expeditions:

  • helped map this strange and difficult landscape
  • generated photographs of and information about the geology and wildlife
  • taught us about the weather patterns and ice flows
  • established shore bases and shelters
  • created one of the most compelling visual records in the history of exploration thanks to Herbert Ponting’s archive of 1,700 photographs of the Terra Nova Expedition
  • helped us understand the pitfalls of polar exploration, such as scurvy, snow blindness and frostbite
  • initiated analysis and improvements surrounding the use of skis, dogs, other forms of transport, clothing and food supplies

Across the world

The achievements of Scott and his crew have been marked across the world with memorials, statues, plaques, stained glass windows and streets names. The last century has also seen the establishment of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, the founding of the USA’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station scientific base, and the preservation of ‘Scott’s Hut’ and ‘Discovery Hut’ on Ross Island by New Zealand and the UK.

Here in Plymouth

Scott was born at ‘Outlands’, a large house that once stood on Outland Road, Plymouth, at Milehouse. The Scott Estate, consisting of Scott Road, Wilson Crescent, Bowers Road, Oates Road, Evans Place and Terra Nova Green, was developed near to the site of ‘Outlands’. A pair of plaques commemorating Scott’s birthplace can be seen on the boundary walls St Bartholomew’s Church, close to the site of the family home. The original and oldest Scott plaque was unveiled over 100 years ago at the entrance to ‘Outlands’.

The National Memorial to Scott and the Polar Party was unveiled in 1925 in Mount Wise Park, Devonport, and a special rededication ceremony took place in March 2012 as part of the Scott 100 Plymouth event programme. The memorial is supported by Plymouth City Council.

Nowadays, Plymouth Hospitals Trust, at Derriford supports Polar exploration by providing medical support and training for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) through the BAS Medical Unit.

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