Great Scott! The myths of the Antarctic expedition

A new exhibition - and books - revisit Captain Scott's tragic 1912 mission to the South Pole

2012 marks the centenary of explorer Captain Scott’s tragic attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. The Englishman's crew was beaten by the Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundsen, with all five perishing on the return journey.

Scott's calamitous mission has inspired several new books, not least the Natural History Museum's Scott’s Last Expedition which ties into a new exhibition, and Race to the End: Scott, Amundsen and the South Pole.

Perhaps the most contentious book on the explorer is Scott and Amundsen, Roland Huntford's 1979 re-examination of the mission which re-cast Scott as a dangerous blunderer, later made into a TV series and book called The Last Place on Earth. Huntford later released Race to the South Pole: The Expedition Diaries of Scott and Amundsen, unexpurgated journals published fully for the first time, which further damaged Scott's reputation.

Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes later sought to revive public opinion about the adventurer in his own book Captain Scott, and last year picked Susan Solomon's The Coldest March as one of his Desert Island Books for We Love This Book, saying: "This wonderful book by Susan Solomon is one of the most amazing proofs that those who doubt Scott’s achievement are, as far as I’m concerned, telling a pack of lies."

The notorious mission to the Antarctic saw the five remaining members of Scott’s exploratory team reach the South Pole by 17th January 1912, only to discover Amundsen's team had beaten them to it.

On the way back all five perished: Edgar Evans died en route, Lawrence Oates famously walked out into the wilderness into his death, and the final three: Henry Bowers, Edward Wilson and Scott himself died in their tent.

Scott's Last Expedition runs at the Natural History Museum until 2nd September 2012.


Photo credits: C H Ponting, Pennell collection, Canterbury Museum NZ