December 28, 2008

Saturday, 26 December 1908


Towards the end of the year, the second version of the motor sledge was ready. Contemplating Norway for the snow trials, Scott wrote to Nansen for advice, qualifying that "the real conditions required cannot be obtained outside the Polar circle." [1] Nansen replied that "[on] one of the big glaciers ... of course you may have almost exactly Inland Ice conditions." [2]


[1] R.F. Scott, letter to Fridtjof Nansen, [1908], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.244.
[2] Fridtfjof Nansen, letter to R.F. Scott, 26 December, 1908, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.244.

November 28, 2008

Saturday, 28 November 1908


After the initial enthusiastic donations to the expedition, Amundsen found it hard going raising money. An old friend, F. Herman Gade, now also Norwegian consul in Chicago, wrote to offer help. "My dear friend," Amundsen replied gratefully and somewhat bitterly, "if you with your contacts can manage anything in that direction you will do me a greater service than I can possibly explain. Attitudes here are miserably mean and parochial, and disproportionately hard work is needed to drum up the necessary means." [1]


[1] Roald Amundsen, letter to Herman Gade, 28 November 1908, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.209.

November 24, 2008

Monday, 24 November 1908


F. Hjalmar Johansen, ca.1897. [1]

Applications to join Amundsen's expedition began to come in. One was from Hjalmar Johansen, a name that was already familiar to Amundsen.

"I have studied your plan," wrote Johansen, "with the greatest interest, which I in some ways am already familiar with as I took part in the first Fram expedition with Nansen." Having spent the previous winter in Spitsbergen, he said, "[I] realised that I am still not altogether unqualified for such work," giving an account of his experience and ending, "in other respects I refer you to Professor Nansen." [1]

Johansen had joined Nansen's Arctic expedition in 1893, and being an expert dog driver accompanied Nansen on his dash for the Pole, reaching the celebrated Farthest North of 86° 13.6' N before retreating to Franz Josef Land, but after his return to Norway, Johansen had fallen on hard times, exacerbated by alcoholism and a poor business sense. Nansen had helped his old comrade to find work on various expeditions in the Arctic, and now pressed Amundsen to take him.


[1] "Holder foredrag om polfarer Hjalmar Johansen",
[2] Hjalmar Johansen, letter to Roald Amundsen, 24 November, 1908, quoted by Tor Bomann-Larsen in Roald Amundsen (Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, c2006, c1995), p.70.

November 10, 2008

Tuesday, 10 November 1908


At a gala at the Geographical Society in Christiania, Amundsen presented his plans for his expedition to the Arctic. "Many people," he said, believe that a Polar Expedition is merely an unnecessary waste of money and life. With the concept of Polar Exploration they generally associate the thought of a record; to reach the Pole or Furthest North. And in that case, I must declare myself in agreement. But I want to make it absolutely clear that this -- the assault on the Pole, will not be the aim of the expedition. The main object is a scientific study of the Polar Sea itself."

"With Fram fitted out for 7 years," he went on, "and with a good crew, I propose to leave Norway at the beginning of 1910. My course will run round Cape Horn to San Francisco, where we will coal and provision. Thence, our course will be set for Point Barrow, America's Northernmost promontory. The last news will be sent home from there, before the voyage itself starts. On departing from Point Barrow, it is my intention to continue with the smallest possible crew. A course will be set in a North-North-West direction, where we will seek the most favourable point from which to force a way further to the North. When that has been found, we will try and get on as far as possible, and prepare for a drift of 4 to 5 years over the Polar Sea .... [From] the moment the vessel has been frozen into the ice, the observations begin with which I hope to solve some of the hitherto unsolvable mysteries." [1]

Nansen said that what drove men to explore the Polar regions was "the power of the unknown over the human spirit. As ideas have cleared with the ages, so has this power extended its might, and driven Man willy-nilly onwards along the path of progress."

"It drives us into Nature's hidden powers and secrets, down to the immeasurably little world of the microscopic, and out into the unprobed expanses of the Universe.... [It] gives us no peace until we know this planet on which we live, from the greatest depth of the ocean to the highest layers of the atmosphere. This Power runs like a strand through the whole history of polar exploration. In spite of all declarations of possible profit in one way or another, it was that which, in our hearts, has always driven us back there again, despite all setbacks and suffering." [2]

The next day, King Haakon and Queen Maud opened the subscription list with 20,000 kroner.


[1] Aftenposten, 11 November, 1908, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.206-207.
[2] Aftenposten, 11 November, 1908, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.207.

September 2, 2008

Wednesday, 2 September 1908


Kathleen and Robert Scott [1]

In a widely-reported function at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace, Scott married Kathleen Bruce.

"Huge crowds gathered as Captain and Mrs Scott left by motor car for London and then France," the Daily Mirror wrote. "The marriage," noted the Times, "will make no difference to Capt. Scott's future plans with regard to Antarctic exploration." [2]


[1] Wikimedia Commons.
[2] Daily Mirror, and Times, dates not given, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.335.

August 13, 2008

Thursday, 13 August 1908


The scientific results from the Discovery expedition had begun to appear, attracting criticism from the president of the Physical Society of London among others. Having confused true and magnetic compass bearings, the expedition's wind observations were mostly worthless. "The meteorological observations," the Times Literary Supplement said, "instead of being made by people familiar with such work ... were entrusted to officers who had no previous training, and were not even properly instructed.... How much longer shall we have to wait in England for those entrusted with national affairs to appreciate a little more seriously the requirements of scientific investigation? Probably until the constant leakage and loss which we suffer in ignorance are made plainer by one or more exceptional disasters." [1]

Scott, furious, demanded a public inquiry to put an end to the criticisms -- having emphasized the scientific aims of the new expedition as well as the geographic, he could ill-afford doubts on his scientific accuracy -- but by early December was persuaded that with a public inquiry he would be doing himself more harm than good.


[1] The Times Literary Supplement, 13 August, 1908, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.242.

July 11, 2008

Saturday, 11 July 1908


Kathleen Bruce [1]

"You shall go to the S. Pole," Kathleen Bruce -- a formidable young woman -- urged her fiancé. "Oh dear, what's the use of having energy & enterprise if a little thing like that can't be done. It's got to be done, so hurry up." [2]


[1] Source unknown.
[2] Kathleen Bruce, letter to R.F. Scott, 11 July, 1908, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.336.

March 28, 2008

Saturday, 28 March 1908


The Nimrod in pack ice, 1908. [1]

The news broke in London that Shackleton had landed at McMurdo.

Scott was furious. "The letter was an agreement and it has been completely disregarded in a manner which is too obvious to need comment," he wrote to Keltie. " But unpleasant as this must be I cannot bring myself to associate again with such a professed liar nor to credit any statement he may make which is unsupported by the ample testimony of others." [2]

Shackleton had planned to land at Barrier Inlet, which had been visited on the Discovery expedition and which Shackleton now renamed the Bay of Whales, or at King Edward VII Land. Finding upon arrival in late January that the edge of the Barrier had changed significantly due to calving, Shackleton could not risk wintering there, and went on to King Edward VII Land. Unable after repeated efforts to land, and with pack ice threatening the ship, Shackleton felt that he had no choice but to return to McMurdo and winter there.

Scott was not alone in thinking Shackleton's actions ungentlemanly, but it was hardly fair. Shackleton had written to his wife, "I have been through a sort of Hell ... whether to go on or turn back, my whole heart crying out for me to go on and the feeling against the lives of the 40 odd men on board.... I had a great public trust which I could not betray ... my duty to the country and King ... and the eyes of the world upon us." [3]

Scott in any case kept his criticisms of Shackleton to private letters.


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] R.F. Scott, letter to Scott Keltie, 28 March, 1908, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.349-350.
[3] Ernest Shackleton, letter to Emily Shackleton, [date not given], quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.349.

March 17, 2008

Tuesday, 17 March 1908


Col du Lautaret in late autumn. Photograph by David George, November 2006. [1]

The first trials of the motor sledges, in the French Alps at Le Lautaret, were something of a disappointment.

"Exhaust cam of our engine reversed by Pelissier, de Dion mechanic," Skelton wrote in a series of reports to Scott, "but he failed to get engine to run although trying to do so nearly all day. Failure to do so undoubtedly due to low temperature and petrol not vapourising. A blow lamp would have saved this trouble. M. Courier suggested that engine did not have a fair chance on account of the English additions (high tension trembler, coil and elbow piece in induction pipe), but this opinion was, of course, absolute nonsense."

"Dr Charcot's sledge made a trial to-day, but although it advanced on the sledge road, it did not prove capable of any tractive power and could not do anything in soft snow unless assisted."

"Snow wheels were depressed about half way and clutch put in, the sledge advanced a small amount and then stopped, the snow chain clearing a hole in the snow. Snow wheels were then depressed to the full extent, and clutch put in again, when sledge advanced a few yards and engine brought up."

"The conditions were so extremely different from the average conditions of the Antarctic it would have been difficult with any machine to gain any reliable information -- in fact, the conditions were really unfair to the sledges. Nowhere in the Antarctic was such soft snow met with; neither man, pony, dog or reindeer could have pulled on it.... The two surfaces are quite different, and require different tractors."

"In spite of the failure of the sledge to actually perform hauling work, I do not think the general system was in any way shown to be wrong in principle -- the failure was entirely due to details which can be easily put right, and to the especially severe conditions of the track."


[1] Wikipedia.
[2] Reginald Skelton, 7-17 March, 1908, quoted by David Crane in Scott of the Antarctic (New York : Knopf, c2005), p.351.