When it comes to charting the different stages in their voyage, the two men had adopted similar approaches. It would have been imprudent to cover the entire distance from England or Norway to the South Pole in one stretch. Hence they first voyaged several thousand miles to station themselves in New Zealand and from there made the final push to the pole. In the case of Robert Scott and his team, it was November of 1910 when they started out from the shores of New Zealand. Roald Amundsen was first planning to go to the arctic pole and changed his mind in the last minute to head south to the Antarctic. This might be a rare instance of Amundsen’s indecisiveness, but it did not hurt his expedition in any significant way. It appears that Amundsen’s superior experience of navigating the seas and ice worlds had kept him in good stead throughout the voyage. (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2009)
Robert Scott’s planning seems more meticulous, as seen from his carefully thought out choice of his accompanying staff for different legs of the journey. For example, his team included such experienced seafarers and adventurers as “Captain Lawrence Oates (known as Titus), Dr Edward Wilson, Lieutenant Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers and the bibulous Petty Officer Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans, who had been on Scott’s earlier expedition” (Geographical, 2000, p.91). But despite careful planning by Scott, natural elements had been unkind to him and his party in the early weeks of January 1912. As meteorologists have noted, the year 1912 was unusual in the Antarctic, with the cold being twice as severe, which exposed the party to “frostbite, sandpapery snow which slowed down skis, and a lack of wind to fill the sails they were counting on to help with the sledges”. (The Mail on Sunday, 2005, p.54)
The Scott expedition met with several setbacks due to ignorance of local conditions and the failure to master navigation problems in the Antarctic. Firstly, the mechanical sledges they acquired for inland travel proved to be useless. Similarly, the horses they brought with them to drag the sleds could not navigate in the thick layer of snow and had to be shot. Further,
“while Amundsen relied on dogs to haul his men and supplies over the frozen wastes, Scott considered this to be somehow un-British. His team never understood how to handle sledge dogs, nor did they wish to learn, especially after their experience on Scott’s previous expedition. The truth was that the British were amateurs when it came to dog-driving; the Norwegians were the professionals. So when the horses died, the sledges had to be manned by the expedition members themselves”. (Geographical, 2000, p.91)
Finally, Robert Scott’s decision to take five men for the final leg of the travel, when his supplies could cover the needs of only four members was a crucial mistake. The unexpected hostility of the weather, the tough terrain and the shortage of food and fuel had combined to cut short the lives of Robert Scott and his team as they set about returning home.
Anthony, J. (2009). The Heartless Immensity. The Virginia Quarterly Review, 85(2), 66+.
Barrett, M. (2000, October). South: The Race to the Pole. History Today, 50, 3.
Booth, A. (2007). Mr. Ramsay, Robert Falcon Scott and Heroic Death. Mosaic (Winnipeg), 40(4), 135+.
Amundsen, Roald. (2009). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press.
Ill-Fated Expedition Made Scott a Hero. (2004). 16.
Late, Great Geographers. (2000, April). Geographical, 72, 91.
Ryan, S. (2001). Douglas R G Sellick, Antarctica: First Impressions 1773-1930. Journal of Australian Studies, (71), 126+.
‘To My Widow, We Are in a Very Tight Corner.’; Revealed in Full the Moving and Truly Humbling Letters Captain Scott Wrote to His Beloved Wife and Son from His Doomed Antarctic Expedition. (2007, January 11). The Daily Mail (London, England), p. 15.
Walters, C. (2002, December 20). Eerie Beauty, Fatal Lure of Antarctica. The Washington Times, p. 6.
Why Self-Pity Cut No Ice with Scott. (2005, December 18). The Mail on Sunday (London, England), p. 54.