Today marks 100 years since the last entry in Robert Falcon Scott’s diary. I was talking to my friend C yesterday and we both agreed that, the more you see and read about the Terra Nova expedition in this centenary year (I can recommend The Heart of the Great Alone exhibition at Buckingham Palace, and I’ve heard that the one at the Natural History Museum is good too), the more you realise that pretty much every member of the expedition was a bit of a legend in their own right.
The deaths of the five overshadowed a host of other stories: Crean, Lashly and Evans shooting down the glacier on their sled, dodging cavernous crevasses in a desperate attempt to make it back to base before they starved, or Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard on the absurd mission to find penguin eggs that nearly did for all three of them. Even Ponting, the photographer, was attacked by killer whales, writing later ‘I recollect distinctly thinking, if they did get me, how very unpleasant the first bite would feel, but that it would not matter much about the second’.*
A few years ago, while travelling in northern Norway in the winter, I wrote this post about adventurers. It was only a matter of weeks before my own brief but unpleasant experience of freezing in a tent in the high Arctic, and given the time and place of writing, it’s probably more relevant than anything I could produce at the moment.
For now, let’s raise a virtual pint glass to the men of the Terra Nova expedition. They may have failed in what they set out to do, but their literary, photographic and inspirational legacy has lasted a hundred years.
*For a rather lovely poem about Ponting, and more about Scott and his crew, click here.