Polar journals by the man who found the body of Captain Scott

Unknown to the public before now, Tryggve Gran’s journals, which come up for auction on 12 December, provide a direct line from the here and now right back to Captain Scott’s freezing, fatal tent in 1912

On 29 October 1912, the search party set out. They were looking for their leader, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and his four close companions, who a few months earlier had begun a quest to become the first men ever to reach the South Pole.

On 12 November, though, came a grim discovery: a tent containing the frozen corpses of Scott and two of his comrades (Edward Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers).

‘All gastsly [sic]. I will never forget it so long I live — a horrible nightmare could not have shown more horror,’ wrote one search party member, Tryggve Gran, in his journal that day.

‘In a tent, snowcovered til up above the door, we found the three boddies. The Owner [Scott] in the middle... Birdie [Bowers] on his right and Uncle Bill [Wilson] on his left... The frost had made the skin yellow & transparent; I’ve never seen anything worse in my life.’

Gran, Tryggve (1888-1980). Two autograph manuscript sledging journals of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition. Estimate £120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in Valuable Books and Manuscripts  on 12 December 2018 at Christie’s in London

Gran, Tryggve (1888-1980). Two autograph manuscript sledging journals of the 1910-1913 British Antarctic Expedition. Estimate: £120,000-180,000. This lot is offered in Valuable Books and Manuscripts on 12 December 2018 at Christie’s in London

Gran’s manuscript journal featuring these words is to be offered on 12 December in the Valuable Books & Manuscripts sale at Christie’s London. Written in English, it covers the period from the search party’s departure to February 1913, and is accompanied at auction by another of Gran’s journals, from earlier in his spell in the Antarctic.

A skiing expert from Norway, Gran was one of 65 men selected by Scott to join his Polar expedition setting out in 1910. Gran’s job was to instruct the other 64 how to ski.

The expedition culminated in Scott’s now-legendary race to the South Pole with a rival, Norwegian group led by Roald Amundsen, the latter claiming victory by 34 days. The British quintet arrived on 17 January 1912, but perished on the return leg.

Gran fashioned a cross from his own skis — which he erected on a snow cairn built to cover the corpses — and returned to base using the skis of his late captain

‘At the time my father signed up with Scott, nobody knew Amundsen was going south too,’ says Gran’s son, Hermann. ‘He ended up in competition with people from his own country, a kind of man in the middle — but he vowed to make the best of it.’

As for Gran’s role in the search party for his leader, Hermann says his father was ‘the first person to the tent’ and, on finding Scott’s skis, insisted they must complete their intended journey. As recounted in his journal, Gran fashioned a cross from his own skis — which he erected on a snow cairn built to cover the corpses — and returned to base using the skis of his late captain.

The manuscript journals coming to auction have impeccable provenance: being offered as they are by Hermann himself. The older of the two (written in Norwegian) dates from November 1911 to February 1912 and covers Gran’s part in a geological exploration in Antarctica’s Granite Harbour region.

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Remarkably, it includes the following entry for 15 December 1911: ‘I dreamt I got a telegram: Amundsen reached Pole’. Although Gran could never have known it, December 14 was the day that the Norwegians did, indeed, make it to the South Pole.

‘With ice-cold winds whipping across faces and temperatures of minus 30 degrees, the story of Captain Scott still resonates around the world,’ says Sophie Hopkins, Associate Director of Manuscripts & Archives at Christie’s. ‘These two journals, not really known to the public before, represent pieces of history that make you shiver. They provide a direct line from the here and now right back to Captain Scott’s freezing, fatal tent in 1912.’