British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913
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British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913

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British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913

Lieutenant Edward R.G.R. EVANS (1880-1957). Autograph letter signed to Ralph, Silvia and 'Lal' Gifford, Terra Nova at Sea, 6 February 1913, on paper with printed heading of British Antarctic Expedition, 3½ pages, 4to; autograph envelope with postmarks of British Antarctic Expedition, 18 January 1913 [sic]; [and] Robert Falcon SCOTT (1868-1912) Letter signed to Ralph Gifford, London, 31 December 1909, acknowledging his subscription to the British Antarctic Expedition, one page, 4to, together with a signed receipt for the amount.

AN EXTRAORDINARY LETTER, WRITTEN A FEW DAYS BEFORE TERRA NOVA'S ARRIVAL IN NEW ZEALAND, REPORTING THE LOSS OF SCOTT AND THE POLAR PARTY, AND 'DEPLORING' SCOTT'S DECISION TO CARRY HIS GEOLOGICAL SPECIMENS WITH HIM TO THE LAST.

Evans reports his shock at hearing of the loss of the Southern Party ('Capt. Oates, the Inniskilling Dragoon came out of it best of all...By Jove he was a fine MAN'), commenting on the poor distances Scott's party was making - 'I had a narrow squeak, thank God I was not included in the advance party' - and condemning Scott's decision to keep his geological records: 'It seems to me extraordinary that...they stuck to all their records & specimens, we dumped ours at the first big check. I must say I considered the safety of my party before the value of the records & extra stores - not eatable. Apparently Scott did not. His sledge contained 150 lbs of trash'. Evans attempts to mitigate his harshness with the claim that he is 'not criticizing but deploring this fact', but points out that his own records had been recovered, as Scott's would have been. He observes that the Polar Party were probably too weak to have completed their journey in any case, and speculates as to the influence of scurvy on their condition.

Lieutenant Evans, Scott's second-in-command, had accompanied the Southern Party to within 150 miles of the Pole before turning back with Lashley and Crean. They barely made it back: Evans, badly affected by scurvy, would undoubtedly have died had it not been for Crean's dash for help from Corner Camp. Evans was invalided home, but returned with Terra Nova at the beginning of the next summer in time to collect the remnants of the expedition. Terra Nova touched land at Oamaru, New Zealand, four days after the date of this letter, and the news of the fate of Scott and his companions was released.

The attitude of Scott's farewell letters and 'Message to the Public', blaming his failure on 'misfortune in all risks which had to be taken' and on the 'sickness of different numbers of the party' and insisting that 'Every detail [of the preparation] worked out to perfection', was gratefully accepted by an administration (and public) eager for excuses. Scott and Wilson's decision not to leave their specimens behind has more often been advanced as evidence of the high scientific spirit of the expedition; in fact as Scott's route stayed very close to that of Shackleton's 1909 Polar attempt his specimens added very little to earlier findings. The question of whether the Polar Party might have been suffering from scurvy was little discussed in the expedition's aftermath, perhaps as threatening to shift attention from Scott's bad luck to his organisation of the expedition. It is extraordinary to find any member of the expedition, and particularly such a senior one, making any adverse comment on Scott's decisions after his death. (5)
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