British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904
Thomas WHITFIELD (1868-1942). - A stitched brown leather dog collar, [1901 or earlier], 65.8 x 4.4cm., with brass D-ring, buckle, six circular studs and an oval curved name-plate engraved '"David" Sledge Dog British Antarctic Exhibition 1901-1904. "Discovery"', loosely mounted on a stained beech board, 76 x 11cm..
Provenance: Leading Stoker Thomas Whitfield (shore party); by descent.
Dog collars from any of the expeditions are rare and collars from the Discovery expedition are extremely rare: this probably being one of only five brought back from the Antarctic.
Whitfield was assigned one of the Western Siberian sledge dogs taken on board the Discovery at Lyttelton, New Zealand, just before Christmas 1901: 'further forward were sacks of food, and what space remained was occupied by our twenty-three howling dogs in a wild state of excitement' (R.F. Scott, The Voyage of the 'Discovery', London, 1937 edition, p.83). The dogs quickly learned to respond to their new English names (Jim, Lewis, Paddy, Blanco, Nigger, Fitzclarence, Bismark, etc.), and generally became more manageable. There seems to be some confusion about the fate of 'David': Scott noted the death of 'Paddy' in his journal for 31 May 1902, and went on to write 'I trust we are not to lose more of our dog team; this is the second loss since the winter set in, as poor "David" died last Sunday from causes unknown'. However, William Heald recorded the death of the dog 'David' in his diary entry for 6 July 1902, implying that he had died during the night of 5/6 July.
Whitfield had clearly become very attached to his charge by the time David died as he not only retained the collar but also took home the dog's pelt which survived until the 1950s. Dog collars from this expedition are particularly rare as eighteen of the original twenty-three dogs died on the Southern Journey (2 November 1902 to 3 February 1903) and their collars were not usually retrieved.
However well meaning Scott and his men were to the dogs taken on the Discovery, the expedition was ill-equipped to look after their needs and unable, due to a total lack of training, to exploit the advantages they would have brought to the sledging journeys in the Antarctic. Without skilled dog drivers (techniques and harnesses were improvised as they went) and without proper husbandry (a sledging diet of ill-preserved stockfish) their performance was disappointing, reinforcing both Markham and Scott's various prejudices against their utility and suitability on Antarctic expeditions. Amundsen would of course prove Scott and his countrymen spectacularly wrong with his successful dog led dash to the South Pole in 1911.