LAWRENCE EDWARD GRACE OATES (1880-1912)
Two autograph letters signed ('LEG Oates') to William [King], Terra Nova 'At Sea', 14 August 1910, and n.p. [Lyttelton Harbour], 13 November 1910, on paper with printed heading of British Antarctic Expedition, together 4 pages, 8vo, and 2 pages, 4to (occasional yellowing).
Oates on the passage out, the poor quality of the horses, and news of Amundsen. The first letter is written in high spirits -- (i.e. --) 'we have had a top hole time I am signed on the articles as midshipman ... the first watch I had we were under all plain sail at midnight and we were under bare poles when I came off ... This mess is the rowdyest [sic] I have ever been in we sing and shout all meal time and fight when we have time', reporting on his investigation of 'Knights workings' on [South] Trinidad Island, his picture of Napoleon [a present from King, which was to form the only decoration to his cubicle in Cape Evans], Bowers' recommendation of 'a stern wheel', and future plans for exploring. The second letter, written as Terra Nova prepared for departure from New Zealand, has a grimmer tone: Oates is 'just ashore from Quail Island [where the expedition's animals were kept in quarantine] for Sunday and to get a skinful of beer I took over the ponies the other day and am not impressed with them, they are very old for a job of this sort and four of them are unsound'; the letter also records Oates's reaction to news of Amundsen's expedition -- 'These b--y Norskies coming down South is a bit of a shock to us I only hope they don't get there first, it will make us look pretty foolish after all the noise we have made'; recording also the news of the Japanese expedition, 'so we shall be quiet [sic] a family gathering in McMurdo Sound this winter' and that feeling in the expedition is 'pretty pugnacious'; referring also to a proposed expedition to Nova Zembla with King, and to regimental news.
The process of choosing the ponies for Scott's Terra Nova expedition was one of the most bizarre in the inscrutable organisation of the voyage: while Oates had been entrusted with the care of the expedition's ponies, it was Meares, the dog expert, who was expected to buy them in Siberia. Oates's assessment in his diary after his first inspection is telling: 'Victor Narrow chest, knock knees, suffers with his eyes. Aged. Windsucker ... Jehu Aged. Suffering from debility and worn out. Nobby Aged. Goes with stiff hocks. Spavined near hind. Best pony we have' and so on. (2)