LIEUTENANT HENRY ROBERTSON 'BIRDIE' BOWERS (1883-1912)
Autograph letter signed to Captain Scott, n.p., n.d. [c.28 Feburary 1911], annotations apparently in Scott's hand to verso of last leaf, 'Crean & the Curry Powder Cherry & the Emperor Penguin', 12 pages, folio (numbered 1-12, p.12 present in two drafts); (staple holes to upper left; short tears to first and last leaves, light soiling).
THE LOSS OF THE PONIES ON THE SEA ICE: BOWERS' FORMAL REPORT ON ONE OF THE MOST DRAMATIC DISASTROUS INCIDENTS IN THE FIRST YEAR OF SCOTT'S LAST EXPEDITION. Bowers describes in detail the attempt, on the return from the depot-laying journey, by Cherry-Garrard, Crean and himself to escort four weakening ponies back to the Hut across the frozen sea: having been forced to turn back by weakening ice, they decide to camp on the older sea-ice. Bowers notes that he was awoken at 4.30 a.m. by 'an unusual grating or grinding noise' which at first he mistakes for snoring, or the ponies rifling the stores: in fact, it is the sea-ice breaking up in a heavy swell, and one pony has already vanished. Bowers' narrative conveys the controlled panic of the succeeding hours, as the three men and the ponies attempt to work their way, jumping from floe to floe, towards the edge of the barrier ice. It is only on their arrival at the last floe that they discover a 25-35 foot wide stretch of water barring their way: 'With the motion of the swell the whole was heaving up & down like the contents of a boiling pot'. With Crean having set off alone to seek out Scott, Cherry-Garrard and Bowers are left much unnerved by the presence of killer whales, and their 'disconcerting manner of taking up a perpendicular position in the water & looking at us by raising their heads above the edge of the ice. They kept us company all day'. The letter ends with the arrival of Scott, with Oates and Crean, and the sighting of an overturned floe which, with the use of sledges as a bridge, could form a path for the men at least to safe ground.
The disastrous day concluded in the three ponies being blown out to sea on a floe; the party caught up with them later in the day, but in spite of heroic struggles, only one pony survived. The loss of a third of the expedition's ponies in one day was a critical blow to their hopes of reaching the Pole first, as Scott immediately acknowledged -- 'Of course we shall have a run for our money next season, but as far as the Pole is concerned I have but very little hope'.
The account of this dramatic incident in Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World is taken from a long letter by Bowers to his mother, which describes events in similar terms.