THE SOUTHERN JOURNEY, 2 NOVEMBER 1902 - 3 FEBRUARY 1903
Scott, Wilson and Shackleton made up the Southern Party which set off from Discovery's base on 2 November 1902 on the first ever concerted attempt to explore the interior of the Antarctic continent: 'Then, like "three polar knights" once more, "they were away", as Bernacchi put it, "with banners flying in the wind, a small party full of grit and determination".
"They propose to be away for 91 days", Hare wrote in his diary, and
"in that time ... they expect to get a very long way South. They have our best wishes. The Pole is too much to expect, with the number of dogs that they have. To get to the Pole and back, they would have to travel 1,500 miles at least ... probably they will come to land, which will stop them from reaching a very high latitude."
The captain's steward was being more realistic than the captain, for Scott believed that the barrier ran right on to the Pole. It was all totally unknown, of course.
Shackleton set off in a spirit of effervescent optimism. He was sure that the Pole lay within his grasp. He was inspired by what he called the "great send off". He was also agreeably surprised to find that "the dogs are pulling splendidly". It was an astonishing spectacle. This was the pioneer thrust into the hinterland, an event of considerable historic significance. The three men, however, were spectacularly inept and unprepared.' (R. Huntford, Shackleton, London 1985, pp. 89-90)
In the end they were out for three months, running south along the Western edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, reaching their Furthest South on 30 December 1902 at 82°17'S where Nimrod Glacier flows into the Ross Ice Shelf. They returned to the Discovery on 3 February 1903.
The dogs, pathetically undernourished on a diet of rotten stockfish, had all been slaughtered en route for food. The men struggled home suffering from scurvy, starvation, and snowblindness and Shackleton's health had almost completely broken down on the return journey.
They had pushed about 300 miles to the South, breaking the record for the South by over 200 miles, but had made disappointing progress.
Food was at the heart of the failure of both the dogs and men: "Scott had originally intended to be away for ten weeks. To get another week of southing, he increased this to twelve, reducing rations to eke out his food ... They were now literally starving; plagued with dreams of food. They were eating less than any Polar explorers since Sir Edward Parry's first Arctic expeditions in 1820, a fact of which Scott was perversely proud.
On Christmas Eve, Wilson found that Shackleton and Scott had scurvy. Both displayed the classic symptoms of swollen and inflamed gums. Their diet had contained no fresh food for two months, just pemmican, bacon and patent concentrated foods totally lacking in vitamin C." (R. Huntford, Scott and Amundsen, London 1993, p.172)
Christmas Day, shortly before their Furthest South, saw a brief improvement in their rations as they feasted in celebration and the following lot offers two poignant mementoes from the Christmas supper prepared by Shackleton.
CHRISTMAS DAY 1902: SCOTT, WILSON AND SHACKLETON AT 82°S
Scott had prepared a system of dividing rations for the sledging parties into canvas and linen bags: 'All the remaining provisions were carefully weighed out into amounts which constituted the allowance for three men for one week; this amount was placed in a small light bag and then all the small bags were placed in a canvas tank on the sledge. In addition to this, each tent party of three men possessed a ready-use bag containing all the small bags allowed for the week'. (R.F. Scott, The Voyage of the Discovery, London, 1905, I, p.442)
Seven weeks into their southern journey, the system was still adhered to but rations had been cut in an attempt to extend their journey further south: 'our meals come regularly enough, but they are the poorest store-gaps, both from want of food and want of fuel ... luncheon ... consists of a small piece of seal-meat, half biscuit, and eight to ten lumps of sugar. Each of us keeps a small bag which, when it contains the precious luncheon, is stored away in the warmth of the breast-pocket, where it thaws out during the first march. Absurd as it may sound, it is terribly difficult not to filch from this bag during the hours of the march.' (R.F. Scott, op.cit., pp. 453-4.)
'December 25, Christmas Day.- ... For a week we have looked forward to this day with childish delight, and long before that, we decided that it would be a crime to go to bed hungry on Christmas night; so the week went in planning a gorgeous feed ... and supper! - well, supper was to be what supper has been, ... we laid ourselves out for supper, reckless of consequences, having first had a Christmas wash and brush-up. Redolent of soap, we sat around the cooking-pot, whilst into its boiling contents was poured a double "whack" of everything. In the hoosh that followed one could stand ones spoon with ease, and still the Primus hissed on, as once again our cocoa was brought to the boiling-point. Meanwhile I had observed Shackleton ferreting about in his bundle, out of which he presently produced a spare sock, and stored away in the toe of that sock was a small round object about the size of a cricket ball, which when brought to light, proved to be a noble "plum-pudding". Another dive into his lucky-bag and out came a crumpled piece of artificial holly. Heated in the cocoa, our plum-pudding was soon steaming hot, and stood on the cooker-lid crowned with its decoration. ... Our Christmas Day had proved a delightful break in an otherwise uninterrupted spell of semi-starvation. Some days elapsed before its pleasing effects wore off ... We knew by this time that we had cut ourselves too short in the matter of food, but it was too late to alter our arrangements now without curtailing our journey.' (R.F. Scott, op. cit., pp.457-9)