This week in history: Antarctic explorer Captain Scott makes the last entry in his journal

27 March 2015

By Pan Macmillan

29 March 1912: Antarctic explorer Captain Scott makes the last entry in his journal

The seasoned Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott led a five-man British team on a mission to be the first to reach the South Pole. They reached their destination on 17 January 1912 only to discover that their Norwegian rivals, headed by Roald Amundsen, had beaten them to it, arriving there over a month earlier.

The following day, after posing for a photograph beside a Norwegian flag left by Amundsen and a Union flag they’d brought with them, they began the 800-mile trudge back to their base camp at Cape Evans, a promontory on the Antarctic coast.

Progress was initially good, but the worsening weather soon took its toll on the team. Petty Officer Edgar Evans, suffering from concussion from a fall and the effects of scurvy and frostbite, died on 17 February. Almost a month to the day later, Captain Lawrence Oates, crippled by severe frostbite and knowing he was holding the others back, walked out the tent, never to return. Scott recorded in his journal that his last words were: ‘I’m just going outside and may be some time’. Scott made his own final entry into the book on 29 March 1912, the whole party perishing shortly after that from starvation and exposure as temperatures sank below minus 40 degrees.

As Scott himself noted, they were a mere 11 miles from their nearest supply depot.

The tent containing the frozen bodies of Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers, their journals and final letters home, a meterological log, rolls of film and, almost unbelievably, some 35lb of fossils collected on the expedition, was eventually found by a search party eight months later.

Scott’s final journal entry on 29 March 1912:

‘Since the 21st, we have had a continuous gale from the W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea a piece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.’