Scott’s Hut on Ross Island in Antarctica has an interesting history stretching back to the age of polar discovery at the turn of the 20th century. Explorers from around the world pushed further into the frozen continent but reaching the South Pole seemed illusive. In 1911, two teams raced to reach the pole first. A Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen and a British expedition led by Robert Scott. Only one team was to return.
Robert Scott’s first polar expedition was the Discovery Expedition which took place from 1901 to 1904. The starting point for this expedition was Discovery Hut, also located on Ross Island. A push towards the South Pole by Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson took them to a latitude of 82°17′S, about 530 miles (853 km) from the pole.
The second attempt by Robert Scott was the Terra Nova Expedition, also known as the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910–1913. He ruled out returning to his previously built hut, citing difficulties with getting his ship out of the ice at the end of the expedition. Instead, he opted for a new location at Cape Evans, also on Ross Island.
The hut was prefabricated in England before being brought south by ship and erected in Cape Evans. The walls used seaweed quilts for insulation and redistributed the heat from the stoves. Some of team described it as being so warm it was uncomfortable. The building is 50 feet (15 m) long and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide. Living quarters are divided from work areas by storage boxes.
The building had a stable attached for the 19 Siberian ponies they had brought with them and a utility room, both added after the initial construction. During the Winter of 1911, 25 men lived in Scott’s Hut.
The march to reach the South Pole began on 1 November 1911 with a large team setting out. Initially, a number of support teams were to set out and turn back at certain distances into the trip, leaving four men to push on for the pole. By 4 January 1912, the last two four-man groups had reached 87°34′S. Scott made the decision that five men would push forward. He was to be joined by Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates. The other three, Teddy Evans, William Lashly and Tom Crean would return to Scott’s Hut. There was only 167 miles (269 km) to go until they reached the South Pole.
The team of five pushed on and finally reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912 however when they got there, they were greeted by the Norwegian flag. Roald Amundson and his team had beaten them by five weeks.
The party began the 862 mile (1387 km) return journey on 19 January and despite poor weather, proceeded quickly. Edgar Evans injured himself in a fall on 4 February and on 17 February, he fell from the glacier to his death. Surgeon-Lieutenant Edward Atkinson was to travel south with a dog team to meet the party at 82°S however he had to stop to attend to a member of the team suffering from scurvy. Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Dimitri Gerov continued south and reached One Ton Depot on 3 March. They waited a week before turning back. At that stage, Scott’s party was only 55 miles (89 km) away. Apsley Cherry-Garrard maintained that the weather was too bad to continue south. Indeed, by 10 March the temperature had dropped to below −40 °C (−40 °F).
Scott and the remaining members of the party continued to wait at 82°S, supposing that the dog team had been delayed. On 16 March, Oates, who had begun suffering from frostbite, voluntarily left the tent and walked to his death. His last words were “I am just going outside and may be some time”.
The three final men decided to walk on and made their final camp on 19 March, just 12.5 miles (20 km) short of One Ton Depot. Fierce blizzards prevented them from going any further. It is thought that Robert Scott died on 29 March.
The bodies of Scott and his companions were found eight months later on 12 November 1912. Scott became a hero throughout Britain following his passing, however as time went on, his legend came under scrutiny with questions surrounding the circumstances in which his team perished. Recent commentary has however been more favourable and has simply put the disaster down to misfortune.
The Terra Nova Expedition left Scott’s Hut in Spring of 1913, leaving it well stocked with food, oil and coal. This proved invaluable when several members of Ernest Shackleton’s Ross Sea party became marooned there in May 1915. In January 1917, Shackleton rescued the survivors and put Scott’s Hut in order and locked it up. It was untouched until a US expedition team dug it out of the snow and ice in 1956. It was preserved in a remarkable state due to the cold temperatures.
Over the years, New Zealand and the UK have taken responsibility for Scott’s Hut, ensuring it remains as it preserved as it did in 1917. It is now a tourist attraction with visitors able to get a glimpse of what it was like for Antarctic explorers 100 years ago. Some of the food is even still edible.
The following entries are from Robert Scott’s own diary discovered with his body.
Thursday, March 22 and 23 – Blizzard bad as ever – Wilson and Bowers unable to start – to-morrow last chance – no fuel and only one or two of food left – must be near the end. Have decided it shall be natural – we shall march for the depot with or without our effects and die in our tracks.
Thursday, March 29 – Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece 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, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.
Location: Cape Evans, Antarctica