When Captain Robert Falcon Scott embarked on his second and last expedition in 1910 he was already a famous Antarctic explorer. He had previously led the major National Antarctic Expedition (1901–04) during which he reached a record 82º11’ South, and a great many scientific and geographical discoveries were made. However, while science and geography remained key objectives to Antarctic explorers of the day, the real prize in the public’s imagination was the South Pole.
Just 18 months before Scott’s second expedition departed, Shackleton had turned back only 97 miles south of the Pole. Aware of how close Shackleton had come to snatching what he regarded as his trophy, Scott planned his British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 meticulously. It was to be the pinnacle of Edwardian exploration with the attainment of the Geographical South Pole for Britain being the ultimate goal. Today, the legend of that expedition continues to echo down the years, a bittersweet epic of triumph and tragedy immortalised forever in the history of human endeavour and exploration.
Upon returning from the Antarctic in 1904, Scott wrote his account of the expedition The Voyage of the Discovery, before returning to the British Navy. He was promoted to Captain and married Kathleen Bruce in 1908.
From early 1909 he had held an Admiralty post as Naval Assistant to the Second Sea Lord but he resigned later that year to concentrate on planning and raising money for his second Antarctic expedition.
The British Government pledged £20,000, with the governments of New Zealand and Australia also contributing along with various businesspeople and private donors. Places in the expedition were also effectively ‘sold’ with Lawrence Oates and Apsley Cherry-Garrard each paying £1,000 to join, and so from these combined sources the total budget of £40,000 was raised.
Aside from reaching the Pole, a comprehensive scientific programme was planned. Dr Edward Wilson was appointed senior scientist and he assembled a competent group of professionals for the shore party with fields including, meteorology, magnetism, glaciology, geology, marine biology and cartography. The Terra Nova, built as a whaler in Dundee and used as the relief ship on the National Antarctic Expedition, was selected as the expedition’s vessel.
The Terra Nova left London on 1 June 1910, but Scott travelled later by fast steamer to Cape Town where he joined the ship before it departed for Melbourne on 2 September. Whilst in Melbourne he received news that was to distress him deeply. The veteran Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen had been planning an expedition to reach the North Pole but was thwarted by news that the American, Robert Peary, had reached the Pole on 6 April 1909. Undeterred, Amundsen simply switched his goal to the other end of the planet, pointing the Fram to Antarctica and the South Pole.. He left Norway on 6 June 1910 keeping his intentions secret even from most of his crew until he reached Madeira where he sent this telegram to Scott: “Beg leave to inform you Fram proceeding Antarctic. Amundsen”.