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The Last Letters From Scott’s South Pole Team Are Heart Breaking

To mark the 100 year anniversary of their deaths, the letters of Scott's team have been published in a book

On November 12, 1912, a search party found the bodies of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers. The men had journeyed to the south pole, and although they made it to their destination, they had been beaten to it by a Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundsen. On the way back, the British team succumbed to Antarctica’s treacherous conditions.

To mark the 100 year anniversary of their deaths, the letters of Scott’s team have been published in a book. They are harrowing and sad. Most of the team knew they would not return to their family and friends. The BBC writes:

Naomi Boneham, archives manager at SPRI said: “The men wrote in the hope that one day their loved ones and friends would get to read their words.

“These are some of the most poignant letters ever to be written from the polar regions….”

Scott wrote: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”

Last year, the very last letter from the team, written by Edward Wilson, was found. He wrote to Reginald Smith, a close friend, saying:

“This looks like a finish to our undertaking, for we are out of food and oil and not able to move for three days now on account of the blizzard. We have had a long struggle against intense cold on very short fuel, and it has done us in.”

“We shall make a forlorn effort to reach the next depot but it means 22 miles and we are none of us fit to face it. I want to say how I have valued your friendship … I have no fear of death, only sorrow for my wife and for my dear people. Otherwise all is well. I should like to have seen the grouse book but it is not allowed to me. God’s will be done.”

Captain Scott’s last letter was to his wife, and the first line is “To my widow.” He begins:

Dearest Darling – we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through – In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end – the first is naturally to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping – if anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart – I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also – I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour – this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy – we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.

In the same letter, Scott also writes:

Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm – I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don’t worry.

You can see Scott’s diary entries here at the South Polar Research Institute.

When their bodies were found, Apsley Cherry-Gerard, a member of the search party, wrote:

“We have found the bodies of Scott, Wilson & Bowers, and all their records … Their death was, I am quite sure, not a painful one – for men get callous after a period of great hardship – but the long fight before must have been most terrible.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Doomed South Pole Voyage’s Remaining Photographs
Sacrifice Amid the Ice: Facing Facts on the Scott Expedition

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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