Tragedy has been the theme this week. An inevitability when writing about Robert Falcon Scott‘s expedition to the South Pole, the centenary of which we will mark on January 17, 2012. I had planned to write something lighter today as much for my mental health as anything else. But I awoke to read that a cruise ship ran aground in Italy, with a loss of eight lives. Tragedy continues to be the theme this week.
Travel is not without risk. Travel has never been risk free. The consequences of risk, however, happen to someone else. If we didn’t believe that we would not travel, and there would be no travel industry.
In my circle of acquaintances there are many for whom travel must include risk. They choose the risky route, the dodgy destination, the adrenaline inducing activity. Most travelers choose the option with the least risk – the perception of smallest risk. May they continue to be deluded.
When I am faced with the uncomfortable, I turn to poetry. Today was no exception. Walt Whitman comforted me, as I mourned the loss of lives in Italy. He comforted and surprised me. As I thumbed through Leaves of Grass, I came across a poem he wrote about a Greely expedition: Of That Blithe Throat of Thine.
Whitman wrote of his inspiration: “(More than eighty-three degrees north – about a good day’s steaming distance to the Pole by one of our fast oceaners in clear water-Greely the explorer heard the song of a single snow-bird merrily sounding over the desolation.)”
I am familiar with polar prose. Polar poetry is a new concept. One I will pursue for the next three days: My tribute to those who risked all and lost.
Petty Officer Edgar Evans, RN
Welshman, Edgar Evans, joined the Royal Navy at 15. Eight years later he met Robert Falcon Scott aboard HMS Majestic. Although Scott was his superior officer, the pair developed a bond that saw Evans join Scott’s first expedition to Antarctica, and his final, fatal journey to the South Pole.
Edgar was one of the four men, Scott chose to accompany him on the last leg to the South Pole. Edgar injured his hand just prior to reaching the Pole, an injury that failed to heal, contributing to Edgar’s physical and mental decline.
His condition was exacerbated by a concussion received when he fell into a crevasse, as the party negotiated the Beardmore glacier on the return journey from the Pole. Too ill to continue, his four companions left him behind in an attempt to reach a supply depot as quickly as possible. Once their goal was reached, they returned for Edgar, emptying a sledge for the rescue. He died at the supply depot on the night of February 17, 1912. The first of the Scott’s five-man team to perish.
For all my dislike of the mythical hero that is Scott of the Antarctic, I cannot deny that Robert Falcon Scott was capable of engendering great loyalty in the men with whom he served. My opinion of the man is tempered by the respect in which he was held by those who knew him best.
May Wilson, Oates, Evans, Bowers and Scott forever rest in peace, on that harsh, unforgiving continent at the bottom of the world.
Image via Wikipedia
One week today, the polar world will mark a centenary that, in my opinion, is controversial. On January 17, 1911, Captain Scott and 4 companions ( Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans) reached the South Pole. Those British polar explorers were the second group to reach the bottom of the world, pipped at the post by Roald Amundsen five weeks before.
Scott of the Antarctic, as he became known, is revered in his homeland, and by many in the community of people passionate about polar history and exploration. I am not one who hero worships Captain Scott. That said, I will not deny that Scott and the members of his expeditions advanced science and our understanding of the geography and geology of the region. He does deserve his place in history.
By all accounts, Scott was a leader who would not listen, when his subordinates – many of whom were experts in their fields – gave him advice; advice that could have saved his life and those of his companions. If you are unfamiliar with Robert Falcon Scott’s exploits, he and his companions died on the return journey.
To mark the centenary, I will introduce you to the men who accompanied Scott. Tomorrow, you will meet Dr. Edward Wilson, Scott’s boon companion.