The edition of the journal that I am using to retell this incredible story is an Oxford World Classic by Max Jones published in 2006. It’s important to note that this version differs from the very first journal published a few years after Scotts death. Previously unpublished material is contained in this version of the most ‘haunting journal in the history of exploration’. It was not the addition of material Scott didn’t write that makes other versions inaccurate, more the words, phrases and sentences that were omitted. Why ? The story of Scott is part of our cultural memory and is passed on through generations through serious work and also at the expense of some ridicule and comedy. The Horrible Histories children’s TV show referred to the adventure quite recently. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3RacavLulI
In asking why ? we should be as mindful as possible to the complexity of the day and the pressures on the family and survivors to tell an inspiring story. Britain’s global importance was starting to decline, the first world war was only 2 years away and stories would start to emerge which may damage Scotts legacy. His wife controlled the diaries and while ever word in the first edition was true it was not an honest reproduction of the original journal. In moments of great stress and fear we may say things that are out of context, we maybe be critical of others in their moments of weakness and we may transmit to the page our own ‘fear and anxiety’. As you read Scotts journal it does become clear that he was extremely anxious at times and the journal records he had a deep fear of failure. For the section of the journey covered by this blog November the 8th is an important day as its our first key omission. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3RacavLulI
There was concern from the men about starting out today and Scott made the clear decision to leave and begin the march. The weather conditions had been bad overnight but Scott was surprised at how well the horses had coped, even Chinaman and Jehu were ready to get going. During the march the weather improved, as did Scotts appreciation of the surroundings and he describes the march as being a real pleasure. Christopher is the most difficult horse and Oates leads him, he ‘holds like grim death to his bridle’. Petty Officer Evans lost control of Snatcher and for a while he ran at the canter. Birdie Bowers added extra weight to his horse Victor making his load 700lbs but he managed it with little complaint. The team had located all the Cairns (snow mound that act as guides) they had placed the previous year. A wonderful days march on a good surface and Scott felt ‘inspired’. Scott recorded that there were no places in which the horses sank into the snow up to their Hocks (a joint on a horses leg). Scott makes this point because Shackleton had recorded deep snow at this location on his previous expedition. What was omitted from the published journal was actually that Scott had actually written ‘there are practically no points where ponies sink to their hocks as described by Shackleton (I imagine he confused hock and fetlock or wilfully exaggerated)’. There is often much made of the rivalry between Scott and Shackleton, their different approaches to leadership and their different social backgrounds. The omission is important for that purpose and understanding if not for any impact on the facts of the event.
Truth with omission is not honesty, its has something of a very modern feel to it, spin ! The journal is already telling us something of the huge undertaking the men faced and the natural obstacles they needed to overcome. Scott puts a great deal of time and energy into the detail of the trip but we are also seeing the anxiety Scotts feels and shares with his journal. The story has evolved over the 100 years and is retold within different contexts but it seems clear Scott is able to make decisions and communicate his intent clearly.