The Crocks. Throughout the journey Scott has commented on the horses far more than on his people. The horses worried him, they were not of the quality he had wanted. Scott had sent Meares to buy the ponies and dogs the previous year in Siberia. Scott had been uncomfortable with the treatment of the dogs on his last trip and did not want a repeat experience and Shackleton had reached the furthest south with horses. Horses it would be, but the horses Meares bought were not the best. Why the horses were so poor is much debated but on Shackletons expedition the white horses latest longer than the dark, so Meares was ordered to only buy white horses. Not all the horses were Siberian and when they arrived on New Zealand and were assessed by Scott he declared himself ‘greatly pleased’, what else could he say. Oates was less than impressed with the quality and listed numerous problems, ringworm, age, lame, worn out, stiff hocks knock knees etc. In Scotts journal and in the publications that followed the horses would be known as ‘the crocks’.
Scotts Journal, November 12th 1911. Scott reports that every march is ‘horrid’ and while the surface maybe better than yesterday it remains ‘wretched’. Five miles into the march they come across Bluff depot, which had been laid last year. There was a cheerful note from Teddy Evans leading the tractor team who were now manhauling ahead of them after the tractors broke down. The note was ‘cheerful’ and indicated they may be about 5 days ahead. Atkinson is concerned that Chinaman is near the end but Oates believes he will last a good few days yet. The weather changes so quickly, they camp in a chill northerly breeze but an hour later the sun is shining, temperature remains -10.
Commentary. The poor quality of the horses is one of many issues brought into the ongoing discussion about the expedition, and about Scotts ability to lead and plan the trip. They were poor but once in New Zealand and ready to go what was Scott to do, how bad would they have needed to be to call off the expedition. If you wait for everything to be perfect in any plan you would never act and elements of the military have an understanding that if 80% of the requirements are in place then they proceed. The poor evidence base for the purchase order, white rather than dark horses, was a more telling element to Scotts judgement in its impact on Meares. He handicapped Meares and gave him little flexibility, the orders were too specific. Perhaps Scott was compensating for deficits in Meares or really believed the evidence, either way Meares was not a free agent. Leaders should empower their team with a shared vision on ‘what’ is to be achieved and leave as much flexibility in the ‘how’ with them as possible.