Journals. Many of the senior men kept journals and even those who didn’t told their story on their return. The originals of most of these have survived and can be viewed in different libraries, museums or institutes. They are fascinating but perhaps no more truthful than Scotts journal or perhaps no more of a fabrication. They all tell the truth, the truth as they experienced it, the truth as they remembered it or the truth the audience wished to hear. Each one offers a perspective and within that perspective there is opportunity to infer or assume. It is important to note that many of the journals and stories came out in the aftermath of Scott’s death, saying anything negative about him must have been difficult. The long term image of Scott may have actually been damaged by this ‘hero’ status. We are now interested in the flaws in our leaders as well as their attributes. It is no surprise at all that after 100 years we are in the position of Scott the hero to authors such as Ranulph Fiennes and Scott the villain to Roland Huntford.
Scotts Journal December 4th 1911. Scott woke the party early as the wind was slight and with patches of land visible he was keen to move forward. During breakfast the conditions changed and they were now in a blizzard. The men took turns in going outside to make good any damage to the walls that were protecting the horses. The task was ‘uninviting’ for the men while the horses looked sleepy and bored but not cold. The dogs, manhaulers and horses had all caught up to each other and camped together. It is impossible to move out until the weather eases and Scott is at ‘a complete loss’ in understanding why conditions are so poor. The barometer made a phenomenal rise during the night and this indicates a ‘very great disturbance of atmospheric conditions’. Scott decides to stick it out but comments that ‘it makes me feel a little bitter to contrast such weather with that experienced by our predecessors’. The conditions did improve and they moved off later in the day and made 13 miles before camping. They can now see the land ahead clearly and there looks to be several large glaciers in sight. Ahead is Mount Hope and the gateway to the Beardmore Glacier. The horses did well and Scott thinks the Beardmore will be reached tomorrow. Scott’s assessment of the animals is that they are in good shape and ‘very much better than Shackleton’s’. The horses could go further but food for them is running low. The dogs are ‘simpley splendid’ but in need of food and so Michael was shot to feed them. All the men are eating horsemeat and ‘are enjoying it’. The party has lost 5 miles over the last 2 days and Scott continues to show his anxiety about the weather needed to climb the glacier, ‘one has a horrid feeling that this is a real bad season’. Scott also turns his thoughts to Amundsen and notes that if Amundsen had a lucky break he may find a shorter route up the glacier. Scott also notes that exploring the glacier would be fascinating work for next year.
Commentary. In today’s entry Scott seems to have identified what later historians would sight as the main reasons for the failure to return safely from the pole. Dogs, weather and timetable. The dogs are doing well, the weather is poor for the year and they have not yet made the first goal of the trip and have fallen behind Shackleton’s time. Amundsen had indeed had some luck and did find a shorter routed to the plateau. I am trying to imagine what Scott is really thinking, his journal now mentions his rivals and luck. Scott knew his journal would form the basis for a book and must have written it accordingly, but he was also a leader of a particular type. He had separated the officers and men and even had a separate area for himself at Cape Evans, this was important to him and in keeping with the practice of the time. We cannot judge him by today’s standards or even compare with Amundsen and Shackleton as their backgrounds were very different. What is this lonely leader thinking ?