Rivalry – where did it begin ?. Scott and Shackleton – a timeless rivalry. It is difficult to assess the true relationship between the men and both died relatively young and before time had it’s opportunity to place a perspective and meaning on events. Shackleton and Scott went to the Antarctic for the first time together on ‘The Discovery’ expedition in 1902. Scott picked Shackleton to be one of the team who would make the furthest south trip during that first expedition. On that trip Shackleton became weak and unwell and as Scott and Wilson returned they needed to help Shackleton home. In some texts there is a reference to Wilson and Scott manhauling while Shackleton was on the sledge sick, but this is never mentioned by Shackleton. After a safe return to base camp Shackleton was placed on a boat home, a decision that would start the stories of tension between the two men. The doctor on the Discovery at first passed Shackleton fit for duty and blamed his breakdown on scurvy, from which he had fully recovered. Scot pressed the doctor further and Shackleton was sent home against his will. Both Wilson and Scott had seen Shackleton’s collapse and believed it was more than scurvy. Shackleton did have other health problems and his early death was evidence of this. As well as Shackleton going home another crew member was sent back against his will, Armitage. The reason for his return was not based in the Antarctic but back in the UK and Scott had received word to persuade him to return, reasons unknown. Professional integrity questioned, pride damaged and secret decision making all make a breeding ground fo gossip and hurt feelings.
Scott, Wilson and Shackleton on The Discovery Expedition – Picture from Wikimedia Commons
Scotts Journal December 19th 1911. Started on a good surface and made 8 miles by lunch on a very good surface, ‘things are looking up’. Scoot fell through two cracks in the ice and is badly bruised by the event. The land on either side of the valley seems closer and the way ahead looks as if there maybe some difficulty in the final narrow. They take a long lunch break to take pictures and do sketches. Bowers and Evan’s spent quite a lot of time measuring angles and Scott believes they will have material for an excellent chart. By the end of the day they had completed 17 miles and had reached 5800 feet and the only significant difficulty was the injury to Scott. There was a wind during the march which kept the men cooler than previous days and made for more pleasant conditions as they are not wet from sweating or as thirsty, ‘days like this put heart in one’ Scott recorded.
Commentary. Another omission from the published journal and Scott’s actual notes was a further comment on the narrows ahead, ‘the charting of which is evidently very much out’. Another little swipe at Shackelton’s previous expedition. This continues to be more evidence of the Scott vs Shackleton rivalry. So on the first return journey from the ‘Discovery’ expedition there are unhappy men, secrets and questionable decisions, not a good recipe for harmony or for the spreading of good news. Scott knew that these men would begin to tell the story of the expedition long before he returned home. Perhaps it is something of the naivety of Scott that he believed that simply ‘making the right decision’ in his view would be enough. It needed to be shared, communicated, discussed and understood. It was not just unhappy men returning home on that boat it was unhappy men who had a lot of time on their hands. If Scott had understood the motivation of men better perhaps he would have seen the risk. Scott must have known these men would tell the story of the expedition and so if it was to be a poor story he would surely have acted. The failure at this point is all about the isolation of the leader and perhaps the belief that everyone saw the world as Scott did.