Coal. They stopped to collect rock samples from the Beardmore today. Fiennes describes it as Wilson’s role to collect rock and fossil samples. Scott describes the moment as much as a needed rest for the party as well as a specimen gathering exercise. Williams reinforces the notion that Scott may have taken this dual opportunity to collect and rest. As well, she points out that the samples they find prove that the Earth had undergone significant changes and that the Antarctic had once been part ‘of a great warm southern continent’. But not every writer interprets todays events in the same way. Smith writes of them ‘pottering’ around while the weather was ‘relatively fine’ and that they placed rocks on their sledge when they needed fast and light travel. Huntford calls the decision a ‘grotesque misjudgment’ and a moment missed by Scott that should have been seized for good travel. Stopping could have cost them 8 miles and importantly, time. The final words on Scotts actions today are from Barczewski, ‘given the thinness of their margin for error at this point, Scott needed to make their survival his first – and only – priority’.
Scott’s Journal 8th February 1912. They camped at the depot and in the morning had to rearrange themselves with new supplies before setting off and so they started late and ‘had a beastly morning’. The wind was strong and cold and Bowers went on ahead in the direction of Mount Darwin to collect rock samples. Bowers returned with interesting specimens and they then made swift progress but at the lunch camp ‘everybody very cold and cheerless’. They had a better afternoon and headed for ‘the moraine under (rock or soil debris from Glazier activity) Mount Buckley’. Scott thought the area so interesting they stopped and camped early and ‘spend the rest of the day geologising’. The area was ‘extremely interesting’ and they discovered coal seams. They found a large and fascinating mixture of specimens and ‘Wilson’s ‘sharp eyes picked up several plant impressions’. They spend some time collecting and ‘had the most interesting of afternoon’. They have been out of the wind and the temperature is higher, Scott is hoping that the mood in the camp ‘bucks’ up now they are in better conditions. Scott concludes his entry, ‘A lot could be written on the delight of setting foot on rock after 14 weeks of snow and ice and nearly 7 out of sight of aught else. It is like going ashore after a sea voyage. We deserve a little bright weather after all our trials, and hope to get a chance to dry our sleeping bags and generally make our gear more comfortable’.
Commentary. Strangely I can’t get a scene from the 1948 movie, Scott of the Antarctic, out of my mind. In the film John Mills plays Scott and on finding coal takes on a northern accent to ridicule the problems he had encountered in raising funds for the expedition. The film remains one of my favourite movies, not because it is accurate but maybe because I was born of a generation that would like to believe it was. The film is a simple telling of a complex story but perhaps a story that was the truth at the time and the truth that would have been maintained had they made it to the pole first and survived the trip home. Was the halt a rest for the men ? a chance to advance science ? or something more for Scott. When Amundsen declared his intent to go for the South Pole Scott held onto the position that his expedition wasn’t a race but a scientific mission. I am sure he took note of Amundsen and adjusted some of his plans for the trek to the pole but that statement remained as a constant expedition message. Scott failed to make it to the pole first, to also fail in the declared main intent would be a disaster. Both in terms of the immediate success of the expedition and also to his own legacy. The headline is being written in this day’s activity, they achieved what they set out to achieve, they reached the pole and made new scientific discoveries. The expedition is a success, Scott is a success. But is that so different to any leader, any team ? If we explored the truth we tell others of our own relationships, personal and professional, what would a warts and all movie portray ? The small frustrations of everyday human interactions can take have a disproportionate impact depending on how the story is told. Also, many of the out of character, over reactions and petty squabbles get forgotten in mature adult relationships. How hard that would be to do if recorded in diaries or on screen. Leadership is about success in the act and art of being a leader. Shackleton’s Endurance expedition failed before it started but Shackleton the leader is a success. Why is Scott’s story different ?