Scott 100 Day 147 28th March 1912 : Message to the Public

Message to the Public. The most famous letter Scott wrote, when found and returned to England it would be read out in schools throughout the land.

‘The causes of the disaster are not due to faulty organisation, but to misfortune in all risks which had to be undertaken. 1. The loss of pony transport in March 1911 obliged me to start later than I had intended, and obliged the limits of stuff transported to be narrowed. 2. The weather throughout the outward journey, and especially the long gale in 83° S., stopped us. 3. The soft snow in lower reaches of glacier again reduced pace. We fought these untoward events with a will and conquered, but it cut into our provision reserve. Every detail of our food supplies, clothing and depots made on the interior ice-sheet and over that long stretch of 700 miles to the pole and back, worked out to perfection. The advance party would have returned to the glacier in fine form and with surplus of food, but for the astonishing failure of the man whom we had least expected to fail. Edgar Evans was thought the strongest man of the party. The Beardmore Glacier is not difficult in fine weather, but on our return we did not get a single completely fine day; this with a sick companion enormously increased our anxieties. As I have said elsewhere we got into frightfully rough ice and Edgar Evans received a concussion of the brain—he died a natural death, but left us a shaken party with the season unduly advanced. But all the facts above enumerated were as nothing to the surprise which awaited us on the Barrier. I maintain that our arrangements for returning were quite adequate, and that no one in the world would have expected the temperatures and surfaces which we encountered at this time of the year. On the summit in lat. 85° 86° we had -20°,-30°. On the Barrier in lat. 82°, 10,000 feet lower, we had -30° in the day, -47° at night pretty regularly, with continuous head wind during our day marches. It is clear that these circumstances come on very suddenly, and our wreck is certainly due to this sudden advent of severe weather, which does not seem to have any satisfactory cause. I do not think human beings ever came through such a month as we have come through, and we should have got through in spite of the weather but for the sickening of a second companion, Captain Oates, and a shortage of fuel in our depots for which I cannot account, and finally, but for the storm which has fallen on us within 11 miles of the depot at which we hoped to secure our final supplies. Surely misfortune could scarcely have exceeded this last blow. We arrived within 11 miles of our old One Ton Camp with fuel for one last meal and food for two days. For four days we have been unable to leave the tent—the gale howling about us. We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for. R. SCOTT.’

Scott’s Journal 28th March 1912. NO ENTRY

Commentary. This letter is not an inquiry report or a submission to an investigation but its starts by declaring what the cause of the disaster were. Not Scott and not the plan but misfortune is the element that impacted on the expedition with such devastating results. This letter of explanation puts the emotions of the reader right in the heart of the adventure. It inspires, motivates and evokes such feeling that the details of the story get carried forward before rational thought dissects the facts. Powerful stories help the leader share their values and their understanding of the world. They open the leader to exploration, allowing others to connect, believe and follow. Stories are great ways to use experience to aid learning and can be more engaging than a simple listing of facts. Stories also help the listener understand the present and share a vision of the future. But stories need to come with a warning sign, no leader should use stories to manipulate or camouflage the truth, time will see the truth surface and the leader exposed. The challenge for leaders telling stories is that they appeal to the subjective nature within us, we connect to the tale. Yet are world is geared to accept the objective, logical and rational and struggles with numerous subjective ideas of what it should be. Scott’s letter is a powerful story that connects to us emotionally and it carries reason and explanation into our consciousness. Over time the truth became the letter and the letter told the truth, until someone questioned. When the questions came, was the equipment right, did they have enough food, was the weather really so bad, whose fault was it that the horses were of poor quality and so on, the facts started to betray the letter. If the reasons given were not totally true, perhaps other things needed questioning. Then the character starts to be questioned and Scott’s reference to Oates and Evan as slowing them down looks rather mean if Scott had made mistakes elsewhere. When the questions came the fall was all the greater and just maybe it was because the writing placed Scott on such a pedestal. Scott may well have believed the story he told and it is the letter of a dying man and so criticism feels harsh. But the lesson is that stories are powerful and so with great stories comes great responsibility.

About hutpoint

Interested in leadership, teamwork, resistance, perseverence and change. A former senior nurse dedicated to learning from and sharing with other flawed humans.
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2 Responses to Scott 100 Day 147 28th March 1912 : Message to the Public

  1. Lars Finsen says:

    Scott certainly is a talented writer and I kind of wish he had stayed away from exploration so he could give us more of his prose. Who can imagine what it must be like to sit stuck in their tent in circumstances like that? But he certainly made use of his time, the best he could have done, I suppose.

    There are two points in his message worth special note, I think. Firstly, Amundsen tells us pretty bluntly that you must eliminate luck and safeguard against misfortune. Statistics taken up later shows that the weather from Feb 27 until Mar 26 was pretty extraordinary. The phrase “which does not seem to have any satisfactory cause” has always stricken me as rather odd and almost amusing. As if he was complaining of foul play from the elements. Secondly, “obliged the limits of stuff transported to be narrowed” evidently implies that he meant to start out with more provisions than he did.

    Tomorrow it’s time for his last dated entry, then. It’s been a long and in the end sad story to follow. The date may be one or two or more dates wrong, perhaps. But I think the undated ‘last entry’ might be one or more days later, written with his last strength. They were out of food but had lots of H2O around them. If they took in snow and ate it, they could last a few days. Not many because they were weakened already. But Atkinson could have found them or some of them alive if he had taken the dogs. Of course, there weren’t that many miles separating Cherry-Garrard from them one month earlier either. The weather data taken down by Atkinson and Keohane do indicate a sharp improvement after the 26th, if Krysztof Sienicki reproduces them correctly here: (http://arxiv.org/pdf/1109.5355.pdf). There are indeed quite a number of ifs that could have made the ending different.

    • hutpoint says:

      Hello Lars. Thank you for the links and very useful insight. I relly liked your note on Amundsen and your correct of course. Scott places a lot of emphasis on God (although he was not a believer) and luck, good or bad. Not the stuff of inspiration when you are setting out, ‘come on a dangerous trek with me boys and with a bit of luck we should be alright’. But I am not sure he means it or if it serves another purpose, does it hide his anxiety ? disgise the flaws in the plan ? or what would be really concerning, does it prepare for failure ? The mention of supplies is at odds with everything else, his positive spin created in the journal ‘the plan was a success, resources did as expected’ etc. Resources were low from the start, he sailed south with one ship when he originally planned for two, everything seemed to be cut down. However, there is another consideration. In modern assessment of leaders there is evidence to suggest good leaders have huge amouts of optimisum. It is a character trait rather than a manipulation or disguise. The other interesting thought that goes with that is that optimists take risks, they need a strong deputy to hold them to account or a level of self awareness that controls their excess. I plan on running a few posts after the final entry covering the find, the reasons for the failure and the legacy. Thanks Lars, very much appreciated.

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