Dammit – it happened again.
This story always ends the same way.
All of the driving forces behind Scott’s polar ambition push him to his death.
Poor weather, broken tractors, crap ponies, leaky fuel cans, crevasse fields – lots of things contributed to the tragedy in the physical sense but the expectations placed on Captain Robert Falcon Scott by his nation, his mentors and his peers did their part, too.

The first episode for 2017 is out now.


10 thoughts on “038_Terra_Nova_Southern_Party

  1. Jim Butler

    Hello again Matt!

    2 questions for you.

    Question the First:
    I read in one account that they had a telephone installed between Cape Evans and Hut Point, but by the time it would have been useful as the parties were returning and there was confusion as to who was where, no mention of it – any idea what happened to it?

    Question the Second:
    Any idea of the inside story on Meares? Did he really just piss about for the spring refusing to participate, and if so, how did he get away with this??

  2. worldslaziestbusker Post author

    Hello Jim
    I knew there was a phone link between the hut at Cape Evans and at least one of the observatories nearby, saving the observer risking frostbitten fingers as results could be phoned in and recorded, bare handed, in the warm. I haven’t read about a link between the two winter quarters huts. It would have been a boon given the problems that arose because of the lack of contact between the two sites but it would also have required foresight or luck to have the necessary miles of cable aboard the ship as a contingency measure, as the original plan had the winter party landing at Hut Point.
    Do you know which account it was that gave you that tidbit, please?

    I know that Meares was on the outs with Scott and that he and Oates bonded, in part, because of their mutually poor relations with their leader. I suspect that the independence he was able to employ in his operations in Asia flavoured Meares’ response to naval discipline and that an initial disjunct in both Scott’s and Meares’ expectations regarding each other, and the disappointment each experienced when faced with the reality, were reinforced by isolation.
    Scott was a good naval officer but, as his experiences with merchant seamen aboard the Discovery demonstrates, his leadership didn’t automatically translate well when dealing with people accustomed to operating in frameworks outside the Royal Navy.
    Bad blood is hard to dissipate even when life is easy and distractions plentiful. In a remote field camp in the cold it seems to have festered.

    I didn’t know Meares was alleged to have pissed away the spring but I can imagine how that might occur. In remote situations factions can form and insulate individuals from valid criticism, sometimes even reinforcing a sense of righteous indignation, whether it’s warranted or not. If Meares formed a clique with the Russians their common experiences and language could have insulated them against all but the most vigorous rebuke, making it easier to work around them than get them to fall in line. You certainly hear less about that trio in most first hand accounts and while the metric’s not guaranteed that’s often an indication of bad blood, particularly in the era and the culture in question, wherein it was considered unmanly to complain and a bad show to write badly of your colleagues.

    It could be that Meares’ mien was a result of bad blood. It could also be that Meares was a big jerk. Jerks exist and sometimes find their way into key roles in small teams by dint of their particular skills.
    I would very much like to read more about him, either way.

    Cheerio and thanks for contributing to the fund.

    1. Jim Butler

      Re the telephone, I can find reference to it in Cherry’s (I can call him Cherry, right? We go way back!) iconic account, in Chapter IX “The Polar Journey”. He himself is quoting Taylor’s account who mentions it twice:
      “On the 31st October the pony parties started. Two weak ponies led by Atkinson and Keohane were sent off first at 4.30, and I accompanied them for about a mile. Keohane’s pony rejoiced in the name of Jimmy Pigg, and he stepped out much better than his fleeter-named mate Jehu. We heard through the telephone of their safe arrival at Hut Point.”
      “That evening I had a chat with Wilson over the telephone from the Discovery Hut—my last communication with those five gallant spirits.”
      I can’t find any mention of it being installed or subsequently damaged, but there’s reference to significant quantities of cable here:

      I’ve forgotten what the actual confusion was, or when it occurred? Presumably in the mayhem around the attempts to relieve Scott which was complicated by the return of a poorly Evans?

      1. worldslaziestbusker Post author

        Thanks for that.
        That warrants an addendum in the series. I’ve read Cherry Garrard’s book but never caught that information.

        Scott’s frustration over the missing mail bag on his return from the depot journey would never have arisen if he could just contact Cape Evans and find out who was where and doing what.

        The telephone line would have been a boon in the return of the depot party northward, when Scott risked new ice to head back to Cape Evans with no idea if the ice further north would serve to get them home safely. A rocket flare launched from Cape Evans let those still at Hut Point know they arrived safely, to which they responded with a kerosene soaked rag they threw in the air.

        Atkinson could have marshaled his resources more efficiently when Crean and Lashly got Lt Evans back to Hut Point if the telephone line was operating. Likely little would have been altered in the outcomes but greater efficiency might have seen more done to aid those still on the barrier.

        Thanks again.

  3. Jim Butler

    Re our mate Meaeresy, I think you’re on to something with both the naval discipline aspect and the Big Jerk theory. The wiki article has the following intriguing (but not clearly annotated) comment:
    “Disregarding Meares, who was “not available for work”, the most qualified person available to meet Scott’s party was the physicist Wright…”

    It seems Meares got back to Cape Evans on Jan 4, and the Terra Nova didn’t leave until March (can’t seem to find exactly when?). Is there a window there for one last jaunt out to One Ton and back? I suppose he didn’t know anything was wrong at that point, and it seems the problem was not a dog journey, but rather nobody had resupplied the dog food for a later dog journey. It’s all very confusing. But yeah, hopefully somebody unearths his memoirs from a dusty archive at some point!

  4. worldslaziestbusker Post author

    In my understanding, by the time he reached Cape Evans Meares wanted to get shot of the expedition so I don’t think he would have made another foray on to the barrier if it put him at any risk of not sailing north, whether he understood the peril faced by the pole party or not.

    Having worked the dogs hard in support of the pole parties and made less progress per day and per unit dog food on the return, there definitely wasn’t enough dog food cached on the barrier to support a direct hook up with anyone beyond the One ton – further depoting would have been necessary. Perhaps this might have been achieved if everyone physically capable of doing so got on the case immediately on the arrival of Crean, Lashly and the nearly dead Lt Evans, but instead everyone opted for optimism, relying on the polar party to come through under their own steam, and dealt with the problems more immediately on their hands.

    We know the big picture, so we can spot where the flaws lie in the assumptions made and the strategies applied based on those assumptions, but I can’t honestly say I would have done anything differently if faced with the same circumstances and viewed them from the same cultural framework.

    About an hour after reading your message about the phone link to Hut Point I opened my current book and read about the phone link to Hut Point. Not a huge coincidence, given that it’s Antarctic history that put us in contact, but a neat little coda to a busy day, at this end.

  5. Jim Butler

    On the phone thing, from my original source, it appears that it was operational when the Polar Journey commenced. Did they install it during the first winter? I guess if they were cool with sending guys over to Cape Crozier to check out penguins, maybe they were happy to beat the familiar path down to Hut Point with some cable?


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