Out in the field

Sharpe of the Antarctic

Following in the footsteps of Scott

Scott's party at the South PoleIt’s a hundred years since Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill fated expedition to Antarctica, and the anniversary is being marked by many events this year and next.

I’m currently on my way to visit Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, on the west side of Ross Island, where Scott built his headquarters before setting out on his bid for the South Pole.

Scott’s last journey began in the Winter of 1911 and reached the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find themselves preceded by the Amundsen expedition. They perished on the return journey, in the last days of March.

To mark the anniversary, exhibitions are planned in London, Cambridge, Plymouth and at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. I’ve been working on the Cardiff exhibition where we’ll be looking at the support Scott received from Wales (good Welsh coal fuelled Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova) and at the scientific work of the expedition. Geology was high on Scott’s research programme and he took three geologists with him: Raymond Priestley, Frank Debenham and Griffith Taylor.

Preparing museum exhibitions generally involves a lot of reading around the subject, gathering specimens together, visiting other collections to arrange loans of material and searching picture libraries for photographs and other images. But four weeks ago my preparations took a rather different turn when, out of the blue, I was asked to join a group of Antarctic enthusiasts on a trip to the Ross Sea with the aim of visiting Scott’s hut.

Wednesday 16th November

Snares Islands, New Zealand: Ho Ho Bay - looking North.So here I am, on a Russian icebreaker, ploughing through the Southern Ocean which is being remarkable benign. The Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties are not living up to their reputations. We’ve experienced no more than at 32 degree roll, but it’s a novel experience, sleeping in a bed with seatbelt straps.

We sailed a week ago from Lyttleton on the South Island of New Zealand, the same port from which Scott headed south. We called at a few of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands, The Snares, the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, where my task has been to try and distract the folk on board from the penguins and albatrosses and get them to look at the rocks.

antarctic convergenceWe crossed the Antarctic Convergence yesterday, so the sea temperature has dropped, and this morning we crossed the political boundary of the continent defined by the Antarctic Treaty, 60 degrees South latitude. Tonight we should reach the edge of the pack ice which lies at about 64 degrees S. Then it’s a whole new game.



Tom’s adventures continue in part two….

One thought on “Sharpe of the Antarctic

  1. Pingback: Flippin’ Earth | Geological Society of London blog

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