Spirit of Scott team united with rocks from epic expedition

29 March 2012

On 29 March 1912, 100 years ago today, Robert Falcon Scott wrote his last diary entry on his return from the South Pole. He and his polar party team never returned from their epic Terra Nova expedition.

Their bodies were found with 16kg of geological samples. These rocks were important scientific specimens that the team had collected and hauled along on their arduous Antarctic journey.

The rocks and Scott's incredible story of human endeavour were the inspiration for a group of servicemen and women who have just returned from their own Spirit of Scott expedition. 

Today they were united with some of these rock specimens at the Natural History Museum's exhibition, Scott's Last Expedition.

Captain Scott's birthday dinner, 6 June 1911.

Captain Scott's birthday dinner, 6 June 1911. © H Ponting photograph Canterbury Museum

The team are from the British Services Antarctic Expedition (BSAE) and include Expedition Leader Lieutenant Colonel Paul Edwards, who explains why the rocks, and Scott and his team, were so inspiring.

‘Because Scott refused to let go of these key specimens, even when he knew that he was probably doomed. He clearly understood their importance and refused to ditch them until the last, realising that they would probably be recovered with the dead bodies of him and his companions. A brave man until the last.'

Scott's scientific specimens
Fossilised extinct plant Glossopteris indica helped reveal Antarctica was once part of a supercontin

Fossilised extinct plant Glossopteris indica collected on Scott's expedition helped to reveal Antarctica was once part of a supercontinent.

As well as the rocks, more than 40,000 other scientific specimens were collected on Scott's Terra Nova expedition and are now looked after at the Museum. They made important contributions to what we know about the geology and biology of Antarctica. 

For instance, fossils found inside rocks, such as the extinct plant fossil Glossopteris indica, showed that there were forests there in the past, and helped provide evidence that Antarctica had once been part of the supercontinent Gondwana.

Lieutenant Commander Paul Hart adds, 'Knowing that Scott had given his all,' adds Hart, 'and that these rocks went on to provide evidence for the theory of continental drift was, for me, a real inspiration. These rocks went on to be fundamental to our understanding of the planet.’

Spirit of Scott science
David Smith talks to one of the servicemen and his son about the rocks Scott and his team collected

David Smith talks to one of the servicemen and his son about the rocks Scott and his team collected

The servicemen followed the spirit, rather than the footsteps, of the 1910-1913 expedition, conducting their own scientific exploration in their Spirit of Scott expedition. 

Hart says about their return, 'I feel greatly elated. After 3 years of planning it, I'm so pleased that everyone came back safely and the scientific objectives were achieved.'

This included the installation of GPS receivers at 2 locations on the western Antarctic Peninsula. 'These will be left for up to 5 years as part of the BSAE science legacy to measure the earth's crust uplifting due to ice melt over the Peninsula' says Lieutenant Commander Martin Densham, also part of the team.

They also drilled 11 ice cores, 9 metres deep, by hand. They recorded temperatures at 1m intervals. 'This will provide readings to show that the eastern part of the Peninsula is warming at an increased rate and that this is leading to the melting of the Larsen Ice Shelf,' adds Densham.

Last diary entry

In his last diary entry, Scott wrote, 'We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.'  

The deaths of Scott and his team were tragic, but their work has left a lasting impact in the fields of science and exploration, and their story of human endurance and bravery continues to inspire today.

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Further information

  • Visit the Scott's Last Expedition exhibition

External links

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Scott's Last Expedition book

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