Captain Scott's only Grandson - Falcon Scott visits Antarctica, January 2012
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s only grandson, Falcon Scott, is helping to conserve his grandfather’s most famous Antarctic base this Antarctic summer season as part of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust’s team of conservation specialists. Falcon took time out to answer a few questions about his experiences and the achievements of his famous grandfather.
How does it feel to be visiting Antarctica on the centenary of your grandfather’s expedition?
It is really amazing to be here in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica where my Grandfather set up the bases for his two expeditions to explore the coast and interior of Antarctica. It’s especially good to be here at the 100th anniversary of his successful attainment of the South Pole for Britain.
Part of your work in Antarctica is helping to conserve the expedition Hut for the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand). What were your impressions on first entering the Hut, and how did it feel to be in the place they lived and worked?
The work to conserve the Terra Nova Expedition Hut at Cape Evans is in full swing. There are currently seven Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) staff living at the site in a camp, and working on the building. This year, the work is concentrated on the interior of the hut - the furniture, bunks and shelves etc. As a late arrival to the camp, after spending Christmas with my family, the guys were already on site working but had very kindly re-assembled the interior of the hut in an orderly state for me to see on arrival.
When I first went into the Hut, I found it to be a very moving experience. On entering the main interior room, the wardroom table stretched ahead of me, with the chairs on each side standing empty, but in the same position as in the famous photograph of the midwinter dinner and my Grandfathers birthday dinner. It felt like there was still a presence of my Grandfather and the men sitting round the table, like his spirit was there. Around the corner to the left is the area where my Grandfather had his den, a partition wall on two sides enclosing his bunk, some shelves, and the desk where he planned the southern journey to the Pole. Wilson and Evans slept opposite, a few feet away. I spent an hour on my own in the Hut, just soaking up the atmosphere, it was magical, and personally a very emotional experience.
Given your background as a carpenter, what kinds of practical things will you be doing to help out?
My work in helping the team this year involves lining the latrines hut against the ingress of storm driven ice and snow (which can get through tiny holes and gaps in the building), using canvas and bitumen felt, and replacing the original felt lining using photography to re-position every detail authentically including the orientation of every nail. I will also be helping to preserve some of the sea ice sledges and working on furniture items in the hut.
Can you get a sense of how it must have felt like for Scott and his men exploring this vast unknown territory?
When the Terra Nova arrived through the storm swept seas of the Southern Ocean, through the pack ice, and finally penetrated the seasonal continental ice sheet to reach a point suitable for access to the Ice Shelf and the interior, they were 2,500 miles from the nearest human habitation, with no contact to the outside world - no radios, or satellites, no helicopters, or planes to drop extra supplies. Their survival for a full year, including the extreme weather of an Antarctic winter rested on the stores they had planned for, and loaded on to the ship. In addition, they had all the equipment for the most ambitious and comprehensive scientific programme ever undertaken by an expedition ship.
The tragic fate of the polar party told in your grandfather’s last diary remains one of most famous stories of the last century. What did it mean to you when you were growing up?
As a child I didn’t hear very much about my famous Grandfather. I remember my mother reading to me the Ladybird book about the expedition, and my sister had told me that he was famous when I was about three years old. But my Father was not really very interested and very much pursued his life as a painter, naturalist, and conservationist.
Your father Peter Scott was a conservationist, heeding to his father’s advice to be interested in natural history, rather than games. How important do you feel natural history and sciences were to Scott?
I think my Grandfather was influenced by his friend Edward Wilson who was a distinguished zoologist, and having worked on the development of torpedoes in the Navy, was well into research and science. He became more and more interested in natural history as time went on.
Your grandfather’s expedition brought back over 40,000 scientific specimens from Antarctica, which now reside in the Natural History Museum’s collections. Do you do you feel this scientific legacy might have been overshadowed by the story of their deaths?
I am sure there have been periods when the very considerable scientific achievements of my Grandfather’s expeditions have been forgotten and writers have concentrated too much on the polar journey and the deaths of the five men on the return. This, of course, is significantly due to the recovery of his diary in the following spring by the search party, and to the exceptional writing ability of my Grandfather with the contents of that diary. The fact is, they were unlucky; they had warm weather at the outset, making the conditions difficult for the ponies, exceptionally cold weather on the ice shelf on their return (a one in 40 year cold period), unexpected evaporation of fuel supplies caused by faulty seals at the supply depots, and a diet that did not replace lost calories fast enough. These things all put together sealed their fate.
Finally, Robert Falcon Scott’s image has been through many manifestations throughout the last century. How would you like him to be remembered?
I would like him to be remembered as masterminding one of the greatest expeditions to have left European shores, and to have added significantly to the culture of expanding the knowledge of mankind, and for his example of thinking through a wide programme of study and his determination and endurance in the face of adversity to carry on the work to the highest standards. And for this to be inspirational to future generations.