Temperature: -14 degrees
Wind Speed: 0
Temp with wind chill: -14 degrees
Last Friday was a day like any other for us in the lab at Scott Base. A crate of frozen objects from Scott's Terra Nova hut had just thawed and I selected one for treatment. In this case, it was a wooden-backed bristle brush for grooming the expedition's ponies – ponies Scott intended to use in his 1912 dash to the South Pole. Hailing from Vladivostok, they were all white or dappled grey and numbered nineteen, but didn't fare well and were soon down to ten—Bones, Chinaman, Christopher, James Pigg, Jehu, Michael, Nobby, Snatcher, Snippets and Victor.
Lawrence Oates with ponies at Terra Nova hut May 26th 1911 © H. Ponting SPRI ref: P2005/5/0459
Not only was the grooming brush well-worn from much use, it held a tangle of pale hairs and released a surprisingly pungent and pervasive odour of horse and manure, as if it had just been used. I commented on this to my Irish colleague, Stefanie, before our conversation turned back to our plans for St Patrick's Day celebration ... 17 March.
But my thoughts soon wandered to the expert horseman who was in charge of the Terra Nova expedition's ponies, a certain Captain Lawrence Oates. For Oates, 17 March, St Patrick's Day, was his birthday. And, tragically, it was also almost certainly the day he died, on his thirty-second, in Antarctica, 101 years ago. Oates is famous as the member of Scott's Polar Party who, ravaged by frostbite, scurvy, malnutrition and the effects of a war wound, self-sacrificed by walking out of the party's tent in a blizzard with the words "I'm just going outside and may be some time" in the hope it would enable the other team members—Scott, Bowers and Wilson—to survive the return journey from the Pole. Sadly it didn't … they all perished some twelve or so days later and Oates’ body was never found.
Pony grooming brush from Scott's Terra Nova expedition
And so this 17 March, as Scott Base celebrates St Patrick's Day 2013, we also salute a true gentleman of the heroic era and a man of remarkable bravery, loyalty and gallantry … Captain Lawrence Edward Grace ('Titus') Oates (17 March 1880 – 17 March 1912).