Scott's Terra Nova Antarctic Expedition

Bowers, Evans, Scott, Oates and Wilson at the South Pole

Bowers, Evans, Scott, Oates and Wilson at the South Pole. ©SPRI.

Robert Falcon Scott RN, (1868 -1912) returned to the Antarctic in 1910 aboard the Terra Nova with the main aim to reach the South Pole. Scott enjoyed the company of scientists and his ship became the most completely equipped vessel for scientific purposes in polar regions. The scientific crew included 

  • meteorologists
  • hydrologists
  •  zoologists
  • glacialogists
  • biologists
  • geologists

all under control of Dr E. A. Wilson, the Chief Scientist. Upon arrival in Antarctica, Scott put out parties to the north and to the west, while he set out, fatefully, for the pole.


A total of 1919 rock specimens from the expedition are housed at The Natural History Museum and the majority of these were collected by the geologists Raymond Priestley, Frank Debenham and T. Griffith Taylor; chiefly from McMurdo Sound and Terra Nova Bay.

McMurdo Sound

Beacon Sandstone with 'sun-cracks'

Beacon Sandstone with 'sun-cracks'. Gondola Ridge, Granite Harbour, McMurdo Sound.

The sedimentary rocks here are mostly sandstones and shales from the Upper Devonian Beacon Sandstone Formation. Metamorphic rocks include 

  • white crystalline limestone
  • pyroxene-granulites
  • schists 
  • gneisses 

Plutonic igneous rocks in this area are mainly biotite-granite and hypabyssal rocks include orthoclase and quartz-orthoclase-porphyries and lamprophyres.

Terra Nova Bay

Sedimentary rocks from this area were only collected as erratics

Beacon sandstone with charred plant remains

Beacon sandstone with charred plant remains. An erratic from Priestley glacier.

Chiefly from the Priestley Glacier the rocks were 

  • coarse to fine sandstones
  • pebbly grits 
  • dark brown grits
  • sandstones with shale inclusions

Specimens BM1930,230 (6-8,20-23) contain plant remains, which pin down these sediments to an early Mesozoic age. 

The few in situ metamorphic rocks collected in Terra Nova Bay included 

  • a fine-grained biotite-gneiss
  • a dark garnetiferous biotite-gneiss from Pyramidal nunatak
  • a biotite-schist from Cape Sastrugi
Orbicular granite

Orbicular granite (spheroids almost resorbed) Cape Geology, Granite Harbour, McMurdo Sound region

The erratic specimens were taken from the Boomerang, Priestley and Corner glaciers. 

Igneous rocks were also mainly collected from glacier moraines (from the Hell's Gate, Boomerang, Campbell, Corner, and Priestley glaciers) 

However, in situ specimens include 

  • biotite-diorite
  • biotite-granite 
  • garnetiferous aplites 

from Inexpressible Island.

But easily the most poignant rock specimens brought back from this expedition were those collected by Scott's Polar party in their journey back from the South Pole in February 1912.


Coal, Mt Buckley, Beardmore Glacier. Collected around 8-14 February 1912

More than half of this collection consists of sedimentary rocks, with samples of 

  • coal 
  • fossil plants 
  • the first published occurrence of Glossopteris from Antarctica (now in the Department of Palaeontology). 

About a quarter are quartz dolerites from the Jurassic sills intruding the Beacon Sandstone Supergroup. 

These rocks were found alongside the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers just 12.66 miles south of One Ton Depot (blue cross on the map).

Quartz dolerite

Quartz dolerite, Mt Darwin, Beardmore Glacier. Collected by Lieut Henry Bowers, 8 February 1912

Surgeon E. L. Atkinson RN of the recovery party concluded

' We recovered all their gear and dug out the sledge with their belongings on it. Amongst these were 35 lb. of very important geological specimens which had been collected on the moraines of the Beardmore Glacier; at Doctor Wilson's request they had stuck to these up to the very end, even when disaster stared them in the face and they knew that the specimens were so much weight added to what they had to pull.'

For further information contact: David Smith

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