I had never heard of Captain Robert Falcon Scott until I picked up his biography by David Crane sometime in 2010.
I hate this shrinkage of slow, poisonous disappearance of bookshops – these massive upto 70% off sales are testimony to that but there’s perhaps a good thing to it. People like me tend to buy any book that’s offered at such cheap prices, nothing can go wrong with books! They are not like clothes which can ruin with one wash and you wouldn’t know that when you are buying them, there can’t be a bad book! There are also the other kind of people who wouldn’t trust any book offered at such a sale as worth – reading like one of my friends says ‘the book is on sale for no one bought it and if no one’s buying that it must be a waste of time to read it,’ I don’t understand that concept.
Anyway, so I went home and started reading about Captain Scott. Maybe it is apparent or maybe it is not, so I will tell you that I love anything maritime, anything based on sea, life on sea, sailing expeditions, maritime history, boats! Captain Scott as the name suggests, was a sailor. As I kept reading I realized he was a great sailor, further reading revealed he was a Hero.
With responsibility on his shoulders, young Con (as he’s fondly called) went to the sea at age 9 and rose to higher ranks gradually with hardwork. I don’t think he was ever an ordinary sailor for he had great ideas in his mind and the most fascinating, also the most dangerous was the idea of going to the South Pole. He did make it to Antarctic, and it wasn’t as easy as saying that in a line, in six words – it was an epic journey but he couldn’t reach the South Pole. I empathized and connected with Con when I read about the pain he felt upon returning home in England – how he saw only ice all around and felt the Antarctic chill on his skin even in the summers!
So Con went back, this time with a massive goal – to be the first person to reach the South Pole. This was no ordinary mission for the world has only two poles – the North was already taken by a Norwegian so the South should bear an English mark. I would love that if I were British (I’d love that anyway!).
Reading about the expedition was fascinating, about each one on the ship, their dedicated roles, what happens when you do things for the first time, when you have to make decisions which you are not sure of, when you all you have around you is ice, ice and only ice, when things go wrong and you don’t know why, when your friends are sick and need help but you cannot help them, when the animals you love and take responsibility for die one after another, when you long to hear the voice of a loved one but you have no idea how they are and what’s happening with them, when you almost doubt if the world you left behind still exists, when you go after something as big as a pole of the world hoping to be the first one but you find a note from someone who reached it a little before you! The inspiration of leaving home on a mission, the determination to go after a goal, the hardships of an extraordinary expedition, perseverance, hope and belief along with brilliant scientific observations and great art – all that was superbly fascinating and depressing for the tragedy of Scott’s final expedition shook me.
I didn’t know of Scott’s story, I could imagine that he wasn’t the first person to reach the pole but I couldn’t imagine that Scott and each one of those four men on the expedition, whom I had come to love towards the end of the biography, would perish in the expedition. Each death shook me, each page was heart breaking, I kept the book away sometimes as I couldn’t take the pain. Each diary entry by Scott or Wilson towards the end of their lives made a deep impact on me.
I feel an intense connection with Con – this man who left the world with thewords
‘For God’s sake, please take care of our people.’
Fascinated with Con and the sad story, I kept reading more and more on this expedition and interestingly 2012 marks the centenary of Scott’s Last Expedition – the Terra Nova expedition. When I first read of the Special Scott Exhibit at the Natural History Museum
from February 2012, I thought ‘there’s just no way I can go to that exhibition – absolutely no way. I love Con and it’d be the most wonderful thing to happen, to go to this exhibition but I can’t go, I can’t afford it, it’s impossible.’
And on the morning of the 15th of July, I found myself outside the Natural History Museum, London taking this picture.
Unfortunately, no photography of the exhibition was allowed and now I treasure everything I saw there in my mind, guarding it against the challenge of a poor memory. I clearly see Scott’s handwriting, the diaries of other expedition members. Someone had written this, “it is difficult to keep a diary. This life is of little interest; ne day is just as monotonous as the next”, I see paints Dr Wilson used – made by Ackerman & Co, manufacturers of supreme water colours to Her Majesty, Lyle’s Golden Syrup bottles, sugar donated by Henry Tate & Sons and a Kodak film reel jar with pebbles from the stomachs of emperor penguins that the team hunted, The Daily Mirror’s report on Wednesday, May 21, 1931 that said – the most wonderful monument in the world, Captain Scott’s sepulcher erected amid Antarctic wastes.
It’s incredibly interesting how all these images are so fresh in my mind but I wonder how I with my poor memory will retain all these visuals for life!
At the exhibit was a contest – win a trip to Antarctic for two. I’d win that, I know I’d for I so badly want to – I’d win that if the contest wasn’t open only to UK nationals. I filled in a form anyway.
This was a dream I thought impossible, to visit the exhibit, and it came true. My friend Laurie
, the only other Con fan I know sent me memorabilia from the Scott exhibit in New York without any idea that she’d soon be getting some in mail from the Scott exhibit in London. I love surprises this cool. Catharine accompanied me to the museum.
Of all the faces I saw in the pictures at the exhibition, the one of Tryggve Gran
, a Norwegian ski expert employed to train the expedition member to ski, is the most striking, a face I won’t forget too easily. Gran was on the search party that found Scott – ‘we have never given anybody the right latitude and longitude for we were afraid people would go down and try to find them. As far as I know, I am the only one who got the figures, because I took the observations and wrote them down,” said Gran to the Observer Colour Magazine in 1974.