Biographies of men who supported Robert Scott in Antarctica.

6 Oct

It is interesting to see that the focus of works on British exploration in Antarctica in the early 1900s has now widened to include biographies of men who supported their leaders so significantly. Recent biographies include works on Frank Wild, Dr Reginald Koettlitz (of the ‘Discovery’ expedition), Dr Edward Wilson of ‘Discovery’ and ‘Terra Nova’ and P.O.Edgar Evans who also followed Scott on both these expeditions. A work on Vince who died on Scott’s first expedition is awaited, as well as a biography of ‘Birdie’ Bowers.
It is great to know that these men, four of whom lost their lives in Antarctica, are now receiving proper attention and appreciation.

12 Responses to “Biographies of men who supported Robert Scott in Antarctica.”

  1. John Scott October 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    When I went to school in the 1950’s I was often asked if I was related to Captain Scott, as he was always known (I am not). This happened so often that it was clear that this man still held a great fascination for the public, lasting 40 years. I found your book very interesting in general, and riveting when you were discussing the prevention of scurvy. We take so much for granted now, but I have just learned that scurvy was proven to be caused by ascorbic acid deficiency as late as 1932 (If you state this in your book I apologise, but our copy is currently in store because of building works). So many people had shown that fresh lemons prevented scurvy, but the lessons learnt, so clear and obvious now, were by no means so clear at the time, with the puzzling failure of limes and lime juice to imitate the efficacy of lemons, and the prevailing belief in Scott’s expedition that tainted meat was the cause, rather than fresh meat being the cure. Your book emphasised the enormous calorific deficit that these men had in their walk to the pole, but also hinted that their debility was made significantly worse by the effects of scurvy, in spite of their best efforts. I imagine that they took some seal meat with them, but inevitably not enough for the whole journey. I had not idea that it could be a problem for travellers until well into the 20th century.
    It is their tragedy that they did not have our knowledge of the correct prevention of scurvy, and I am very pleased to have had this explained in your excellent book.

    • Isobel P. Williams October 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

      Scurvy was indeed a terrible problem, one that Scott was all too keen to avoid. He had advice from the leading medical specialists of the time including Lord Lister and Sir Almoth Wright, who were convinced that citrus fruits did not prevent scurvy. Scott’s senior doctor, Dr Reginald Koettlitz, who trained at Guy’s Hospital London, wrote in the Guys Gazette of the ignorance of people who thought citrus fruits would be beneficial. The problem arose when the Navy started purchasing limes from the ‘West Indies’ rather than lemons from the Mediterranean – limes have less vitamin C content and the method that the juice was transported further damaged the vitamin. This resulted in the juices that were given being ineffective.
      Scott has been criticised for this, but this is unfair. he took the best advice available.

  2. John millard October 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    When I went to Prep school we had houses named after great men. The houses were Mallory, Scott, Livingstone and Baden Powell. I was in Scott and as a result have always been interested in Scott and those who went with him the Antarctic. I have read Dr William’s book on Edward Wilson, with great interest. Wilson was a doctor and an exceptional artist, he was also a devout Christian. In many ways he was a more interesting character than Scott but I feel sorry for Wilson’s wife. They were married shortly before the final fatal trip to the pole and I do not think she ever remarried. But I suppose that this sort of thing was not unusual in the days of Empire.
    I am told that Dr Williams is writing about Edgar Evans another of Scott’s companions who also died on the final trip. He was not an officer and I will be very interested to read about his experiences of the expedition.

    • Isobel P. Williams October 26, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

      The problem of wives left behind was worse in the early 1900s than to-day. Men regularly went away to serve in the army and navy as well as In Eastern trading companies, so Oriana was one of very many.
      She actually married Wilson before the first expedition and had some years with him between the Antarctic expeditions, when Wilson was working on the cause of Grouse Disease, am important problem that he cracked.
      You are right, she did not remarry, but cooperated with Seaver on a book on her husband’s life, and continued with his great interest in ornithology.

  3. Bill Ross November 15, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    There was an interesting “opinion/interview” piece in the Oct. 1-7, 2011 edition of New Scientist with Roland Huntford, which made mention of his latest book comparing the Scott and Amundsen diaries. The Oct. 19-Nov. 4, 2011 edition has 2 responses in the “Opinion Letters” section that also make for interesting reading.

    The first Europeans who wintered over in North America suffered from near-fatal scurvy, but were saved by the well-known local medicine administered by the local medical practitioners – I believe it was a tea made of spruce needles. I wonder if Amundsen, who made great use of the available northerners technology, had scurvy problems.

    I’m greatly looking forward to the P.O. Evans book.

    • isobelpwilliams November 22, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

      You are right. Amundsen was well aware of the scurvy problem. He made sure that his team ate fresh meat and supplemented the sledging rations with meat. He also included vegetables and oatmeal in the pemmican that the Norwegians ate.
      In addition, calorific demands were much less for the Norwegians than for the British (who were man hauling rather than using dogs). Not only were the Norwegian requirements hugely less than British needs which was over 7000 calories per day, but they were on the Pole journey for about three weeks less than the British. The Norwegians returned after 98 days, (about the time that scurvy would have made an appearance in a vitamin C free diet). The British actually had no overt sign of scurvy, but must have had sub-clinical scurvy after their expedition which lasted about 120 days.

  4. Genevieve Czech November 21, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    Readers of Antarctic lore will welcome a biography of Evans and his place in the expedition. Dr. Williams’s account of Edward Wilson in her recent biography succeeded in capturing a remarkable man whose spirit endures not only in Antarctica and Cheltenham, but beyond the memorials and bookshelves. Wilson’s work on scientific instruments, polar temperatures and diet, and natural species had long lasting effect, but it was his work with his team and the inspiration he gave them that is described as “pure gold” in his companion’s diary. He served his team not only as their doctor, but as a reservoir of optimism and calm.
    Dr. Williams was drawn to Wilson through his sketches hung in the St. George’s Hospital common room. His unforgettable final sketch “Three Men in a Tent”, drawn just before his death has greatness. Birdie, Scott and Wilson are sequestered in the tent, Scott trying to pull a boot over a frozen foot, and facing imminent death. Williams describes how Wilson forced his frozen fingers to work the effect he wanted. Did Wilson know as he drew that this tent would be their final resting place? Those who discovered them 8 months later described the scene, its pathos reflecting Wilson’s ascetic ideal rendered by Isobel Williams: “his belief was that life is simply a journey towards eternity; this means that a successful life is judged by the effort put into it, not the outcome.”

    • isobelpwilliams November 22, 2011 at 5:36 pm #

      Wilson’s closeness to Scott must have had an indirect effect on the Natural History Movement. Scott’s last letter to his wife said, ‘Make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games’. Scott was hugely impressed by Wilson’s knowledge and recordings of the wild life of Antarctica and Scott and Wilson had had debates about the benefits of competitive sport. Wilson, who disapproved of them, wrote that only Scott agreed with him.
      Scott’s son Peter, did followed the natural history route and famously popularised the observation of migrating bird life on his estate at Slimbridge. Through his paintings, writings and lectures Peter Scott was one of the first in Britain to promote the importance of wildlife In the natural state. He was an important influence on the development The Wetlands, a reserve in Barnes in London, visited by hundreds of birds in migration.
      Wilson would have been proud of this heritage.

  5. Yvana Reeves December 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    It’s been fascinating to follow the comments from people who add to the knowledge and personal impact of Scott’s life and that of his companions, even now. I enjoyed reading about Wilson very much and was struck by how his values and character endured in incredibly difficult circumstances. What conclusions did you come to about what drove him and sustained him emotionally.

    • Isobel P. Williams December 8, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      His faith. Wilson’s mother Mary-Agnes, had a deep religious conviction and in his teens Wilson became completely convinced about the Christian ideal. His religion became the scaffolding that underpinned the remainder of his life. Every day was lived with a consciousness of God, he filled every day to the full and felt that the way he did a task was more important than the outcome. This sustained him throughout the final fatal expedition; he felt that he had done his best at each stage of the expedition.
      He had no fear of death. His concern was for leaving his wife and relatives. His last message to Oriana his wife, must have been of enormous comfort to her, ALL IS WELL.

  6. auto verzekeren February 5, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    There are some interesting time limits in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There’s some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as nicely

    • Isobel P. Williams February 5, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      If I had a clear idea as to what point is being made I would be delighted to address it!

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