GEOGRAPHICAL: August 2012, Worldwatch, Scott and his men starved to death

3 Aug



Mike Stroud and Lewis Halsey, (reported in the ‘Geographical’ in Worldwatch P.12), conclude that  Scott’s party starved to death. This is undoubtedly true. By the time Edgar Evans died on 17/02/1912 the party has been on the summit rations of 4,400 kilocalories since early December 2011.They thought they had adequate rations but current nutritional information shows that each man probably burnt 7,000 kcal per day whilst manhauling. This means that by the time Evans died, each man would have had an astounding calorie deficit of at least 170, 000 kcal and lost over 35% of his body weight. The rations simply did not supply enough calories for their needs and they lost a huge amount of their insulating body fat. All the men suffered in addition from a lack of fluid, dangerously low body temperatures and vitamin deficiency. But in spite of this the men might have got through if it were not for medical factors.


Edgar Evans had problems before the party got to the Pole and there are frequent referenced to his enfeebled condition as the party battled across the featureless landscape. When the party descended the Beardmore Glacier he deteriorated dramatically.  He had cut his hand whilst shortening a sledge on December 31, 1911, the cut festered and needed daily attention from Dr. Wilson.  His fingernails fell off; his fingers were raw, swollen stumps.


Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly carried in the nose and on the skin. I think it is very probable that this bacterium infected Edgar’s hand and got into the bloodstream causing repeated infections. This medical complication would have been more than enough to exacerbate Edgar’s deterioration and contribute to his weakened condition, which so slowed the party’s return.


As is well known, Captain Oates, stoical and courageous suffered with an appalling gangrenous foot. It took him nearly an hour to get into his boots. He could not pull the sledge. As is well known he eventually crawled out of the tent so as not to further prejudice his companion’s chances of getting to their base.


Without the slow progress imposed by the medical conditions of these two heroes the British Party might have succeeded in reaching One Ton safely.


2 Responses to “GEOGRAPHICAL: August 2012, Worldwatch, Scott and his men starved to death”

  1. Bill Ross October 28, 2012 at 1:49 am #

    Dr. Williams’s recent biography of Edgar Evans is a fascinating and detailed look at the life of a man who, at the time of his death, was arguably one of the most experienced Antarctic explorers of his day.

    Besides recounting Evans’ life story, the book addresses a long-ago wrong done to him posthumously by a sensationalist press – that he was the first of the five to die because he wasn’t “upper crust” and therefore more likely to give up when other men would have prevailed. If that were the case then surely the other four would have found the strength to press on the final few miles to the next food cache.

    The description of Edgar’s early days as a boy seaman going through training could have been talking about my experience after enlisting in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in the early 1960’s except for the fact that we probably had somewhat better accommodation and food; his days were structured remarkably like mine as I went through 13 weeks of basic training.

    Throughout, the book describes a very human man who rose (and sometimes sank) to the occasion. Like most sailors Edgar over-did it with the rum now and then, which is not too surprising given that it was one of the perks of being in the RN (as it was in the RCN). But you don’t get promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class without demonstrating a good degree of competence, and Edgar showed throughout both Antarctic expeditions that he was more than up to the challenge.

    A very enjoyable read, and one I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in exploration and explorers.

    Bill Ross
    Toronto, Canada

    • Isobel williams October 28, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      Thank you. You have put succently exactly what I feel and I am so glad I managed to convey this.

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