Notes on Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

23 Nov

Bill Alp, a New Zealander, a project manager in information technology and a man with a passion for researching the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, has written a critique of the paper. I agree with his comments and give them in full

I have appended some general comments of my own at the end of his critique

Bill’s comments
General – the importance of verifiable facts in research articles
Professor Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ has recently been published by Polar Record. It may be viewed at
Whilst the article draws upon many historic documents, it is rather light on verifiable facts. There are plenty of conjectures, insinuations and rumours. However, statements such as: “before sending Atkinson and his team back, Scott repeated that the dogs were not to be risked” and “Whilst no orders were apparently written by Scott for the Last Supporting party, it does seem they were issued on the journey” and “Atkinson remained convinced the orders as he understood them had not been rescinded” would be more acceptable if supported by verifiable citations.
A significant proportion of the article reiterates the opinions of individuals back in England ( Lord Curzon, K Scott, O Wilson etc.), who could not possibly have witnessed Evans’ alleged transgressions in Antarctica. The article would have more substance if it included eye-witness accounts of Evans’ alleged transgressions.
Turney has worked hard to depict Teddy Evans as being a bad person, using a technique of presenting multiple adverse opinions and innuendo. This approach is not a trusted alternative to straightforward assembly and presentation of verifiable facts. In short, Turney’s article falls well-short of the standard normally associated with scholarly research.
Alleged theft of food by Evans
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition maintains that the energy content of Scott’s man-food rations fell well-short of what was required. For example, Fiennes assessed Scott’s summit ration at 4500 calories per day and stated that energy consumption would exceed 7000 calories per day when man-hauling in polar conditions (Fiennes, 2003, pp. 283-285). The Polar Party was close to a ‘starvation diet’ for 77 days, from commencement of man-hauling up the Glacier until arriving back on the Barrier on 24 February, and thence onto the even lower energy Barrier ration, until their deaths. It is surprising that Turney’s article makes no mention of the energy shortfall in the diet planned and organised by Scott, writing only about possible food shortages allegedly caused by Evans. For the article to be perceived as being well-reasoned and balanced, a distinction between problems caused by inadequate ration content versus alleged food theft would add credibility. A more balanced approach to analysis of food-related problems could have avoided press headlines such as “Captain Scott of the Antarctic’s doomed 1911 expedition to the South Pole was ‘sabotaged’ by his second in command who stole vital rations and rebelled against orders, expert claims” (Daily Mail (Australia), 12 October 2017).
The article provides no evidence that the Polar Party was forced to go onto short rations whilst returning across the Barrier. It may be noted that Scott’s Message to Public stated every detail of their food supplies worked out to perfection (obviously, Scott was silent about the adequacy of their fuel oil supplies}. Scott’s statement may be evaluated by investigating when the returning Polar Party was able to consume full rations and when it was obliged to go onto short rations. Based upon Shackleton’s average speed in his Nimrod expedition, Scott had decided upon a 144 day southern journey and took an appropriate number of ration packs (albeit with insufficient daily energy content). With a start date of 1 November 1911, 144 days’ worth of food would last until 22 March 1912, which is very close to when the Polar Party came off their full ration in the death tent. Scott’s journal shows he dared not cut back on food rations whilst returning across the Barrier. The evidence suggests the Polar Party enjoyed full rations until about 21 March 1912.
It is therefore apparent that even if 80 ounces of biscuit (5 man-days of summit ration, as highlighted by Turney) plus an unknown quantity of pemmican had been under-provisioned by Bowers, or had been misappropriated by any of the returning parties (be it the Dog Party, the First Return Party or Evans’ Second Return Party), this alone did not cause the Polar Party to go onto short rations.
Whilst Turney’s article puts up a convincing case that a few people in far-off England had fussed over possible shortages of biscuit or pemmican, no evidence is presented to demonstrate that such shortages, if they existed, had any adverse impact on the Polar Party at all.
In order to attain a better standard of proof about alleged food shortages, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against the well-established facts. If that analysis comes out in favour of the new theories then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans took food beyond his entitlement, to the detriment of the Polar Party, is unproven.
Alleged failure of Evans to convey orders
Turney’s article bases its case about Evans’ alleged failure to convey Scott’s revised orders upon a single thread, originating in Gran’s 1961 book Kampen om Sydpolen (not available in English). One is left wondering why such a pivotal piece of evidence is not quoted in full, in English and the original Norwegian, to allay any concern about biased or selective translation. I wrote to Professor Turney on 15 October 2017 requesting a copy of Gran’s text, but as at 22 November 2017 had received no response.
The common storyline of the Terra Nova expedition contains a lot of widely accepted information about Atkinson’s actions when he became responsible for the third dog journey. For example, Mike Tarver’s biography of Atkinson (Tarver, 2015, pp. 53-54) tells of the letters Atkinson wrote to his parents about responsibilities assigned to him by Scott. Independent journal entries by Wright, Simpson and Cherry-Garrard (all available from SPRI archives), plus a letter from Demetri to Meares and Evans’ book itself, all paint a consistent picture of how the events of the third dog journey evolved during Atkinson’s watch. There is so much primary evidence available that independent verification of Atkinson’s account is straightforward.
However, the new theory about the orders allegedly given by Scott to Evans is not independently verified in Turney’s article, at all. The article would be more believable if Gran’s 1961 account could be verified to a similar level of confidence as Atkinson’s account. Without verifiable evidence, the charge that Evans failed to convey orders is based solely on hearsay and conjecture.
In assessing Turney’s new theory, several points come to mind:
• Gran was not present at the time the alleged instructions were given to Evans; he was not even present on the southern journey. He was therefore not an eye-witness.
• He did not enjoy Scott’s confidence. It seems highly unlikely that Scott would have shared information about his plans and instructions with Gran that he did not share with others.
• All we have is Gran’s belated recollection of Evans alleged admission, made at an unspecified place on an unknown date, recorded for the first time in 1961.
• His book Kampen om Sydpolen, from which the new material is apparently drawn, was published almost 50 years after the event. It is surprising that the story of Evans’ alleged instructions does not appear in Gran’s published diary, covering the period from 29 November 1910 until 12 February 1913 (Gran, 1984).
• Perhaps Gran created the story from memory, almost 50 years after the event. Without seeing Gran’s text one cannot be sure, but it seems as though Gran’s story could be a jumbling together of Scott’s written orders to Meares (Evans, 1961, pp. 162-163) plus Atkinson’s verbal instructions from Scott (Atkinson, 2011, p. 665) with names changed (Evans instead of Atkinson) and destination changed (83° 00’ instead of 82° 30’).
Hypothetically, Gran’s account could be true. As with the charge of food theft, the article needs to analyse and compare its new theories against well-established facts. If the analysis comes out in favour of the new theory then there would be a better chance of acceptance by historians and researchers.
The article does not address the need to provide adequate dog food for the extended journey. From surviving records, such as Wilson’s sketchbook, we can see that Scott’s food-planning was thorough and it would have been out of character for him to issue instructions for the Dog Party to travel beyond their maximum (food determined) range, with fatal consequences for men and animals. The article would be more credible if it included an analysis of dog food planned for the extended journey.
Another concern is the vagueness arising from the absence of any timeline. Turney’s article provides no evidence about when Scott expected Evans to meet the Dog Party, in order to pass on the revised instructions, or when the dogs should meet up with the Polar Party. This is an important omission because the Dog Party would need to receive the revised instructions before departed south, in order to alter their payload to suit Scott’s revised instructions. The article would have more substance if it included a clear timeline analysis.
As the article stands, the charge that Evans failed to convey Scott’s revised orders, based solely upon Gran’s unverified story, is unproven. Verifiable facts would strengthen Turney’s charge that Evans failed to comply with Scott’s orders.
Atkinson, E.L. (2011). The last Year at Cape Evans, In: Scott, R.F. Scott’s Last Expedition. Ware, England: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.
Evans, E.R.G.R. (1961). South With Scott. London, England: Collins
Fiennes, R. (2003). Captain Scott. London, England: Hodder & Stoughton
Geroff, D. (1913). Letter to Cecil Meares 2 January 1913 (written by F. Debenham), Victoria, Canada: Royal British Columbia Museum MS0455
Gran, J.T.H. (1984). The Norwegian with Scott: Tryggve Gran’s Antarctic Diary 1910-1913. G. Hattersley-Smith (Ed.). London, England: HMSO
Tarver, M.C. (2015). The Man Who Found Captain Scott. Antarctic Explorer and War Hero. Surgeon Captain Edward Leicester Atkinson. Brixham, Devon UK: Pendragon Maritime Publications

Bill Alp
Wellington, New Zealand
22 November 2017

GENERAL COMMENTS; Isobel P. Williams

1) In relation to food:
Scott recorded in his journal on the evening of 10th December that ‘Evans’ party could not keep up …they took nearly half an hour to come up a few hundred yards’ (Robert Falcon Scott Journals, p 344).- this is hardly surprising as two of the men had been man-hauling for the previous 40 days on Barrier Rations. The Summit Rations for the assault on the Pole had been re-calculated (4,500 calories) after Edward Wilson’s winter expedition to Cape Crozier (27 June -1 August 1911). In the 1990s Mike Stroud calculated the calories needed for man-hauling to be 7,000 calories per day (Fiennes, ‘Captain Scott’, p. 284/5). Teddy Evans started to man-haul on the 1st November 1911, as did P.O.William Lashly (Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries. p.120). 65 days later they started the Return Journey, with Thomas Crean, on 4th.January 1912 (Lashly’s Diaries, p.135). By this time both Teddy Evans and P.O. Lashly would have already expended over 150,000 calories more than they had taken in (this deficit was less than it could have been, as they were held up by blizzards for 9 days). They would have lost more weight (muscle and fat) than their peers who had only started to man-haul from the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on 10 December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.127).
In relation to the five men on Scott’s return party from the Pole – by the time they reached the Barrier, each man would have built up a deficit of 301,000 calories although they did not realize this, having man-hauled for 72 days.

2) On page 498, ‘Introduction’, Professor Turney states that C.P.O. EDGAR Evans, (as apposed to Teddy), died ‘apparently from the effects of concussion’. In my biography of Edgar Evans, ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans’, I go into the possible causes of Edgar’s death in considerable depth. My conclusion is that he probably died of a Staphylococcus Aureus bacteraemia that developed secondarily to his cutting his hand whilst shortening a sledge on 31st. December 1911 (Lashly’s Diaries p.133). I am unconvinced by the ‘concussion’ theory, for the reasons mentioned in the relevant chapter.

3) On page 501, in relation to vitamin C, Professor Turney states that ‘it would be twenty years before its importance of the prevention of scurvy was fully realized’. Here I must put in a plug for Shackleton. In his preparation for his Trans Antarctic Expedition he was fully cognizant of the dangers of scurvy, having suffered severely from the disease himself and was determined to do all he could to prevent this problem. This is explained in an article he wrote in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ July 1914, p. 5 ‘The Antarctic’—Considerations of Diet. In his preparations he consulted carefully with Colonel Beveridge of the Royal Army Medical College’ (each man was allocated a pack daily containing 5,452 cals).

4)The cause of scurvy was demonstrated in 1907 by the Norwegians Axel Holst and Theodor Frolich, when guinea pigs were shown to be the only mammals at that time (other than humans) that could not manufacture an ascorbic factor. The guinea pigs developed scurvy when fed a deficient diet and recovered when fed a diet that included vegetables (much later the factor was isolated as hexuronic acid, later re named Ascorbic Acid, commonly known as Vitamin C).

5) Undoubtedly Teddy Evans was a brave man- – on the ‘Terra Nova’ expedition he did sterling work when the ‘Terra Nova’ was in danger of sinking in the Southern Ocean after the suction pumps choked, Teddy, sometimes submerged in filthy oily water, squeezed through a hole in the engine room bulkhead and ‘wriggled over the coal, found his way to the pump shaft and down it. He soon cleared the suction of the coal balls which choked it’ (Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Max Jones p.19). In WW1, on HMS Broke, he deliberately rammed a G42′, almost breaking it in two. This action gained him immediate promotion to the rank of Captain, and the award of the DSO

Ranolph Fiennes, 2003 Captain Scott, London, Hodder and Stoughton
A.R.Ellis, 1969 Under Scott’s Command, Lashly’s Antarctic Diaries, London, Victor Gollancz
Max Jones, 2005 Robert Falcon Scott Journals, Captain Scott’s Last Expedition, Oxford University Press UK
Isobel Williams, 2012 Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant Edgar Evans, The History Press, Gloucestershire UK

3 Responses to “Notes on Chris Turney’s article ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’”

  1. Nick Fisher December 4, 2017 at 11:31 am #


    I read this article and I too found it unconvincing. I’ll add a few points to what you and Bill have already said: the most puzzling thing for me was that there is no mention of the shortage Professor Turney claims for the southern barrier depot in Scott’s diary at all. The entry for the 24th feb when they reached the depot says it was in order except for the fuel and they were greatly relieved, the most optimistic parts of this entry are left out of the quoted section in the article though. Professor Turney claims that they discovered the shortage three days later but again there is nothing at all in the diary about this. His argument is based on an apparent anomaly in the amount of rations left: on the 24th Scott said they had 10 days left but on the 27th he said they had 6 days left. Looking at the actual wording gives a possible explanation: the entry on the 24th was written at lunchtime and the one on the 27th after their evening meal so when Scott wrote “otherwise have ten full days provision from tonight” he was including their evening meal in the count ( also they now had rations for five men to divide between four of them so there may be some rounding involved). The original diary entries (lunchtime and evening) for the 27th are mixed in mood but the evening entry is cautiously optimistic but they are quoted in a deceptive way: the two entries are run together and unrelated sentences from the two entries are juxtaposed. The wording of one sentence is also incorrect: “Things begin to look a little better” is quoted as “Things begin to look a little different” (the word is definitely “better” in Scott’s original handwriting, it’s online at the British Library, it may be an accidental transcription error though). Reading the original unedited text it seems clear to me anyway that there was no shortage and Scott actually increased their rations the next day. When they reached the next depot they had a buffer of three days rations left.

    Professor Turney also makes the point that Crean and Lashly would not have gone along with this. This seems quite correct to me but there is no explanation of how Evans could have removed the food without them noticing: there were the three of them, the depot, the sled and…nothing. The amount of food suggested (5 days rations) would have weighed something like 5kg. The idea that Evans could have somehow concealed it is also contradicted by Lashly’s diary where he says that he (Lashly) was in charge of the rations and would therefore have realised straight away. Lashly’s diary also gives another piece of information that directly contradicts what Professor Turney says: when they reached the depot Evans was suffering from “looseness of the bowels” and wasn’t eating any pemmican at the time, yet Professor Turney claims otherwise.

    Overall I felt he had no real evidence for what he claimed.


    • isobelpwilliams December 4, 2017 at 6:23 pm #

      Thank you. I am delighted that someone else has dipped his toe into the pond

      • Bill December 12, 2017 at 8:41 am #

        Thank you Nick for joining the discussion.

        I appreciate the additional evidence you have brought forward, proving beyond doubt that Scott and his party did not suffer because of any food theft, be it alleged or real. I have tried to look at it from Turney’s perspective too, but have been unable to find any verifiable evidence in primary expedition texts to support his allegations. Perhaps somebody reading of this blog can assist.

        Similarly, I can find no verifiable evidence in primary expedition records, either supporting or denying the claim of orders from Scott to Evans about the dog party. Turney’s narrative hangs on the references to Grans 1961 book ‘Kampen om Sydpolen’. As mentioned above, I wrote to Professor Turney on 15 October 2017, requesting a translation. As of 12 December, there has been no response.

        To make progress I purchased a copy of Gran’s book and asked a Norwegian work-colleague to find and translate all paragraphs that mention Scott’s dog teams. The discrepancies between his translation and Turney’s narrative are startling. They are so startling, in fact, that I will ask the Norwegian wife of another work-colleague for an independent translation, before elaborating via Isobel’s blog.

        Thanks again Nick for joining in.


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