Tag Archives: Edgar Evans


3 May

I have been asked to make a presentation to the British Residents Association of Switzerland next week. The subject chosen, is a review and comparison of the contributions of Edgar Evans and Edward Wilson on Scott’s expeditions.


It is an interesting subject. The most fascinating aspect is the way the two men were remembered after their deaths on the return from the Pole in 1912.


They were an ill-assorted duo, coming from very different classes of society: –Wilson’s grandfather was High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire, his father a doctor, a respected practitioner in Cheltenham. Edgar Evans’ grandfather was a quarry man and his father served in the Merchant Navy. However, the two came into close proximity in the final assault on the Pole and shared a respect and admiration for Scott.


In both expeditions the two earned Scott’s esteem and affection individually. In the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904, they were each on three-man expeditions with Scott into the interior of Antarctica. Wilson was with Scott and Shackleton on the Southern Journey from 3 November 1902. Scott already trusted him (Wilson was his choice to accompany him on the attempt to get close to the Pole), but he grew to rely on the doctor’s calm good sense and intelligence. They became friends and confidants on this expedition. Edgar was with Scott and Stoker Lashly on the Western expedition in October 1903. The three advanced over the plateau, together for three weeks in the closest proximity. Scott admired them both, their practical ingenuity and their imperturbability.


Both Wilson and Scott returned to England as heroes in 1904. Everyone wanted to meet the men who had actually been to and seen, the magical mysteries of Antarctica


How different in 1913. When the news of the British parties’ party demise was telegraphed to England, Wilson remained a hero. Poor Edgar however became the fall guy in some circles for the disaster.


Although soon after his death on February17 1912, his companions said that they thought that Edgar had weakened even before he reached the Pole, but his downward path was accelerated by frostbitten fingers and falls (which could have caused brain damage), a physical breakdown was not favoured by the media. Mental causes was the preferred explanation


In the early 1900s self -control epitome of masculinity. Edgar (confused and ill) had not been in control of his actions. He had not faced death like a gentleman.


Some examples of writing relating to Edgar’s death:

‘Ah, well for him he died, nor ever knew        

How his o’er wearied, stumbling forward drew

Death’s snare about his friends to hold them fast’ i.e. he had caused the deaths of the group

‘Like English Gentlemen’ was a book for children which explains how when Edgar weakened, his companions ‘like English Gentlemen’ never thought of leaving him but stayed with him to the end. Oates, by contrast, took control of his own death by crawling out of the tent, as a gentleman should.

Cigarette cards were printed showing all the Antarctic heroes except Edgar Evans. This outrageous omission must have been terrible for his children.

An ‘Eminent Medical Specialist’, wrote that the breakdown was due to lack of an education, which meant that Edgar could not stand the monotony of the return. ‘

St Katherine’s Press in 1913, made a booklet of the dead heroes, but omitted Edgar entirely

In 1930 it was written that ‘Science no place for those who have only done manual labour. Presumably Edgar would not be able to comprehend what they actually HAD achieved.


Edgar was the victim of remarkable class prejudice; it took years for a proper understanding of his deterioration was reached.


I think times have changed and will be interested in the views of the British Residents Association.

Lois Evans, Edgar Evans’ widow

28 Nov

Plans for the Edgar Evans sculpture are going apace. The South Wales Evening Post of 23rd November shows Edgar’s grandson, John holding a scale model. The sculptor, Roger Andrews, says he aims to combine accuracy with a vivid impression of Edgar’s character.

The campaign now has the backing of Swansea Council and the British Antarctic Heritage Trust.An Edgar Evans education programme is planned -this would have pleased him, he was intelligent and a keen reader.

What would Lois have made of this? I think she would have been proud and delighted- vindication at last! She suffered greatly after Edgar’s death. Not only had she lost her husband and father of her three children, but also, she had to endure the published implications in some papers, that Edgar critically held the British party up and was the indirect cause of the deaths of Scott (who he much admired) plus the rest of the Polar party. Her mother in law, Sarah, admitted this to a local reporter. The suggestion that Edgar failed because he had not had the education to equip him for the tedium of the homeward journey must have been a humiliating body blow.

In 1913 Lois, robustly loyal to her man, had a beautiful memorial erected for Edgar in the little church in Rhossili, a testament of her courage and determination, but there was no national memorial erected in Wales; it may have been feared that the rumours had substance- It is remarkable that, 100 years after Edgar’s death, there is this move to celebrate this ‘son of Gower’.

Ironically, Lois benefited financially in her widowhood. The Admiralty treated Edgar’s demise as if he had been killed in action and she received government and Admiralty pensions of £91 each year, a lump sum of £96, plus income from a fund raised by voluntary subscription and his Expedition salary of £44. She professed herself satisfied, Interestingly, Kathleen Scott received a lump sum nearly thirty times as much, plus comparably large pensions, trust funds etc


Hektoen International Journal of the Medical Humanities

19 Jul

Hekoten International Journal.

I have a piece on Edgar Evans in this month’s excellent on-line publication (Vol. 4 Issue 2). The journal covers an interesting variety of topics each month, this month, for example, the Death of Charles II and an article about Emily Dickinson are covered, amongst other topics.

I am fascinated by little gems of historical interest and will follow it from now on.

A service to commemorate the life of Edgar Evans at St Mary’s Church, Central Swansea

24 Feb

This was a wonderful occasion. The great and the good of Wales and beyond gathered to give proper recognition to Edgar Evans’s contribution to Scott’s expeditions, exactly 100 years after his death. The service was attended by the Lord Lieutenant and the High Sheriff of West Glamorgan and other dignitaries. The navy was well represented. Edgar’s grandson, John Evans, read from Scott’s journal and made a plea for a statute for his grandfather to be erected in Swansea, Edgar’s granddaughter was also present. The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon made an excellent address stressing Edgar’s virtues, the Archdeacon of the Gower led the Intercessions. Naval Cadets marched up and down the aisle, a Petty Officer Cadet read the Naval Prayer.

The whole service was much appreciated by those of us who have come to admire Edgar.

You can read a report of the service on the BBC News website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17071873

Edgar Evans, the ‘Welsh Giant’

7 Dec

I have just seen the book cover of my book on Edgar Evans. In his picture Edgar looks every inch the ‘Welsh Giant’, a man of whom Wales can be proud.

Sadly, the only memorial to Edgar in Wales was commissioned by Edgar’s widow, Lois Evans. There was no national memorial. This was probably because some London newspapers blamed Edgar for slowing the progress of the British party on their ill-fated return and so causing the deaths of the men he so admired, an ill-founded suggestion that took years to refute.