Tag Archives: Edward Wilson

Apsley Cherry –Garrard (Cherry)

5 Jul

In a blog some weeks ago I wrote about Apsley Cherry- Garrard’s  devotion to Edward Wilson both in person and after Wilson’s death.

I think Cherry deserves further attention – he paid a pivotal role in Scott’s attempted return from the South Pole in 1912, and he wrote a book about a search for Emperor Penguin eggs (The Worst Journey in the World, published in 1922), that is one of the most popular Antarctic books ever published. An excellent biography, ‘Cherry, A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’ was published by Sara Wheeler in 2001.

Family photo album: Acc 6030: Apsley Cherry -Garrard with Ada: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

Cherry was wealthy, but shy and uncertain of himself, his social isolation exacerbated by extremely poor eyesight – he could hardly recognize friends across the room (his father, General Cherry-Garrard, who was influenced by the army’s refusal to allow soldiers to wear glasses which were thought to be a sign of weakness, only allowed him to wear wire framed pebble-lense glasses when he was fifteen).

But General Cherry-Garrard is said to have been the central presence of Cherry’s life and as a young man he was enamoured by stories of his father’s achievements in India and China where he (Cherry’s father), had fought with merit in the army. Cherry wanted to live up to his father’s example.

Family photo album: Acc 6030: Family Group, 1894: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

But the General died in 1907 at the age of seventy-four, when Cherry was only twenty-one and in his final year at Christ Church, Oxford (his father’s college).   When he ‘came down’ (with a Third Class degree), Cherry came into an inheritance that included a large estate in Hertfordshire, an estate in Berkshire, land in Wales, a large income, his mother, five younger sisters, plus all the attendant responsibilities and worries. He felt unequal to the challenge. uncertain what to do with his life, at loose end, – he knew he was unsuited to follow his father into the army, he certainly didn’t want to settle down to the life of a country gentleman. He decided to see the world and set off on extensive travels in 1909.


Clutterbuck Vol VII, p494c   Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)



Family photo album: Acc 6030: Apsley Cherry- Garrard on ship: Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS)

But by chance, before he set out,i n 1908, he visited his much older cousin,Reginald Smith. Smith, a brilliant barrister, had abandoned the law to lead the publishing company Smith Elder and Co (the company published Trollope,Thackeray and Browning among others). Smith and his wife had a shooting lodge in the Highlands which their close friends Edward and Oriana Wilson visited regularly and when Cherry visited his cousin he met the couple.

The visit took place when Cherry’s father had been dead for less than a year. He was vulnerable, uncertain, without motivation. The meeting with Edward Wilson was a wonderful panacea — Cherry had lost his faith some years before and he found Wilson’s belief in a divine purpose attractive and reassuring. It gave him a purpose in life and a meaning to life. He came to admire Wilson greatly; a guide and a father figure.

When he was on his travels and in Brisbane, he heard the official news that Robert Falcon Scott was planning a second expedition to Antarctica. Cherry knew immediately that this was the opportunity he wanted. Wilson had been appointed Chief of Scientific Staff and Cherry wrote to Wilson and Reginald Smith (who knew Scott), suggesting he cut short his travels and apply for a position on the Terra Nova expedition.

He knew that his chances were slim – 8,000 men applied to join Scott. But Wilson, via Reginald Smith, suggested that, to help the shaky finances of the expedition, Cherry should offer £1,000 pounds (Captain Titus Oates gave this amount also). Cherry had absolutely no scruples about this and promptly forwarded the money. His application was refused.

He decided to leave the cash in Discovery’s coffers anyway. Scott was impressed, met him, and offered him a place as a member on the scientific team. Cherry was delighted, (though he almost failed the medical examination because of his eyesight–it was decided to accept him if he accepted the additional risks). By this time, he wrote, he ‘would have accepted anything’.

Preparations started immediately: He learnt to type. His sister sewed a special sledging flag –she visited the Kensington School of Art to learn special stitching that looked identical on both sides of the cloth. Cherry got to know his fellow officers and the crew.

His Antarctic experience had begun!

To be continued






27 Jun

Dr. Edward Wilson sent back penguins’ skins to England from Antarctica in the early 1900s. These skins were the controls when, in the 1960s, an investigation was undertaken on the presence of contaminants in Antarctica.

In 1964, Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT), an insecticide very widely used at the time, was found in Adélie penguin skins. DDT gets into birds and larger animals via the krill that they ingest. DDT is known to persist in the environment and was banned: in America in the 1970s, in England in the 1980s and by the Stockholm convention, signed in 2001. Clearly it was hoped that levels of DDT in Antarctica would drop significantly over time, but disappointingly the compound was found in the sea around the Antarctic Peninsula 6 meters below the sea surface in 1975, and can be still found in penguin fat. A suggested explanation for this is that 1960s airborne particles became trapped in Antarctic glaciers and now as the ice sheets melt, the chemical is released back into the environment.

Now the same problem has been discovered with plastics and other chemicals.

In relation to plastics, researchers have found recently that water and snow collected in the Antarctic contain microplastics such as microfibers/ microbeads.

MICROFIBERS are finer than a human hair and are found, blended with synthetic or natural fibers, in clothes, knitwear and carpets. They get into the ocean through litter and are virtually indestructible. Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. MICROBEADS are tiny particles of hard plastics that are used in cosmetics, for instance as an abrasive in skin cleaners. These are flushed down the drain after use, instantly forgotten, but lasting for decades.

In relation to chemicals seven of nine snow samples contained concentrations of perfluorinated-alkylated substances (PFAS). These are stain, water and grease repellent chemicals that are found in a wide range of consumer products which have, apparently, been linked to problems in animal reproduction They reach the Antarctic in rain and snow (as did DDT).

Plastics and chemicals are now generally recognized as one of our biggest environmental threats. But in spite of well -publicized solutions adopted by many countries, it remains an enormous challenge.



An agreement was reached in 2016 by delegates from 24 countries and the

European Union, that the Ross Sea would become the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA). It is an area of 1.57m sq. km (600,000 sq. miles and will protect the area from commercial fishing for 35 years – of particular importance is the industrial-scale krill fishing which decimates the main food supply for many larger animals.

The Ross Sea, its shelf and slope are home to 38% of the world’s Adélie penguins, 30% of the world’s Antarctic Petrels and around 6% of the world’s population of Antarctic Minkie Whales. The fishing-free zone would protect these species and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Ross Sea marine protected area came into force on 11/12/2017.

Naval ships are monitoring the area.

This is a most important development for the future protection of the area. Edward Wilson and his colleagues would have approved.




1 Mar

Throughout his life Edward Wilson had an overwhelming conviction of the importance of faith. He believed in an all-powerful God at a time when the entrenched precepts of the church were being challenged. Debates raged about whether everything, mouse to man, plants to stars, were created at the same time (as taught by the church), or whether man was not created separately by God’s authority, but had evolved from lower forms of life over millions of years. Darwin, in the Origin of Species (1859), suggested that man (and other species), had not been created separately, but had evolved by random variation and by adaptation to their natural environments. Darwin called this process ‘natural selection’, a suggestion that confronted the supporters of Creationism and a suggestion that could shake the foundations of society in Victorian England.

But there is no suggestion that an appreciation that species could modify and adapt over time ever shook Wilson’s belief in an all-powerful God. He adapted Darwin’s belief into his personal creed, writing that God had originated life in a simple form and that this form altered and developed into its designated role. He believed that God is in everything: stones, trees, humans, animals, He was certainly helped, in a minor way, in his understanding of adaptation by his observations of his mother’s experiments with hens. Mrs Wilson (unexpectedly for a Victorian housewife), had published a book The ABC Poultry Book, in which she noted that hens could be adapted to develop new and desirable characteristics in a few generations, by being bred with those animals that already showed those characteristics. Conversely unwanted traits could be bred out.

Wilson believed that the ‘essence’, or soul, of an individual would survive after death, although invisible. But what is a soul? Does a physical body possess an immaterial soul? I find it virtually impossible to decide what a soul is, or indeed when its presence was first considered? Could it be a mutation that emerged at some stage during natural selection? Arguments for and against an immortal ‘essence’ go back thousands of years. Greek thinkers held conflicting beliefs; for example Plato, the precursor of religious philosophers such as Descartes, Pascal during the enlightenment, and John Hick and Keith Ward today, suggested that the soul is immaterial and eternal, imprisoned temporarily in the body and living after death. But philosophers throughout the centuries have disagreed. Aristotle considered that the soul and the body were interlinked – one goes with the other- (he unexpectedly illustrated his idea by describing an axe; the axe being the body (wood/metal etc) and the soul its function, As I understand it, the argument was that if a soul is engaged in pure though, it cannot exist without a brain, since without a brain there can be no rational thought.. In the last century Bertrand Russell wrote that it is unlikely that a human being could survive after death because the brain dissolves at death and with death the mind /brain association dissolves also. Aristotle is the precursor of physicalists such as da Vinci and in this century the evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins
So Wilson’s belief in the essence of a human being surviving (possibly as an astral body living in a parallel dimension) after death, has been challenged regularly, though he might have agreed with Genesis (2.7), that God did not make a body and put a soul into it like a letter into an envelope of dust, but rather he formed man’s body from dust, then, by breathing divine breath into it, he made the body of dust live i.e. the dust did not embody a soul but became a soul, a whole creature.
One of the questions that fascinate me is whether animals have souls. I imagine Wilson thought they do from his comments about God being in everything, but here again opinion is divided. The ancient Greeks were for and against. Pythagoras urged respect for animals because he believed humans and non-humans had the same kind of soul, one spirit pervades the universe and makes humans at one with animals, Conversely Aristotle argued that non- human animals had no interests of their own and ranked far below humans in the Great Chain of Being, because of their alleged irrationality and moral inequality, plants are created for the sake of animals and animals for the sake of man, He argued that humans were the masters in the hierarchical structure because of their rational powers.
Traditional Christianity seems to have agreed with Aristotle about souls. Saint Augustine argued that only humans were made in the image of God, but that humans had a responsibility for animal welfare. Saint Francis had a love of animals as did Martin Luther but Luther was not clear whether animals have souls. Traditional Christian teaching suggests that humankind is made in God’s image and has domain over fish, birds, cattle and animals -no mention of souls. Thomas Aquinas argued that humans should be charitable to animals (but only in so far as to make sure that animals cruel habits don’t carry over to human treatment of other humans or cause financial loss to the animal’s owner!) Modern Christianity teaches that only humans are made in the image of God, animals do not have souls; Humans have been given control over animals. The Church of England preaches that the world is a precious gift from God.
Basically, since the presence of a soul cannot be proved, neither can its absence. This goes for animals as well as humans. It seems therefore, that the age-old question remains unanswered – just WHY are we here? Wilson, like all people of faith was fortunate, in at the end of his life, he believed he was leaving this life for a better one, His final note to his wife, as he lay dying in the icy Antarctic, finished, ‘All is well’.



26 Apr

Scurvy is due to a deficiency of ascorbic acid. It is cured by adequate quantities of vitamin C or citrus fruits.

At two recent talks about Shackleton I was asked about scurvy—did Shackleton get scurvy? Was the cause of the disease known in the early 1900s? The answers are; yes to the first question, no to the second

Shackleton did of course, famously suffer from scurvy in the 1902/3 ‘Southern Journey’ when, with Scott and Edward Wilson, he developed signs of the disease as they neared their furthest South point of 82° 11’S latitude. Shackleton was by far the worst on the return journey; in fact Wilson, at one point, thought he might die. When the party returned to base, Scott was sent him home on the relief ship ‘Morning’ on health grounds. This was a devastating blow for a proud and ambitious man and made him doubly keen to avoid the disease on his further expeditions.

Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition included the ship ‘Aurora’ that sailed to the Ross Sea. ‘Aurora’s’ brief was to provide supplies for Shackleton’s party at the end of their Trans Antarctic crossing (in fact his party dis not actually get onto the continent) and one of this Ross party died of scurvy. Shackleton’s main party do not appear to have suffered from the disease, probably probably because Shackleton was so well aware of the necessity of preventative action and provided seal meat and importantly, seal liver on a regular basis. He also took preserved fruit and vegetables.

But why was there still uncertainty about the disease in the early 1900s? This was because of a lack of conviction and consensus about the benefits of citrus fruits. Although for many years some ships’ doctors and sailors had used oranges and lemons to cure or prevent scurvy, many European physicians persisted in reviewing and quoting confusing literature in which all manner of possible causes were postulated.

The problem could have been solved by James Lind’s controlled therapeutic trial of 1747 in which twelve patients with scurvy (six pairs), were given treatments that had been suggested previously. The remedies were two weeks of: a quart of cider per day, half a pint of sea water per day, 25 drops of elixir of vitriol three times a day, two spoonfuls of vinegar three times a day, a purgative three times a day, OR two oranges and one lemon daily. The men receiving citrus fruit recovered rapidly. A problem subsequently was that in order to conserve citrus fruits on long expeditions, Lind almost boiled purified citrus fruit into a ‘rob’. This obviously damaged the heat labile ascorbic acid and was ineffective. Also, in his ‘Treatise on the Scurvy’ of 1753, he did not unequivocally recommend citrus fruits for general use. When he moved to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, in Gosport, Hampshire, he treated sailors with oranges and lemons and said that the juices should be used in the Royal Navy, as they had been so successful in merchant ships. After recommendations by other physicians, the Admiralty ordered lemon juice for the fleet in 1795 and by the middle of the 1800s there was ample evidence that scurvy was both preventable and treatable.

But there is a law of unintended consequences! In the late 1800s lime juice from the West Indies was substituted for lemon juice. Lime juice has considerably less antiscorbutic properties than lemon juice, also it was transported in containers that further reduced its potency. Scurvy returned. By the time Scott left on the ‘Discovery’ expedition he was advised by his Senior Surgeon and Sir Almoth Wright of St Mary’s Hospital, London that the cause of scurvy was acid-intoxication in the tins of food (Wilson had to taste and smell all food to be eaten each day and discard any he thought ‘tainted’).

When Shackleton went on his first three expeditions therefore details concerning the cause of scurvy were not known although Shackleton was clearly aware of the benefits of seal meat/offal after his first expedition. It was not until after his expeditions that scurvy was shown to be a dietary deficiency disease. And not until 1928 that Ascorbic acid was isolated.


20 Dec

Edward Wilson put his and the lives of his companions, ‘Birdie’ Bowes and Apsley Cherry-Garrard, at risk, when they made their scientific expedition to obtain specimens of very early penguin eggs in 1911. The three survived darkness, temperatures down to minus 76° F and a surface snow like sand, that held progress at little more than a mile on some days day. The sortie which lasted 5 weeks, was the subject of Cherry-Garrard’s book ‘The Worst Journey in the World’
Edward Wilson wanted to investigate the evolution of birds. Haekel had postulated that species pass through their early evolution in the embryo form and Wilson thought if he could get very early eggs he might find evidence of teeth or other evidence, that threw light on avian development. Had birds actually descended from dinosaurs? He chose penguins because, as they were flightless, he thought they were amongst the most primitive of birds. In spite of his fantastic efforts he did not find evidence to support the theory.
Now an international investigation The Avian Phylogenomics Consortium has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction of dinosaurs. After the asteroid hit some 65 million years ago, larger birds were exterminated but a few feathered species remained. These had an unrivalled opportunity to diversify.
The Consortium undertook the mass genome sequencing that has done much to explain the avian tree. Scientists examined small pieces of flesh from 45 bird species that had come from museums around the world. They were able to extract the birds’ genomes and add these to genomes of three species that had been previously sequenced. The genomes were compared and arranged into a family tree. The results of this groundbreaking work have been published extensively recently. Apparently it took nine computers the equivalent of 400 years of processor time to compare the genomes and arrange them in an avian tree.
As Wilson wished to investigate birds ARE descended from toothed dinosaurs, (as was shown in the fossil bird Archaeopteryx), but this analysis shows that their common ancestor lost their teeth more than 100 million years ago. A number of genes that allow bird song is similar to those that give humans the ability to speak.
This study throws light also on Emperors, Wilson’s particular interest. Emperors possess genes that make proteins for feathers, so that they have a dense coat that allows then to survive sub zero temperatures. The Emperor male, who nurtures his chick for weeks in the caterwauling gloom of the Antarctic winter, has three genes involved in lipid metabolism, which help it survive his ordeal without food.
Penguins evolved about 60 million years ago and have wonderfully survived ever since.


16 May

Really enjoyable visit to Vervey and the British Residents Association.

Interest was expressed in scurvy, which so bedevilled the Scott expeditions, and it occurs to me that many will be unaware of the history of a disease, which killed thousands and thousands of people; in many years practicing as a doctor I never saw it (and if I had, the treatment would have been straightforward), but in Scott’s time vitamins were unknown and vitamin C (the deficiency of which causes scurvy), was not isolated till the 1930s (and then in the laboratory of the famous scientist, Sit Almoth Wright, who had been emphatic against the connection of the vitamin and the disease).

Scurvy was the dread of all long sea voyages. It was known to the Crusaders, British sailors in the American Revolution, Soldiers in W.W.1. The vitamin is necessary for collagen formation in humans. A lack of the vitamin causes, after about three months, lassitude, fatigue, swelling of the joints and lower limbs, spongy gums, lesions in the limbs that can break down and coalesce so that the victim seems to be rotting to death, also cardiac problems: a most unpleasant death that all were only too keen to avoid.

James Lind, a naval surgeon, cured scurvy in a controlled trial as early as the 1750s when he gave orange and lemons to some sufferers and alternative treatments to other sufferers. He did not think of the disease as a deficiency disease, but rather, a digestive problem. The Navy did introduce citrus fruits for its men, but by the 1900s the citrus fruit cure has lost credibility for the understandable reason (it seems to me), that men were given citrus fruits but still developed scurvy. This was because of the problem of Unintended Consequences. Limes from the Caribbean were utilised by the navy, rather than lemons from the Mediterranean. Limes have less vitamin C than lemons and the juice was transported across the Atlantic in copper containers, which damaged the vitamin’s potency. i.e. the final product was ineffective but the reason for this not understood.

So, by the early 1900s, scurvy was thought to be due to the unpleasant sounding ‘ptomain poisoning’ putrefaction in tins and Wilson’s duty on ‘Discovery’ was to sniff and taste all tins to be eaten each day (virtually everything was in tins) and to throw away any suspicious item. As we know this remedy was ineffective and scurvy broke out when ‘Discovery’ had left England for a year.

Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits and some plants and vegetables. Scurvy can now be quickly cured by oral doses of the vitamin.

I was fascinated to read that James Cook thought that one of his greatest achievements was to have avoided scurvy on his three-year voyage to the Antarctic in the 1700s. He gave his crew sauerkraut also fresh fruit (whenever they landed in a Pacific Island). I understand the Inuit apparently avoided scurvy by eating raw fish and the skin of the Beluga Whale.

We don’t know how lucky we are.


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.

The Scott Expedition (circa 2013/2014)

27 Jan

As you may have read 2 adventurers, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are re-enacting Scott’s 1911 manhauling expedition to the South Pole. Their blog is: ‘The Scott Expedition’ and has many followers. The two hoped to complete the circuit from Scott’s 1910 Base on Ross Island to the Pole and back, thus finishing what Scott failed to do and by doing this, to complete the longest unsupported sortie  ever in the region.

They reached the South Pole on December 26, Day 63 {Scott took 77). The temperature was -26 degrees C. wind chill -35 degrees. They started on the return promptly. They had anticipated that the return journey would be relatively easier than the outward excursion but this was not the case.

Two days from the Pole, (Day 65) Ben described ‘feeling extraordinarily tired… knackered’. By December 29(Day 66), the going was even worse.  Their outward tracks were obliterated by snow, as happened to Scott and his team as they returned in 1912, Ben and Tarka’s satellite tracker failed. On Day 68, New Year’s Day, there was no blog. On January 2, (Day 70), Ben wrote of their exhaustion and said, unexpectedly, that they had failed to meet their mileage targets and had been running on half rations. He describes the food cravings so vividly described by Edward Wilson on Scott’s expedition and wrote that he was getting cold, frostbitten and confused (a symptom of hypothermia). The two fumbled with accustomed tasks. Ben wrote that they had half a days food left but were 74 km from their next depot. Resupplies were called for. Eight days of rations arrived by ski plane. This was no longer an unsupported journey but, after food and sleep, they could think more clearly and were WARM.

However their troubles were not over. Ben felt nauseous, got weaker and weaker, cold and lethargic. He describes how thin they had become.They had a rest day. On two days no blogs were completed.

Subsequently they had similar problems on the Beardmore Glacier, which they have now, happily, got down.

It seems remarkable to me that even now, with all the backup of modern technology, two recent expeditions,(this and Ranulph Fiennes), have experienced problems that so closely follow those of the explorers of one hundred years ago. In this case although the men were eating 6,ooo calories, (I understand it is not possible to absorb much more than this). They were still in a massive negative energy balance with weight, muscle and fat loss.

In relation to these difficulties, many supportive comments have been posted.  However ‘Kristoffer’ for one, has been critical. He defends himself to objectors by quoting, (amongst others), Winston Churchill, who wrote (or said), that ‘criticism may not be agreeable, but is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things’. It seems that what is missing here is an consideration of  the TIMING of the criticism, the ethics of making negative comments when the recipients’ morale is a bit low and when nothing can be done about the situation. I suspect people will vary greatly in their response, but I imagine Ben and Tarka would have preferred to receive and respond to, these remarks later.

The symptoms Ben records are interesting. It is possible that inadequate nutrition, dehydration and stress caused a shut down in the blood supply to digestive organs (the splanchnic bed). This is a survival mechanism. After rehydration and feeding the blood supply to this large area opens up again and this results in a temporary low blood supply to the muscular skeletal system of the body, hence the resulting weakness

A small point about Birdie Bowers: Ben wrote on Day 65, that Birdie abhorred skis and chose to walk instead. This is not the case. Birdie would never have been so unwise. On December 31 1911, as they struggled over the plateau, Scott ordered his second man- hauling team to cache their skis, possibly to reduce pulling weight. This team was Lieutenant Evans, Lashly, Crean and Birdie Bowers. Scott unexpectedly chose to take a party of five to the Pole, Birdie, ski less, amongst them. He had to go a long circuit before he picked up those skis again!


Edward Wilson, Birdie Bowers, Lieutenant Evans, Lashly, Crean, Kristoffer, Winston Churchill,

Professor Sienicki’s assertions about Scott’s ‘suicide’

1 May

I have received correspondence from Professor Sienicki’s team concerning my recent blog on the subject of The Weather and its Role in Captain F. Scott and his Companions’ Deaths. What follows is their letter, followed by my response.

I recently came across your blog post “The Weather and its Role in Captain F. Scott and his Companions’ Deaths, by Professor Krzysztof Sienicki”. I have been helping Prof. Sienicki with a book he has been writing, and thus felt the need to correct several errors in your blog post.

First, you make the mistake of stating Prof. Sienicki made a neural network across the Barrier. This is not correct: what he did was take weather data and ran it through an artificial neural network. You also failed to note the similarity of temperatures at Elaine (at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier) and Schwerdtfeger (near One Ton Depot) AWS stations he noted. These two AWS stations are on Captain Scott’s route. The conclusion is tangible: weather conditions along Captain Scott’s route would have been similar from Elaine onward.

With that in mind, you then fail to note Sienicki’s noting of the First Relief Party’s weather record in support of his thesis. The First Relief Party’s weather record can be found in Simpson’s Vol. III, Table 78, available here: http://archive.org/details/meteorology03simp Compare the Table 78 record with the Scott party’s record, while keeping in mind Sienicki’s observation that Scott’s temperatures were daily mid-day temperatures, and the conclusion is obvious.

Then you miss the point of Sienicki’s pointing out of Leonard Huxley’s falsification of the 1st edition of Scott’s Last Expedition’s temperatures and Jones’ papering over of them. His point is about their actions, not Scott’s. Sienicki pointed out more than an aggregated miscalculation by Solomon; he also pointed out her data dragging by misrepresenting the Scott party’s daily mid-day near surface temperatures after March 10 as daily minimums, and logical fallacies.

Finally, in your citing of Scott’s letter to Sir Bridgeman, you make the mistake of failing to note that the Bridgeman letter has for a long time been partially available in Scott’s Last Expedition, and you incorrectly indicate that the recently released content in the Bridgeman letter includes your quote. The actual recently released content is: “I want you to secure a competence for my widow and boy. I leave them very ill provided for, but feel that the country ought not to neglect them.”

In addition, with regard to your insinuation that the Scott party had neglected the sick, this is certainly in my view true regarding P.O. Evans, but it should be noted that Scott was not entirely consistent in regard to Oates being dead weight. See Scott’s diary entry of March 10 for these quotes: “In point of fact he [Oates] has none. Apart from him, if he went under now, I doubt whether we could get through…At the same time of course poor Titus is the greatest handicap.”

Your assertion that dying was not part of Scott’s plan betrays that you have made an all too common mistake: taking what Scott wrote at face value. Prof. Sienicki and I believe that dying was part of the Scott party’s plan. Evidence that they were stage managing their exit can be found as early as February 7, when Scott manufactured a food shortage, finding the rations short by 1 day and declaring that they hadn’t increased rations. In doing so, Scott deliberately ignored his own diary entry of January 29, where he declared that they would increase rations on “the day after tomorrow,” which would be January 31, and ignored his own diary entry of February 1, where he listed the ration increase as 1/7. 7 times 1/7 equals 1, so if they started the increased ration on January 31, this would place Scott’s party short of rations by 1 day at the beginning of lunch on February 7.

These details and much more will be detailed in Prof. Sienicki’s book, Captain Scott’s Fatal Antarctic Expedition: Slanted Truths-Centennial Account, due to be released this year.

Thanks for considering,

Kristoffer Nelson-Kilger


My concern is not on Professor Sieniki’s techniques, but on the interpretation of his findings.

He analysed weather data at various sites over The Barrier for a prolonged period. During this time the pattern of temperature change at different sites followed each other. Scott’s recordings of nearly a century earlier were at variance to Sienicki’s measurements (lower) and furthermore, did not follow the pattern of other explorers in the early 1900s. Professor Sienicki therefore thinks they were falsified.

He concludes that Birdie Bowes and Scott had decided that self destruction was the best way out of their situation and that, by altering the temperature records, they would strengthen Scott’s claims in his messages that the conditions the British team encountered were extraordinarily bad.

He then goes on to involve Huxley in a cover up, stating that where Scott had recorded positive temperatures, Huxley had changed them to negative. He states that Max Jones said the alterations could have been a mistake and that the renowned scientist, Susan Soloman is mistaken in her interpretation of the data.

You say that Sienicki proved that Scott and Bowers falsified evidence. He has done no such thing.  He has shown that the recorded temperatures were dramatically at variance from the norm. But he himself found temperatures approximating to Scott’s low readings in 1985.

The main point of my objection however is that whole tenure of the article is that there was a suicide pact. I think this most unlikely.

If Scott had lived he would not have been held responsible for the deaths of those he had lost, (Scott lost two men on the Discovery Expedition, Amundsen lost men in 1903-6 and 1918-25, Mawson lost his two companions in 1912-13. Shackleton lost men in his Ross Sea party. The last three were honoured). Scott had ‘played the game’ and this would have been respected by the British who honoured Teddy Evans who was sent home with scurvy. He would have been financially secure. He would have been promoted.

Birdie Bowers was a committed Christian and meticulous in his recordings. It would have gone against a lifetimes practice to falsify them.

Wilson, another committed Christian, who longed to return to his wife and family and, in the tent with them day and night as they weakened, does not get a mention. Did this intrigue, which would affect him so fatally, take part in the tent alongside their valued friend, somehow excluding him from their decisions?

The proposed scenario seems most unlikely and I do not think we are going to progress further on this one.

Isobel Williams


1 Mar

Ranulph Fiennes must be gutted that he has had to give up his trans-Antarctic winter journey attempt before actually setting off in the Antarctic, because of his frost-bitten fingers.

But he had no choice. He has already lost several finger tips with frostbite which occurs when the temperature is so low that blood vessels constrict and  the flow to the affected part is significantly reduced. If this reduced blood flow persists the tissues die. and the surface skin becomes black. Gangrene may follow if the deeper tissues are affected.

The condition needs prompt treatment to limit the extent of the damage. The return of blood flow is painful.

I’m sure that the team will continue successfully with the many scientific aims that have been planned, also the big fund raising for charity.

The last time a man pulling expedition was made in the Antarctic was when Edward Wilson, ‘Birdie’ Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard crossed Ross Island in 1911. The journey was very short by comparison with Sir Ranulphs expedition, but memorably awful.