Tag Archives: Roland Huntford

Further correspondence on Professor Chris Turney’s paper ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’

23 Dec

Bill Alp has asked further pertinent questions about this paper as shown below. Some excerpts from Gran’s book are included:
As mentioned above, I wrote to Professor Turney on 15 October 2017, requesting translations of the relevant parts of Gran’s book – the parts about Scott’s orders to Teddy Evans. As of 21 December, there has been no response. To make progress I have 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. Pages from the book have been scanned and inserted below, for those readers who would like to check the accuracy and context of translated passages.
I was expecting to receive from my colleague something akin to Roland Huntford’s well-known paragraph:
“Evans also carried a message from Scott changing the orders for the dogs yet again – for the fourth time. Meares now was to come to out and meet Scott between 82° and 83° S, some time towards the middle of February” (Huntford, 1979, p. 457).
Imagine the surprise when my colleague reported that ‘Kampen om Sydpolen’ contains no such statement. At no point in the book does Gran state that Scott gave orders to Evans about the dogs. There are however several separate statements in Gran’s book which Professor Turney may have combined in order to create his story. This post addresses that possibility and invites the reader to form his or her own opinion of the merits of Turney’s case against Evans.
Regardless of whether one accepts Gran’s story or not, the vital question is whether Professor Turney’s representation of Gran’s narrative is fair and accurate or whether it has been distorted, perhaps to create a headline-grabbing article.
On page 10 of the PDF version, the following paragraph is germane to Turney’s claim that Evans received orders from Scott that were not conveyed:
“Whilst no orders were apparently written by Scott for the Last Supporting Party, it does seem they were issued on the journey. By the time the two final parties had reached two-and-a-half degrees north of the Pole, Scott had settled on his plans for the dogs on their third journey. Meeting privately with Evans, he sent his second-in-command back and ordered the dogs should return across the Ross Ice Shelf to meet the returning party between 82° and 83° S (Gran, 1961).”
Turney’s paragraph does not contain any direct quotations, so I suggest it be treated as a combination of material from several sections of Gran’s book. Some readers may see this as conflation or contextual manipulation.
Only one piece of Turney’s paragraph, “Meeting privately with Evans, he sent his second-in-command back” actually matches Gran’s translated text:
“Scott wanted to take 4 men with him to the South Pole. The chosen were Wilson, Oates, Bowers and non-commissioned officer Edgar Evans.
Scott asked everybody, except Lieutenant ‘Teddy’ Evans to leave the tent, and when they were alone he said:
I know, my dear Teddy that my decision is a hard blow for you, but aside from the fact that it is the best for you, it is also necessary. You are my second-in-command, and the two of us cannot go in the same party. I need, in my absence, a man like you to look after my interests” (Gran, 1961, p. 159)

Assessment of the third part of Turney’s paragraph is more complex. It contains a reference to a region between 82° and 83° S. That region does in fact appear once in Gran’s book, but in a very different context to Turney’s. Gran was describing the discussions that (he claims) took place at Hut Point on 23 or 24 February 1912, where Evans and Atkinson were re-planning the third dog journey, to be led by Cherry-Garrard. Gran’s translated words are:
“The time for the meeting between Scott and the dogs, the directive said, could be set when the last support party had returned. And that happened on 23 February. The leader, Lieutenant Teddy Evans, had suffered from heavy scurvy and had caused the party to be severely delayed. [A couple of points may be noted here: Firstly, any directive for the dog teams to wait for the last support party would make no sense if conveyed via Evans and the last support party. Secondly, there is no suggestion here that the last return party would be bringing revised orders, it is simply a matter of the dates for the dogs departing southwards and meeting Scott.]
All the signs indicated that Scott and his South Pole party were close. According to Lieutenant Evans and his two companions, it was doubtful whether the dogs, even if they set out immediately, would reach One Ton depot before Scott. [This is consistent with Cherry-Garrard’s statement below.]
This was not just a happy piece of information, but came as a great relief. This was because the dog expert Cecil Meares – who had been disappointed with not being allowed to go with his dogs up the Beardmore Glacier – had shut down his work and handed the job over to the expedition physician Dr. Atkinson. And the doctor was no navigator. So if the mission with the dogs should have gone to 82° or 83° S either Charles Wright or the biologist Nelson would have been required to go along [as navigator for Atkinson]. And both of these scientists were practically indispensable in the winter quarters. They were taking over from the meteorologist, Dr. Simpson who quite unexpectedly had been called home. The remaining personnel on the expedition with expertise in navigation, including the author of this book, were all in the West Mountains” ( Gran, 1961, pp. 184-185)

As mentioned above, Cherry-Garrard’s book supports Gran’s statement about the Polar Party being expected to reach Hut Point within a few days, according to Evans’ Party:
“and indeed it appeared that we had been wrong to hurry out so soon, before the time that Scott had reckoned that he would return, and that the Polar Party would really come in at the time Scott had calculated before starting rather than at the time we had reckoned from the data brought back by the Last Return Party.” (Cherry-Garrard, 2010, p. 434)
The paragraph on page 10 of Professor Turney’s article, quoted above, appears to be his primary ‘evidence’ for the charge that Evans received orders from Scott that he failed to pass on. I invite readers to form their own opinions on whether Gran’s narrative has been accurately represented by Turney (regardless of whether you accept Gran’s narrative or not), and whether there is sufficient evidence to support the case made by Professor Turney in the ‘Failed orders’ section of his article.
Cherry-Garrard, A.G.B. (2010). The Worst Journey in the World. London, England: Vintage Books.
Gran, J.T.H. (1961). Kampen om Sydpolen. Oslo, Norway: Ernst G. Mortensens Forlag.
Huntford, R. (1979). Scott and Amundsen. [Kindle version] Retrieved from Amazon.com
Turney, C.S.M. (2017). Why didn’t they ask Evans? Polar Record 53(5), 498-511

‘A kind of suicide’? Comments on Roland Huntford’s account of the last days of Scott’s polar party

31 Jan

Karen May and George Lewis have produced a forensic analysis of Huntford’s conclusion that, at the end of his life Scott  ‘probably’ had no reason to wish to survive and that he ‘persuaded’ Edward Wilson and ‘Birdie’ Bowers to remain with him in the doomed tent when they could have gone on. (Polar Record, p.1-9 @Cambridge University Press 2013. doi:10.1017/S0032247413000041).

The paper is a ‘must’ for anyone who felt the injustice of Huntford’s negative, subjective assessment of Scott’s expeditions in his work ‘Scott and Amundsen’

The authors challenge Huntford’s statement that Scott’s writings read ‘like a long suicide note’. Scott did not write at the Pole (as is regularly quoted); ‘Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it’. This quotation was posthumously edited. Scott actually wrote ‘Now for the run home and a desperate struggle to get the news through first. I wonder if we can do it’, hardly a suicidal intent. They state that although the party had opium there is no evidence the tablets were taken, Wilson and Bowers were committed Christians, Scott wrote that he would face death naturally.

Huntford remarkably appeared to believe that the possibility of social stigmatisation would have made Wilson and Bowers decide not to live. The authors argue that the two friends, modest and with few social aspiration, could and would have faced the social stigma of surviving Scott who had a severely frostbitten right foot; the reason the two men did not attempt the final journey to One Ton Camp and onwards was not because they were held back by Scott, but that they were simply too weak to make it.

They also question Huntford’s assertion that at the end Scott was ‘almost certainly in the early stages of scurvy. Here I agree with Huntford. By this stage the team had been without significant vitamin C for four months. It is inevitable that they had sub-clinical scurvy as well as other vitamin deficiencies. What the team did not have was overt scurvy (both Wilson and Scott had had the disease before and were not shy about recording its effects). But the vitamin deficiency probably caused a breakdown of Oates’ Boer War injury; his shattered femur and this slowed the return.

May and Lewis dismiss the suggestion that if Scott had lived he would have had to answer for the men he has lost.  Why would he have had to? They list numerous examples of men dying on Antarctic sorties without the expedition leader being called to account– most notably Mawson who last his two companions on his ‘Far Eastern Party’ of 1912/13.  They write compellingly that Scott, having reached the Pole and played the game’ (in contra distinction to Amundsen), would have returned to honour and acclaim.

This is  compulsive