Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Scott
Robert Falcon Scott in full regalia: this was reproduced as a frontispiece for Scott's The Voyage of the Discovery (London 1905)
Born(1868-06-06)6 June 1868
Plymouth, Devon, England
Died29 March 1912(1912-03-29) (aged 43)
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
EducationNaval cadet programme, HMS Britannia
OccupationRoyal Navy officer and antarctic explorer
Spouse(s)Kathleen Scott
ChildrenPeter Markham Scott
Parent(s)John Edward Scott
Hannah Scott
AwardsRGS Patron's Gold Medal (1904)
Vega Medal (1905)
Cullum Geographical Medal (1906)

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, CVO, RN (6 June 1868 – 29 March 1912) was a British Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions: the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904 and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition of 1910–1913. On the first expedition, he set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S and discovered the Antarctic Plateau, on which the South Pole is located. On the second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912, less than five weeks after Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition. On their return journey, Scott's party discovered plant fossils, proving Antarctica was once forested and joined to other continents.[1] A planned meeting with supporting dog teams from the base camp failed, despite Scott's written instructions, and at a distance of 150 miles from their base camp and 11 miles from the next depot, Scott and his companions died.

Before his appointment to lead the Discovery Expedition, Scott had followed the career of a naval officer in the Royal Navy. In 1899, he had a chance encounter with Sir Clements Markham, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, and thus learned of a planned Antarctic expedition, which he soon volunteered to lead.[2] Having taken this step, his name became inseparably associated with the Antarctic, the field of work to which he remained committed during the final 12 years of his life.

Following the news of his death, Scott became a celebrated hero, a status reflected by memorials erected across the UK. However, in the last decades of the 20th century, questions were raised about his competence and character. Commentators in the 21st century have regarded Scott more positively after assessing the temperature drop below −40 °C (−40 °F) in March 1912 and after re-discovering Scott's written orders of October 1911, in which he had instructed the dog teams to meet and assist him on the return trip.[3]

Early life


Scott, aged 13

Scott was born on 6 June 1868, the third of six children and elder son of John Edward, a brewer and magistrate, and Hannah (née Cuming) Scott of Stoke Damerel, near Devonport. There were also naval and military traditions in the family, Scott's grandfather and four uncles all having served in the army or navy.[4] John Scott's prosperity came from the ownership of a small Plymouth brewery which he had inherited from his father and subsequently sold.[5] Scott's early childhood years were spent in comfort, but some years later, when he was establishing his naval career, the family suffered serious financial misfortune.[6]

In accordance with the family's tradition, Scott and his younger brother Archie were predestined for careers in the armed services. Scott spent four years at a local day school before being sent to Stubbington House School in Hampshire, a cramming establishment that prepared candidates for the entrance examinations to the naval training ship HMS Britannia at Dartmouth. Having passed these exams Scott began his naval career in 1881, as a 13-year-old cadet.[7]

Early naval career

Scott as a young man

In July 1883, Scott passed out of Britannia as a midshipman, seventh overall in a class of 26.[8] By October, he was en route to South Africa to join HMS Boadicea, the flagship of the Cape squadron, the first of several ships on which he served during his midshipman years. While stationed in St Kitts, West Indies, on HMS Rover, he had his first encounter with Clements Markham, then Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, who would loom large in Scott's later career. On this occasion, 1 March 1887, Markham observed Midshipman Scott's cutter winning that morning's race across the bay. Markham's habit was to "collect" likely young naval officers with a view to their undertaking polar exploration work in the future. He was impressed by Scott's intelligence, enthusiasm and charm, and the 18-year-old midshipman was duly noted.[2]

In March 1888 Scott passed his examinations for sub-lieutenant, with four first class certificates out of five.[9] His career progressed smoothly, with service on various ships and promotion to lieutenant in 1889. In 1891, after a long spell in foreign waters, he applied for the two-year torpedo training course on HMS Vernon, an important career step. He graduated with first class certificates in both the theory and practical examinations. A small blot occurred in the summer of 1893 when, while commanding a torpedo boat, Scott ran it aground, a mishap which earned him a mild rebuke.[10]

During the research for his dual biography of Scott and Roald Amundsen,[11] polar historian Roland Huntford investigated a possible scandal in Scott's early naval career, related to the period 1889–90 when Scott was a lieutenant on HMS Amphion. According to Huntford, Scott "disappears from naval records" for eight months, from mid-August 1889 until 26 March 1890. Huntford hints at involvement with a married American woman, a cover-up, and protection by senior officers. Biographer David Crane reduces the missing period to eleven weeks, but is unable to clarify further. He rejects the notion of protection by senior officers on the grounds that Scott was not important or well-connected enough to warrant this. Documents that may have offered explanations are missing from Admiralty records.[12]

In 1894, while serving as torpedo officer on the depot ship HMS Vulcan, Scott learned of the financial calamity that had overtaken his family. John Scott, having sold the brewery and invested the proceeds unwisely, had lost all his capital and was now virtually bankrupt.[13] At the age of 63, and in poor health, he was forced to take a job as a brewery manager and move his family to Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Three years later, while Robert was serving with the Channel squadron flagship HMS Majestic, John Scott died of heart disease, creating a fresh family crisis.[14] Hannah Scott and her two unmarried daughters now relied entirely on the service pay of Scott and the salary of younger brother Archie, who had left the army for a higher-paid post in the colonial service. Archie's own death in the autumn of 1898, after contracting typhoid fever, meant that the whole financial responsibility for the family rested on Scott.[15]

Promotion, and the extra income this would bring, now became a matter of considerable concern to Scott.[16] In the Royal Navy however, opportunities for career advancement were both limited and keenly sought after by ambitious officers. Early in June 1899, while home on leave, he had a chance encounter in a London street with Clements Markham, who was now knighted and President of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), and learned for the first time of an impending Antarctic expedition with Discovery, under the auspices of the RGS. It was the opportunity for early command and a chance to distinguish himself, rather than any predilection for polar exploration which motivated Scott, according to Crane.[17] What passed between them on this occasion is not recorded, but a few days later, on 11 June, Scott appeared at the Markham residence and volunteered to lead the expedition.[2]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Robert Skott
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Робэрт Фалкон Скот
български: Робърт Скот
հայերեն: Ռոբերտ Սքոթ
Bahasa Indonesia: Robert Falcon Scott
ქართული: რობერტ სკოტი
latviešu: Roberts Skots
norsk nynorsk: Robert Falcon Scott
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Skott Robert Folkon
Plattdüütsch: Robert Falcon Scott
русский: Скотт, Роберт
Simple English: Robert Falcon Scott
slovenščina: Robert Falcon Scott
српски / srpski: Роберт Фалкон Скот
svenska: Robert Scott
татарча/tatarça: Роберт Скотт
Tiếng Việt: Robert Falcon Scott