Robert Falcon Scott

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                                                                                                                                                         The seventh continent.

        He was a scientist in the guise of a naval  officer                                                               (George Seaver 1940 in "Scott of  the Antarctic")

 

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Robert Falcon Scott

Childhood fascinations often kindle an interest which become life long.  As the  Secretary of Clan Scott Scotland most members know me as Roy which  is the name I  use every day.  Being the first born I was christened Robert after my paternal  grandfather as was the custom in most Scottish families.  One day when I would be around 9 years of age I entered the junior section of our local public library.  I  have, from an early age, been interested in foreign lands. What caught my eye as  I  trawled through the travel section in the library was the book "South with Scott"  - a  biography written by the then Lieutenant Evans, later to become Admiral Evans.  The book inspired me to look further into the life of Robert Falcon Scott and the story of  Antarctica in all it’s mysteries, tragedies, triumphs, human sagas, the science and  the significance of the early explorers appreciation of the necessity to record ,document and  observe the 7th continent. When doing my National  Service I was tempted to volunteer for the Falklands Island posting but this could have meant spending three years away from my aim of securing a post in a National Health Service Hospital. At that particular time hospital ambitions were for the optimistic due to the cessation of National Service with the inevitable crush of those not joining the forces and those being discharged, competing for a limited  number of  posts. The stampede for  positions was immense. There were obvious reasons at the time to keep within the framework of the hospital career ladder.  

 

I did get to Antarctica eventually. As a celebration of my 70th  birthday my wife and I spent 23 days on a Russian  icebreaker which took us to the Ross Sea and the Historic huts and sites. No one who has ever visited the 7th continent could fail to be overawed by the grandeur,  the isolation, the prospect of rapid and terrifying  changes of weather, the animal and avian life, the cold -most obvious- the  sheer stark beauty of  ice bergs, mountains, the white of the snow, the indescribable Erebus volcano with “it’s plume” and probably above all, as I have discussed with other travellers, the silence.

 

Every time I read a criticism of my boyhood hero I  wonder at the ignorance of the distant critic. The retro spectroscope is an easy instrument for the non thinker especially if that person in reference to the 7th continent has no realisation of  the lack  of knowledge available to explorers such as  R F Scott at the turn of the  19th/20th centuries . When on our cruise we visited Cape Adare at the north end of the Ross Sea..

 

This site is particularly significant in that it was here that the Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink landed and set up his hut to become the first to over winter in Antarctica.  He was leading the British Southern Cross expedition of 1898. On our cruise we met a delightful Norwegian couple. The wife, Sophie Nordrum, was the grand daughter of Carsten Borchgrevink. In  conversation with her husband  Ivor  I asked  if the family still had the rifle? He grinned and told me the tale of how the family retrieved the gun. I tell this story because there is  a famous photograph  of  Borchgrevink holding the gun. The significance of this is that it illustrates graphically the fact that early explorers to Antarctica had absolutely no idea what  they might encounter. Borchgrevink, being  Norwegian would automatically think  “Polar Bears”  We now know that there are no such creatures on the Antarctic continent. We may smile about this well known  fact but it demonstrates the lack of  knowledge with which early explorers entered the white wilderness. Those men had  to find and establish the knowledge from scratch.  Not only did they do so but they started  recording  geological, meteorological and glaciological data which would  be invaluable for future generations. Scott and William Speirs Bruce of the Scotia expedition were two who laid down the foundations of scientific data  which would  lead to the modern awareness of changes in the earths weather conditions. R F Scott helped establish the understanding of basic scientific observations and facts necessary in our current realisation of global warming.  

 

A recent book which I have read had as it’s main theme a study of the population of Adelie penguins at Palmer base on the  Peninsula.  The colonies are disappearing to be replaced by colonies of Gentoo and Chinstrap species. The study over a  20  year period confirms the effects of dramatic climate changes on the breeding habits and survival of the Adelie  rookeries.  Scott did not have 20 years but he brought back 35lbs  of geological specimens, found on his sledge after his death.

 

Reading the journals of his last expedition we realise that when the team was  confined to their hut at Cape Evans because of the winter weather  combined  with 24 hour darkness scientific discussion, lectures and work were the order of  the day. This is not surprising when it is realised that there were 12 scientists in the group. We get a flavour of one of these lectures given by George C Simpson  D Sc. the meteorologist. In the course of his lecture Simpson discussed halos, coronas, rainbows and Auroras . Expounding on the latter he pointed out that the frequency of Auroras was dependent on sun spot intensity. He  talked  about  magnetic storms and  possible unknown factors. In  the lecture on Auroras he discussed the gas Argon and  possible  parallels of the two spectra. Simpson  then  advanced  two theoretical  considerations. The first was the Arrhenius theory concerning solar particulate material  being gathered in a magnetic field  of the earth. The other was the Birkeland theory which was possibly caused  by bombardment of free negative electrons within  the magnetic field of the earth. In the lecture speculation was made concerning  observations that minute drops of water are deflected by light. In Scott’s journals there is the concluding comment that “Professor  Stormer has collected much material showing  connection with lines of  magnetic force” .  Recent  polls in Scotland put sight of the Aurora Borealis as number one “things to see” . We have the advantage of modern science to explain this phenomenon. There are several reports of the scientific presentations held throughout the expedition which emphasise the  very high quality of those members of the group who very much had science as their motivation and who were totally dependent upon  Scott’s  leadership not only in  providing the opportunity to visit Antarctica but  because he had organised  and  supervised the  supplies and teams to run the day to day provision of the basic requirements of life and of science. Lying on a  table in the laboratory in the Cape Evans hut is a penguin awaiting dissection. I  could give many  examples similar to those mentioned concerning the positive management by  “The  Owner”  as he was known by his men.

 

Many critics of  R F Scott fail completely to express the simple fact that basically  he  lead a scientific expedition, his prime aim being to improve man’s knowledge  of the 7th  continent.  We as “Scotts” are  proud  of our distinguished kinsman and should  say so, loud and  clear.

 

Roy  Scott    

Secretary  Clan   Scott   Scotland

 

 

Footnote.   

 

George. C. Simpson as a meteorologist in Antarctica supervised the use of balloons to examine the effects of altitude on temperature.  Captain Scott provided him with an  isolated hut to be used for magnetic measurements.   Simpson was responsible for the data concerning weather. He set up a weather station.

 

On his return from the south he continued as a government meteorologist  in the  middle east  and eventually in  1920 became the  Director of the Meteorological  Office in 1920. He became Sir George C Simpson and was honoured by  many  universities for his long  period of scientific work. He was a scientist of the highest quality and an example of the type of scientist who added  lustre to the work of  Robert   Falcon  Scott