Robert Falcon Scott
Double click to insert body text here...
The seventh continent.
He was a scientist in the guise of a naval officer (George Seaver 1940 in "Scott of the Antarctic")
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.
Secretary Clan Scott Scotland
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