It’s hard to believe, but exactly 101 years since Scott and his companions were believed to have died, on 29 March 1913, a letter of his has been published. It was written, in the last moments before the freezing conditions overcame Scott, to his once superior, Admiral Sir Francis Bateman. Kept in family hands since, it has finally been purchased by the Scott Polar Research Institute for £78,816 and published.
Our initial impression, at the Antarctica Discover’s igloo headquarters, was to suspect skulduggery and conspiracy. What could a man, at the end of the world, at the end of a inhumanly gruelling race to the Pole, possibly write to his boss that needed to be kept hidden away for so long? Flattery hardly likely, we thought, it had to be the final shout of disobedience from the abyss, a last complaint perhaps for non-delivery of the long promised dogs?
But such suspicions quickly proved unworthy of even the meanest leopard seal, as closer reading revealed that Admiral Bateman was an old naval superior. Scott’s letter of course showed instead amazing fortitude, as one starts wondering how anybody can write letters of any kind in a tent assailed by fierce winds, constant -40c temperatures, no food nor drink, and fingers struggling feebly against frostbite.
The picture above shows how puny the tent is, lost in the Antarctic wilds. It was found only 8 months later by a rescue team. Scott was the last survivor to die, as he points out in the letter, and this was after 2 months of soul-destroying slogging back from the South Pole where the shattering discovery of Amundsen’s priority was made.
Here is the text of the letter:-
Scott’s last letter to Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman
|To Sir Francis Bridgeman
My Dear Sir Francis
I fear we have shipped up – a close shave. I am writing a few letters which I hope will be delivered some day. I want to thank you for the friendship you gave me of late years, and to tell you how extraordinarily pleasant I found it to serve under you. I want to tell you that I was not too old for this job. It was the younger men that went under first. Finally 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. After all we are setting a good example to our countrymen, if not by getting into a tight place, by facing it like men when we were there. We could have come through had we neglected the sick.
Good-bye and good-bye to dear Lady Bridgeman
Excuse writing – it is -40, and has been for nigh a month