‘These rough notes and our dead bodies…’

6 December 2011
Scott writing in his hut during the fateful Terra Nova expedition. Credit: Scott

Scott writing in his hut during the fateful Terra Nova expedition. Credit: Scott Polar Research institute, Cambridge.

The story of the Terra Nova expedition, explored through the letters, diaries and photographs of its members, is to be told during a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at Cambridge University’s Polar Museum.


We’re not just talking about the ’race to the pole’ here, we’re talking about an entire crew of men, each telling their own story in their own way."
—Kay Smith

These rough notes: Capt. Scott’s last expedition (7th December - 5th May) will put on show papers from the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 held in the Polar Museum’s archive collection, much of which has never been on public display before.

The exhibition tells the full story of the fateful Terra Nova expedition, not just through the famous journals and letters of Scott, Bowers, Evans, Oates and Wilson, who perished on their way back from the Pole, but through other members of the ship’s crew and shore party.

It not only highlights the ’Worst Journey in the World’ - the winter journey to collect eggs from the Emperor penguin colony at Cape Crozier - but also the largely forgotten ’Northern Party’ - six men stranded for 21 months when the ship could not reach them through the heavy pack ice and forced to shelter from the brutal Antarctic winter in a cave dug into the snow.

Curator Kay Smith said: "This really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these manuscripts exhibited together. Some of them are so fragile and valuable that they probably won’t go on display again for another hundred years. This is a wonderful occasion to have much more of our handwritten material on show.

"There are so many elements to the Terra Nova story and we’re bringing back to life some of the forgotten voices. We’re not just talking about the ’race to the pole’ here, we’re talking about an entire crew of men, each telling their own story in their own way - and perhaps a different story from those you’re already familiar with."

Archivist Naomi Boneham said: "It’s a chance to bring together many different voices from the expedition – from the ship’s company to the officers and scientists. These papers are never normally on display; the only way of seeing these documents until now has been to undertake a research project. By doing this we are able to let people see how the men viewed their experiences and how they recorded them.

"For the first sledge journey carried out in the Antarctic winter we have the shaky handwriting of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who had to abandon his diary as the conditions were so bad. We also have Birdie Bowers retelling the story in a letter to his mother and Wilson’s official report, right through to Cherry’s celebrated account, ’The Worst Journey in the World’ where his manuscript draft differs from what finally went into print.

"We know the story - we know how it ends - but they didn’t, so from the storms that beset the ship through to the party in the hut and on to the march to the South Pole we can go with them on their journey."

Among items on display is the very rarely seen second journal of Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers who accompanied Scott to the Pole and died alongside him on the return journey. This fragile volume has been repaired especially for the exhibition and the full text will be published for the first time, along with Bowers’ letters home, in a limited edition in mid-December.

Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane said, "What has really struck me is how powerful much of the writing is. The manuscripts provide such a vivid record of the daily life of the expedition. I hope that people who come along will gain a very clear picture of the range of scientific and mapping work which Scott’s men were able to achieve, quite apart from the journey to the Pole."

Other previously unseen items include also a miniature sledge made by Edward Evans, the sketchbook of Edward Wilson (Chief of the Scientific Staff) - including his drawings of Amundsen’s tent, and a newspaper, produced by members of the trapped northern party who had - rather improbably - taken a typewriter along with them. The hand-produced newspaper, which contains humorous articles, poems and sketches, is evocatively blackened by the soot from their blubber stove - the trapped men’s main means of survival as they sat out the worst of the winter before travelling the 230 miles on foot back to Cape Evans.

Perhaps one of the most valuable exhibits on display is the journal of Captain Scott, on loan from the British Library by permission of the Scott family. It is reunited for the first time with his heart-breaking final letters to his widow.

The title of the exhibition comes directly from Captain Scott’s message to the public written at the end of his journal, just prior to his death. Dated March 29, 1912, it reads: "Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.”

Although much of the display focuses on the written words of the Terra Nova crew, there will also be some fascinating and unusual exhibits on display alongside the letters, manuscripts, illustrated newspapers, posters and pamphlets.

They include some of the Christmas decorations made by members of the 33-strong shore party, as well as medals, sledge flags and matchboxes belonging to crew members. Some of Wilson’s watercolours will also be on display as well as a penguin-shaped menu made for those spending Midwinter Day at Cape Evans.

Expedition members featured in the exhibition include: Captain Scott, Wilson, Lieutenant Bowers, Captain Oates, Petty Officer Edgar Evans, Apsley Cherry-Garrard (author of the Worst Journey in the World), Lieutenant Edward Evans (second in command of the expedition), Victor Campbell (leader of the Northern Party), Thomas Griffith Taylor (Geologist), Charles Wright (Physicist), William Lashly (Chief Stoker), Thomas Williamson (Petty Officer),  Patrick Keohane (Petty Officer), Frank Browning (Petty Officer).

These rough notes: Captain Scott’s last expedition runs from 7 December 2011 - 5 May 2012. Visit www.spri.cam.ac.uk/m­useum/exhibitions/ .

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We’re not just talking about the ’race to the pole’ here, we’re talking about an entire crew of men, each telling their own story in their own way."
 
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