HISTORIC FAILURES

Scott Expedition 1912

The Scott Expedition at the South Pole: (l-r, standing) Captain Lawrence Oates, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, and Petty Officer Edgar Evans, (l-r, seated) Lieutenant Henry Bowers and naturalist, Edward Wilson.

History isn’t always made by the successful. Those who fail at their appointed task sometimes get into the history book too. One example is the Scott Expedition. Between June of 1910 and January of 1912, two teams of scientists, one Norwegian, and one British, raced to be the first people to get to the South Pole. Both used animals to help them transport themselves and their supplies across the snow and ice of Antarctica. The Norwegians, led by Roald Amundsen, used dogs. The British, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, used horses.

It wasn’t a good idea. Horses had been used during other polar expeditions, but Scott’s horse handler did not have experience handling them in frigid conditions. The animals were not properly trained or properly equipped (the handler thought horse snowshoes were just an ‘unmitigated nuisance’ and left them at the base camp). They died of exhaustion and exposure in quite short order, leaving the members of Scott’s team to haul their heavily laden-sleds across the frozen wasteland themselves. The choice of horses was one of a series of mistakes that caused the Scott expedition to fail. Amundsen’s party reached the South Pole on December 14th, 1911. Scott’s did not get there until January 17th, 1912. Disheartened, they planted the British flag, and on January 18th, headed back to their base camp, dying, one by one, along the way.

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One comment

  1. I was going to comment on this the day it appeared. I’m aghast that the Scott Expedition took horses to pull the sleds. Failure comes from failing to think outside the box, and, boyo, did that bunch ever fail by taking horses to the Antarctic. If they’d paid the slightest attention, they would have seen the Inuit, Eskimo, and Sami tribes using dogs to pull their sleds. Duh!

    I am more impressed with Stapleton. They at least brought dogs, although they ended up having to kill them. That was regretted deeply by the Stapleton bunch. They loved those dogs and hated the idea of having to kill them. Still Stapleton’s grit was amazing that he brought the whole crew (less than dogs) through to safety even if they didn’t reach the Pole.

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