Herbert Ponting on the Terra Nova Expedition

The British Antarctic Expedition 1910, also called the Terra Nova Expedition, was Robert Scott’s second attempt to reach the South Pole, and has become infamous as a tragic, but heroic, story of polar exploration. Having failed to attain this goal on his original journey, the Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904, Scott once again attempted to reach the pole in 1910, spurred on by the recent expedition of Ernest Shackleton, who came within 97 miles of achieving the perilous feat in January 1909.

Ponting set sail with the rest of Captain Scott’s expedition as the official photographer, personally chosen by Scott. His established reputation and his connection with Cecil Meares, who was in charge of the dogs for the expedition, both helped Ponting acquire the post.

The expedition was well equipped; carrying advanced photographic and scientific equipment. Although reaching the pole was his main objective, Scott’s support team also carried out scientific experiments and recorded findings of wildlife and the geographical surroundings of Antarctica- the expedition is remembered as pioneering for the information it amassed. Diaries from the expedition document that Ponting went to great length to take the best photograph, on one occasion narrowly missing an attack from killer whales.

Despite travelling to Antarctica with a crew of over 30, Scott selected only four other men to actually accompany him to the Pole. On 3 January 1912, Lieutenant Edgar Evans, Dr. Edward Wilson, Captain Lawrence Oates, Lieutenant Henry Bowers and Scott set off towards the polar plateau from Cape Evans. However, the expedition was destined to fail. On reaching the pole, the five men discovered, to Scotts bitter disappointment, the flag left begin by Norway’s Roald Amundsen, who had reached the pole five weeks earlier.

On the 800-mile return journey, with oncoming bad weather and the beginnings of exhaustion Scott’s team started to deteriorate. Evans took a fatal blow to the head while descending the Beardmore Glacier. Oates, who was suffering from an injury to his foot, chose to sacrifice himself in order for the remaining three men to make better progress. Scott noted in his diary that Oates got up and walked out of the tent into a blizzard saying, “I am just going outside, and may be some time.” Scott made his final diary entry 29 March 1912, when he asked for the families the men left behind be provided for. Their bodies were found, 8 months later during a search party and a memorial was erected on the spot.

Explore More