Touching journal of explorer's heartbreaking Antarctic expedition

Captain Robert  Falcon Scott. Photo / File
Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Photo / File

Intriguing insights into polar exploration revealed by reproduction of rare expedition newspaper

Explorers on Captain Scott's two expeditions to Antarctica published a regular journal that gave an insight into life in one of the world's least hospitable places.

The South Polar Times had the lowest possible circulation for any newspaper in the world. Only one copy of each edition was printed.

For good measure, the paper also had a startlingly impressive list of editors that included polar exploration leader Ernest Shackleton as well as Apsley Cherry-Garrard, author of the travel classic The Worst Journey in the World.

By any reckoning, the paper was an extraordinary publication whose treasures can now be shared with readers in Britain - for £495 ($945) for a bound Folio Society reproduction of its entire 12 issues.

Each paper, which ran from 30 to 50 pages, includes photographs, features, caricatures of officers and men, whimsical observations of life in Antarctica, cartoons, weather reports and a range of breathtaking watercolours of the polar landscape - most of them works by zoologist Edward Wilson, Scott's deputy, and a painter of considerable talent.

"Wilson turns out to be an artist who was capable of some truly exquisite work," says Joe Whitlock Blundell, the Folio Society's production director.

The papers are also intriguing historical documents in their own right, including popular music-hall songs rewritten with new lyrics; a pastiche of Walt Whitman's poetry; and an account of their own expedition as recently decoded papyrus leaves - a spoof on the Rosetta Stone controversy.

The South Polar Times was produced by the men of Robert Scott's two journeys to Antarctica: the Discovery expedition of 1901-04, and the Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13.

Among the boxes of cargo brought by his ships, Scott included a typewriter, reams of good-quality paper and art supplies. In the end, 12 issues of the Times were produced: eight from the first of Scott's trips to the Antarctic and four from his second, ill-fated expedition.

All are marked by their jollity and would have provided a welcome diversion for the men during the long, dark winters. However, it is the last issue of the paper that provides the most touching copy.

It was written and produced in June 1912, by which time Cherry-Garrard and the rest of the men living in the expedition hut of Ross Island knew that Scott and his four companions - Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates - were dead. Their supplies would have run out weeks earlier.

"They still produced the Times, but there is no mention of the fact that Scott and the polar team were missing.

"Yet their absence would have been like an elephant in the room," says Blundell. "The paper has jokes in it but they fall flat.

"However, it is the weather records in that issue that are the real eye-openers," he adds.

"They show that for the few preceding months, the wind and snow conditions were the worst that had been experienced for that time of year and illustrate just how unlucky were Scott and his men."

- Observer

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