Scott of the Antarctic
Past display archive
16 August 2011 - 22 April 2012
Robert Falcon Scott
by Herbert George Ponting
7 October 1911
A century after his death, Scott remains an iconic figure of heroism and courage. As commander of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913, he led the first British team to the South Pole. The story of their bleak arrival, a month after the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, and the unendurable hardship of their return journey has become legendary.
After an impressive career in the Royal Navy, Scott was invited to command the first National Antarctic Expedition on board the Discovery, 1901 -1904. The expedition reached further south than anyone before them and Scott returned a national hero. His second expedition on board the old whaling ship Terra Nova reached the Antarctic on 22 January 1911. Accompanied by Captain Lawrence Oates, Petty Officer Edgar Evans, Dr Edward Wilson and Lieutenant Henry Bowers, Scott set out the following November for the Pole. On the return journey the party, punished by abnormally severe conditions of -40°C, was overwhelmed by frostbite and fatigue. Evans died on 17 February, Oates on 16 March, and Scott, Wilson and Bowers on or about 29 March 1912.
Herbert George Ponting (1870 – 1935) was the expedition photographer and cinematographer. During the long Antarctic winter of 1911 he took an extraordinary series of photographs that capture both the terrifying beauty of the landscape and the remarkable endurance of those who inhabited it. On returning to England, he wrote to Scott describing his Antarctic work as the most difficult and most valuable of his career; he was unaware that Scott was already dead. His footage of the expedition was later developed into a feature film Ninety Degrees South, 1933.
© National Portrait Gallery, London