Captain Scott’s journal is a stirring human document

Posted in Disasters, Exploration, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Literature on Tuesday, 4 June 2013

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This edited article about Captain Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 279 published on 20 May 1967.

Captain Oates, picture, image, illustration

Captain Oates decides to leave the tent, never to return

Who said, “Great God! This is an awful place”?

The answer is Captain Scott wrote it in his journal about the South Pole on January 17, 1912.


Captain Scott recorded the words of the quotation on the actual day that he and his party reached the South Pole. It goes on ” . . . and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.” The previous day they had realised that Amundsen had beaten them to the Pole – they had found the remains of a camp and many traces of dogs.

On the 18th, they found a message from Amundsen in a tent, dated 16th December, 1911. They built a cairn near the Pole, hoisted their ‘poor slighted Union Jack’ and photographed themselves. The next day they started back on their terrible 800-mile journey, deeply disappointed at their failure to reach the Pole first.

By now the weather was deteriorating fast, one of the causes of the final tragedy. Scott described it at the Pole, “the wind is blowing hard, T.-21¬∞, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time,” and writes of the “awful monotony” of the area.

Thanks to Scott’s journal – the picture on the right shows him making earlier entries in his cabin aboard the Discovery – we can follow the details of that terrible march back. It tells how they completed almost seven-eighths of the journey, despite unexpectedly savage weather; how they suffered severely from frostbite; how Captain Oates walked out of the tent to his death to give his companions a better chance of survival. And, finally, on 29th March, the last entry: “For God’s sake look after our people.”

Members of the main party found their bodies eight months later – only eleven miles from a food depot.

Though Scott and his party failed to reach the Pole first, at least they got there, and also did valuable scientific research. But their names will live on, chiefly because of their last heroic journey, which has become a legend.

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