Antarctic photos cast shadow on Scott's heroics

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The exploits of Captain Robert Scott, with his daring polar adventures and courageous explorer's death, have captured the public imagination for a century. But previously unseen photographs released this month reveal a less heroic side to his character.</p>The pictures document the rescue of Scott's ship, Discovery</i>, after it became marooned in the Antarctic ice.</p>Scott subsequently lied about the rescue and deliberately wrote out of the history books the man who saved him.</p>But the National Maritime Museum is to restore his rescuer to the roll-call of British polar heroes. He was Captain William Colbeck, a merchant sailor from Yorkshire, who kicked off the race to the South Pole by sledging a long way south with an Anglo-Norwegian expedition as early as 1898 and planting his own marker flag.</p>Captain Scott's journey to the Antarctic in 1902 had been backed by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society, which dispatched Colbeck to the rescue when they became alarmed by a lack of news. When Colbeck arrived in 1903, Scott at first refused assistance and Colbeck was able to take only ailing members of the ship's crew, including that other great polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, to safety.</p>Scott insisted on seeing the winter out, determined to press ahead with the scientific monitoring he had been funded to do. But when Discovery</i> found itself again in trouble in 1904, Colbeck and his crew, dispatched this time by the Admiralty, blasted the ice with dynamite to free the ship. Captain Scott, however, refused to give them credit.</p>Sian Flynn, the maritime museum's curator, said: "Colbeck was completely ignored. Scott claimed it was a miraculous swell that had freed the ship because he didn't want to be rescued by someone beneath him socially. There was this whole Establishment trying to whitewash what had happened and Colbeck was written out of the official history."</p>The photographs show scenes of the ice being blasted and how Colbeck's skilful navigation led the rescue team to details of Scott's position, which had been posted by the Discovery</i> crew in a box on a tiny island in case of disaster.</p>The National Maritime Museum believes the photographs have never been published before but were probably used in Scott's lecture programme when he returned from the Discovery </i>expedition. The collection was given to the museum by Colbeck's family 20 years ago. But they have been withheld under copyright rules until now - 70 years after Colbeck's death - because the indentity of the person who took them was unclear. Some may have been by Colbeck himself, while others were probably taken by Gerald Doorley, an officer, or J D Morrison, chief engineer.</p>The museum now hopes to show them in a lantern show, an early form of slide show, in conjunction with its current exhibition, "South", which tells the story of Scott's and Shackleton's Antarctic missions.</p>Jonathan Shackleton, the explorer's cousin, said Scott was known to be happiest with his own class. "Certainly Scott had his pals among the officers but he was not good at relating to the seamen. He hadn't got that warmth of heart that Shackleton had."</p>Shackleton was bitterly disappointed at being sent home by Scott with Colbeck's first rescue mission, but, Mr Shackleton said, it was probably what spurred him to his success in 1909 when his expedition came within 100 miles of reaching the South Pole, nearer than anyone had got before.</p>Scott returned to Antarctica in 1911 in the hope of becoming the first man to reach the Pole. He reached his destination only to find he had been beaten by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and died on the return journey in March 1912.</p>

Comments