Scott's last letter 'to widow' goes on show

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Captain Scott's final letter - written as he "faced the inevitable" while trying to return from the South Pole in 1912 - is to go on public display for the first time.

Robert Falcon Scott wrote the letter - which will form part of an exhibition of the explorer's correspondence being staged in Cambridge later this month - to his wife, Kathleen, on scraps on his journal.

His family has given the letter, and other correspondence written during Scott's final expedition to the Antarctic, to Cambridge University.

The correspondence will go on show at the university's Scott Polar Research Institute, set up in the explorer's memory, from January 17 - the 95th anniversary of Scott's arrival at the South Pole.

Dated March 1912, the letter, which was found in Scott's tent when his team's remains were discovered in 1913, is addressed "To my widow".

In it, he accepts that death is near but says he and his companions are "full of good health and vigour".

"Dear, it is not easy to write because of the cold - 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent," he wrote.

"You know I have loved you; you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you... the worst aspect of this situation is that I shall not see you again - the inevitable must be faced."

He encourages his wife to marry again and hopes that he will be a "good memory".

"When the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again," he wrote.

"I wouldn't have been a very good husband, but I hope I shall be a good memory."

He also asks Kathleen to encourage their son, Peter, then three, to study natural history, saying: "It is better than games."

Peter - later Sir Peter Scott - became one of the UK's most celebrated naturalists and ornithologists.

"I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud," wrote Scott. "Try and make him believe in a God; it is comforting."

The exhibition also features notes Peter wrote to his father.

One says: "Dear Daddy I am going to be a drummer." Another adds: "I love you".

The little boy's letters never reached Scott.

A university spokesman said Sir Peter's widow, Lady Philippa Scott, had given the letters to the Scott Polar Research Institute.

"The gift means that Cambridge now houses the complete collection of Scott's correspondence, which includes more than 300 letters," he added.

"These will be kept in the institute, which also houses the explorer's famous journal and numerous other artefacts from his ill-fated expedition, including food, clothes and even his sleeping bag."

Institute director Professor Julian Dowdeswell added: "We are tremendously grateful to the family for this generous gift, without which Scott's final and most poignant letters might easily have been lost to a private collector.

"Instead they will prove invaluable in enabling us to continue our historic role as an international centre for the study of the Polar regions."

"Scott of the Antarctic" was born in Plymouth, Devon, in 1868.

He was a Royal Navy captain who became a national hero when he set a new "furthest South" record with his expedition to Antarctica on the ship Discovery between 1901 and 1904.

Scott and his party, which included explorer Ernest Shackleton - came within 410 miles of the South Pole.

He tried again six years later, leaving the UK in 1910 on board the Terra Nova.

His party then included Army captain Lawrence Oates.

Scott arrived in Antarctica in January 1911 and began to trek to the South Pole.

He was unaware that he had been beaten to the spot by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

Amundsen became the first man to reach the Pole in December 1911.

Scott reached the Pole on January 17, 1912 - only to discover that Amundsen had been there before him.

Short of supplies and suffering from starvation and hypothermia, one by one Scott's party died as they attempted to return to base.

Captain Oates walked out of his tent on his 32nd birthday in March 1912, making one of the most famous parting lines in history when he said: "I am just going outside and may be some time."