Scott, Robert Falcon

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Scott, Robert Falcon

Robert Falcon Scott, 1868–1912, British naval officer and antarctic explorer. He commanded two noted expeditions to Antarctica. The first expedition (1901–4), in the Discovery, organized jointly by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society and well equipped for scientific research, was concerned with exploration of the region around the Ross Sea. Scott's achievements included sounding the sea, discovering King Edward VII Land (now known as Edward VII Peninsula), surveying the coast of Victoria Land, and making a long, important exploring trip on the antarctic continent itself; he reached a new "farthest south" of 82°17′. On his return to England, Scott was promoted to captain in the navy and wrote an account of his expedition, The Voyage of the Discovery (1905).

In 1910 he again set forth for Antarctica, this time in search of the South Pole. His Terra Nova reached its base on the Ross Sea in 1911, and in November he started southward on foot toward the pole. Scott and his four companions pulled their heavy sledges by hand across the high polar plateau, proceeding in subzero weather the entire way. When they reached the South Pole on Jan. 18, 1912, they found that Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, had preceded them by about one month. On their retreat the heroic party was beset by illness, lack of food, frostbite, blizzards, and autumn temperatures 10 to 20 degrees lower than Antarctica's bone-chilling average. All five members died, the last three overwhelmed by a blizzard when only a few miles from their depot. Their bodies were later recovered, together with Scott's diaries, the records, and the valuable scientific collections. Scott's journey has been considered by many one of the epic events of British exploration, but many modern biographers and scholars have accused him of a fatal inexperience in polar travel and a general incompetence that doomed him and his men. Scott's diaries and the scientific findings of the expedition are contained in Scott's Last Expedition (2 vol., 1913).

See A. Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1994); D. Preston, A First Rate Tragedy (1998); T. H. Baughman, Pilgrims on the Ice (1999); R. Huntford, The Last Place on Earth (1999); S. Solomon, The Coldest March (2001); R. Fiennes, Race to the Pole (2004); D. Crane, Scott of the Antarctic (2006); E. J. Larson, An Empire of Ice (2011).

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