I suspect most are familiar with the story of Royal Navy Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his ill fated South Pole attempt in 1911 – 1912, of which I will have more in a later blog. But you may not know “Commander” Scott also led a British Antarctic Expedition in 1902. He erected a wooden hut in February 1902 at Hut Point on Ross Island by McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The hut was prefabricated by James Moore of Sydney, Australia and brought south aboard Discovery, Scott’s ship.
The hut was square with verandas on three sides and a pyramidal roof supported by a central post. Its double-wall construction had an insulating layer of felt between the inner and outer walls, however, this proved insufficient protection against the Antarctic winter and the hut was used primarily as a store house with the Scott’s crew preferring to live aboard the warmer ship. It was from here that Scott made his first attempt on the South Pole, but only got 480 miles before being forced to turn back.
The hut was used as a base of operations by Sir Earnest Shackleton during his 1907 – 1909 British Antarctic Expedition when he came within 100 nautical miles of the South Pole. Shackleton and his polar party elected to live inside the hut and used stacked crates of provisions as internal walls.
Scott’s final 1910 -1913 British Antarctic “Terra Nova” Expedition used the hut as a staging area. On 8 March 1911 Scott wrote, “The temperature of the hut is low, of course, but in every other respect we are absolutely comfortable. There is an unlimited quantity of biscuit, and our discovery at Pram Point means an unlimited supply of seal meat. We have heaps of cocoa, coffee, and tea, and a sufficiency of sugar and salt. In addition a small store of luxuries, chocolate, raisins, lentils, oatmeal, sardines, and jams, which will serve to vary the fare. An empty kerosene tin and some firebricks have been made into an excellent little stove, which has been connected to the old stove-pipe. The solider fare of our meals is either stewed or fried on this stove whilst the tea or cocoa is being prepared on a primus. One way and another we shall manage to be very comfortable during our stay here, and already we can regard it as a temporary home.”
I was fortunate the Australian dentist at McMurdo was a hut guide and I was able to go inside the hut. To stand in the room where Scott and Shackleton stood a century ago, giants from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, and be surrounded by the original artifacts from their time is a privilege I shall treasure to my dying day!
Antarctica is a cruel mistress and she has taken the lives of many. Royal Navy Able Seaman George Vince was one of the first. As part of a party returning from an attempted journey to Cape Crozier, he became stranded on an ice slope during a blizzard and slide over the edge of a cliff into the water on 11 March 1902, almost exactly 100 years ago. His body was never recovered. A lonely memorial stands atop the small hill near Discovery Hut. Rest in peace shipmate.