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- The Voyages of Captain Scott - 3/60 -

'Then it was I first knew that Con Scott was no ordinary human being. Though at that time still only a boy he practically took command of the passengers and was at once accepted by them as their Boss during the rest of the trip. With a small body of volunteers he led an attack on the saloon--dressed the mothers, washed the children, fed the babies, swabbed down the floors and nursed the sick, and performed every imaginable service for all hands. On deck he settled the quarrels and established order either by his personality, or, if necessary, by his fists. Practically by day and night he worked for the common good, never sparing himself, and with his infectious smile gradually made us all feel the whole thing was jolly good fun.

'I daresay there are still some of the passengers like myself who, after a quarter of a century, have imprinted on their minds the vision of this fair-haired English sailor boy with the laughing blue eyes who at that early age knew how to sacrifice himself for the welfare and happiness of others.'


[Illustration: The 'Discovery'. Reproduced from a drawing by Dr. E. A. Wilson.]



Do ye, by star-eyed Science led, explore Each lonely ocean, each untrodden shore.

In June, 1899, Robert Falcon Scott was spending his short leave in London, and happened to meet Sir Clements Markham in the Buckingham Palace Road. On that afternoon he heard for the first time of a prospective Antarctic expedition, and on the following day he called upon Sir Clements and volunteered to command it. Of this eventful visit Sir Clements wrote: 'On June 5, 1899, there was a remarkable coincidence. Scott was then torpedo lieutenant of the Majestic. I was just sitting down to write to my old friend Captain Egerton [Footnote: Now Admiral Sir George Egerton, K.C.B.] about him, when he was announced. He came to volunteer to command the expedition. I believed him to be the best man for so great a trust, either in the navy or out of it. Captain Egerton's reply and Scott's testimonials and certificates most fully confirmed a foregone conclusion.'

The tale, however, of the friendship between Sir Clements and Scott began in 1887, when the former was the guest of his cousin, the Commodore of the Training Squadron, and made the acquaintance of every midshipman in the four ships that comprised it. During the years that followed, it is enough to say that Scott more than justified the hopes of those who had marked him down as a midshipman of exceptional promise. Through those years Sir Clements had been both friendly and observant, until by a happy stroke of fortune the time came when he was as anxious for this Antarctic expedition to be led by Scott as Scott was to lead it. So when, on June 30, 1900, Scott was promoted to the rank of Commander, and shortly afterwards was free to undertake the work that was waiting for him, one great anxiety was removed from the shoulders of the man who had not only proposed the expedition, but had also resolved that nothing should prevent it from going.

Great difficulties and troubles had, however, to be encountered before the Discovery could start upon her voyage. First and foremost was the question of money, but owing to indefatigable efforts the financial horizon grew clearer in the early months of 1899. Later on in the same year Mr. Balfour expressed his sympathy with the objects of the undertaking, and it was entirely due to him that the Government eventually agreed to contribute 45,000, provided that a similar sum could be raised by private subscriptions.

In March, 1900, the keel of the new vessel, that the special Ship Committee had decided to build for the expedition, was laid in the yard of the Dundee Shipbuilding Company. A definite beginning, at any rate, had been made; but very soon after Scott had taken up his duties he found that unless he could obtain some control over the various committees and subcommittees of the expedition, the only day to fix for the sailing of the ship was Doomsday. A visit to Norway, where he received many practical suggestions from Dr. Nansen, was followed by a journey to Berlin, and there he discovered that the German expedition, which was to sail from Europe at the same time as his own, was already in an advanced state of preparation. Considerably alarmed, he hurried back to England and found, as he had expected, that all the arrangements, which were in full swing in Germany, were almost at a standstill in England. The construction of the ship was the only work that was progressing, and even in this there were many interruptions from the want of some one to give immediate decisions on points of detail.

A remedy for this state of chaos had to be discovered, and on November 4, 1900, the Joint Committee of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society passed a resolution, which left Scott practically with a free hand to push on the work in every department, under a given estimate of expenditure in each. To safeguard the interests of the two Societies the resolution provided that this expenditure should be supervised by a Finance Committee, and to this Committee unqualified gratitude was due. Difficulties were still to crop up, and as there were many scientific interests to be served, differences of opinion on points of detail naturally arose, but as far as the Finance Committee was concerned, it is mere justice to record that no sooner was it formed than its members began to work ungrudgingly to promote the success of the undertaking.

In the meantime Scott's first task was to collect, as far as possible, the various members of the expedition. Before he had left the Majestic he had written, 'I cannot gather what is the intention as regards the crew; is it hoped to be able to embody them from the R.N.? I sincerely trust so.' In fact he had set his heart on obtaining a naval crew, partly because he thought that their sense of discipline would be invaluable, but also because he doubted his ability to deal with any other class of men.

The Admiralty, however, was reluctant to grant a concession that Scott considered so necessary, and this reluctance arose not from any coldness towards the enterprise, but from questions of principle and precedent. At first the Admiralty assistance in this respect was limited to two officers, Scott himself and Royds, then the limit was extended to include Skelton the engineer, a carpenter and a boatswain, and thus at least a small naval nucleus was obtained. But it was not until the spring of 1901 that the Admiralty, thanks to Sir Anthony Hoskins and Sir Archibald Douglas, gave in altogether, and as the selection of the most fitting volunteers had not yet been made, the chosen men did not join until the expedition was almost on the point of sailing.

For many reasons Scott was obliged to make his own headquarters in London, and the room that had been placed at his disposal in Burlington House soon became a museum of curiosities. Sledges, ski, fur clothing and boots were crowded into every corner, while tables and shelves were littered with correspondence and samples of tinned foods. And in the midst of this medley he worked steadily on, sometimes elated by the hope that all was going well, sometimes depressed by the thought that the expedition could not possibly be ready to start at the required date.

During these busy months of preparation he had the satisfaction of knowing that the first lieutenant, the chief engineer and the carpenter were in Dundee, and able to look into the numerous small difficulties that arose in connection with the building of the ship. Other important posts in the expedition had also been filled up, and expeditionary work was being carried on in many places. Some men were working on their especial subjects in the British Museum, others were preparing themselves at the Physical Laboratory at Kew, and others, again, were traveling in various directions both at home and abroad. Of all these affairs the central office was obliged to take notice, and so for its occupants idle moments were few and very far between. Nansen said once that the hardest work of a Polar voyage came in its preparation, and during the years 1900-1, Scott found ample cause to agree with him. But in spite of conflicting interests, which at times threatened to wreck the well-being of the expedition, work, having been properly organized, went steadily forward; until on March 21, 1901, the new vessel was launched at Dundee and named the 'Discovery' by Lady Markham.

In the choice of a name it was generally agreed that the best plan was to revive some time-honored title, and that few names were more distinguished than 'Discovery.' She was the sixth of that name, and inherited a long record of honorable and fortunate service.

The Discovery had been nothing more than a skeleton when it was decided that she should be loaded with her freight in London; consequently, after she had undergone her trials, she was brought round from Dundee, and on June 3, 1901, was berthed in the East India Docks. There, during the following weeks, all the stores were gathered together, and there the vessel, which was destined to be the home of the expedition for more than three years, was laden.

Speaking at the Geographical Congress at Berlin in 1899, Nansen strongly recommended a vessel of the Fram type with fuller lines for South Polar work, but the special Ship Committee, appointed to consider the question of a vessel for this expedition, had very sound reasons for not following his advice. Nansen's celebrated Fram was built for the specific object of remaining safely in the North Polar pack, in spite of the terrible pressures which were to be expected in such a vast extent of ice. This object was achieved in the simplest manner by inclining the sides of the vessel until her shape resembled a saucer, and lateral pressure merely tended to raise her above the surface. Simple as this design was, it fulfilled so well the requirements of the situation that its conception was without doubt a stroke of genius. What, however, has been generally forgotten is that the safety of the Fram was secured at the expense of her sea-worthiness and powers of ice-penetration.

Since the Fram was built there have been two distinct types of Polar vessels, the one founded on the idea of passive security

The Voyages of Captain Scott - 3/60

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