Endgame for Karen May and George Lewis’ Exoneration of Captain Scott

From TheSouthPole
Jump to: navigation, search

by Kristoffer Nelson-Kilger

It is 2020, and the endgame is at hand for Karen May and George Lewis. Seven years ago, Karen May began a now joint quest to exonerate Captain Scott. Nothing in the disaster could have been his fault. It was really Dr Atkinson who made up the supposed orders that the dogs were not to be risked. Now it is 2020 (or it will be when their paper is formally published in Polar Record), and they realize that May was wrong in determining the culprit. Instead, it is Meares who is to blame, based on his alleged malfeasance with regard to the ponies. The reader is invited to read my refutation of May and Lewis’ ponies paper, “Big Trouble in Vladivostok” [[1]]

Ignominious Beginning

To begin with, they make the unbelievable statement that Gran “apparently misinterpreted Scott’s use of the word “must”, taking it as an absolute imperative” and that “a native English speaker would understand Scott as urging the cautious assessment of numerous factors”(May and Lewis, 2019: 2). I will let this not even wrong statement stand without further comment. Their research establishes that Gran was the source of Roland Huntford's erroneous statement regarding verbal orders to Lt Evans which were to be relayed to Cape Evans. However, this does not exonerate Huntford. As Sienicki has documented in subsection 10.5.1 of his book, it was plainly obvious that such orders, if delivered by such means, could not possibly have been executed in time. Therefore, Huntford fabricated their existence. There is also issue to be taken with their statement that "[H]is 1961 memoir demonstrates his sincere misunderstanding of Scott’s 1911 orders (his erroneous belief that Scott delayed giving orders for dog teams until the last minute)"(May and Lewis, 2019: 5). Was it really Gran’s belief? He had to have received the orders from someone else, as he certainly would not have had any direct knowledge of them.

Their conclusion that because Captain Scott did not engage in speculation and self-criticism, cancellation or curtailment of the dog teams (as Gran hypothesized) did not occur, is not necessarily the case, assuming caeteris paribus. Captain Scott never criticized his own failure to respond to Captain Amundsen's threat to priority at the South Pole. Even disregarding the preceding example, he showed a strange slowness to recognize the failure of the dogs. He passed the northern bound of his rendezvous range (82° S) on February 28, yet he failed to finally conclude that there had been a failure until 11 days later. To add to this, May and Lewis erroneously write that: "Having written this expectation into his October 1911 orders, it is implausible that Scott would destroy this “safety-net” during his November–December 1911 trek"(May and Lewis, 2019: 6). Apparently, changing from a definite schedule to a to be determined schedule amounts to destruction. It does nothing of the sort.

Their treatment of Captain Scott’s sentimentality regarding animals is not much better than the preceding:

Clues to Scott’s thought processes in 1911 exist in Scott’s contemporaneous journal: these do not indicate a motivation of sentimentality... Hence, if a Scott–Oates argument had occurred in February 1911, we doubt that it followed Gran’s later-life attempts at character exposition through dialogue… We believe current confusion in the expedition narrative originated from expedition members, then historians, taking accounts on trust rather than tracing claims to their earliest sources. Modern theories of Scott’s sentimentality towards animals during the depot journey, and his last-minute ‘verbal orders’ to Evans, apparently originated from Gran’s honest misunderstanding of Scott’s intentions and writings… Primary evidence now indicates that Scott valued human life over animal...(May and Lewis, 2019: 4, 11).

On the contrary, sentimentality (ambiguous or otherwise) can be detected even in the quotes they provide: "We can’t afford to lose animals of any sort"; "The poor thing is a miserable scarecrow…" Further indications (by no means an exhaustive list) of sentimentality towards animals by Captain Scott are as follows:

Next came a short-legged, thick-set dog, with a long, shaggy coat, and black-and-white in colour; it was one of these who kept up the traditions of his race by pulling to the last gasp... But what mattered that? They had now good Anglo-Saxon names, and their value lay in their future, and not in their past. (Scott, 1905, Vol. I: 472)

The whip was never applied to his panting little form, and when he stopped it was to die from exhaustion. (Scott, 1905, Vol. II: 16)

One takes a look through a hole in the bulkhead and sees a row of heads with sad, patient eyes come swinging up together from the starboard side, whilst those on the port swing back; then up come the port heads, whilst the starboard recede. It seems a terrible ordeal for these poor beasts to stand this day after day for weeks together, and indeed though they continue to feed well the strain quickly drags down' their weight and condition; but nevertheless the trial cannot be gauged from human standards. (Scott, 1913, Vol. I: 5)

Finally, if Captain Scott had valued human life over animal life, then he never would have selected man hauling as the primary form of transportation. Valuation of human life over animal is a hallmark of selecting animal transportation, as it is the animals that will be accomplishing the logistical tasks, leaving the humans free to accomplish the goals of the expedition.


Next up is their handling of Meares, which constitutes the main thesis of their paper:

Since Scott had ordered Meares not to ‘tire the dogs’ with inessential duties and had left no written orders for delivering “luxuries”... the most realistic scenario for Meares’ loaded sledges and initial readiness to leave for One Ton on 17 January 1912 is that Meares’ sledge cargo contained not ‘luxuries’, as claimed to Simpson, but necessities for the ‘second journey’, which had been specified in Scott’s 1911 written orders... So why did Meares claim he was only transporting ‘luxuries’ to One Ton on 17 January? It is most plausible that Meares misrepresented his sledge cargo as inessential ‘luxuries’ to Simpson to avoid having to leave Cape Evans at a time when the ship might arrive and depart without him... Given this context of Meares’ declared intention to leave Antarctica prematurely, it appears that on 17 January 1912 Meares consequently spread disinformation, misrepresenting his cargo as ‘luxuries’ and his journey as easily cancellable…We hypothesise that, when Atkinson enquired in 1912 why One Ton lacked dog food, Meares responded that Scott had issued ‘strict injunctions that the dogs should not be risked in any way’ and that ‘Scott was not dependent on the dogs in any way for his return’. In 1912, it was easier for Atkinson to believe that Scott’s orders had been followed than to make the mental leap of suspecting disinformation from Meares(May and Lewis, 2019: 6, 8).

This makes no sense, even including the omitted portion about strict necessity of a journey. Even if the time spent on the journey with a heavier load did not give Meares' hypothetical lie away, how could he have known the precise date of the Terra Nova's return? If anything, actually carrying out the resupply journey as reported by Meares was in his best interest, as the increased speed from a lighter, non-essential load would have increased the odds of returning in time to catch the Terra Nova. May and Lewis are faced with a fundamental problem: any information about Captain Scott's orders would have had to come from Dr Simpson. Thanks to Sienicki’s work, we know that Dr Simpson was responsible for preventing the First Relief Party from meeting Captain Scott's party. As such, Dr Simpson or Dr Atkinson should be the source of this myth.

Next, they proceed to a list of alleged malfeasance by Meares(May and Lewis, 2019: 9). With regard to it, I will simply comment that their number 2 is nonsense. Why would Dr Atkinson invent something to protect Cherry-Garrard when it was he himself who needed protection after supposedly buying a lie from Meares? Thanks to the research of Bill Alp, we know for certain that there was no intention for the First Relief Party to ever go past One Ton Depot (Nelson-Kilger, 2019, March 8). Once again, May and Lewis ignore the fundamental issue that Dr Atkinson would have had to heard about orders (or "this story") from Dr Simpson, who was the previous commander. Likewise, their quoting Cherry-Garrard's journal does not change the fact that the resupply of One Ton Depot was Dr Simpson's responsibility.

Out of everything that May and Lewis write in their paper, this statement bears signature significance: "Meares himself appears to have recommended or endorsed this decision, given Scott’s 25 November 1911 comment that ‘Meares says [the meat from] another pony will carry him [his dog-teams] to the Glacier’(Scott, 2006, p. 330)"(May and Lewis, 2019: 9).A statement of what is possible is not an endorsement. This is an example of the pro-Captain Scott bias of May and Lewis. Indeed, that bias is the driving force behind seeking to make Meares the villain on non-existent grounds.

As an incidental note: "However, Meares’ not alerting Simpson to this situation is explicable if he, at this point, still intended to fulfill the ‘second journey’ in January 1912 to restock One Ton with dog food for the dog teams to reach Mount Hooper by March 1912... Meares’ behaviour indicates that, in December 1911, Meares still fully intended to follow Scott’s written orders"(May and Lewis, 2019: 9). Resupplying of Mount Hooper was never in Captain Scott's orders to Meares. In fact, the Mount Hooper depot did not exist until the Motor Party created it.

Let us conclude this section with these words from May and Lewis:

However, Meares unquestionably left Antarctica early in 1912: the hypothesis that Meares misrepresented Scott’s wishes to Simpson and Atkinson at base in 1912 to facilitate his early departure is a better deduction from the evidence than a hypothesis that Scott, Atkinson and Simpson all suffered from simultaneous memory loss and supposedly ‘forgot’ to record in their 1911–12 journals a drastic alteration of expectations for the dog teams"(May and Lewis, 2019: 10).

If the two above alternatives are wrong (I have demonstrated that the first is wrong, and May and Lewis use the second as rhetoric), then what is the alternative? The alternative has been given to us (directly and indirectly, respectively) by Krzysztof Sienicki and Bill Alp.

Dr Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard

Now that I have dealt with May and Lewis’ main thesis, next is their handling of Dr Atkinson and Cherry-Garrard. Let us start with this:
Furthermore, the fact that Atkinson accused Meares in 1919 confirms that Scott never gave Atkinson such ‘injunctions’. Had Scott instructed Atkinson in 1911 to protect dogs, then Atkinson would know beyond question that these were Scott’s wishes: there would therefore be no reason for Atkinson later to accuse Meares of ‘disobey[ing] orders’ in failing to restock One Ton. The fact Atkinson accuses Meares in 1919 indicates that Scott never gave Atkinson these ‘injunctions’ in 1911. (Indeed, in 1913, Atkinson uses the passive tense, ‘Strict injunctions had been given’, without indicating the recipient: had Scott told Atkinson this, one would expect Atkinson to state this directly.)(May and Lewis, 2019: 7).

Based on Dr Atkinson’s letter in 1919, May and Lewis erroneously conclude that the specific disobedience was in failing to resupply One Ton Depot. But there is the other area where Meares was disobedient: failure to meet Captain Scott's party. Is it one? Is it both? Dr Atkinson does not say at all. But May and Lewis jump to conclusions. Curiously, they state that “(Indeed, in 1913, Atkinson uses the passive tense, ‘Strict injunctions had been given’, without indicating the recipient: had Scott told Atkinson this, one would expect Atkinson to state this directly.)"They meant to say “past tense.” Of course Dr Atkinson would use past tense: he was speaking of an event that was a year or more old!

In 2012, May’s article presented the hypothesis that Atkinson had independently invented these ‘strict injunctions’ to prevent Cherry-Garrard from travelling beyond One Ton on the Great Ice Barrier, since Cherry-Garrard (myopic, nervous, inexperienced)could have endangered himself and companion Dmitri Gerof by getting lost on the less well-marked route beyond One Ton. Indeed, Cherry-Garrard during his return from One Ton left a note dated 16 March 1912 at a later depot, admitting ‘We have made no depôts on the way in being off the course all the way’ (Cherry-Garrard, 1912). From 10 to 16 March 1912, Cherry-Garrard evidently lost his way along the well-marked route north from One Ton back to Hut Point, a fact that indicates possible catastrophe had Cherry-Garrard attempted to progress south from One Ton along a less well-marked route"(May and Lewis, 2019: 7).

With regard to Cherry-Garrard, May and Lewis uncritically repeat the content of a note which Cherry-Garrard left at a depot, which stated that “We have made no depôts on the way in being off the course all the way.” They are not even wrong, because:

1. They fail to note how this note fundamentally clashes with Cherry-Garrard's later account in his book, where navigational difficulty was minor both in severity and duration,

2. They fail to note that the line of marker cairns extended to the Mid-Barrier Depot at 81°35'S,

3. They fail to explain why Cherry-Garrard did not suffer navigational difficulty more frequently and more severely.

I will elaborate only on the first point. Cherry-Garrard’s account of the First Relief Party in Vol. II of The Worst Journey in the World spans from page 416 to page 423. In this entire account, only one definite mention of navigational difficulty occurs, occupying just under a paragraph (Cherry-Garrard, 1922, Vol. II: 422). It occurred on the approach to Corner Camp on March 13, and dissipated on the following day. The preceding page contains a non-definite statement by Cherry-Garrard about navigational difficulty on March 11(Cherry-Garrard, 1922, Vol. II: 421). This cannot justify Cherry-Garrard’s note.

On the subject of Cherry-Garrard, there is a huge question: Given Dr Atkinson's 1919 letter, and Dr Atkinson stating in it that he and Cherry-Garrard knew that "Meares disobeyed", why did Cherry-Garrard go along with the old story? The answer is simple: he was covering for himself.

May and Lewis remark that "However, the false claim of Scott’s not wishing to ‘risk the dogs’ recast the missing dog food at One Ton as Scott’s wish... It prevented Cherry-Garrard from killing spare dogs at One Ton for meat to enable progress south (Cherry-Garrard, 1922, p. 420)"(May and Lewis, 2019: 10). It needs to be asked: does killing dogs for food count as a risk? No. The dogs were there to pull and be eaten if required. Having the dogs going into an area with crevasses, for example, is risking the dogs.

They ask: "How could Gran reconcile Atkinson’s claim in early 1912 [sic] that Scott had ordered that ‘the dogs should not be risked’ with Scott’s recorded disappointment in March 1912 that dog teams had not arrived?"(May and Lewis, 2019: 5).They are perfectly reconcilable. If Dr Atkinson's statement was to be taken literally, then the First Relief Party would never have left Cape Evans. May and Lewis still fail to acknowledge a glaring issue. Dr Atkinson was not directly subordinated to Captain Scott: any knowledge by him of orders to Meares or supplemental orders issued by Captain Scott would have had to come through Dr Simpson.

As for their statement that "Atkinson’s 1919 letter (‘[Meares] disobeyed orders’) indicates Atkinson’s belated recognition of Meares’ disobedience"(May and Lewis, 2019: 9), it is wrong. Instead, it indicates Dr Atkinson covering for himself by scapegoating Meares. Thanks to Sienicki’s book, we know that his "mora[l] certain[ty]" about the death of Captain Scott's party was a fabrication, deriving from post factum knowledge.

I will conclude this section with a short comment on the following: "Had Scott in 1911 given Atkinson new orders involving curtailment of the dog teams, one would expect Atkinson to record this in his journal: Atkinson did not, nor did he, upon his return to base, deliver any update from Scott for Simpson’s transcription"(May and Lewis, 2019: 7). This curtailment only exists in May and Lewis' imagination.


Finally, they make the complaint that:

The May-Airriess article’s new findings were subsequently appropriated (unfortunately uncredited) to attempt to excuse the failure to send dog teams beyond One Ton by claiming that rescue was not feasible. (May and Lewis, 2019: 10)

This complaint is shocking hypocrisy by May and Lewis. In their paper regarding the selection of ponies, they authoritatively state with regard to the failure of dogs during the Discovery Expedition that “Modern scholarship judges the dogs’ failure in hindsight as due to poor feeding” without citing the source, which is Appendix A of Sienicki’s preprint “The Never-Ending Gale: its Role in Captain Robert F. Scott and his Companions’ Deaths” (Sienicki, 2011: 8–9). They conclude as follows:

If our hypothesis is challenged, we would expect challenges to address the core issues directly... This list of crucial issues should not be ignored in any future challenge.(May and Lewis, 2019: 10).

Rather than address their points, it is May and Lewis who should address the points in this critique, along with the following points made by Sienicki in Chapters 2 and 10 of his book:

• Meares' delaying his return to Cape Evans;

• Dr Simpson's malfeasance (ejecting from Antarctica, delay in remedying a potentially fatal error in the resupplying of One Ton Depot);

• Cherry-Garrard's malfeasance (no intention of going past One Ton Depot, obfuscating this fact);

• Dr Atkinson's malfeasance (mutiny, deliberately delaying his dog party and fabricating a blizzard to cover it up, post factum fabricating his "moral certainty" of the deaths of Captain Scott's party).


Cherry-Garrard, A. 1922. The worst journey in the world, Vol. I & II. London: Constable & Company Ltd.

May, K. & Lewis, G. (2019). “Strict injunctions that the dogs should notbe risked”: A revised hypothesis for this anecdote and others in narratives of Scott’s last expedition. Polar Record. Advanced online publication.https://doi.org/10.1017/S0032247419000688

Nelson-Kilger, K. (2019, March 8). Comments on Bill Alp’s commentary on May (2013). Retrieved from http://thesouthpole.eu/index.php?title=Comments_on_Bill_Alp%E2%80%99s_Commentary_on_May_(2013)

Scott, R. F. (1905). The voyage of the ‘Discovery’, Vols. I & II. London: Smith, Elder, & Co.

Scott, R. F. (1913). Scott’s last expedition: Being the journals of Captain R. F. Scott, R. N., C. V. O., Vols. I & II. Cambridge, MA: Dodd, Mead and Company.

Sienicki, K. (2011). The never ending gale: Its role in Captain Robert F. Scott and his companions’ deaths. Retrieved from https://arxiv.org/abs/1109.5355