Response to Comment by Mr Bill Alp

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by Chris S. M. Turney

School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.

Mr Alp has written a curious comment on the article entitled ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ [15]. Mr Alp has two primary concerns:

  • 1. Did Lieutenant Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans, second-in-command to Captain Scott on the British Antarctic Expedition (BAE) 1911-1913, contribute to a shortage of food for the returning Polar Party?; and
  • 2. Did Lieutenant Evans fail to pass on Scott’s orders regarding meeting the dog team at the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf?

He also expresses concerns over the quality of the reports on this study by some media outlets. I will address these concerns but inevitably with what is now a substantive body of research, I cannot cover all aspects and ask readers to return to previous publications where more details can be found [14-16].

Mr Alp considers that the events surrounding the BAE should be a “straightforward assembly and presentation of verifiable facts”. But if there is one thing we do know from a century of research into the BAE on and off the ice, there are a mass of contradictory actions and statements. One of the aims of my article was to bring together previously unpublished sources and new analyses of material to explore these contradictions to better understand what led to the fatal events surrounding the return of Captain Scott’s Polar Party [15].

Mr Alp highlights concern about the reliability of reporting in The Daily Mail. The fact that he identifies this newspaper as a sensational source of news is now increasingly recognized. Researchers should and must communicate their findings to the public. With the worrying decline in the number of science-trained journalists on the staff of news outlets, however, one can often only hope that the accompanying reports will be accurate and without sensation. Sadly, this is not always the case. I will not list headlines of questionable quality produced by The Daily Mail during the same year of publication (2017) but for illustrative purposes, Microsoft’s Edge browser recently warned online readers of this media outlet to: “Proceed with caution: this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” A report on this warning can be found at [1]. I completely agree with Mr Alps concerns regarding this particular media outlet.

I will now address the two primary concerns raised by Mr Alp.

In an ideal world one would have eye-witness account of the events in question but as I trust Mr Alp appreciate, this is not always possible. Widows Kathleen Scott and Oriana Wilson both received the diaries and other documents written by their husbands. Their contents were clearly of sufficient concern to warrant individual meetings with Lord Curzon, President of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). In these meetings, Lord Curzon learnt that “It appears Lieut Evans – down with scurvy – and the two men with him must on return journey have entered & consumed more than their share” and subsequently “Mrs Wilson told me later there was a passage in her husband’s diary which spoke of the “inexplicable” shortage of fuel & pemmican on the return journey, relating to depots which had not been touched by Meares and which could only refer to an unauthorised subtraction by one or other of the returning parties. This passage however she proposes to show to no one and to keep secret” [4].

The above claims were of sufficient concern to Lord Curzon to establish a “Confidential Committee”. Admiral Beaumont, Fellow of the RGS, wrote in response to an invitation from Curzon to join the Committee that: “….the important point, to my mind, being the necessity of deciding what attitude the Society should take with regard to your questions (a) & (b) that is:- the exhaustion of the supplies of food & fuel – and the conduct of the relief parties” [1]. As I state in the original article, there were clear concerns back in the UK over the events on the ice, both regarding supplies and the nature of the orders given to dog-team.Mr Alp might consider Kathleen Scott, Oriana Wilson, Lord Curzon, Admiral Beaumont, and others, to have simply ‘fussed’ over the missing food and orders, but these concerns clearly refer to documents not currently in the public domain and perhaps no longer in existence. The original sledging diary kept by Lieutenant Evans would be an ideal source to test these claims but as I state in the original article, this is now sadly lost (J. Evans, pers. comm). No one is suggesting that “Lord Curzon, K Scott, O Wilson and Markham” could possibly “have witnessed Evans alleged transgressions in Antarctica” as stated by Mr Alp, but to ignore these sources is poor scholarship.

The science of human nutrition was its infancy at the start of the twentieth century, and it is now widely accepted that the polar team’s rations contained insufficient calories to sustain them on their venture [13]. But there now seems little doubt that Lieutenant Evans failed to follow dietary instructions on the expedition, arguably the most important of which was the consumption of seal meat, a vital source of Vitamin C that helped prevent scurvy. Some years after the BAE, scientist and expeditioner Frank Debenham remarked in a newspaper interview: “We did know that seal meat was a preventative, and only one member of our expedition got scurvy in severe form: Teddy Evans... Teddy really was a very naughty boy and wouldn’t eat his seal meat. It’s not fishy, but it is black, and tastes like very poor steak, and the rest of us ate it” (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 1959, 2). During newspaper interviews on his return from the Antarctic, Evans himself claimed to have “subsisted all that time on a diet consisting almost wholly of pemmican” (The Advertiser, 18 May 1912, Adelaide: 20), something that contains virtually no Vitamin C. The practical upshot was Evans succumbed to scurvy, jeopardising his life and as I detail in the article, those on the expedition.

Mr Alp raises concerns over the orders for the dogs. I am afraid I did not see his email regarding Norwegian ski expert Tryggve Gran’s text on the orders for the dog team; unfortunately, with today’s large volume of spam mail and a heavy teaching term, I did not see his message had been caught by my email filter. Mr Alp raises questions over the interpretation of Norwegian ski expert Tryggve Gran’s description of events. Gran referred to Scott’s orders to Evans regarding the dog team numerous times, both in (Norwegian) print and during interviews (R. Huntford, pers. comm.). In Gran’s 1961 book Kampen Om Sydpolen, Mr Alp is correct that the Norwegian does not explicit describe Scott telling Evans he should send the dogs back across the Ross Ice Shelf during his final meeting with the second-in-command (p. 159) [6]. But Mr Alp is quite incorrect that my interpretation is “not supported by any text in Gran’s book.”There are in fact several statements by Gran that make clear Scott gave orders for the dog teams.These include how at the base of the Beardmore Glacier, Scott remarks to expeditioner Cecil Meares that that the ‘Dogs should meet me. Time and place for this I shall notify through the returning Support Party [to be led by Evans]’ (p. 156), that on the 18 February with their descent to the base of the Beardmore Glacier, Scott expected “that they would soon meet Meares and the dogs” (p. 175), that the “Time of the meeting of the dogs and Scott …was to be determined when the last Support Party [led by Evans] had returned” (p. 184), and shortly after: “So if the mission with the dogs should have gone to 82° or 83° S, either Charles Wright or the biologist Nelson would have been required” (p. 185). Based on these statements, I do not consider it an unreasonable interpretation that the orders were provided to Evans on the Polar Plateau. Indeed, it is hard to not to make any other interpretation. Further support for this claim can be found, for example, in Gran’s 1974 book Fra TjuaguttTilSydpolfar. [7] Here the Norwegian describes that after talking to Evans on board the Terra Nova shortly before the second-in-command’s medical return to the UK, he learnt ‘After the Beardmore Glacier, the dogs were to be available [to Scott]’ [7]. Given the tone of his comment, I am surprised Mr Alp has not interrogated Kampen Om Sydpolenmore fully. It is further disappointing he questions whether this interpretation “has been manipulated, perhaps in order to create a headline-grabbing article.” Some might consider such a statement rather surprising given Mr Alp’s own selective translation.

As Cherry-Garrard write to medic Lieutenant Atkinson on the 3 April 1913 (shortly after the events on the ice): “I think the main cause of difficulty is that is generally supposed that we returned from One Ton [Depôt] with the knowledge that the Southern Party was in trouble (I believe many think we were sent south because they were overdue). Of course, this was not so: the temperatures were low from (from memory) about March 4. But when we returned on March 10 there was no reason to suppose the Polar Party was not close to One Ton with plenty of food: in other words, there was no reason to kill dogs and push on. We were not to risk the dogs. We came back thinking we had started out too early.” Cherry was under no allusion he should attempt to travel across the full extent of the Ross Ice Shelf. But clearly, the orders were issued.

Evans himself later declared he expected the dogs to meet the returning Polar Party when he wrote in a tribute to Oates that ‘the last farewell was most touching, Oates being far more affected than any other of the Southern Party…He asked me to send him out tobacco and sweets by the dog teams’ (Evans, 1913, The Strand Magazine). Crucially here the order was not acted on. Atkinson remained convinced the order not to risk the dogs was paramount. As a result, on the 26 February, Atkinson sent Cherry-Garrard sledging south with Russian dog driver Demetri Gerof and the dogs, 24 days of supplies, and two weeks provisions to replenish One Ton Depot. Someone, however, was given orders because they were known back in the UK. As I reported for the first time, when news of Scott’s death reached the world on the 12 February 1913, Sir Clements Markham, former President of the RGS and supporter of Scott, wrote to Lord Curzon: ‘I have just received telegrams with appalling news that Captain Scott and his South Pole party have perished…All the arrangements for depots and supporting sledges were excellent, as Scott’s arrangements always were. Mr Cherry-Garrard (a young volunteer who gave £1000 to the expedition) was to meet the South Pole party, with two teams of dogs, at the foot of the [Beardmore] glacier. As the date, Jan 18, of reaching the Pole was known, the journals must have been recovered. So I think that Cherry-Garrard, when the party never arrived, must have gone up in search’ [9]. The orders were known in the UK but don't appear to have been acted upon.

Figure: Route taken by Lieutenant Evans’ (solid line) and Captain Scott’s (dashed line) parties on their return from the Antarctic Plateau, with Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Demetri Geof's dog sledge journey to One Ton Depot (short dashed line). Summary text with the reported location where penned from Scott’s Diary (SD) [11] and letter to Joseph Kinsey (SL) [10], The Worst Journey in the World (WJW) [3] and William Lashly’s Diary (LD) [5]. Text from Scott’s Diary not reported in the published version given in bold [11]. Key discrepancies in the text during the return of Lieutenant Evans’ Last Supporting Party identified by comparing published [3] and original diary entries by Lashly [5] are underlined. Italicized descriptions of Evans’ condition taken from the published diaries [11] and meteorological observations [12].© Chris S. M. Turney

As I state in the original article “If the order for the dogs to cross the Ross Ice Shelf had been clearly passed on, there would have been some attempt to travel beyond One Ton Depot (albeit restricted because of the limited amount of dog food), but this was not considered a priority at the time” [15]. Certainly, more work could be undertaken by researchers to explore how far the dogs could have traveled with the available supplies but the key point here is that if the orders had been relayed, then a more extended journey with support for the dog team would have been given a greater priority. Evans appears to have actively downplayed any concern, perhaps because he was recovering from scurvy, refusing Gran’s appeal for a relief party to travel to the base of the Beardmore Glacier as detailed in the Norwegian’s edited diary [8].

Mr Alp claims [15] is “silent on when the dogs should meet up with the Polar Party.” Apparently, the published research “would have had more substance if it included some rigour around the timeline envisaged by Scott.” The full article was a substantial body of work (in excess of 9000 words) so to best present the timeline and geographical location of events, I produced a map summarising key diary entries, dates and their location in the Antarctic (reproduced here). This figure clearly shows where Scott expected to meet the dogs (at the southern end of the Ross Ice Shelf), references to the shortage of food, and the timeline showing when and where Evans fell down and suffered from scurvy. This figure clearly shows the latter has been systematically shifted by one week when comparing the eye-witness account of Bill Lashly (reported in Under Scott’s Command) and that reproduced by Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World [3, 5]. An excellent illustration of this is Lashly’s reference to Evans suffering from stiffness in the back of the knee (marking the onset of scurvy) on the 30 January but recorded in Cherry’s version as occurring on the 22 January. I ask the readers to inspect the figure reproduced here and judge for themselves. The timeline for when Evans fell ill has clearly been altered and the question has to be asked why?

Importantly, there were at least two instances of food shortages on the return journey of the Polar Party. The first took place when the men found a full day’s biscuit allowance missing from the Upper Glacier Depot on 7 February 1912 [11, 17]. As I describe in the article, when the Polar Party reached the Southern Barrier Depôt on the 24 February, neither Scott or Wilson directly commented at the time on a shortage of food. Indeed, Scott wrote almost reassuringly: ‘Found store in order except shortage oil - shall have to be very saving with fuel - otherwise, have ten full days’ provision from tonight and shall have less than 70 miles to go.’ It is not unreasonable to assume the recent death of Petty Officer (P.O.) Evans and the loss from leaking fuel were more immediate concerns. But thanks to Bower’s meticulous planning [2], Scott and his team expected to find one week’s rations for five men, equivalent to 35 days’ food for a single person. With the death of P.O. Evans towards the base of the Beardmore Glacier, only four men remained, and with the one day’s worth of rations remaining from the Lower Glacier Depot, there should have been sufficient food for a total of nearly ten days.

But three days later, Scott had realized there was a shortfall and was hoping his orders for the dogs had been acted upon which he states quite explicitly in his published diary: ‘We must open out on food soon….We talk of little but food, except after meals...We are naturally always discussing the possibility of meeting dogs, where and when, etc. It is a critical position...31 miles to the depot, 3 days’ fuel at a pinch and 6 days food [this should be seven days]. Things begin to look a little different; we can open out a little food from tomorrow night…’ Even with the loss of P.O. Evans, they were short of a day’s full rations compared to the more bullish entry on the 24 February. While Mr Alp well may be correct that Scott and his men were not forced to go onto short rations, neither could they draw upon what should have been excess rations.It is striking the revised date and location of the onset of Evans’ scurvy was shifted south of where the supplies apparently went missing. Perhaps this is a coincidence? Perhaps not. Regardless, I consider the evidence that Evans did take food beyond his fair share to be compelling. Whether it would have made a difference to the survival of the Polar Party is something we will probably never know. It is a great shame that the value of the new research findings reported in the article are not recognized by Mr Alp.

I, therefore, maintain that the new documents and analyses raise serious concerns over the actions of Lieutenant Evans [14-. It seems unlikely the above will be the end of the story and I look forward to future research into what I hope will be the release of source material not currently available to researchers.


[1] Beaumont, L. (1913). Letter to Lord Curzon, 17 April 1913. London: British Library Mss.Eur.F112/51.

[2] Bowers, H. (2012). The South Pole Journals. Cambridge: Scott Polar Research Institute.

[3] Cherry-Garrard, A. (1922). The Worst Journey in the World. London (Republished 2003): Pimlico.

[4] Curzon, G. N. (1913). Notes, 16 April 1913. London: British Library BL MSS EUR/F112/51.

[5] Ellis, A. R. (1969). Under Scott's Command: Lashly's Antarctic Diaries. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company.

[6] Gran, T. (1961). Kampen om Sydpolen. Oslo, Norway: Ernst G. Mortensen.

[7] Gran, T. (1974). Fra Tjuagutt til Sydpolfarer. Oslo, Norway: Ernst G. Mortensen.

[8] Hattersley-Smith, G., & McGhie, E. J. (1984). The Norwegian with Scott: Tyggve Gran's Antarctic Diary 1910-1913. London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office.

[9] Markham, C. (1913). Letter to Lord Curzon, 12 February 1913. London: British Library BL MSS EUR/F112/51.

[10] Scott, R. F. (1912). Letter to Joseph Kinsey, 24 March 1912. Sydney: Mitchell Library MLMSS 5599.

[11] Scott, R. F. (1913). Scott's Last Expedition London: Smith, Elder & Co.

[12] Simpson, G. C. (1923). Meteorology Vol. III: Tables (British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913). London: Harrison and Sons, Ltd.

[13] Stroud, M. (2004). Survival of the Fittest: Anatomy of Peak Physical Performance. London: Vintage.

[14] Turney, C. (2012). 1912: The Year The World Discovered Antarctica. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

[15] Turney, C. S. M. (2017). Why didn't they ask Evans? Polar Record, 53(5), 498-511.

[16] Turney, C. S. M. (2018). Why didn't they ask Evans? A response to Karen May. Polar Record, 54, 178-180.

[17] Wilson, E. (1972). Diary of the Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic 1910-1912. New York: Humanities Press.