Simple Arithmetic Proof that Captain Robert F. Scott’s Party did not Perish in 1912 due to Weather and Starvation

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Krzysztof Sienicki

Chair of Theoretical Physics of Naturally Intelligent Systems, Topolowa 19, 05-807 Podkowa Leśna, Poland, EU.

Captain Robert F. Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, like any human undertakings which have exploratory aspects - even recent ones - were bound to run into many different troubles and difficult times. Both of Captain Scott’s expeditions, but especially the Terra Nova Expedition [1] of 1910-1913 (British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913), were life-threatening bold endeavors. They were highly complex logistical undertakings where humans, animals, machines, and nature played their roles.[2] In some respects, Captain Scott’s methods were archaic, but in other respects, they were innovative and ahead of their time.[3] Ever since the Terra Nova Expedition’s ship returned with the news from Antarctica in 1913, a great number of causes for the disaster have been offered, proposed, and widely discussed. However, it was Captain Scott himself in his Message to the Public [4] who first presented a number of reasons for not being able to return to home base at the Ross Island (Hut Point/Cape Evans). The list of causes of the Captain Scott party’s disaster - both referred to by himself and later by various authors - is rather long. However, it is assumed that the final cause of the Captain Scott party’s deaths was slow starvation. [5] Here, we show a simple arithmetic proof that Captain Scott’s party, which consisted of himself, Dr. Wilson, and Lt Bowers, had full food/fuel rations until at least Mar. 27th, 1912. The result seriously and principally questions Captain Scott’s integrity in reporting actual causes of the party’s deaths back in late March 1912.
Captain Scott’s Terra Nova [6] and Captain Amundsen’s Fram [7] expeditions were definite events, which during the planning and executing stages were reduced to numbers: miles per day, calories per day, temperature, efficiency, work, friction, etc. Both explorers and the members of their expeditions, in different degrees of proficiency and expertise, transformed these numbers into everyday life and actions. Although Captain Scott’s South Pole Journey was primarily a logistic undertaking, the fundamental aspects of it were neglected by historians, biographers, and hagiographers. Only a few specialized exceptions exist, scattered in professional journals. The majority of books concentrate on the nostalgic lamenting over the suffering of Captain Scott and his companions. Authors close their eyes to scientific analysis while arguing that Captain Scott’s expedition was a primarily scientific expedition.

Apparently, before going South in 1910, Captain Scott presented to the Royal Geographical Society a lecture in which he suggested that the ideal date to reach the Pole [8] would be Dec. 22nd. Since the account of the Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909) was already published, Captain Scott could figure that if he would follow Lt Shackleton’s route to the Pole, he would have to cross about 1345+97[math]\times2[/math]=1539 geographical miles in say [math]2\times52\times\left[30+22\right] days=104 days[/math][9], starting on Nov. 1st. It would mean that the velocity of the traveling party must be 16.3 miles per day, every day, for 104 days! A staggering figure. No contingency plan. No delays, no blizzards, and no rest. How Captain Scott was expecting to reach the Pole on such an early date without dog sledging transportation will remain a mystery.

Figure 1. Food/fuel depôts available to the First Return, Second Return and Captain Scott parties along the route: five men sledging to the Pole was Captain Scott’s actual logistics. The actual food allotted to each party is denoted by 3-tuple {First, Second, Scott} parties. Food rations are given in integers or fractions of my own units (1 of my units = full food/fuel allowance for 4 men for one week (7 days) time). The following abbreviations have been used: 1TD (One Ton Depôt), MB (Middle Barrier Depôt), LB (Lower Barrier Depôt), LG (Lower Glacier Depôt), MG (Middle Glacier Depôt), UG (Upper Glacier Depôt), 3o (Three Degree (3o) Depôt), NN (No Name Depôt), [math]1\frac{1}{2}o(88o29′S Depôt)[/math], and SP (South Pole). A very awkward splitting food/fuel rations for returning parties at MG Depôt [math]\left\{ \frac{5}{3},\frac{9}{20}\left(\sim\frac{1}{2}\right),\sim\frac{3}{4}\right\}[/math] resulted from an unequal splitting of the distance up (or down) the Beardmore Glacier.

It appears that a detailed and final logistic plan concerning time, rations (food and fuel), distances, people and traveling means, was in place in early September 1911. One could only wonder what was so time-consuming for Captain Scott to figure out the Southern Journey rations and distances distribution along the route to the South Pole. Thus, a sledging journey, a 144-day window of opportunity, to reach and return from the South Pole was envisioned by Captain Scott. The key to this plan was the sustained sledging velocity, which was about 10.1 geographical miles per sledging day. In modern terms, the sustained sledging velocity can be understood as a long-term average of a stochastic process, in which the daily sledging distance was a bound stochastic variable. In terms of the initial distribution of food and fuel rations, Captain Scott’s plan of the Southern Journey was straightforward and followed the 144-day sledging schedule. It can be divided into two stages: the Barrier stage, and the beyond the Barrier (the Beardmore and Plateau) stage. This division was not only a geographical one. It was, more importantly, the division resulting from Captain Scott’s overall mobility due to dog/pony/man sledging velocity, and the related potential possibility of food and fuel re-supplying party/depôts along the route at the Barrier stage. Once the parties started to ascend the Beardmore, they were beyond recall and on their own. From the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, the initial rations of food and fuel were only diminishing. The distribution of food/fuel rations is presented in Fig. 1.

It is evident that the returning Captain Scott party of five men (himself, Dr Wilson, Captain Oates, Lt Bowers and P. O. Evans) started each returning leg between depôts with the allocated maximum of food/fuel rations to support the party until the next depôt was reached. Thus, upon reaching Lower Glacier Depôt on Feb. 18th, 1912, the party collected 1¼ sledging unit, altogether 35 daily rations for 5 men. However, a day before this, P. O. Evans died. Consequently, the food/fuel rations allotted to him were not consumed. The four man party continued sledging. On Mar. 17th, 1912 Captain Oates committed suicide. As a result, food/fuel rations originally allotted to him were not consumed. Now, it is evident how one could calculate actual food/fuel rations available to the Captain Scott party. The outcome of these simple arithmetical calculations is depicted in Fig. 2. It is the main result of this paper.

Although the conclusions from an examination of Fig. 2 are rather palpable, the following comments seem to be pertinent. This figure is indeed an illustrative one. If the party was sledging as a five man party as originally assumed, it would be out of food/fuel on Mar. 16th. However, due to the death of P.O. Evans on Feb. 17th the party was a four man party, and thus every sledging day one ration originally meant to be consumed by P.O. Evans was “saved” and later consumed by those who were alive. The full food/fuel rations for a party of four would end on Mar. 25th. In reality, Captain Oates perished on Mar. 17th and one more time, extra rations were “saved”. The party of three, Captain Scott, Dr Wilson, and Lt Bowers could sledge on full rations until Mar. 27th, 1912. This simple arithmetical result contradicts what is known from Captain Scott’s account in his diary. It questions Captain Scott’s entry on Mar. 19th that "\ldotsWe have two days' food but barely a day's fuel." In reality on this day (see Fig. 2), the party of three (Scott, Wilson, and Bowers) had eight (8) days of full food/fuel rations. It completely undermines Captain Scott's account on Mar. 22th and 23rd that "\ldots no fuel and only one or two of food left \ldots". As the deaths of P. O. Evans and later Captain Oates were unexpected sources of food/fuel for these alive, the role of ponies, according to Captain Scott's as an additional food supply for returning parties remains a mystery. From the onset Captain Scott, by not taking pony food for their return leg, was tacitly assuming that the ponies would be shot somewhere before the entrance to the Beardmore Glacier. Since eating pony meat was not a taboo, as, in the case of dog meat, one obviously must consider the addition of pony cutlets into the returning parties' menu.

Figure 2. The number of daily sledging rations available to Captain Scott’s five-man party (○: Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans), four man party (● and ▼: Scott, Wilson, Bowers and Oates) and three man party ({[math]\color{red}\bigstar[/math]}: Scott, Wilson and Bowers) party, respectively. The triangles ▼ represent a hypothetical situation in which Captain Oates did not perish.

Upon arriving at Shambles Camp/Lower Glacier Depôt, something extraordinary happened. The Captain Scott party, in addition to the full food/fuel10 rations depôted along the return route, found an abundance of food - pony cutlets stored in December 1911. The presence of pony cutlets at Shambles Camp was obviously not surprising. What is startling is that Captain Scott and his party, casually and bordering on negligence, did not take all of the pony cutlets. Although Captain Scott on Feb. 18th clearly acknowledged "plenty of horsemeat" at Shambles Camp, in the following days he took relatively little advantage of pony cutlets. We do not know the exact numbers or how many pounds of cutlets were obtained from the ponies. However, using a conservative estimation11, one can figure that these cutlets alone would have been sufficient to feed the Captain Scott party until One Ton Depôt was reached. The weight of a pony varies from 400-800 lb, and if about [math]\frac{1}{10}[/math] of this pony mass was transferred into pony cutlets, it would give 4080 lb from one pony. Since five ponies were shot at Shambles Camp, this yields 200-400 lb of cutlets. If one person was daily consuming 2 lb of these cutlets, then the pony meat depôted at Shambles Camp would have been sufficient for (200–400)/2 = 100–200 days for one man. And because Captain Scott sledged from this camp in a 4-man team, it would translate into 25-50 sledging days. Taking a middle value of this estimation, one must conclude that the pony cutlets from Shambles Camp could have fully supported Captain Scott’s party food intake for well over a month of sledging. Yet Captain Scott only refers to eating pony meat from Feb. 18th through Feb. 28th. Since the distance from Shambles Camp to Hut Point is about 349 miles, the pony cutlets would have been sufficient to feed the party all the way back. In a similar fashion, the distance between Shambles Camp and One Ton Depôt is 231 miles; Captain Scott’s party could have easily reached it sledging exclusively on rations of pony cutlets. Provided that the first pony (Jehu) was shot on Nov. 24th, 1911 and that this location was reached by the returning Captain Scott party on Mar. 3rd/4th, 1912, the possibility of reaching One Ton Depôt and feeding on pony cutlets becomes a certainty. Let me stress here that the above is valid without the party’s use of food originally depôted on the Barrier. None of the above happened, and Captain Scott’s party made very little of the pony cutlets. In summary, it was shown that due to deaths of P. O. Evans and Captain Oates, the remaining party of four and later three (Scott, Wilson, and Bowers) had full food/fuel rations to Mar. 27th, 1912.12 This finding and almost entire neglect of pony cutlets during the return leg extend a list of deceits reported by Captain Scott in late February and March 1912. A more extensive examination of the above and many additional issues is presented in the author book titled Captain Scott: Icy Deceits and Untold Realities.[2]


[1] Robert F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition: Being the Journals of Captain R. F. Scott, R. N., C. V. O., Vol. I, Dodd, Mead & Company, The University Press, Cambridge, USA.

[2] Krzysztof Sienicki, Captain Scott: Icy Deceits and Untold Realities, Open Academic Press, Berlin-Warsaw, 2016.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Robert F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition: Being the Journals of Captain R. F. Scott, R. N., C. V. O., Vol. I, Dodd, Mead & Company, The University Press, Cambridge, USA, cf. p. 414.

[5] Colin Martin, Scientists to the End, Nature 481(2012)264; Roald Amundsen, My Life as an Explorer, Doubleday, Page and Company, Garden City, 1927, cf. p. 71.

[6] Robert F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition: Being the Journals of Captain R. F. Scott, R. N., C. V. O., Vol. I, Dodd, Mead & Company, The University Press, Cambridge, USA.

[7] Roald Amundsen, The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the “Fram” 1910–1912, John Murray, London, 1912.

[8] Robert F. Scott, Scott’s Last Expedition: Being the Journals of Captain R.F. Scott, R.N., C.V.O., Vol. I, Dodd, Mead & Company, The University Press, Cambridge, USA, 1913, cf. p. 376; Robert F. Scott, Plans of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910, The Geographical Journal 36(1910)11–20, cf. p. 16.

[9] Nov. 1st through Dec. 22nd .

[10] Provided some [math]\frac{1}{10}[/math] less fuel due to tin leakage. For calculations see Krzysztof Sienicki, Captain Scott: Icy Deceits and Untold Realities, Open Academic Press, Berlin-Warsaw, 2016, cf. section 9.3, p. 345-365.

[11] Krzysztof Sienicki, Captain Scott: Icy Deceits and Untold Realities, Open Academic Press, Berlin-Warsaw, 2016, cf. section 9.4, p. 365-376.

[12] Krzysztof Sienicki, A Note on Several Meteorological Topics Related to Polar Regions, The Issues of Polar Meteorology 21(2011)39–76.