Highlight of the week – Scott Exhibition

The Scott Polar Research Institute

After arriving back from Africa, we’ve been staying at our grandparents’ house in Cambridge so there’s been plenty of things to do around the city, any of which could be my highlight. But I think that visiting the Scott Polar Research Institute was by far the best activity of the week.

Nestled in the centre of the city, the museum is worth a visit for anyone staying in Cambridge. It is full of information on polar exploration, which is all presented neatly and broken up by various artifacts on display. In a way, it is split into three sections – early exploration of the Arctic, Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic and indigenous. The story of the Terra Nova expedition, led by Scott, is quite touching – you follow the mission step-by-step, read extracts from Scott’s diary, hear about the well-know quote by Oats “I’m just going out and may be some time,” and about how each of them perished in the frozen wilderness. The exhibition also includes pieces of equipment from the trip, like Oats’ sleeping bag and various letters written along the trip.

The story the museum told was both emotional and thought provoking. After reading about the journey, the race to the pole and the criteria against which the mission success could be judged, and learning in more detail about the expedition overall, the question arose of was the mission a failure or a success? And from this question, I wrote a short discussion text about the expedition and its legacy.

Scott of the Antarctic – a failure or a success?

The ill-fated Terra Nova expedition (led by Robert Scott) to the Southern pole didn’t go particularly well. It resulted in five of the party’s members, who trekked to the pole only to find it taken, dying from the freezing conditions and lack of supplies. It is a widely recognized adventure but was the expedition a failure or a success overall?

In some ways, the mission failed. Scott and his team’s objective to be the first people to reach the South Pole was somewhat destroyed for when they eventually arrived at the pole, they found the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s flag planted there already as their rivals had arrived just over a month before. On the return, each of the five members trekking to the pole died from various reasons, one of which being the team at the main camp failing to meet Scott at a chosen place and time to replenish the group’s supplies. So the expedition did perhaps fail. 

But on the contrary, it was extremely successful. When a telegram was received from Amundsen declaring his ambitions to reach the pole first, Scott decided not to rush to the pole, not just because Amundsen had a better dog-team and equipment then them, but also because the party didn’t just aim to be the first at the pole – their other task was to collect scientific evidence along the way. So in that respect it was not a failure. In fact, during their last few days, Scott, Wilson and Bowers were hauling over 30lbs of scientific specimens and data with them on the return. This, of course, proves how the mission was great success.

So, it depends on how you wish to look upon the results of the expedition. It can be either a waste of money and lives, or a successful step forward in discovering the Antarctic.

By Amy