Published December 09, 2015
LONDON (AP) — They are testament to one of the most heroic of British failures.
Skis, photos, scientific instruments and other relics from Capt. Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole are going under the hammer this week at Christie's auction house.
The items, which belonged to a Canadian member of the team, help fill out the picture of a doomed journey that has become an iconic British tale. Scott was beaten to the pole by a better-equipped Norwegian crew and died with four companions on the way back.
"It has all the elements that define Britishness — Brits in homemade, stuck-together materials and supplies trying to do something and failing heroically," Nicholas Lambourn, director of Christie's exploration and travel department, said Monday.
The items up for sale on Wednesday belonged to expedition member Charles Seymour Wright, who found the tent containing Scott's frozen body in November 1912, eight months after Scott is presumed to have died.
The collection, valued at between 150,000 pounds and 250,000 pounds ($235,000 and $390,000), includes manuscripts, photographs, Wright's sledding equipment and the skis he was wearing when he found Scott's body.
"He looked over to the right and a quarter of a mile away he spotted this little mound of snow, and saw a tiny patch of green, the top of the tent," said Wright's grandson, Adrian Raeside, who is selling the collection. "He looked inside and there were the frozen corpses."
Scott is an icon of the heroic age of polar exploration. He set out from England in 1910 and reached the South Pole in January 1912 — beaten by Norway's Roald Amundsen, who had got there a month earlier.
Scott died on the trek back to base camp. He was found in his tent along with Lt. Henry Bowers and Dr. Edward Wilson, just 11 miles (18 kilometers) from a depot stocked with food and fuel.
Petty Officer Edgar Evans had died earlier, and Capt. Lawrence Oates, suffering from severe frostbite, had set off into a blinding storm with the words: "I am just going outside and may be some time." His body was never found.
Scott's stoic courage in the face of death helped make him a national hero. "We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint," he wrote in a note found with his body.
Some historians have taken a more negative view, pointing out that the expedition was poorly equipped, and criticizing Scott's decision-making.
Raeside — who traced his grandfather's steps for a book, "Return to Antarctica" — said Wright had many qualms about his leader, but didn't criticize Scott openly for fear of jeopardizing his chances of being selected for the party that would make the final push to the pole.
"He was actually quite devastated when Scott turned him back, 280 miles from the pole," Raeside said — although the decision saved his grandfather's life.
Raeside said his grandfather, a physicist who went on to head the Royal Navy's scientific service and died in 1975, rarely spoke publicly about the expedition.
"I know from reading his journals and letters that he felt a lot of things had been done rather poorly on Scott's part, and he didn't want to discuss it while close relatives of the men who had died were still alive," Raeside said. "I think he felt it best to say nothing."