The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Sacrifice.

Book shows tensions of scientific contributions of polar exploration over against the macho, imperial, jingoistic elements which often symbolized an imperial nation. Jones shows a good balance of respect and criticism for Scott, and situates Scott within the context of his times. His book shows tensions of scientific contributions of polar exploration over against the macho, imperial, jingoistic elements which often symbolized an imperial nation. He is particularly good on the English worship of manliness and pluck, showing how Scott’s reputation gained from the notion that he and his men were somehow superhuman heroes, though suggesting that we know little of how “heroically” Scott and his partners acted.

p. 156: in one memorial exhibit for Scott “there were Scott’s sledge, skies, and theodolite, the camera used at the Pole, empty provision bags, a thermometer, and a book, By Order of Country, alongside a sign: ‘The book they were reading.’” [I can’t locate this title, nor could the author.] Orianna took umbrage at the bad taste of the exhibition of the dead men’s possessions, and asked that they be removed.

p. 163: summary of thesis: “Captain Scott and his companions offered a reassuring example of heroic character and idealism, to counter anxieties about national decline and the materialism of the modern world. Many versions of Scott’s story rang out through Britain before the First World War, as different communities invested the disaster with different meanings….”

p. 178: Priestley on Northern party: “Such rituals [pretending that words of enlisted men were not heard by officers though in the same space] seem macabre today, but the pretense of normality may have helped the party survive the winter. Charles Dickens certainly provided sustenance. The sixty-four chapters of David Copperfield brought entertainment for two months….”

p. 210: “The departure of the Discovery was accompanied by a postcard event, which portrayed the expedition as a distinctly imperial enterprise. The London publishers E. Wrench issued four post-cards about the expedition in their ‘Links ofEmpire’ series. For a subscription of 2s., the cards would be posted back to the subscriber, first from London on the ship’s departure; then from Simonstown, South Africa, and Lyttelton, New Zealand, as the Discovery sailed south; and finally, from Lyttleton again, on the expedition’s return from the Antarctic.” [see M. Wharton, “Captain Scott, pt. 1,” Picture Postcard Monthly (Jan. 1933) p. 33]

p. 221: “Heroic tales of military endeavour, from Kipling’s poetry through the Boy’s Own Paper to W. H. Fitchett’s Deeds that Won the Empire (a favourite on the Terra Nova), permeated popular culture.”

p. 241-2: “A single book offered the principal resource for representing the disaster as a heroic sacrifice: the New Testament. Christians were not alone in venerating sacrifice…. But a common Christian inheritance offered the deepest well of inspiration for the language of sacrifice in Britain and America…: ‘Their deaths were necessary to God’s great purpose…’”

p. 243: “The [Terra Nova] shore party faced their first Antarctic winter with only seven hymn books, after forgetting to unload more from Terra Nova. Cherry-Garrard recorded how a rendition of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ degenerated into giggles, after the crew began singing in the wrong key. And Scott himself was probably an agnostic, if not an outright atheist.”

p. 261: “The cigarette company John Player issued a series of twenty-five cigarette cards on Antarctic exploration in 1916. Four of the cards focused on Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition, with one card declaring ‘no decent minded Englishman grudged the modest men of the Viking breed their well-earned prize’. Amundsen was described as ‘the beau ideal of a Polar explorer. Strong, skilful and daring; possessed of a keen sense of humour, and with kindly steel blue eyes’. The series included cards devoted to Bowers, Oates, Wilson, Teddy Evans, the dog-driver Dmitri, and even the assistant paymaster, Francis Drake. But not one of the twenty-five cards mentioned Petty Officer Edgar Evans, the working-class seaman who was frequently forgotten or blamed for the disaster. Around this time F. Whelan Boyle’s retelling of Scott’s story in the Boy’s Own Paper claimed again that ‘but for the collapse of Seaman Evans the rest of the party might have got back to the base in safety’.

“The most intriguing cigarette card was Number 1: ‘Captain Scott’…. This unadorned card simply shows a man in uniform whose eyes suggest suffering, a screen onto which both officers and men could project their own conceptions of courage and comradeship, sticking it out to the bitter end.”

p. 262-68: describes various books by the survivors, and their various parts in creating the mythology of Scott, and the example of manliness as shown in fatal manhauling enhancing the national sense of imperial strength.