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Cold comfort. (The South Polar Times).

Between 1901 and 1904, the British National Antarctic Expedition, led by Commander Robert Falcon Scott, explored the Antarctic continent, gathering information about the landmass, its climate and its wildlife. But the team's time wasn't completely given over to science. To entertain themselves during the long months of isolation, the men held debates, wrote poetry and competed in toboggan races. They published their exploits in a light-hearted magazine, the South Polar Times, edited extracts from which we present here. Their articles, puzzles, paintings and drawings give an entertaining insight into life down south in the early 20th century. Dr David Wilson, great-nephew of the assistant physician Edward Wilson, sets the scene.

SIR CLEMENTS MARKHAM, PRESIDENT OF THE ROYAL Geographical Society (RGS) between 1889 and 1909, once quipped that more was known about Mars than the Antarctic. It was a popular joke. In 1901, what little was known of Mars was being supplemented by the work of science fiction writers such as HG Wells, who had published War of the Worlds in 1898. From our modern perspective, it seems astonishing that if we launched astronauts for Mars tomorrow, they would know more about where they were heading than did the men who sailed to the remote southern portion of our planet in 1901.

Markham, Sir John Murray and Georg von Neumayer had spent years trying to get Antarctic exploration off the ground. But it wasn't until the Sixth International Geographical Congress, hosted by the RGS in July 1895, that they managed to generate the required momentum. In a motion, the congress noted that "the exploration of the Antarctic Regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken" and called on the scientific societies of the world to do their utmost to see that such exploration was carried out "before the end of the century".

Although several major expeditions had already visited Antarctica, no-one knew whether it was a single continent or an archipelago. It became increasingly clear that this and other questions could only be answered by scientists travelling to the Antarctic and seeing for themselves. Southern hemisphere weather patterns, ocean currents, the nature of the ecosystem (which affected the potential commercial success of whaling) and navigational problems resulting from the movement of the South Magnetic Pole were high on the list of concerns. Of these, two questions were considered to be most important: to where had the South Magnetic Pole moved, and does an Antarctic continent exist? To Markham, obtaining these answers necessitated a geographical expedition, the scale of which would require a national naval enterprise.

In Britain, the impetus of the congress allowed Markham and the RGS to actively pursue this goal. The resulting expedition formed part of a pan-European campaign to unlock the frigid enigma of the Antarctic. While the expedition's funding was largely obtained through a spirit of competitive nationalism, the scientific and geographical work of the German, British, Swedish and, later, Scottish national Antarctic expeditions nevertheless was coordinated to maximise results.

Purpose-built for the expedition to the Antarctic, SS Discovery was constructed in Dundee and launched in March 1901. The expedition left Cowes, after an inspection by King Edward VII, on 6 August. Led by Robert Falcon Scott, it sailed first to New Zealand, from where it left for the icy south on Christmas Eve 1901.

At 33, Scott was a respected officer of the Royal Navy. He was admired for his intellect and had a keen interest in science. By necessity his crew was multiskilled. The resourceful Chief Engineer Reginald Skelton doubled as the expedition's principal photographer, taking more than 500 photographs, as well as proving a great inventor and repairer of gadgets. Lieutenant Charles Royds organised the meteorology, and his piano playing and singing entertained the Ward Room on long Antarctic nights. The second doctor Edward Wilson served as the vertebrate zoologist and main artist, producing some stunning watercolours of Antarctica.

More than any other of the period, the Discovery expedition fanned the flames of the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and fired the imagination of the English-speaking world. Among its achievements were the first ascent onto the Polar Plateau and a `farthest south' of 82[degrees] 28'S over the Great Ice Barrier (now the Ross Ice Shelf). Further important geographical discoveries included King Edward VII Land, the `dry' valleys of Victoria Land and the true nature of the Great Ice Barrier. Scott's team also made the first Antarctic flight (in a balloon) and took the first aerial photographs. It discovered a variety of new species, saw emperor penguin breeding colonies for the first time and identified the phenomenon of the Antarctic coreless winter, where temperatures are roughly the same from the beginning to the end of winter--a significant breakthrough in the study of southern hemisphere weather patterns. Most importantly, the expedition located the South Magnetic Pole and determined that Antarctica was continental and had once had a warm climate.

In order to achieve these results, the men of Discovery worked hard in conditions that are almost unimaginable today. Yet amid hardship and the ravages of scurvy, there was a lighter side to expedition life. The men composed their own music and put on theatrical performances, football matches and sports days. They also created their own magazine, the South Polar Times.

Never missing an opportunity to rag and tease each other, merciless to each other's faults as well as their own failings, they created the characters of Mr Frostbites (for Michael Barne, due to the alacrity with which he became frost nipped) and the Parsenger (for Shackleton, due to the earnestness with which he treated literature). But what is most impressive is the breadth and depth of the talent and knowledge that shines from the pages. Scientific articles, drawings and cartoons, poetry, puzzles, puns in Ancient Greek and jokes in Egyptian hieroglyphics dance across the pages, reminding us that it was Sir Clements Markham's vision to send the brightest and best of the younger generation to meet the challenge of the Great White South.

If you really want to get to know such men as human beings--to reach beyond the icy mists of time, the magnificence of their achievements or the pontifications of historians--then there is no better way than through the lampoons of the South Polar Times, which stand as a lasting testament to the fact that these men also had fun.


New voyage to South Georgia follows in Shackleton's footsteps

Orient Lines' ice-strengthened flagship, Marco Polo, returns to Antarctica for an 8th series of cruise adventures in 2003, including a new voyage in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Each expedition will be accompanied by a team of Antarctic experts with years of personal experience, led by the naturalist, Nigel Sitwell. He co-developed Orient Lines' Antarctic programme with the late travel pioneer, Lars-Eric Lindblad, who brought the first tourists to Antarctica in 1965.

The new season features two 13-night cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, for the stunning scenery and wildlife, and two longer voyages that combine Antarctica with the Falklands or with Patagonia and the Chilean Fjords.

Departing on 16 January is the highlight of the season--a thrilling 17-night voyage in the path of Shackleton's legendary `Endurance' expedition of 1914.

Depending on ice conditions, weather and wildlife sightings, landings are planned at Grytviken, South Georgia (Shackleton's final resting place), Coronation Island and Half Moon Island. Elephant Island, where Shackleton's crew were marooned, Gold Harbor, with its colony of king penguins, and Elsehul, site of a large fur seal colony, will be approached by Zodiac.

The right ship for Antarctica

The 22,080-ton Marco Polo is well-suited to cruising in Antarctica. Her operating speed of up to 20 knots, and large fin stabilisers, give a steady ride, while her facilities offer a considerable level of comfort. Never before have inquisitive travellers been able to visit Antarctica in such style.

Mindful of tourism's impact upon the region, ship's capacity will be limited and only 100 passengers set ashore at one time. The ship will carry Zodiac landing craft for forays ashore and a helicopter to scout out ice conditions. Orient Lines, the destination cruise specialist, offers the most comfortable way to visit this remarkable region, and also makes it affordable. Prices for these once-in-a-lifetime adventures start from 3,350 [pounds sterling] per person. Prices include return flights from the UK, with free connections from main regional airports, on-board gratuities, zodiac landings, lectures, all explorations in Antarctica and a warm expedition parka.

* Singles-friendly Orient Lines is waiving the 25% supplement for solo sailors on all Antarctic voyages in 2003.


Explorer Peter Hillary and ornithologists Chris and David Wilson, great nephews of Dr Edward Wilson, join the Marco Polo expedition team.

Orient Lines has announced an ace team of guest lecturers and field guides for the 2003 season of Antarctic cruises in the ice-strengthened Marco Polo. It will include scientists, naturalists and explorers, led by the internationally recognised naturalist, Nigel Sitwell.

Among them will be Peter Hillary, explorer son of Mt Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary, and ornithologists Christopher and David Wilson, great nephews of Dr Edward Wilson, who perished with Captain Scott, en route from the South Pole in 1912.

Chris is currently Warden of Ireland's premier wildfowl reserve at Wexford. David, who devotes much of his time to promoting Britain's historic Antarctic heritage, will lecture on the history of Antarctic exploration.

Dr Russell Thompson, of Reading University, will talk on meteorology and glaciology; Emma Jones, a graduate of Heriot Watt University in Scotland, will lecture on marine biology and Neville Jones, of Hull University, will talk about aquatic ecology.

Workshops will be held by Lucia de Leiris, a wildlife and landscape artist with a degree in zoology from the University of Maryland, and Allan Morgan, who graduated from the University of Colorado as an engineer, but since 1972 has been a wildlife photographer. An experienced naturalist, his photographs have been published in National Geographic and Newsweek.

Ruriko Hosaka Lindblad, who has travelled to Antarctica on many occasions, both on her own and with her husband, the late Lars-Eric Lindblad, will be group leader and translator for the Marco Polo's Japanese passengers.

Captain Dick Taylor, of the US Coast Guard, will assist expedition leader Nigel Sitwell and act as Beachmaster, to oversee landings by Zodiac craft. The six experienced Zodiac drivers will include Barbara Jones, who hails from Scotland and, when not part of an expedition team, is a nurse who has worked in the hospital at Stanley in the Falklands.

With such a tip-top expedition team to give lectures and lead forays ashore, Marco Polo passengers will enjoy a highly personalised sightseeing and learning experience, to enable them to get the very best from their cruise to the unique destination of Antarctica.

For a brochure call 0845 658 8090 and quote `Geographical'

For reservations and enquiries call Orient Lines on 0845 658 8050


The South Polar Times is just one of more than two million items in the collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), including maps dating from 1486 and photographs from the 1860s. The Society embarked on a development programme last year to dramatically improve the storage conditions for the archives, as well as improve access to them and enhance their educational potential. It is currently raising funds for this work. For more information, please contact Alison Payne, RGS-IBG, 1 Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AR, Tel: 020 7591 3157

Dr David Wilson is the great-nephew of "Edward Wilson of the Antarcti", as David calls him. The assistant physician on Scott's Discovery expedition to the South Pole, Edward Wilson was also a talented artist and contributed hundreds of paintings and drawings to the expedition's light-hearted magazine the South Polar Times. David introduces Geographical's extracts from the SPT, which begin on page 33. A lecturer and Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, David fell into writing after he was persuaded to give a lecture about his great-uncle. "One lecture led to another," he says. "And once you start to give lectures, people start demanding you write books."
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Title Annotation:Robert Falcon Scott and the British National Antarctic Expedition/Marco Polo
Author:Wilson, David
Geographic Code:8ANTA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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