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Ausstellungen: Captain Scott's final letters home
13.01.2007 von Scott Polar research Institute, University of Cambridge


Captain Scott’s final letters home
Ort der Ausstellung: Scott Polar Research Institute SPRI), University of Cambridge
Stadt: Cambridge, London
Eröffnung: 17.01.2007
Dauer der Ausstellung: 14.04.2007

Inhalt (Kurzfassung):

Aus dem Privatarchiv der Familie Scott sind über 300 Briefe, die Scott während seiner Expeditionen nach Hause schrieb, nun für die Öffentlichkeit in einer atemberaubende wie ebenso bewegenden Ausstellung zu sehen – auch den Abschiedsbrief, den Scott bei klirrender Kälte und dem Tode nahe an seine Ehefrau schrieb und mit den Worten begann „An meine Witwe“

Inhalt (ausführlich, zurzeit nur in Englisch):

Heart-breaking final messages written by Captain Scott to his family are to go on public display for the first time at Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute.

Scott’s last letters have been given to the University by the descendants of the famous explorer. The collection also includes messages sent by his wife and his young son, who was just learning to write at the time of his father’s doomed expedition to the South Pole.
Three-year-old Peter sent two messages to his father as he and his mother, Kathleen, anxiously awaited news of Scott’s return in 1912. One says: “Dear Daddy I am going to be a drummer” and the other simply “I love you”. Tragically the little boy’s letters never reached his father – Scott and his fellow-explorers had already succumbed to extreme frostbite, malnutrition and exhaustion as they fought their way across the Antarctic.

For the first time, scholars and members of the public will also be able to examine Scott’s own, deeply moving final letter home. Dated March 1912 and addressed “To my widow”, the document was found in his tent when the team’s bodies were recovered in 1913.

Scott wrote it on scraps of his journal over a period of days as he and his companions tried to battle their way back from the Pole in blizzard conditions and unimaginable cold. At the start of 1912 they had arrived at the Pole only to discover that the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, had beaten them to it by a month.

As they began the long and demoralising journey back, the weather set in. Despite valiant claims in the letter that he and his companions were “full of good health and vigour”, the desperate nature of the group’s situation is clear.

In one passage, Scott told Kathleen: “Dear, it is not easy to write because of the cold – 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent. You know I have loved you; you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you… the worst aspect of this situation is that I shall not see you again – the inevitable must be faced.”

As the position became more hopeless, Scott began to consider how his family would cope. The letter reveals that he encouraged his wife to re-marry, partly for the sake of their young son. “When the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t have been a very good husband, but I hope I shall be a good memory. Certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.”

Scott and his remaining two companions were just 11 miles short of their supply depot when they finally perished. Many of his final thoughts concerned Peter and he encouraged Kathleen to try to make him interested in natural history. “It is better than games,” he commented, before adding: “Try and make him believe in a God; it is comforting.”

Sir Peter Scott, as he became, did indeed follow in his father’s footsteps, first by serving with distinction in the Royal Navy and, after World War II, by pursuing a celebrated career in ornithology. Now his widow, Lady Philippa Scott, has given the letters to the Scott Polar Research Institute, which was established in memory of Captain Scott and his team.

The gift means that Cambridge now houses the complete collection of Scott’s correspondence, which includes more than 300 letters. These will be kept in the Institute, which also houses the explorer’s famous journal and numerous other artefacts from his ill-fated expedition, including food, clothes and even his sleeping bag.

Institute director Professor Julian Dowdeswell said: “We are tremendously grateful to the family for this generous gift, without which Scott’s final and most poignant letters might easily have been lost to a private collector. Instead they will prove invaluable in enabling us to continue our historic role as an international centre for the study of the Polar regions.”

The letters will be on public display at the Scott Polar Research Institute Museum from January 17th. The Museum is open to the public between 11am and 1pm and 2pm to 4pm Tuesday to Friday. On Saturdays it is open from 12noon until 4pm.

To my widow
Dearest Darling – we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through – In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end – the first is naturally to you on whom my thought mostly dwell waking or sleeping – if anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart – I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also – I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour – this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy - we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.
We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone – he was in a bad state – the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn’t let up at all – we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel
Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I am sure you will – the boy will be your comfort I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example – I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?
I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found to be read when he grows up - dearest that you know cherish no sentimental rubbish about re marriage – when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again - I hope I shall be a good memory certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.
Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold – 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent – you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again – The inevitable must be faced – you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous – I’ve taken my place throughout, haven’t I? God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later – I go on across the back pages
Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm – I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don’t worry. I have written letters on odd pages of this book - will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future – make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games - they encourage it at some schools – I know you will keep him out in the open air – try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting. Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically - your portrait and the boy’s will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter – There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen’s black flag and other trifles – give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you! – What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home - what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay – to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face – Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others– oh but you’ll put on a strong face for the world – only don’t be too proud to accept help for the boys sake - he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world. I haven’t time to write to Sir Clements - tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery.

For further information, please contact the University of Cambridge Office of Communications on 01223 332300


Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge


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